I was lucky enough to have a WordCamp in my hometown last weekend. As someone new to WordPress and blogging, I jumped at the opportunity to attend.
For those who may not know, a WordCamp is basically a WordPress convention. The WordCamp I attended was in Las Vegas and it was a two-day event.
I had a great time and I learned a lot. Since so many people use WordPress and since there are WordCamps all over the world, I thought I would take a few minutes to share my experience.
I showed up on Day One excited but unsure of exactly what to expect. I arrived a few minutes before the Opening Remarks and checked in to pick up my badge. I was immediately struck by the different types of people that were there.
Sure, there were plenty of people who seemed like typical developer types, but there were also senior citizens, young women, business people, and even an eleven-year-old boy (who turned out to also be a speaker). If I had to guess, I would say that the crowd was split fairly evenly between men and women and most of the people there were WordPress users, not developers. You could tell that a lot of the people knew each other, but they were still friendly and welcoming to newcomers.
The event took place at the Redflint Experience Center, which is Downtown just off of Fremont Street. It was my first time hearing about the place and I was impressed.
It had the look and feel of a tech office, with lots of open space, whiteboards, and glass walls. Turns out it also used to be the home of The Iron Yard, which was a coding bootcamp in Las Vegas that recently closed up shop.
It made me a little sad to look at this room and think of what might have been.
I had read about the Iron Yard when I first started researching bootcamps in September. Unfortunately, they had shut down in July. It would have been awesome to attend a bootcamp in my hometown but I guess it wasn’t meant to be.
The presentations started immediately after the Opening Remarks. Each session was slated for 45-minutes and there were two or three presentations to choose from in each time slot.
I picked sessions that were geared towards new WordPress users, blogging, or WordPress development. Here is a list of the talks I attended:
- If I Could Relearn WordPress, Here’s What I’d Do*
- Taking the Stage: Improving the Quality of Your Life Through a Staging Workflow
- Backlink Bootcamp*
- WordPress Lightning Fast
- WordPress Security 101
- Authoring Plugins
- Page Builders in WordPress*
- Correctly Configuring the Yoast SEO Plugin*
- Landing Pages: An Art and a Science
- Legos for Developers – A Modular Approach to WordPress Development
- So Easy Even a Kid Can Do It: Using WordPress as a Platform for Portfolios
- How the ***** Do I Get People to Read My Stinkin’ Blog?!*
- Finding Focus as a Freelancer
- How to Make Your Blog the Best of Its Kind in the World*
- The Connection Between WordPress, Social Media and SEO
- Easy A/B Testing with Google Analytics For WordPress Sites*
As you can see, it was a pretty busy two days.
All the sessions were recorded and they should be available on the WordCamp Las Vegas website soon. I have marked the presentations that I thought were especially good with an asterisk. Once the videos become available I would recommend giving those lessons a watch.
While some speakers were better than others, I came away from each one with something I could take away and use. Some sessions were very technical in nature, like the Authoring Plugins and Modular Development talks, but most were geared towards a typical WordPress user and required little or no knowledge of programming.
It is hard to really sum up what I learned over the weekend since the topics were so varied, but here are a few of my key takeaways:
- Don’t just talk about yourself or your brand on social media. Most of your posts should be about generating conversation and providing value, not about promoting your content. One speaker recommended a 7 to 1 ratio.
- Pinterest and Google+ are the only social media platforms that directly affect how Google ranks your site.
- Setting your site up with HTTPS improves Google rankings and will become even more important going forward.
- Use Plugins, not Themes, to provide functionality to your site.
- Unsplash.com is a great resource for free photos.
E-commerce was a big focus at WordCamp Las Vegas. It seemed as if most of the people in there were selling some type of product and using their WordPress site as a business tool. Even the “bloggers” were usually pushing some type of guide or training resource. The point was clear. Producing quality content is a must, but so is marketing your site and building a brand. As someone new to this whole blogging thing it was definitely something to think about.
I liked the 45-minute session length. It was enough time for the speakers to make their point but no so long that people would start to lose interest or need a break.
The schedule was very tight and most presentations went the full duration or slightly over. As a result, there was little to no time between one speaker and the next. This was fine if the next presentation you wanted to watch was in the same room (and if you didn’t need to use the bathroom), but if you had to move to a different room there was a chance you might miss the first few minutes of the next presentation.
Lunch was provided each day along with an almost two-hour lunch break. If I had one suggestion it would be to shorten the time for lunch and add an extra five minutes between each presentation. With lunch on site, even a 45-minute lunch break would have been plenty of time to eat and get some networking time in.
Speaking of networking. There was an after-party on Saturday that everyone was encouraged to attend but I skipped it. In hindsight, I regret not doing a better job of networking and the party would have been another opportunity to do so. That isn’t my thing though so I pretty much just kept to myself the whole weekend. If I am going to break into the industry though that is definitely something I am going to have to do better at.
It only cost $40 to attend WordCamp Las Vegas. For that, you got sixteen WordPress seminars, two free lunches, a t-shirt, a party invitation including two free drinks, and the chance to meet and connect with a wide range of other WordPress users. How could they provide all that for only $40 you might ask?
Everyone who spoke or worked at WordCamp Las Vegas volunteered their time. That, combined with the generosity of the sponsors, is how they were able to keep ticket prices so low and still put on such a high-quality event. It was a great experience and I am glad I found out about it and was able to attend.
You can find a list of upcoming WordCamps here. While they won’t all cost $40, I would still encourage any WordPress user to attend a WordCamp if there is one in their area. Whether you are a blogger, a developer, or you run a WordPress business you are sure to learn something new.