Takeaways from WordCamp Lancaster 2016

Last weekend I joined a couple hundred other bloggers, designers, and developers at the WordCamp Lancaster conference to learn and talk about WordPress.

This was my first WordCamp of the year and I had a wonderful time! I heard about WordCamp Lancaster last December at WordCamp US, and thought I might attend.

And when I discovered WordCamp Lancaster was the same weekend as the Philadelphia Flower Show, I knew I was going!

Lancaster is about an hour from Philadelphia, so I booked my flight for the weekend and bought tickets for both events.

My Takeaways From WordCamp Lancaster

Whenever I attend WordCamps, I found myself debating which sessions to attend. When there’s only one track, the decision is easy. With multiple tracks, it’s harder.

Thankfully, my friend Nancy Seeger attended WordCamp Lancaster with me, so I’m going to bug her for notes from sessions she went to.

Here are my notes from some of the sessions I attended.

Organizing Your First Website Usability Test

This session with Anthony D. Paul ranked as one of my favorites, as he shared his insights for conducting usability testing. His tips included:

  • Identify your project goal. What’s the reason for the usability test
  • What is your test strategy? When will you test? And what kind of tests will you conduct?
  • Prototype: will it be a PDF, low-fidelity wireframe?
  • Test facility: what is your hardware, software and physical space requirements?
  • Participants: Are demographics important?

He recommended TryMyUI for online remote unmoderated testing. At $35 for each test, it allows you to order a diversity of participants, by age and gender.

You can present participants with four survey questions after they finish the test.

In addition, TryMyUI provides a 20-minute recording for each usability test participant. You can find out how much time is spent on each task, get individual ratings, and aggregate score for each.

Slides for Organizing Your First Website Usability Test

Pushing Your WP Development Skills: Learn by Doing It

After meeting and chatting with Sarah Moyer at last year’s WordCamp US, I knew I didn’t want to miss her talk on pushing yourself with your development skills.

She focused on how she approached the challenge of building a custom WordPress slider for a client site. Sarah explained the steps she took to research, test, and find a solution:

  • Research takes time
  • Define your scope. What do you want to accomplish? Be specific about behavior, content, text, etc.
  • Review other people’s code. It’s the tried-and-true way many developers learn how to do something.
  • Test separately before you put all the components together
  • If things break, compare code
  • Take breaks to renew your inspiration. Go for a walk, talk to the dog, pray, rake leaves
  • When your code still isn’t working, search the WordPress Codex
  • Remember to comment your code, for your future self. And for others who will read your code and try to learn from it.
  • If you’re not successful the first time, keep at it!

Slides for Pushing Your WP Development Skills: Learn by Doing It

Searching for a Better Search

Since my site reached over 1,000 blog posts last year, I’ve been searching for a better search engine, so I was looking forward to Russell Heimlich’s presentation on search engines.

I still haven’t made a decision, but Russell’s talk has opened my eyes to some other options to consider:

  • What’s wrong with WordPress native search? It’s slow, there’s no customization, and it doesn’t produce relevant results.
  • We have high expectations for search. It needs to be fast, give relevant results, and produce output that is easy to read and understand.
  • Relevanssi–A Better Search is a free WordPress plugin (premium version available). It allows you to search custom post types, provides lots of options, but puts an extra load on your server and has performance issues for large amounts of content.
  • SearchWP costs $49/year, and offers search stats, configuration on wp-admin, and is native to WordPress. However, it also puts a load on your server.
  • Google CSE is a custom Google search engine on your site that integrates with your theme, has multisite support, and is ad-free. Pricing is an issue ($100/year for 20,000 search queries), there’s a cap on the number of queries per year, and the console can be confusing to use.
  • Screw It – just use Google. Russell created his own plugin to use Google.com search to search your site, with results limited to your domain.
  • Swiftype (which is what I use on this site) offer customizable search, faceted search, analytics, PDF indexing, and no hardware to manage, at a price. Currently, the cost is $249/month, more expensive than many small businesses have budgeted for search.
  • Google – your own mini-search engine. But if you have to ask the price, you probably can’t afford it. (We used it at the college I worked at.) And it’s end of life is 2017.
  • ElasticPress is a free plugin recently released by 10Up offers flexibility, faceted search, and multisite support. You can only run it from WP-CLI and server management is required.
  • For a small budget, with no advanced technology knowledge needed, consider Relevanssi, SearchWP, or Russell’s plugin. Depending on your budget, and technology knowledge, consider one of the others.

Slides for Searching for a Better Search

How to Avoid Mucking up Your DNS

Who knew a talk about domain name servers (DNS) could be so entertaining?

Leave it to Sal Ferrarello to give us the perfect after-lunch session to keep us awake, laughing, and learning about domain server terminology and what can go wrong.

  • Every server on the Internet can be identified by an IP address
  • Nameservers provide information based on domain names
  • CNAME stands for canonical record. “A record” stands for address record. But nobody ever calls them that.
  • “A record” associates an IP address with a domain name
  • Never type an IP address. Always copy and paste, you’re less likely to make a mistake.
  • TTL stands for Time to Live: how many seconds to cache the IP address lookup
  • Dig is a command line tool, useful for DNS troubleshooting. Built into Mac. Also available as a Google online tool for Dig.

Slides for How to Avoid Mucking up Your DNS

Have Empathy When Teaching

Another session I didn’t want to miss was my friend Joe Casabona’s talk on teaching WordPress. Joe and I met a couple of years ago at WordCamp Phoenix when he spoke about responsive design with WordPress.

We’ve stayed in touch via Twitter as we’ve chatted about WordPress, teaching, and Two Hours, No Screens.

My takeaways from Joe’s talk:

  • Remember your first time working with WordPress. Did all the terminology make sense to you?
  • Show examples, explain WordPress terms in plain language that everyone can understand.
  • Make it easy for people to learn. Make them feel comfortable. Avoid talking down to students. Don’t use “obviously” or “do this.”
  • Be excited to teach, and show it! Your enthusiasm will make students want to learn.
  • Encourage questions from students.
  • Rather than using a lecture style of talk, interact with your students. Allow students to discover and learn by doing!

Slides for Have Empathy When Teaching


Check out some of the great photos from WordCamp Lancaster:

Kudos to the Organizers

Thanks to the WordCamp Lancaster organizers who did an amazing job! In addition to great sessions, I enjoyed

  • Wide range of sessions with topics for everyone. I found myself moving from track to track throughout the day for sessions I didn’t want to miss.
  • Room setup with mix of chairs and tables for those who brought their laptops
  • Lots of choices for lunch, sandwiches, wraps, salads, chips, cookies. My favorite: soup! Yes, two choices of soup. It’s a small detail, but I love soup with lunch!
  • Beautiful WordCamp Lancaster scarf, another first! I’m used to t-shirts at WordCamps. How lovely!
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About the Author

Deborah Edwards-Onoro helps small businesses, consultants, nonprofits, and higher ed with creative and distinctive websites. Deborah shares her expertise with web design, user experience, and accessibility on her blog, social media, and at meetup events. As organizer of Refresh Detroit, West Metro Detroit WordPress, and Metro Detroit WordPress, she encourages members to share their knowledge and experiences. In her free time, you'll find her birding, shooting photos, reading, or watching tennis.
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