I attended my first WordPress meetup yesterday. Here's a 20-second video that Brad Baldwin of Rocky Mountain Voices took at the event. My wife and I appear at the very end, engaged in conversation with a couple of seasoned bloggers who make their living from a quotations page that gets 200,000 hits a day. (By the way, I found this video on Janet Meiners' site (aka Newspaper Girl), who wrote an excellent post about the event.)
I learned a few interesting things at this meetup:
You can make a living from the ad revenue from your site. Laura and Michael Moncur run a Quotations Page site, which gets 200,000 hits a day and provides their primary income. They started it in 1994 and use TribalFusion for the ads. You'd think they feverishly add dozens of quotes a day to keep up the rankings, but Laura said they add maybe half a dozen new quotes a week. The key is that they started so early.
The most profitable readers are those who don't find what they want on your site. They click the ads because your content doesn't provide the answers. This provides an interesting irony about writing: to make money with ads, stack up your content with SEO qualities to attract searchers, and then leave them wanting more. (Of course, it's a double-edged sword: if you don't write useful content, no one will link to you, and your SEO rank will drop.)
Sometimes the ads displayed on your site contradict the actual recommendations of your post. Sure you want readers to click the ads, but ... oh the ethics of making money.
Joseph Scott, one of the Automaticc employees behind WordPress, says WordPress 2.4 will offer a total redesign of the administrative panel, a complete UI overhaul that will make strides in usability.
We talked about WordPress's ability to attract volunteer forum moderators who feel their calling is to help users solve their problems, and they work all hours of the day in this calling. None of us understood the motivations of forum volunteers, but we all appreciated their help. Laura said that people even send her quotes all the time to add to their site.
Text-link ads can hurt your SEO because Google penalizes you for your link relationship with spammy sites. You might make a few bucks from the ad, but it will hurt your rankings, and then your site will lose traffic.
We talked about the dangers of syndicating your content to other sites, such as corporatewebsite.com. If you do a search for your post title, and their site appears higher than yours, you're losing valuable traffic. (Because of this, I decided to stop allowing corporatewebsite to occasionally post content from my site, even with attributions.)
We asked Joseph why WordPress doesn't provide more attractive themes. Everyone agreed that most WordPress themes are visually amateur, and some are embarrassing. Joseph said WordPress doesn't provide more themes in the default install because including themes also means excluding themes. Whenever they make a decision to include/exclude a theme, hundreds of upset people write in angrily complaining about the unfairness of not including their theme. I believe he said WP.themes.net is dying for the same reason.
I recommended that WordPress include the Alex King's Popularity Contest as a Top 10 Posts widget built into the core, but Joseph said the same thing happens with plugins as with themes: people go crazy when they realize their plugin was excluded. My wife and I were still in favor of the reality check.
Rather than going to all the trouble to customize themes manually, someone recommended just buying a professional one for $50 to $100. It's well-worth the hours you will spend trying to customize a free one. In fact, the guy I was talking to (Thom Allen), says he often builds sites for clients from themes he buys. About all he has to do, then, is set up the site, install the theme, and input the client's content. I totally agree with this idea. I'm not a graphic designer, and it takes me a long time to customize a theme. So today I started surfing around for premium WordPress themes and saw one I like here: WordPress Magazine theme. My wife hasn't given me permission to buy it, and it's too magazine-ish for me anyway, but I'm on the lookout.
We really appreciated the people who came up to talk to us. We arrived late (and the incorrect address didn't help -- like Newspaper Girl, we also used Goog-411 to find where the restaurant was). When we got there, the two big round tables were packed, especially the one where Matt Mullenweg was sitting. But some outgoing people pulled their chairs up next to our table and were extremely friendly to us, including Thom Allen, who is organizing the upcoming podcamp in SLC, and also Michael Moncur, Laura Moncur, and Joseph Scott.
As a final note, I was really glad my wife joined me for this event, because otherwise I would have felt too nerdy alone.
By the way, if you're local to SLC and want to get on the blogger mailing list, contact Laura Moncur and she'll add you.
Feb 5 Update:
Rocky Mountain Voices posted an interview with Matt Mullenweg here (at the same restaurant, I believe). Matt talks about how they monetize WordPress and their new 29.5 million dollar funding.
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