I had my first ever opportunity to speak at a WordCamp this month. I was the 5:00 p.m. speaker in the advanced track at WordCamp Sacramento 2015–the last presentation of the day. I figured I’d be lucky if five people showed up, based on my own experience of collapsing from brain overload before an event is through. (I was too wired to collapse myself, despite getting only 4 hours of sleep the previous night.)
I was thinking of waiting until the WordPress.tv video was posted to put this up, but I really don’t know how much longer that’s going to be, and I want to take advantage of this brief window of blogging time.
In addition to being my first WordCamp presentation, this was the first time I’ve used SpeakerDeck. (Like an idiot, I uploaded my massive PDF file via the public Wi-Fi during the event. Sorry, everyone.) Then I had to add oEmbed support for SpeakerDeck to my site. Fortunately that part wasn’t too difficult. And I have to say SpeakerDeck is prettier than SlideShare.
I’m including the speaker notes that I used as a script. This is not a transcript–what I actually said varied slightly from what I wrote and rehearsed. But I did rehearse often enough to stick pretty close to the script.
My topic, as I mentioned in an earlier post, was “Not Everyone Is a WordPress Expert.” I had originally planned to title it “The Hardest Thing about WordPress (and How We Can Make It Easier),” but I was overruled by the organizers. In any case, the upshot of the talk is that we as WordPress developers think WordPress is easy, but our clients and other end-users think WordPress is hard–for a good reason. That means it’s up to us, as well as the core development team, to make WordPress easier for our clients to use.
WordCamp Sacramento Slides
— Peter Chester (@peterchester) November 8, 2015
WordCamp Sacramento Speaker Notes
My name is Sallie Goetsch and I’ve been the organizer of the East Bay WordPress Meetup in Oakland, California since 2009. As any of you who have been involved in a Meetup know, there’s nothing like running a Meetup to force you to learn a lot about WordPress. What really inspired today’s talk, though, was interactions I’ve had with my clients over the years. If you build websites for clients, you’ve probably had some similar experiences. What I want to accomplish today is to get you to see WordPress through your clients’ eyes so we can all have a better experience of working with WordPress.
WordPress isn’t easy to use until you learn how to use it.
–Mike Little, Co-founder of WordPress
This statement pretty much sums it all up. Mike Little helped create WordPress, but he teaches WordPress classes to the public and sees just how challenging it can be.
If you’re a WordPress developer or even someone who’s been using WordPress for many years, you probably think WordPress is easy. People who are new to WordPress, on the other hand—including many of our clients—think WordPress is hard. Chances are that if you work with clients, you’ve probably heard something like the following.
CONFIGURING AND USING WORDPRESS IS NOT FUN. Every single step of the way causes confusion, is overly complicated… EVERYTHING is an effort to find and comprehend.
I tried to learn WordPress in 2012. I spent two to four+ hours a day for 4 months trying to understand and use this nightmare of an app. I ran out of time and stopped using it… It’s still a nightmare to get it to do anything useful.
We can be surprised by how difficult others find WordPress because we’re looking at it from a different angle. From our perspective, WordPress is easy. Many people in the WordPress community describe WordPress as “intuitive.” It isn’t. There’s only one thing humans know how to do intuitively. Not even sex seems to come naturally to us. Humans do not intuit how to do things. We LEARN.
So why do we find some things easier to use than others? Familiarity. It’s easy to go from using one tool to using a very similar tool. For instance, most passenger cars work pretty much the same way. If you know how to drive one model, you can drive another model easily. If you couldn’t, there would be no rental car industry.
But if you transported an iPhone back to the 1970s when everyone had rotary phones, no one would even realize it was a phone, never mind be able to use it. I’m pretty sure that many young people who have iPhones would have equal difficulty using the rotary phone.
What software is most familiar to your clients?
Microsoft Word. There might be more people who use Facebook, but Word is the program that pretty much everyone has to use at work, home, and school. Word is no more intuitive than any other program, but people know how to use it. It’s what they expect all other software to be like.
If you’re a web developer, you don’t expect web applications to work like Microsoft Word. We have a different frame of reference and different expectations.
Anyone remember HotMeTaL Pro? I built my first website in 1995, and we didn’t even have THAT then. I created a bunch of macros in Microsoft Word for adding HTML tags, then saved as text files.
I created my first blog on Blogger in 2005. No categories. No tags. Not much of anything.
Dreamweaver-created HTML sites were always a pain if you were trying to edit someone else’s website and didn’t have the original template. And you still needed Dreamweaver to edit the editable regions.
In addition to comparing WordPress to other web software we’ve used, we compare it to itself.
This is what WordPress looked like when I started using it, before the days of widgets, tags, or custom menus. Lots of things have gotten better and easier to use.
I remember people applauding when Jen Mylo demonstrated custom menus at WordCamp SF in 2010. Unfortunately, most of our clients don’t have this historical perspective.
For WordPress developers, WordPress has infinite possibilities. It’s empowering. We get excited about it. But many of my clients—and others I’ve seen posting to forums—find WordPress baffling and frustrating. The following slides will give you an idea of why.
Remember, people compare any new tool to what they already know. And with Word, what you see when you’re creating a document is exactly the same as what you see when you print the document.
With WordPress, you see all the page elements together on the front of the site, but you don’t create or edit them all in the same place, and it doesn’t look the same when you create it as when you publish it. For most people, this is is a pretty big hurdle to overcome.
Many WordPress features are not familiar to clients, so they might be difficult. Shortcodes are a great example. They can be extremely useful, but they confuse clients and we badly need a UI for them.
And if that weren’t a big enough problem for us to overcome, there’s a whole suite of new web publishing tools that they might have used before they discover WordPress. Most of them have very nice user interfaces.
I have a client with one Wix site and one WordPress site and she is always complaining to me how much easier Wix is than WordPress. How can I argue?
People just seem to love SquareSpace. I haven’t used it and can’t speak to it, but the interface looks pretty nice from the demos. It also walks you through the process of creating a site.
When it appeared, Medium instantly became the standard for a great writing experience. I think it’s actually gotten more difficult since then, but it’s still a model of simplicity.
I’ve published a few posts on LinkedIn. It’s not necessarily a beautiful interface, but it’s pretty straightforward.
I pretend not to have a Facebook account but I logged in just so I could get this screenshot. It certainly seems easy to create a Facebook Note, and the editing screen looks a lot nicer than the WordPress edit screen.
Adobe Slate launched just in time for this presentation. It looks something like the old Medium editor—gorgeous.
Before you say it–yes, WordPress can do all kinds of things these platforms can’t do, AND you own your own content. That’s one reason I love it. But clients don’t understand that unless we explain it to them. And maybe not even if we do.
We can’t—and don’t want to—turn WordPress into Wix. I suspect that if we want to keep all the functionality WP has, and add to it, we are never going to achieve a 100% WYSIWIG interface. We’re certainly not going to achieve it in the next year. And we need to build client sites right now. So what do we do?
First and foremost, set clear expectations. Make it clear to clients from the start that WordPress doesn’t work like the software they’re used to, and explain why: WordPress allows you to create content once, and display it everywhere, rather than having to re-type information every place it needs to appear. Once they are familiar with the system, it will save them work and make their lives easier, but they do have to put some time into learning it.
Setting clear expectations is important to do no matter what other solutions you provide.
Beware of the phrase “Without Knowing Code.” Don’t assume—or let clients assume—that something is easy if you don’t have to know code to use it. There are a lot of things you can do without knowing code that are EXTREMELY DIFFICULT and require years of training. Brain surgery. Rocket science. Winning the Olympics.
Here are a few ways we can make managing WordPress sites easier for our clients.
There are so many updates to plugins, themes, and WordPress itself that it’s hard for clients to keep up. It’s hard for ME to keep up. The new option in Jetpack for automatic plugin upgrades will make this easier for some people, but the important thing is that you set your clients up to succeed by ensuring their sites are maintained. Maintenance services can make life much easier for your clients, especially if they don’t have anyone on staff dedicated to maintaining and updating the website. If you don’t want to offer maintenance services yourself, there are many maintenance services that charge less per month than I charge per hour.
Customizer All the Things
Many WP developers hate the Customizer. Those of us who learned WordPress before the Customizer was introduced may well ignore it. But the Customizer provides a consistent interface across themes and sites, and it also allows users to preview their changes, which the normal Widget and Menu management screens won’t let them do. The Customizer is a positive step in the direction of a WYSIWYG WordPress. If you are a theme developer, make your theme options Customizer-friendly.
Simplify the WP Admin
It’s fairly easy to remove unwanted dashboard widgets, rearrange menu items, and so forth with a few lines of code. Most of the devs I know who work with larger companies customize the admin extensively.
If you have never done this, there are MANY tutorials that walk you through the basics of adding and removing dashboard items. Even if you don’t want to make drastic modifications, you can remove some of the clutter and confusion and add useful tips.
Provide Inline Help
Not all users know to check for the Help tab (it seems to be as hard to find as Screen Options), but if you create help files within the WordPress admin, it saves the client having to hunt down that PDF you sent. The most popular plugin for adding inline help seems to be Mark Jaquith’s WP Help. You can add help files via your functions.php file, but if you are going to have a lot of help files, it can be worth using the plugin, which creates a menu item for “Publishing Help” right under “Dashboard.”
Provide Training Videos
Your top options for pre-recorded training videos are WP101, Video User Manuals, and Sidekick. Some managed WordPress hosting companies include one or more of these. If not, it’s not difficult to set these up for clients and doesn’t cost them very much.
The drawback? These videos and walkthroughs cover common WP actions and may not constitute sufficient instruction for how to use a highly customized site. (And if you have customized your admin heavily, your clients may be confused by the sight of the standard admin in the videos.)
You can also record your own training videos and include them by means of that handy WP Help plugin. These will match the client’s site and needs perfectly, but take more time for you to create, so they will cost the client more money. Clients who underestimate the complexity of a WP site may be unwilling to pay that much.
Provide One-to-One Training
I usually do this by Skype or Google Hangouts, so that I can talk to the client and share the screen at the same time. In some cases, where a client is local, I may do it in person. The advantage to doing it online is that you can record the session so the client can play it back. It’s rare for people to remember everything from a walk-through, especially if they don’t practice it right away.
Simplify Content Entry with ACF
Advanced Custom Fields is a plugin every developer should have. You can use ACF to allow clients to insert exactly the right content in exactly the right place, in the order it displays on the page. The drawback to this is that all ACF content is stored as post_meta. Post meta is harder to search and retrieve than post content. You will also need to create custom templates to display the ACF content on the front end of the site.
Given those caveats, however, you can replace the typical WordPress editor with something that provides clients more direction. This is a custom post type for yoga teachers and the editor shows only the relevant custom fields, not the regular post editor.
Install a Page Builder
I hesitate to recommend letting clients get their hands on page builders for the same reason I hesitate to install TinyMCE Advanced. They seem like an opportunity for the client to turn a great website into Geocities.
In general, these seem like better tools for the DIY site implementer than for end-users. But if you like page-builders, you can create and style page-builder templates for the client to choose from, which is a little less risk-prone.
Install a Front-End Editing Plugin
I think WordPress would benefit tremendously from good front-end editing, but it clearly hasn’t been easy to implement. The feature-as-plugin Front End Editor seems to be stalled out—it was getting plugs in WP 4.2 but won’t work with WordPress 4.3. Does anyone know what happened to it?
Meanwhile, I went out and bought a copy of the Editus plugin from Lasso just for this talk, so I could see whether it’s really likely to be a good solution for my clients. Since it only works on content that’s actually part of the_content, it’s not going to be too helpful if you’ve created all your site content with custom fields.
Even given some restrictions it has, however, Editus is pretty cool. It lets you add a new post or page (but not a new custom post type), and it’s got a nice UI. I’m actually very impressed with the Editus plugin and will probably keep using it for writing posts on my own site as well as recommending it to clients.
We Can Make It Better
None of these solutions is perfect, but they can make life easier for clients. If we take the time to educate and inform our clients, they will be happier, and so will we.