WordCamp Birmingham: Much Goodness

WordCamp Birmingham: Much Goodness

I just came back from WordCamp Birmingham. It was the third WC Birmingham I’ve attended and it’s always one of my favorites. Here’s a brief summary of the sessions I attended.

Grow Your Business with the Power of People

By Syed Balki

If anyone knows how to build and monetize valuable Web properties, it’s Syed. His talk outlined the methods he used to make WP-Beginner and numerous other sites successful and profitable. Syed cited a Hubspot survey that revealed that sites with a blog generate 70 percent more leads and draw 55 percent more Web traffic.

Key Points

  • Identify your target audience and build content that provides value. Categorize your posts according to the interests of your readers
  • Show you care. Going the extra mile to help someone without asking for anything in return helps build relationships that are mutually beneficial and, ultimately, profitable.
  • Collaborate. Work with others who provide similar or related services or content that complement your own.
    Attend and/or speak at events where your audience is likely to be present and interact. Be open to meeting and talking with new people.
  • Engage in a helpful way on other blogs and forums; guest post on sites that reach the same audience.
    Give away things: themes, plugins, other items, depending on your audience.

Syed Balkhi (@syedbalki) is a serial entrepreneur with marketing and dev experience. He is the founder of WPBeginner, List25, SteadyStrength, and numerous other websites.

Be Fruitful, Have Child Theme

By Aaron Reimann

Aaron’s talk centered on using child themes when modifying themes in WordPress. Child themes protect your changes against theme updates that may break your changes.

Aaron cited several base themes and frameworks, such as underscores (https://github.com/ automattic/_s); Hybrid theme (themehybrid.com); and the Stellar framework (beta), available at http://wpscholar.com.

Aaron walked through the necessary steps to create a child theme:

  1. Create an empty style.css file. These styles will override what in the parent CSS.
  2. Create a functions.php file.
  3. Copy other pages you want to edit to the child theme directory.

There was more to Aaron’s talk, however, this is the part I understand well enough to summarize.

Aaron is a Web developer at Sideway8.com, based in Atlanta. He started off as designer, but has moved into the coding realm. He has four years of WordPress experience as a themer and also a few plugins.

Content Strategy with WordPress

By Adam Walker

Adam defines content strategy as bridging the gap between what a website owner wants to say and what a user wants to read.

Adam’s Content Strategy Tips

  • Decide what is important to say, then decide what is really important. Readers often don’t care about our long bio or our mission statement. The mission and vision of your business should be expressed through your content.
  • Determine what your users want to read.
    • Do they like and trust you?
    • Do they like your work?
    • What other information and resources are available to help them
  • Creative Strategies.
    • Be straightforward; no sales pitches. It’s ok to admit you are in business to make money. Talk about the process you go through to create something that helps your client. Showcase your work.
    • Start with content, not design. Don’t try to fit the content into the design; determine how the design will highlight your content to draw visitors to your site.
  • Evaluate your client’s needs.
    • Do a content audit – what current content is still useful and can be retooled or retained?
    • Talk to stakeholders about their wants and needs for the site.
    • Do a competitor analysis. Analyze the sites of your client’s competitors; what they do well and what they don’t.
    • Target market analysis. Determine your target audience, what they need and think through the best calls to action.
    • Create at least three user personas and create content for each one.
    • Segment your content for different users; understand which pages are for which personas.
    • Decide on your channel strategy. Newsletters, social media channels – where is your audience active?
    • Content creation/revision plan. Be ready to revise and improve continually.
    • Review analytics. Use bounce rate and other statistics to determine if the content is providing value.

Choosing a Theme

Base your choice on your design strategy; determine what you need before you look at themes. Put specific content into buckets and look for themes that accommodate them; for example, sliders, galleries, product pages and sidebars.


  • Jetpack provides subscriptions via email, auto post to social media channel, social share, and extra sidebar widgets to further refine content.
  • Content Audit helps you create content inventory and easily review it.
  • Editorial calendar helps you plan content.
  • Analytics plugin — Google Analytics for WordPress by Yoast is a good one.
  • An SEO plugin will help discipline you to be sure your pages are focused in addition to search benefits.

Adam’s talk inspired me to review this site based on his recommendations. (I’m going to try very hard to get on that …)

Adam Walker (@ajwalker) worked in Web development in the 90s when most people didn’t know the difference between AOL and the internet. He is Aaron Reimann’s business partner at Sideways8 and develops custom WordPress themes and plugins.

Ecommerce 101

By Nathan Ingram

Nathan is a very engaging speaker and made even the most technical portions of this session interesting and simple to understand.

It was surprising to learn that the first online transaction was made in 1979, over a television connected to a telephone line.

Nathan explained the standard ecommerce process, and the process with a third-party processor.

Standard Process

The standard process take three business days and includes several steps.

  1. Shopping cart. Its primary purpose is to manage the shopping process, communicate with the payment gateway and to keep the user happy.
  2. Payment Gateway. Authorize.net is the largest provider and the industry standard. It returns a yes or no to the shopping cart; similar to the point of sale system in a retail store. The service contacts the issuing bank for the credit card and keeps a list of approved purchases for the day. If approved, it collects an approval code. There is a virtual terminal that lets you go online and key transactions manually.
  3. Merchant Account. When the payment gateway submits a batch of approved transactions, the sales are sent to the merchant account, which collects on the sales and sends the funds to your bank account.Applying to a merchant account is a very complex and time-consuming process as the provider is liable for the transaction; much like they are issuing you credit. Nathan emphasized that it is essential to secure merchant account approval before you build anything.

Third-Party Processor

Ecommerce with a third-party processor is much simpler to implement. Third party processors, such as PayPal and Stripes combines the payment gateway with the merchant account.

Nathan shared helpful tips on things to consider when choosing a payment processor:

  • How much volume will you do? You’ll get a better rate with durable goods.
  • Do you need recurring billing?
  • Where are you based?
  • What is the company’s reputation?
  • What level of support will you need? Some third-party processors will provide phone support.
  • Does the gateway integrate well?
  • Are there hidden fees?


Any Web page that collects sensitive information from a user should be secured with SSL. There are many sources for SSL certificates; the difference is the level of confidence it gives the user.

Nathan used a simple analogy to explain what SSL does. Imagine you’re in a conversation in a room with other people. Anyone can overhear your conversation. A site with an SSL certificate is like having a conversation in the same room, but in a language no one else can understand.

There are three types of certificates:

  1. Shared SSL. Can be quirky, and the URL is not your domain, so the user may be alarmed when they see a different name in their browser.
  2. Domain validated SSL. This certifies that you own the domain name.
  3. Extended validation. This certifies that you own both the domain and the business. It’s more detailed and takes more time to issue, but this is how you get the green bar at the top of the page that gives users more confidence.

The main difference in SSL certificates how the user perceives the security of the page.

Nathan Ingram (@nathaningram) is a freelancer, teacher, writer, WordPress figurer-outer. Writer. WordPress Figure-outerer, and professional geek. In addition to freelance Web development work, he serves as technical editor for WebDesign.com, where he teachers WordPress and Web design via live webinars.

Busting “The Loop” Lies

By Kevin Dees

Kevin presented several lies that unnecessarily complicate WordPress development. Lack of understanding of the loop can break pagination and other elements of the site.

Warning: This was one of the more complex, programm-y sessions I attended, and, while I enjoyed it thoroughly and learned a lot, I’m not particularly confident about my ability to summarize it.

Kevin explained that there are two types of loops: the main loop and “everything else.”

He explained different types of queries and the advantages, dangers and disadvantages of each. What I can confidently say about this is:
Never use query_posts.

Kevin Dees (@kevindees) is a Web developer from Greenville, South Carolina.He has contributed plugins to the community on WordPress.org, and works at Robojuice. He has worked with large enterprise clients, small mom-and-pop shops and with freelance designers.

Life Below 960px: An Introduction to Responsive Design

By David Hickox

This was a high-level introduction to the concepts behind responsive design. David outlined a bit of history of screen sizes, mobile devices, and the development community’s solutions, from doing nothing to developing mobile applications and separate mobile sites.

He discussed the different types of devices and how we use them; for example, we may use our phones when we are away from home, but also when we are at home to get information about things we see on television.

Some statistics:

  1. 66 percent of Gmail opens occur on a mobile device; 19 percent in a browser; 15 percent of email is opened in a desktop mail client
  2. Addressing mobile devices with an app interrupts this flow and can block transactions. Users need a consistent experience across devices.
  3. By 2015, more Americans will access the Internet via mobile devices than on a desktop browser.
  4. The next generation will be mostly mobile; Facebook mobile-only users already exceed 20 percent (189 million people).
  5. More people have cell phones than toilets; 6 billion have access to mobile phones, while 4.5 billion have toilets.

A Better System

  • A fluid experience in a multi-device world Content parity with one content management system (CMS) to maintain instead of posting content on two separate sites
  • Future-proof
  • Responsive Web design is a fluid, grid-based layout and CSS3 media queries that allows us to design for ebb & flow of devices.
  • Flexible framework achieved by media queries that includes collapsible navigation.
  • Thinking about mobile first allows you to develop a hierarchy of content; the most important content and calls to action and then scale up instead of trying to reduce from the desktop size.
  • If you’re looking at responsive themes, always test on mobile and by changing the browser size.
  • Keep the menu to not more than five items
  • Responsive design creates a one-column layout, pushing the sidebar below the content or hiding it altogether.
  • Make images responsive by setting a 100 percent width so that they scale with screen size; video is difficult to scale well.

David Hickox (@roboticarm) is a Web designer from Birmingham with 14 years of agency experience building websites big and small for a wide variety of clients. He is passionate about usability, obsessive about typography, and addicted to the mobile Web.

Responsify! 5 Things You Should Know About Responsive Web Design

By Tammy Hart

If David Hickox’s talk was the 10-foot view of responsive design, my friend Tammy brought the practical side. Tammy is a fantastic designer and WordPress developer and I never miss one of her talks when I have the opportunity. She is also just an all-round awesome person.

Responsive design provides a fluid foundation; with percentage-based widths instead of a set pixel width. She provided a handy formula to calculate percentage values from a 960-pixel grid:

Column/container width x 100. For example, if your container width is 960, and you want a 300-pixel column, divide 300 by 960 and multiply by 100. You’ll get a value of 31.25%, which will give you a nice sidebar width. (You probably didn’t need that explanation, but I did.)

Tammy shared methods for ensuring images are responsive and javascript to make these techniques work in older browsers (<IE9). Tammy emphasized that that everything on the site must use percentage widths, even tables (for tabular data only, please).

She explained pseudo classes and shared a URL for CanIUse.com to determine how well certain declarations are supported in different browsers.

She then discussed media queries and how to use them; Tammy recommends designing first for mobile, then expanding content for desktop viewing. Her reasons are cleaner code and less editing of existing CSS.

Because any Internet Explorer version before IE9 does not support media queries, Tammy shared javascript solutions that improve appearance in these browsers.


Most designers still work in Photoshop to design the look of the site. Start with a mobile view in Photoshop and create a mobile design that works and expand from there.

Sidebars. Although the sidebar will drop below the main content on a mobile display, the scrolling is less than on a desktop, so it’s usually not a problem.

Tammy Hart (@tammyhart) is a self-taught designer and engineer who has specialized in building custom WordPress websites for more than seven years. She’s a design engineer at 10up, a full-service web agency.


And the swag.

I highly recommend WordCamps. They are always very well-run, reasonably-priced and high-quality events. If you want to see a description of all of the sessions, visit the WordCamp Birmingham site. For a complete list of upcoming events, go here. I’ll see you at the next one within driving distance of Memphis.

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By | 2016-07-27T18:55:53+00:00 August 26, 2013|Categories: Blog, WordPress|Tags: |

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