Zoom Video Conferencing is one of the rare success stories during the COVID 19 pandemic, when other businesses are hobbled and must rely on digital communication. This article goes over basic functions of the service, how it became so successful, how to use it safely, and ways your business can make money with it.
How To Use Zoom
This video by the YouTube channel “Every Bit Helps” is a great beginners’ lesson in using the service. Most users have some idea how it works, but there are important features one may have missed.
Why Zoom Is So Popular
This article by Drift explains that Zoom already had a solid business foundation before becoming the de facto video conferencing app during the pandemic (The 3 secrets behind Zoom’s triple-digit growth). The three factors are, a customer-first culture driving a positive user experience; making a product that can sell through word of mouth; and advertising the brand in areas with the most impact.
Customer experience is a lynchpin in business success, and Zoom continuously tracks data and collects reviews from users. This led to its adoption of the “freemium” business model. You can use Zoom for free, but for only 40 minutes at a time. If you want to hold longer meetings, you need to upgrade to one of its premium pricing tiers, based on the size of your business. Zoom’s developers strive to make the free version reliable and easy to use.
In the early days of Zoom’s business, they focused their advertising and brand awareness in the San Francisco Bay area. They ran billboards along Silicon Valley’s Route 101, and ran banner ads at Golden State Warrior games. Being a tech company, they wanted their fellow software developers to be early adopters, who could most effectively attest to the product’s quality.
But is Zoom high quality? We’ve all seen the backlash against it as Zoom meetings have been intruded upon, and the app’s security questioned. Facebook’s Messenger Rooms make a point of preventing this in its press releases.
Fortunately, Zoom can be made secure with some basic precautions. The Verge lays out a plan, and notes that Zoom themselves are modifying the app to make security easier (again with user feedback!) The first factor in Zoom meeting security is creating meeting passwords, and sharing them only with the people you invite. The Verge article lays out the steps:
From the main Zoom page, click on “My Account” in the upper-right corner, and then click “Schedule a meeting”
If you wish, you can enter a meeting topic and description. Put in the date, time, and duration of your meeting. (If you’re on the free plan, you’ve got 40 minutes.)
Look for “Meeting ID,” and select “Generate Automatically.” This will generate a unique ID for that meeting rather than use your usual meeting ID.
Make sure “Require a password” is checked. Zoom will generate a random password, but you can also create your own.
Below that, make sure “Enable waiting room” is checked (and it’s a good idea not to check “Enable join before host” since that would let participants wander into the meeting before you do).
Click on “Save”
You’ll be brought to the meetings page where you will see all of the options for that meeting. Halfway down, you can click “Copy the invitation” to put all of the info into your buffer so you can send it to your participants. When you’re ready, click on the blue “Start this Meeting” button.
If you’re using the Zoom app:
Click on “Schedule”
You will be offered essentially the same selections as in the web app. If you want to make sure the waiting room is enabled, click on “Advanced Options” at the bottom of the page.
Click on the blue “Schedule” button
You’ll be offered the chance to put the meeting into your calendar. After that, you’ll be brought back to the main window. The scheduled meeting will be on the right; if you want, you can click on the three dots to the right of your name to make changes or copy the invitation into buffer to send to your participants.
Another helpful feature is the Zoom’s virtual waiting room. You can require guests to wait to enter the meeting while you verify they were actually invited. Also, if you know that all the invited meeting participants have joined, you can “lock down” and prevent anyone else from joining.
How To Make Money With Zoom
How can you use Zoom in your business, besides running team meetings? How can a solopreneur use it to make money? Here are some ideas that combine Zoom with other tech solutions. Most of these methods can be used by hosting meetings on your business website. There is a WordPress plugin that lets you embed Zoom meetings on your web pages (Zoom WordPress plugin: https://wordpress.org/plugins/video-conferencing-with-zoom-api/)
Coaching/Consulting: An obvious use for video conferencing in business is holding coaching appointments with clients. You can send your client a link to the Zoom meeting, have your session, then invoice them later.
Sell tickets: You can host live video events on your website, and sell tickets to it with a WordPress plugin or Eventbrite. The Events Calendar WordPress plugin has a paid extension that enables you to sell online tickets, and announce them on your site’s calendar. This is useful for entertainment or fitness classes.
Paid membership: You can install a membership plugin on your WordPress site, such as MemberPress or Paid Memberships Pro, and host Zoom meetings among your site’s paid subscribers. This is useful if you run a blog with free content, and want to offer premium perks. Membership plugins work by blocking off certain pages to everyone except subscribers, and hosting your exclusive content on those pages. You can record your Zoom meetings, and keep them in an archive behind your paywall.
Webinars: Video conferencing apps like Zoom are ideal for webinars, which can be either paid ticket events, or a marketing tool. It’s common to host a free webinar in exchange for someone’s email address, then use email marketing to promote other products or services.
If you run a retail business, it’s more important than ever to sell online. In the past few months, Google has stepped up its services to help its visitors find products, whether they’re sold by major retailers or local shops. Google Shopping is a network where stores can directly feed their product information to the search engine, which leads to their ecommerce sites.
At the end of April, 2020, Google made it free for retailers to list products in Google Shopping. According to Search Engine Journal, it was a decision made to help businesses during the Coronavirus pandemic. PayPal is also joining Google; businesses can connect their PayPal accounts to Google, supposedly so customers can buy through the search engine.
WooCommerce, the plugin that enables ecommerce in WordPress websites, has been a Google Shopping partner for some time. LearnWoo.com lists different extensions to WooCommerce that let stores feed their products directly to Google Merchant Center. There is another free extension that lets you run Google ad campaigns through your site. The only money a store would spend is on the ads themselves.
The YouTuber Darrel Wilson offers an excellent tutorial for building a WordPress ecommerce site with WooCommerce and the Divi Theme.
Good WordPress SEO starts with good hosting. A web host is any company or network that runs servers, which are computers that your website exists on. A good host will make your site load fast for your visitors, which is a key ranking factor. I personally recommend the hosting company SiteGround, and I have friends who have good experience with InMotion. You can sign up for SiteGround hosting through this affiliate link: Get SiteGround
“SSL” stands for “secure socket layer” and such a certificate encrypts your visitors’ data, protecting it from hackers. This is crucial if you’re collecting email addresses, or credit card info through your online store. Today, web browsers will tell you if a site is secured by an SSL with a padlock icon in the URL box.
Fortunately, SiteGround partners with a non-profit group called Let’s Encrypt to provide free SSL certificates. Let’s Encrypt is available through most other hosts as well. When you have an account with a web host, you can access the control panel page, find the Let’s Encrypt link, and assign an SSL to your site.
After you get your hosting account, you can install WordPress either by clicking the “QuickInstall” link and selecting WordPress as the builder, or there may be a dedicated WordPress link in the control panel. Because WordPress is so ubiquitous among bloggers, web designers, and businesses, most mainstream hosting companies make it easy to set up.
When WordPress is installed on your site, you need a theme and page builder plugin to design the appearance. My favorite themes are Astra, GeneratePress, and Divi. Divi is a paid theme that you buy from Elegant Themes, and has its own proprietary page builder system. Astra and GeneratePress are freely available in the WordPress theme repository, although they have paid versions with advanced features. Astra and GeneratePress let you use any page builder plugin, and I recommend either Beaver Builder or Elementor.
Astra has a handy feature called Astra Starter Sites that lets you upload pre-made websites that utilize Beaver Builder and Elementor. Divi has a massive collection of layout packs that you can upload. The great thing about the pre-made templates in these themes is that they’re completely customizable. You can delete, resize, re-color, and rearrange sections of pages through these builders.
The 2 most important considerations for a theme, in SEO terms, are loading speed and whether it’s mobile friendly. Divi, GeneratePress, and Astra have been tested by many bloggers and web designers, and are trusted for their loading times. These themes and builders use responsive web design, meaning the objects on pages resize and rearrange to fit the screens of mobile devices. This makes them suitable for desktops, tablets, and smartphones.
When you log into WordPress, you’ll enter the Dashboard and see the menu items on the left side. Under “Settings,” there are 2 important sections, “Reading” and “Permalinks.” On the Reading page, make sure the box by “Discourage search engines from indexing this site” is not checked. In Permalinks, select the option “Post Name.” This makes the url of your sub pages and posts include the page and post names, which the search engines prefer to display in search results.
SEO Plugin: Rank Math
Your site needs an SEO plugin. Plugins are applications that extend the functionality of your WordPress site, and there are a few popular and up-and-coming plugins that aid you in search. For many years, Yoast has been the industry standard SEO plugin, but I recommend an exciting new one called Rank Math. Rank Math has probably the most complete feature set in SEO for FREE! Its paid version is still in development as of this writing.
In the left side menu, go to “Plugins,” and click the sub menu “Add New.” You can look up Rank Math in the WordPress Repository and install it on your site. Rank Math will ask you to create a profile on its own developer’s site, then enable you to use its “Setup Wizard.” The first step in the Wizard ist to enter in your site’s name, logo, and other identifiers. I’ll go over the next Setup Wizard steps in the following sections.
Google Search Console
Rank Math will prompt you to create a Google Search Console profile if you don’t have one already. Google Search Console is a Google service that guides you in improving your site’s searchability. In your Google Search Console profile, click on “Add Property” and type in your site’s domain or url. Google Search Console has its own setup sequence that’s cut and dried, and you’ll eventually verify ownership of your site. Rank Math will give you a line of code to paste into Search Console, then Google and your site will match up.
An XML sitemap is a file that you submit to search engines, that tells the engines which pages and posts you want to be found. Rank Math will generate a sitemap for you after you select the settings. You can copy the link code to the sitemap file, and submit it to Google in the Search Console.
The next step in Rank Math Setup is “SEO Tweaks.” It’s fine to keep the default setting, but read the descriptions under each setting to understand what they do. Next is the “Ready” step, from which you can return to your normal WordPress Dashboard, but you can continue on to the “Advanced Options.” The 404 and Redirect steps are related, and you can set it up so Rank Math notifies you when external links to your site are broken. You can have those broken links sent to new pages in the future.
The final Setup Wizard page, titled “Miscellaneous,” includes a very important feature called Rich Snippets. Here you can enable rich snippets on different pages, blog posts, products, and more. Snippets are data about your page structured in a way to easily display in Google Search Results. They’re free in Rank Math, which is a huge reason I want you to use this plugin.
After the Miscellaneous page, you’ll go back to the WordPress dashboard. You can go back to the Rank Math setup wizard any time and make changes.
When you’re writing blog articles and content for your pages (using your chosen theme and page builder,) you need to include words and terms that web surfers are looking for. There are a few free tools that will let you see how many searches different keywords launch, and their levels of competition. There is Google’s own Keyword Planner tool. I’ve been using a browser extension called Keywords Everywhere that shows the same data on Google’s own search results pages. There is also Ubersuggest, developed by SEO and marketing guru Neil Patel and available on his website.
Conducting keyword research will give you ideas for your next blog article, and show you what your competitors are doing well with. You should examine the top ranking pages under different keywords and find gaps in their information- gaps you can fill and rank for yourself! You can go on YouTube and listen to Neil Patel’s advice for finding content ideas with Ubersuggest.
On Page SEO
When Rank Math is installed on your website, a special section appears at the bottom of your page and post editing screens. There are 4 tabs in the Rank Math section, “General,” “Advanced,” “Rich Snippet,” and “Social.”
Under the General tab, you can edit the way your Google Search Result will look. It should say things you think your clients will find relevant. Below the Search Result editor, you can enter the keywords you want the page to rank for. Rank Math lets you use multiple keywords for free, while other SEO plugins save this for their premium versions. Below the keywords box, there are boxes with suggestions to make your page’s or post’s content better. These are helpful if you’re new to writing optimized content, but don’t stress out and try to get a perfect rating. It’s more important to write naturally in a way regular humans can relate to.
Under the Advanced tab, you can check boxes for “robots meta tag” values. These are factors that the search engines “crawl” and know to rank your site for. To keep it simple, check only “Index” box, because the other boxes restrict what Google can crawl. Below the robots meta tags, you can set the “canonical url.” If you have more than one page or website with identical content, this is where you tell Google that this page is what you want to be found. Below this, is the “redirect” section. If you ever change a page’s url, Google or other websites with links to the old url would get an error page. You need to redirect old links to your new url, and you set that url here.
Under the Rich Snippets tag, you can create the snippets for that page. A rich snippet is a markup that makes your content easier to index by the search engines, as well as display relevant data in search results. Rank Math gives us a handy form that makes these snippets and is easy to fill out.
The Social tab is where you set how your page links appear in Facebook and Twitter posts. This makes them easier to share and more enticing to click on.
There’s a debate whether you should allow a comments section in your blog posts. Comments are a sign of audience engagement, which Google favors. Unfortunately, the section is an easy target for spammers. There are so many sketchy marketers, hackers, and bots posting junk that some bloggers don’t bother to curate them, and turn the comments section off. If you do allow comments, use the Akismet plugin. Akismet will automatically curate comments based on your settings. Either use Akismet or don’t allow comments; the risks and rewards are balanced, so no one would judge you on your choice.
Long Form Content: The Longer the Post, the Better
When you write blog articles, the ideal length is between 1200 and 3000 words. Search Engine Journal says, “Average content length for Page 1 results is around 1,900 words, according to a 2016 study. That’s a lot longer than the 200- or 500-word blog posts most writers or webmasters think is ideal.” The point is that the article should be full of resources and valuable information. My free ebook, “Be True, Cut Through,” tells you how to write a sufficiently long article in a timely manner.
Headings (not to be confused with website headers) are text formats that are bolder and larger than regular text, that act as titles for sections of text, and have special value for search engines. Headings help organize your blog posts and pages, which is good for search engines and vision impaired visitors who use screen reader apps to listen to text.
Heading text have 6 levels of strength, Heading 1 being the most powerful and Heading 6 being the least. You can assign heading levels in WordPress by highlighting the text and selecting the level in the WordPress editor. Page builders have text modules where you can set headings, too.
Heading 1 should be used only once per page or post, as the main title of that page. The other levels are for groups of paragraphs covering a subtopic. Think of them similar to outline subjects, with certain topics placed under other overall topics.
It helps to include your keywords in some of the headings. Rank Math will suggest this, but again, it’s more important that your text reads naturally to humans.
Eliminate Duplicate Content
Duplicate content is when your website’s content is copied elsewhere, on your site or someone else’s. This is a big problem for search engines since they don’t know which copy of the content to rank. It’s also a sign of plagiarism, unless the original source is given credit and linked.
Some duplicate content within your own site is acceptable. This is when you display excerpts of your blog posts on other pages. The team at Yoast wrote a helpful article for finding duplicate content: Yoast- “What is Duplicate Content?”
Backlinks are links from other sites to yours. This is a huge factor in search rankings because it’s a sign of your site’s authority. Backlinks aren’t something you can create yourself because other people have to bestow them. Getting backlinks has more to do with building relationships than anything technical. This is where your brand and reputation come into play. Read my guide to building brand awareness here.
There are strategies for earning backlinks. They include guest posting on other websites; forming networks with related businesses and sharing audiences; utilizing journalism websites like Help A Reporter Out, offering tips to reporters and bloggers (they should give you credit as a source). You can find more strategies in my ebook Be True, Cut Through.
Internal links are links between pages and posts within your own website, and they help Google crawl your site better. Again, we turn to Neil Patel for advice.
Patel’s first rule is to have a lot of content. He says not to worry about an organized hierarchy of pages like other experts recommend, just link pages and articles that logically relate to each other. Second, links should be in the form of “anchor text.” This is just text that plainly describes where the link goes to. Remember your blind visitors and make it easy for them to know through their page reader apps.
Third, don’t include a lot of links to your homepage, “Contact” page, or any top tier page that’s included in your top menu. The menu links should be enough. DO link to other blog posts or less-visited pages. These are called deep links. Neil’s fourth rule is to use links that are natural and provide value to the reader. This is related to the 1st rule. The point here is to keep visitors engaged and on your site.
Fifth, links should be between related pages. It makes no sense to link between a post about credit cards and a post about vintage guitars, unless you’re telling readers how to buy vintage guitars. The sixth rule is to use “follow” links. Follow links are ones that search engines can read. You can set links as no follow if the page content is meant to be exclusive. In general though, follow links help Google crawl your site. The seventh and final rule Patel gives us is to use a reasonable number of internal links. There’s no set rule to how many are enough or too much- just make it useful to the visitor.
As I said in the last section, follow and no follow links signal whether search engines can crawl between pages. In the past, SEO pros and webmasters would make links to other sites no follow. This was a competitive tactic to keep the engines focused on one’s own site. Today, sources like Search Engine Land say no follow external links are just selfish and hurt your site’s SEO. The idea should be to allow the free flow of visitor traffic and Google’s tracking.
Read More Links
“Read More” links are commonly buttons linking to a full blog post or a page dedicated to one topic. These are another example of internal links and will help your rankings. These aren’t mentioned in Neil Patel’s article, but enough people ask about them to make them worth a mention.
Improve Page Load Time
If your web pages take more than 2 seconds to load, visitors are tempted to leave. This is a bad sign to Google. There are ways to improve your site’s load time. The main factor, which I’ve already mentioned, is your host. See my recommendations above. The next most important thing is the size of your images. Image files can be compressed with plugins like WP Smush. I also like the free website TinyPNG.com.
Images are another attack vector for gaining search traffic. Google Image Search is its own category, and if you have a gallery of your business space, portfolio, or pictures of your recent events, you should optimize them.
WordPress includes a section in its Dashboard menu called “Library.” This is where you can upload images (which are compressed, I hope) and assign data to them. You should fill out the boxes on the right side of each image file in the Library screen. Give your images names, captions, tags, and descriptions. Descriptions are a big help to our vision impaired friends, because those are what their screen readers will speak out when the mouse arrow is hovered over images.
If your website has malware, Google will blacklist it, so let’s go over WordPress security. This is a major topic all on its own, so I’ll focus on the most important steps in this article. I already told you about SSL certificates, but here are some more common sense measures.
The first safeguard to your WordPress site is protecting your Dashboard login info. When you first install WordPress through your hosting service, you need to select a username and password that is complex. SiteGround does a good job telling you whether a password is strong. The most common hacking technique of WordPress sites is “brute force” attacks. This is where bots automatically fill your login with random words and phrases, trying to guess your login.
The three most popular WordPress security plugins, in my estimation, are Sucuri, WordFence, and IThemes. I personally use IThemes, but the other two are great as well. These plugins can limit the number of login attempts allowed. You can also get plugins to enable two-factor authentication, security questions, and Captcha.
The next main security measure is to update your WordPress theme and plugins regularly. Whenever you log into your Dashboard, check the upper left area for any update notifications. Hackers can find exploits in older versions of your WordPress assets and sneak in through them. The developers of your themes and plugins, and WordPress itself, very often make security patches to prevent this. Updating WordPress is easy- just go to the Updates page and click the button. If you have a Managed WordPress hosting service, this can be done for you automatically. If you have a continuing relationship with your web designer, he or she can do this as part of their ongoing maintenance.
Third, you should have a backup system. If your site is ever hacked, you can have your web host delete it, then restore it with a backup from before the infection. Most hosting companies offer a backup service, but it’s wise to have a separate system as well. You should get the plugin UpDraftPlus and connect it to a 3rd party storage service like Google Drive, Dropbox, or Amazon’s cloud service.
SEO for local business has special requirements in addition to everything I already mentioned.
This is short for, Name, Address, and Phone Number. These should be included in either the header or footer sections of your website. The point is to make this information available on every page of your site. It’s good to add a code to your phone number so visitors can dial it by tapping on it on their smartphones.
Google My Business:
This is one of the most powerful tools in local SEO you can use. If you already have a Gmail account, go to google.com/business and sign in. You’ll need to claim your business and web address, complete the profile with your business name, address, phone number, business hours, photos, business logo, and so on. Complete as many fields in the profile as are relevant. You’ll need to request a verification postcard to arrive in your snail mail to verify you are the owner or admin of this business.
Google My Business will make your business eligible to appear in the Map Pack, which appears in the search results page for businesses in your area. It enables customers and clients to post reviews. Reviews are a huge factor in your rankings in the map pack and search results in general, so offer great service and ask your previous clients for positive comments. Your business’ physical location is especially important in local search for visitors using their mobile devices. Google will likely rank you higher if you’re closer to that searcher’s phone.
As you can see, there’s a lot to do when making your WordPress site search engine ready. I wrote this as a guide to beginners and business owners who work in other industries besides web marketing. I’ve provided several resources through links and affiliate offers. If you would like more personalized assistance, check out my Services page at the link below, then reach out to me. I’m based in Iowa but open to anyone in the United States.
GeneratePress Sites is a collection of pre-made demo websites included in the premium version of the GeneratePress theme. Combined with the Elementor plugin, this is a fast and intuitive tool for making a professional site. Earlier this year, I shared a tutorial series on YouTube focusing on the Astra theme and its Astra Sites feature. GeneratePress Sites launched a few short months later, and I’m delighted to see it.
GeneratePress is my personal favorite WordPress theme because its paid version is highly affordable, it’s well-coded and reliable, and its design options in the WordPress Dashboard are thoughtfully laid out and streamlined. As someone who makes websites for both clients and as a hobby, this theme is my go-to.
You can upload GeneratePress from the WordPress dashboard by going to the “Appearance” menu, selecting “Themes,” and searching for it in the repository. The premium upgrades are available as a bundle of plugins on GeneratePress’ website. I’ll include affiliate links in this article. You download GeneratePress Premium to your computer, then upload it in the Plugins area of the dashboard.
A “GeneratePress” option becomes available in the “Appearance” menu. When you go to that page, you can activate any of the premium features you’ve purchased. Above the options is a button labeled “Site Library,” and this is where you access the ready-made websites.
The sites’ layouts are made either with Beaver Builder, Elementor, or “No Page Builder,” which means it was made with GeneratePress’ “Sections” tool. For purposes of this article, I’ll click “Elementor” at the top and select a site made with it.
Hover your mouse over the demo you want, and click the “Details” button. From there, you can follow the steps to download the Elementor page builder plugin, necessary widgets, and layouts associated with the website.
Here, I’ve uploaded a site marketing a mobile app. The next thing to do is change the text and images. This is done in Elementor, so when I view the site, I can go to the top and click “Edit with Elementor.”
Elementor is an immensely popular page builder plugin with abundant options in its free version. Combined with GeneratePress, whose premium version costs only $39.95 per year, it’s a powerful tool for making any type of business website you want.
In the Elementor work environment, you can click on any image, block of text, or module, then modify them in the left-hand editor.
GeneratePress debuted about 2 years ago and was the first well-known theme of its kind. It’s made specifically to work with page builders, and is lightweight and versatile. The Astra and OceanWP themes are its direct competitors. I’ve written extensively about OceanWP and spoken about Astra, and I love both of them. But I keep coming back to GeneratePress for its efficient workflow, so I’m highly encouraged to see it include this feature. Demo content is nothing new for premium WordPress themes, but GeneratePress sites may be the most practical and affordable way of delivering it. The $39.95 license is good for unlimited sites.
The European Union’s GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) went into effect May 24th. Its aim is to protect the personal data of European Citizens using the Western world’s biggest websites and apps. These are obviously Facebook, Google, and any services that piggyback on them.
CNN reports that less than a day into the law’s enforcement, multiple tech giants have been sued by government agencies:
The complaint against Facebook was filed with Austrian data regulators, Google with French regulators, WhatsApp with German regulators and Instagram with Belgian regulators as soon as the law went into effect at midnight.
It’s tempting to think these governments are trying to cash in, but rumors of clandestine data harvesting go back to the early days of the Obama presidency. It goes that Google, Facebook, et al, collect metadata about their users through their websites and apps. They then sell it to politicians and corporations for targeted marketing.
Ostensibly, small to medium-sized businesses have little reason to fear GDPR, but it doesn’t hurt to be ready. A great, snarky post in thedesignspace.co blog lists the ways to be fined under the law. They amount to common sense, good business practices to ignore (or follow- the post is being funny.)
4th, 5th, and 6th, if you annoy them enough with your spam, they users can ask you directly to stop. If you ignore this for 30 days, they can report you to their country’s ICO. The 7th, 8th, 9th, and 10th steps to getting fined amount to the ignoring the ICO’s requests for you to stop. Governments make huge tech companies their first priority, so if you’re a smaller business, you have a longer grace period.
The best advice I can give is to be respectful of your customers and sales leads. This is good customer service in any case. Next, if you utilize any online services including web hosting and email marketing, look up their blogs for any GDPR news. They should be up front in how they protect their clients. It’s sad that it’s come to government legislation being necessary, but honesty is the best route to sustainability in business.
Project Gutenberg is the landmark effort to make page design easier in WordPress websites. It’s meant for users who are new to the platform, or website creation in general, and is part of WordPress’ ongoing quest to “democratize the web.” Professional web designers, agencies, and software developers who are invested in WordPress debate whether it will put them out of business or open new opportunities.
Gutenberg is a simple drag-and-drop editor. The user assigns areas called “blocks” to a page or blog post, and inserts text, images, and graphics to them. This is similar to the existing category of WordPress plugins called page builders that I’ve written about before. As a freelance web designer, I’ve used commercial page builders for clients and my own projects, When I first heard about Gutenberg, I feared for their viability and wondered if my purchase of their licenses would be justifiable in 2018.
Matt Mullenweg, the cofounder of WordPress and the CEO of its development organization, delivered the keynote at the huge WordCamp convention in Nashville last month. He went a log way in putting many fears to rest. The audience was predominantly made of plugin and theme developers. After reporting on other community and organizational goings-on in the WordPress movement, Mullenweg invited one of the lead Gutenberg developers, named Matias, onstage to demonstrate the tool in its current state.
Here is video of the speech. Skip to 35:00 if you want to see the demo right away:
Matias opened a new blog post in the WordPress backend, inserted blocks by calling them up in a menu, and either pasted text or selected images to display in them. He was able to adjust the size, width, and number of text columns in each block in the settings. One can see what the page would look like as it was being built. Watching the video, I thought Gutenberg looked like a very plain version of the Divi Builder released in the fall of 2016. My immediate next thought was the page builders already on the market are twice as advanced or better. Gutenberg can be considered an entry level builder.
The blocks in Gutenberg are meant to replace age-old features like widget areas and shortcodes. Plugins and themes presently display much of their information in these widget areas, or are embedded into pages using shortcodes that are copied and pasted. The hope is that programmers focus on the block architecture when making plugins. The companies creating page builders can have a layer of design options on top of Gutenberg, or they can specialize in making new and more diverse modules to be used in the blocks.
In the Question and Answer portion of the keynote, the first query was whether Gutenberg would replace page builders. Matt Mullenweg said if anything, it should make the existing builders stronger. He noted that other plugins currently need to be compatible with vastly different builders, but Gutenberg will bring standardization. The different builders have their clannish, almost fanboyish communities of users who eagerly find fault with any builder that’s not their first choice. Standardization should open them up. Mullenweg also mentioned WordPress’ homemade suite of plugins called JetPack and that 3rd party plugins that do the same things are in business despite of it.
Later I listened to commentary by Adam Preiser of the YouTube channel WPCrafter.com. He’s also of the opinion that commercial page builders are more robust than Gutenberg. Then he makes the analogy between Apple and its proprietary cords for devices versus all other brands using USB, and the closed nature of each commercial page builder versus the open source nature of WordPress. Gutenberg should drive, if not force, the different builders to open up and be more compatible with other categories of plugins, like Mullenweg says. Adam mentions closed website platforms like Wix and Squarespace in passing, but I realized that certain WordPress page builders like Divi and Visual Composer are similar. They’re loaded with legacy code and lock their users into continued use.
What I detest about Wix is its users don’t truly own the websites they build on it. They either pay steep subscription fees or endure Wix branding and advertisements on the sites. Even with the subscriptions, the styling and personalization of sites is prohibitively limited compared to the power of popular WordPress themes and page builders. What I love most about WordPress is its open market of themes and plugins. Comparable to Apple’s App Store or Google Play, the WordPress Repository and premium marketplaces are environments where enterprising software developers can create great tools for the public and make reasonable revenue. This is possible because WordPress is open-source, and can be installed on hosted servers that a business or freelancer can own outright. It’s the logical choice for professional services. Premium themes and plugins cost money up front, but the site owner can save money in the long run through careful budgeting and choosing the best valued plugin for the price.
Gutenberg is meant to compete directly with Wix and Squarespace in the do-it-yourself web design arena. WordPress’ default design options are nonexistent and rely on the 3rd party page builders. This has been Wix’s advantage until the Gutenberg announcement. As stated, Gutenberg can’t do everything a commercial page builder can, so those builders will still have a role in professional design and branding. However, I can tell you from personal experience that it’s getting hard to find work as a web designer. Middle America has a bootstrap mentality.
Thanks to page builders, premium themes, and the imminent Gutenberg, the real work of website creation will be in generating engaging content. Professional coders and programmers might find work in making tools rather than the sites themselves. Their aim should be making those tools secure, efficient, and reliable. In my article on the best themes and builders for multiple websites (read it here), I said that Beaver Builder is well respected among coders. Any content you create with it is preserved if you ever turn the app off. This is because Beaver Builder is carefully developed with WordPress’ core architecture in mind. If you choose to purchase and use it as of this writing, in January 2018, I feel it will be the most future-proof builder when Gutenberg is complete, approximately in April. Beaver Builder’s development team is the most open about their plans regarding Gutenberg, as seen in their blog (read it here), making me think they’re the most prepared for it. They’re renowned for taking user feedback and cooperating with the larger WordPress community.
As for web designers, their approach going forward should be strategizing for a client’s website in the business’ overall marketing. This is actually an exciting time when web design can truly be a craft. Consulting and coaching are growing industries in many fields, as seen in my last post. Large internet corporations sell online marketing services in cookie cutter packages, but a freelance web designer or consultant can tailor an individual business’ website. And rather than build the site for a project fee, they can coach the business in making it themselves, recommending just Gutenberg or an additional page builder as suitable for their particular brand. In 2018, there are no more excuses for not having a website.
If you want to buy a Beaver Builder license, follow this link. I’ll get a commission, which supports my work. Buy Beaver Builder