“I’ve Invested a Ton of Time Into Using WordPress, And It’s Not Failed Me Yet.” – Interview with Russell Aaron

Blog,Experts' Insights,Helpful Tips,WordPress

Today aisite Team is pleased to bring you the cream of the knowledge and experience of WordPress development again. This time the conversation is going to be held with Russell Aaron. Being a WordPress developer and a WordCamp speaker, this witty man is also one of the admins at Advanced WordPress Facebook group, the Founder of Gravity Styles and GeekStreetWP, working as Creative Director for Valley West Mortgage. Get ready to absorb his wise views, pieces of advice, plans, and much more below.

Russell, you’ve got a very ample professional experience and have tried diverse occupations already. Could you share the way and reasons that have made you turn from working as journalist to developer? How did you come up to WordPress ultimately?

I ultimately came to WordPress by blogging on myspace about my failures as a web developer. If I got something right, I would blog happy things. If I got something wrong, I blogged in dark tone and you could instantly tell I was frustrated.
Yes, I wanted to be a journalist. I loved the idea of reading a story and telling people how it made me feel. As humans, we do this all day. Either on Facebook or with friends, we have to tell our story and how we feel about things. I was one of those MySpace nerds that always had a cool cover layout and different backgrounds. I was designing MySpace band layouts for bands in Nevada. My first day of freshman (college) orientation, the head of the English department walked into the room and just made sense to me. He said to the entire room: “You have to write for both sides of the story. You have to consider every possibility. You have to have your own blog or website because nobody is going to hire you without having those skills.”

At that moment, I asked myself “How do you build a website”? Since then I have been hooked. I would blog on my MySpace page about the triumphs and failures as a web dev. A friend of mine suggested that I blog on this thing called WordPress.com. So I started to blog over there and it was fun. The same friend showed me how to install WordPress on my own .com. From there, it’s been nothing but hard work and a lot of fun using the WordPress CMS.

Before working with WordPress, have you tried any alternative options? What made you stick to this CMS in particular? What is your favorite distinction related to WordPress CMS that makes it stand out from all the other alternatives?

Before working with WordPress, I was on Myspace and Blogger.com. I wasn’t really blogging on Blogger. It was more of the fact that you could have a free account. A friend of mine turned me on to WordPress. I was instantly hooked, but not convinced that this was the career I’d take on. I installed Drupal and Joomla on a few websites after I became frustrated with WordPress one month. I wanted to see if there was something that made more sense to me. My mind works like that though. I don’t think that one CMS is better than the other because of specific features. I think one CMS is better, for me, because my mind works in a specific way. That way happens to sync well with the WordPress CMS.

What made me stick to the WordPress CMS was the sense of community. My first WordPress Vegas Meet up was at this small coffee shop in downtown Las Vegas. There was a tone of people there and we all shared our websites with each other. We talked WordPress and it was fun. I’ve gone to every meet up since that one and I now Co-Organize the Vegas WordPress Meet Up Group.

What stands out in WordPress, to me, is the sense of organization without strict rules on how things work. I love the idea of having some kind of structure to make WordPress work like it does. Other than that, you have free range to build, install or manipulate it anyway that you feel is necessary. It’s a bit of structure with a ton of Chaos. As other CMS platforms work like this as well, it’s there is just something about WordPress, and the community, that makes me feel like i’m being heard no matter what I’m doing with WordPress.

Would you share a bit more facts on your project GeekStreetWP with us? When did the idea to create this support agency came up to your mind? What is the most troublesome issue WP users face and need help solving? How do you see this service evolving in a progress of five years?

In 2012, I launched GeekStreetWP. It was simply a support site for people in the Vegas WordPress Meet Up Group. I built a simple Multisite install of WordPress that was aimed on answering questions. I mean, that’s why people show up to meet up groups. They have problems they needed to solve. While our meet up group is awesome in every way, we tend to invite speakers and let them talk about whatever. That doesn’t help the members of our group. So I built a support site. At the same time, Shayne Sanderson was building Maintainn.com. We both had the Idea of a WordPress Support Company. We both turned to facebook and started posting links in every WordPress Meet Up Group we could find. It was kind of funny actually. I would let him post first. in some groups. That way I posted last and users saw my link first. That lasted until we hung out at WordCamp Vegas 2012 or 2013. I can’t remember. We have a mutual friend and Shayne came to WCLV! After discussing the difference in our support companies and how things were going, I realized that we had two different ways of doing things and they were both available options.

It’s hard to say what the most troublesome issue is with WordPress for our users. Everyone, no matter where you are with WordPress right now, has had questions about how to install a plugin or change the image in a theme. So those are usually the kind of questions we get with new users. As those users progress, their questions start getting more defined and specific to their website / business / industry. So I’d really have to say that the most troublesome issues with WP depends on how the user is using WP.

Our service has changed a lot already in the first three years. I mean, we started out as a shop that would just help people solve problems. Kind of like Web Developers for hire. You have a question and we would answer it for you the best way that we could. We still are that shop today, except with a few new features. When I first started this adventure, it was not about providing back up’s and making content changes. It was not about getting as many users as we could and controlling the market. I just wanted to help someone solve a problem and charge them a little bit of a fee.  So where do I see the service going in 5 years? I have no idea. As javascript and the REST API start becoming more mainstream, Imagine that we’re going to start building tools to service that portion of WordPress. Until that time though, it’s all speculation.

They say that the problem with WordPress is information overload. Currently, there is a gazillion of themes, plugins, opinions and everything connected with this CMS at the web. What resources are your favorite? Are there any sites/forums/blogs you check out on a regular basis?

I don’t think the problem with WordPress is the overload of information. I think the problem with WordPress is simply the different articles that try to out rank each other in SEO marketing. Take Jetpack for instance. I love this plugin. It’s an amazing tool. Jetpack is one of these plugins that you either love or stay away from. And that’s ok. It’s not for everyone. I get that. But there are these wars online about Jetpack. There are 400 (guessing) articles written about why you should use Jetpack and there are three times as many articles explaining why Jetpack is not a good idea. I think that confusion is where people tend to get lost. Who do you listen too? Someone has a simple question about should they use Jetpack for shortlinks, or should they use another service. They do a quick Google search and they find an article labeled “Here’s why Jetpack is your Best / Worse Friend”. After reading a decently written article, this person reads the comments.

The comments are the worst part. People stop arguing about why jetpack is goo/bad and they skip right to the Big DEV stuff. A discussion goes from a simple “Jetpack is awesome because you can do this…..” straight to “Well when the REST API comes out and Twitter Updates their API, Google is going to be forced to push out an update to measure the scalability of your website and hopefully Alexa keeps the rankings fresh so that Bing can take that data and turn it into a benchmark”. That’s the part that used to scare me. Why am I getting into this if I don’t know all of WordPress. The truth is that you need to start small and work your way to get to where those people, in that conversation, are at currently. Chris Lema once said that you’re always 5 minutes ahead of someone, and 5 minutes behind someone else.

Some of my favorite WordPress resources include following Developers on Twitter, The Advanced WordPress Group on Facebook, Torque Magazine, WPBeginner and WP Tavern. You can usually find one or two good articles a week on there as a beginner. Once you start learning WordPress, all of the articles start becoming relevant.

What was the best WordPress advice you’ve ever been given? What could you recommend to those who are at the very beginning of their road with this CMS?

MAKE A BACK UP! MAKE A BACK UP! MAKE A BACK UP! MAKE A BACK UP! That’s the biggest piece of advice that I’ve ever received. No matter what happens, you can erase, import and start all over again. I recommend that to everyone. That’s the best thing that you should learn first. Back Up’s will save you headaches down the road. I promise.

The other best piece I have been give was that “Plugins are not bad because they are called plugins. Plugins are bad because the code may be bad”.

As of lately, I’ve been telling new users that they should experiment with plugins before themes. The first thing I learned about WordPress is that the theme is what makes your site look awesome. Of course, you want an awesome looking site. SO you pick out a theme first. Then you try to find plugins that fit into the theme of your website. When the reality, in my opinion, is that you should think about what you’re trying to do with your site. How do you get people from the home page, to the page where they enter in their credit card details. That’s more important than picking out a logo and colors. Then you build the functionality of your site. Make sure it works over and over again. Then, you make it pretty awesome to look at. That’s how they build cars.
Let’s be clear. I do not blame anyone for thinking about logos and colors instead of building functionality. Because business owners have no idea how to build a website. That’s why they come to individuals like myself and my peers. Business owners do know that they are going to need cards and flyers, and to have those you need a logo and some coloring. I get that. So that’s my biggest piece of advice. As a new user of WordPress, learn about backups first, then plugins and then themes. As a business owner, learn about how to make  your site work for you before you spend time thinking about colors and logo designs.

From your perspective, what is the formula for creating a perfect WP website? What things worth more investment and attention? What is the main mistake website owners tend to do time and again?

See the previous answer! It’s true though. I clearly understand that you want to be prepared before you walk into any meeting. It’s better to have something other than nothing. But, running a website is a lot like owning a business. There are a lot of things you need to understand before you just post something to your website. Sure, anyone can become a fashion blogger and build a site. But do you know how to get the written permission from GQ and Cosmopolitan Magazine before you use their pictures on your website? You don’t need to be a lawyer, but you do need to understand how hard it is to find free images that match your business. That’s why you see 15 insurance companies using the same picture for car insurance quotes. That’s the stuff that’s worth more investment and attention. Because you can ask me to build a website for you. Tell me to use anything I need to get the job done. And then I go off and u se a picture of Ford’s New 2016 Mustang on your website. You’re happy and I got paid. Then you spend $2,000 in marketing ads online. The next day you have a letter in the mail, asking you to take down your website, or the images on your website, because they are in direct violation of the copyrights. So why it’s more fun to think about colors and logos, it’s more important to learn what to do and what not to do with your website.

Russell, what is a perfect CMS for you personally? Does WordPress completely meet your expectations? If not WordPress, what CMS would you choose? Why?

The perfect CMS for me is simple. The CMS will understand my interests and post for me without my needing to write anything. It will also know the exact time and day when I can officially buy thin mint girl scout cookies in my neighborhood. Seriously though, WordPress has been great for me so far. It’s the path that I have traveled down and I wouldn’t regret a minute of it. Is it the perfect CMS for me personally? I have no idea. I know it works well with how my mind and workflow works. I’ve invested a ton of time into using WordPress, and it’s not failed me yet.

Does it meet all of my expectations? No. But that’s a part of the reason why I use it. I get to build tools to meet my expectations, and hopefully the expectations of others who use it.

WordPress is known for its wide and friendly community. Are there any WP leaders that have influenced you in a special way? Maybe any inspirational leaders for you to follow?

The first person that I met in the WordPress community was John Hawkins. He ran the WordPress Vegas Meet Up. He was the lead organizer of WordCamp Vegas and he was / is still a popular name in the community. He’s also the guy that kind of tells you that you’re wrong, when you’re wrong. He also will tell you how to be right. That’s the thing that I admire the most about him. I’ve been wrong a number of times. He’s been there to say “No No. Here’s how it works.” And then we all get to learn from my mistakes.
Ben Fox is another member of the community that I look up to. He’s a guy that understands the importance of community and gives back to the community in more ways than I even know how to. That’s why I asked him to Keynote at WordCamp Vegas 2015. I think we all can learn from him.

The last person I want to mention is Dre Armeda. He’s a guy that’s very focused on life. He knows that there is a time for work, a time for play and a time for family. He’s a role model that I wish to be to someone in the future. He gives solid advice and is a ton of fun to be around.

Have you ever faced CMS migration? What’s your attitude towards an automated way of conversion? Do you think it’s crucial to migrate design or it’s ok to make it from the scratch?

My attitude towards CMS Migration is very simple. It’s another tool that can be used when you need a solution to migrate. Sometimes, you have to move from one CMS to another. I get that. I’ve done it. I needed something more than what I was getting. It is important. I have had a few instances where I needed to use a tool to get a client off of a platform and over to WordPress. It was not crucial to them to keep the design. They just wanted a quick way to get a new site up and running, with out having a year of downtime. Anything to speed up that process is fine by me. Bring any automation program to the table and let’s see what it can do. Worse case scenario, it doesn’t work for you and you move on.

And the last question. WordPress is known to be the most popular CMS solution these days. How do you think this piece of software will be developing in the next 3-5 years? What future could you forecast for this WP?

I have no idea. I didn’t think that an API was needed and look at things now. The REST API is the wave of the future. I didn’t think child themes were a big deal either. SO I’m the wrong person to ask about the future of WordPress. In the next 3 to 5 years, I think WordPress is going to get a little more technical before it gets more user friendly. Drag and drop is kind of popular right now. I think there needs to be a serious discussion about drag and drop and how to handle it.

Such was our conversation with Russell Aaron. We would like to thank for the time he spent to share his WordPress ideas and cherished memories with aisite and to remind you that we appreciate your mind and recommendations. In case you’ve got an opinion to share with us, or any CMS-related issue to discuss, you’re very welcomed to do it in the comments section below.

If you’d like to test out WordPress or any other CMS option, we’ve got a free trial migration for you to offer, so you could foresee the way it will be working once converted. Please do mind that we do not migrate design, that’s the only thing that left for you to do from scratch.

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