.... Unless You USE It!
It is no secret... I love WordPress as a Content Management System and I am an evangelist when it comes to discussing the possibilities this CMS offers small business owners for website development . The shear magnitude and the purity of this web publishing systems capabilities and simplicity is absolutely mind boggling to me... Yet there is a hitch...
What is the Hitch? The Catch? The Red Herring?
The catch is that if the Content Management System has no content, it still will work better than a html hand coded site, but not a lot better.
I have been bumping into this situation with my clients (and even sometimes with myself) for some time now. The "Build it and they will come" mentality just does not wash in this world of search engines and instant information.
A website is judged, not so much on what you have done, but what have you done lately? This applies to all websites, no matter the publishing system they use, if there is no recent content, then there are no recent visits from the nifty search engine spiders or bots.
Build it - is where it all starts...
This lesson became clear to me a long time ago but more recently a situation with a family member clarified my thoughts leading to this article.
My brother Steve is a tradesman, he has worked with his hands all of his life. He is also a specialist and he has a niche like no other to specialize in, Marine Air Conditioning on Yachts.
Steve has worked on installing and maintaining sea going marine refrigeration and air conditioning for the last 25 years. He owns his own business - Cooler Marine Air in St Peterburg, Florida and although he is a small operation his clients are loyal and varied.
Steve has been flown as far away as the Caribbean and Mexico to repair cooling systems on large yachts and he has consulted with manufacturers of the air conditioning and builders of the finest yachts to share with them his experience and his knowledge about what really works in the field.
Steve Pooler can teach both the theory and practical applications of all sorts of marine refrigeration and air conditioning installations, troubleshooting and repair.
So... the guy is good, and that's not just cause he is my brother! He has fans all over the country in this niche and he deserves to be recognized for his very specific skill set and experience...
Boing! His brother (me) decides he should have a website...
Last winter (the slow time for any kind of marine AC work) I decided I would build my brother a website. I knew that if he shared just a small piece of what he knows on the Internet that he could develop an audience of fans which could then be converted into paying customers. So, with very little fanfare I set up marine-ac.com for my brother Steve in October 2008.
To be honest, I don't think Steve was really sold on the idea of having a website. He just did not see the real possibilities or capabilities even though he is a fairly Internet savvy individual. With this in mind, I did not go hog wild on the site design (using an image, taken with an iPhone, of a yacht Steve was currently working on as the basis for a vary basic header) and setting up just the basic plugins and settings for WordPress.
I showed my brother how to post an article, how to insert images and how to add keywords, tags and categories. I then explained how he should write a short article 2 - 3 times a week, just covering what he does, what problems and solutions he comes across or whatever piece of equipment he happen to work on that day. I explained that it is not rocket science and that he did not have to be Ernest Hemingway to add content to his own website. Just 200 - 700 words is all he would need per article, that's it, a few pictures from the iPhone and he would be set.
(This article is currently at 646 words)
As with all new website owners, Steve became animated somewhat and actually wrote a few articles. He did what a lot of us do and he wrote long articles. Articles that I mentioned could be separated into a series and kept in smaller bite sized chunks for the readers. Since my brother has an (unfamiliar to me) stubborn streak, he failed to listen to my advice (I can't imagine where that stubbornness came from) - Steve liked his long articles, but writing them would take up and entire day of his time because he would write and edit and write and edit and then he would edit some more. We all do it, its natural, we want to be Hemingway when in fact we are just people sharing simple knowledge about our specific niche subjects...
Once Steve had published two or three articles, and he saw that those articles were being found in search and people were coming to his website to read them... He became much more excited and animated about the prospect of being an Internet ready business. Steve was becoming Web 2.0 even if he did not really know what that was... It did not matter a hoot really, because he was helping himself and his business by becoming an expert online and by increasing the confidence of his audience in his abilities and knowledge.
No Matter Who You are...
No matter how accomplished you are, no matter how many people know your name at the store or on the docks or at the club... The shear numbers of people who can be exposed to you and your expertise online with just one good article published on your own website, will dwarf amount of handshakes you can make in a lifetime.
Steve found that out...
He suddenly got calls from people he would never have expected to hear from. Manufacturers of pumps wanting to exchange links, people asking for advise, old customers saying hello. It was exciting.
Then Steve hit on an idea... Since it was the slow winter months (A time notorious for not producing much in the way of sales or service in his field here in Florida), Steve thought he would write an article which would detail why the winter was a great time to get the service done on the air conditioning and refrigeration in yachts precisely because it was a slow time for marine ac repair techs. He wrote this shorter and more concise article and he then sent it out to his entire customer list via email as a link to the website, introducing his new website to his customers with an article that promoted the use of his services at a time when they did not normally think about air conditioning.
The article and email campaign was a success!
Steve recorded more business last January than in any other winter month in his history of doing this kind of work. All attributed to one article and one email and Steve was a happy, yet busy man.
Does the story end here?
Well, yes and no...
The story does not end, but for some reason after that one success, Steve pretty much walked away from his website. Since October 2008 Steve has only published 9 articles and just one in the last 4 months.
Sometime in March Steve asked me to add a forum to his website. Steve has a great deal of experience as a user of Internet discussion forums and he expressed that he would feel more comfortable with one on his site to answer specific questions from his readers and customers. I installed SimplePress for him and did a quick, light setup with some basic topics.
In hindsight I would say that I should not have done that so easily. I needed to reinforce the idea of creating new content in the form of articles on the website/blog. Because I know that WordPress will out perform a forum for targeting specific nich traffic and creating a website that draws new visitors as well as search engine spiders but only if one actually publishes content. The forum is not bad at all, it is a good thing, but it should not be thought of as a replacement for the other work that must be done to maintain a dynamic website.
Fast Forward to the weekend of my daughters birthday - July 10th 2009.
We were visiting my brother Steve at his home and he mentioned that he really did not like the look of his forum, the colors were not right. This was a surprise to me as he had not mentioned the problem in the previous 3 - 4 months since the forum was installed. But nonetheless, being the web developer brother, I sat down at Steve's computer to remedy the situation with a quick forum theme change. First I found that the forum was corrupted and would not allow even administration access and then I found a few other issues which needed my office computer to fix....
In addition, I had not been to the site in several months so I was surprised to see that he had not really posted any articles in quite sometime. So I inquired as to why that was?
WordPress SUCKS! was what I heard... I get more traffic from my forum than from the "blog" and I really don't need wordpress, can you just make it a forum?
This is where the aforementioned family stubbornness trait kicked in on my side of the spectrum.. (The trait I claimed previously to not being aware of its existence). I was indignant that my brother, of all people would Dis- WordPress to my face. Does this fella not know how I make a living? Does he not realize WordPress gave him his best January ever?
Does he just not understand?
The answer is yes, he did not understand and he is not alone.
My brother did not understand that for WordPress to work as advertised, for it to bring organic traffic in the way that millions of successful users can attest to, it first must be used to publish content on a consistent and regular basis. Content in the form of words and pictures and videos and anything else your heart desires. But it must be used.
Did I fix it?
The weekend was long and there were problems with an update to the Simplepress forum which required my shutting down the forum over that weekend. I did not get to the issue again until the following Monday. Steve was not happy with me, he wanted his forum back because he had an ongoing technical conversation going with a gentleman who was diagnosing a problem with a marine air conditioner.
I responded to his Monday morning "reminder" that his forum was down with some opinions I did not want to share in front of my daughter and mother, and then I said I would fix his forum, but in the meantime he should:
...post an article on the "blog" (Spit hack pooey) which states that you can answer any question in comments (While the forum is down). Continue your conversation with your guy there, not in email. WordPress really will work better than any forum, if you use it as intended, man. (i.e. Tags, Categories, Comments) Let the world know that marine-ac.com exists - post an article...
While working on the forum (which needed a complete overhaul) I was curious about my brother's claim that the forum and not the blog gets marine-ac.com more traffic. So I did a quick search on "Marine AC Forum" sure enough, there it was in Google - outranking established marine air conditioning manufacturers websites with forums or mentioning forums. Marine-Ac.com was number 3 and 4 on the first page for that search phrase. Pretty cool...
But what is the rest of the story?
Both of those results, the number 3 and number 4 ranking in Google for the keyword phrase "Marine AC Forum" actually linked to published articles on the website in WordPress. The forum itself did not rank, it was the mention of the forum in two different articles Steve had published (out of his total of 9 articles published) that was bringing in the traffic he was referring to in his forum.
The point being that WordPress does work, even with this minimal amount of effort and without much thought concerning keyword optimization or consistency. The few articles my brother has posted bring him traffic on a daily basis.
Of course, it goes without saying that more articles would equate to more traffic.
We are working on that!
I hope I can inspire my brother to use the site as intended and I hope to do a redesign on it soon (waiting on more fancy yacht pictures)... In any case I feel good that he is seeing some benefit from this minimally utilized resource.
Any advertising is better than no advertising!
And... WordPress Does Work! So There! (Little brother to big brother rasberry included)
Simplepress forum has been updated to work with WordPress 2.8.1 and has several improvements in the front and back end interface. It is the plugin that is powering the new TAJ Forum and with this installation the forum posts and the blog posts can be linked in a way that creates a very nice internal link as well as offers readers a new way to interact with the website author as well as other readers. I recommend the latest version as seen installed here on this site and on marine-ac.com