A Focus On Teaching Non-technical Beginners About WordPress
MalCare recently got a chance to speak with Alice Elliott, an award winning blogger and digital marketer whose blog Fairy Blog Mother provides simple, jargon-free, highly visual WordPress training for beginner bloggers. Let’s jump into the interview below.
Hi Alice, and thank you for taking the time to chat with our WordPress blog audience today. You have been blogging for more than ten years now and you’re well known in the WordPress space as a leader who helps non-technical people learn how to effectively use WordPress as a blogging platform. Why don’t you kick things off by telling us a little bit more about where the idea for Fairy Blog Mother came from?
I came from an artistic background: music and design, but I didn’t touch a computer until I was 22 (that’s how old I am)! I instantly found computers easy to understand, unlike my course classmates. The lessons were so slow, I asked for the instruction book so I could get ahead at my own speed. Soon I was teaching the teachers!
Of course, computers were very simple things then. Technology was only just starting to get off the ground. But I had a knack for understanding it and explaining it to others who were still stuck in the old ways.
When I started to blog, principally to promote my business, I found the process behind the scenes fascinating! I didn’t know how to code, but then this wasn’t necessary with WordPress. In 2003 it was intuitive to put together a simple blog and make it work for whatever purpose.
But for others this wasn’t so. I wanted to teach people how to blog because I could see how it would help their businesses. But the majority of people I approached couldn’t cope with technology. And suitable instructions or technical teaching sites were few and far between, produced by geeks who didn’t know how to teach beginners.
Obviously there was a gap in the market to instruct non-technical beginners how to blog. Fairy Blog Mother principally used ordinary, everyday language with easy to understand step-by-step screen-shots showing every little transaction made. Many WordPress instructors would miss out on this. And this was accompanied with explanations why something had to be done and what effect it had, to make the process more meaningful for the user.
That’s very interesting how you’ve managed to position yourself in the WordPress community. We’ve taken a similar approach with our WordPress security plugin. WordPress security is often an overwhelming subject for many users, so our goal has always been to make security easy for the average person to understand. And you’re right, many “how to” WordPress blogs assume a basic understanding of PHP, CSS or HTML. Many WordPress help tutorials start by telling the reader to open their site’s functions.php file or some other technical task. Many tutorial sites just assume the reader knows how to locate those files!
So you’ve carved out your own space within the larger WordPress niche by hyper-focusing on non-technical users. Wise choice! Tell us a little bit more about how you targeted non-technical users in your early days?
When I first started blogging I was terrible at it. English was not my best subject at school. It took me a good 10 years to learn how to write a post which made a difference to both my readers and the search engines. Even now I am still learning, as blogging continues to evolve along with technology. It is important to understand that nothing stands still, and you need to keep up with the ever-changing times.
Blogging thrives on people who can write well. This is a rare phenomenon nowadays, as I find so many people don’t know how to write. Maybe I’m old-fashioned, and the concept of writing has evolved because of new technology and the way it is used. However, sticking to the old-school of writing continues to produce better, more readable posts which more suitably satisfy blog visitors.
And it seems that these kinds of posts are equally attractive to the search engines. Blogging is a way of not only expressing yourself, but also to promote a product or service. Writing successful search engine optimised posts requires a good writing style, a knowledge of readable elements and the ability to strategically slot in keywords to satisfy the search engines without undermining the quality of the post.
Unfortunately, I have now left assisting blogging newbies behind. Many young people don’t need my help, as technology has been developed with them in mind, tuned into how they think and understand the world around them. The older, non-technical bloggers are now totally bamboozled by the recent changes within WordPress, and explaining how to blog has become an uphill struggle. Many prefer the old format, which can be preserved through specific plugins.
Tell us about some of the first conversations you had with people in your target demographic. How did you go about explaining the benefits of WordPress and blogging in general to them?
I had a wedding stationery website created with Dreamweaver which I wanted to promote, so someone suggested writing a blog to help publicise it. So I started to investigate blogging, first via Blogger and then moving over to WordPress.
However, I soon found that blogging was much more interesting than stationery (and WordPress easier to use than Dreamweaver), but when I spoke about it to my friends, I was met with blank stares. Blogging in 2003 was still quite technical, but I knew it didn’t have to be. Especially if people were shown how to do it in an easy to understand way.
Research revealed blogging instruction was produced by geeks who didn’t understand how beginners or non-technical people thought. Videos at breakneck speeds with very little explanation. Image instructions that assumed the viewer understood how to fill in the gaps. Unnecessary coding examples which could easily be accomplished in the frontend of WordPress by someone who was curious (like me!).
Eventually the Fairy Blog Mother blog was created to provide simple instructions, using ordinary, everyday words, on how to create a WordPress website. So many bloggers launch straight in without much thought, so I helped them understand what they had to do from the beginning. I started from Level 0, giving them a firm foundation from which they could build a successful blog.
However, blogging has evolved into a different concept with alternative technology and a wide range of blogging platforms. Also WordPress has morphed into a mobile responsive blocked adaptation, driving it away from the simple system it used to be. It no longer resembles Microsoft Word, therefore making it far too technical for older beginners to cope with.
This made things very difficult for Fairy Blog Mother, so now my blog now relies on guest posts (which I heavily edit) to promote the benefits of blogging and digital marketing.
Do you ever experience any friction with more technical bloggers about your approach?
I have been blogging since 2003, and it took me 8 years going through creating many different kinds of blogs to eventually arrive at creating Fairy Blog Mother. I needed that time to explore WordPress, website design, blogging and digital marketing. I am completely self-taught, examining the world of blogging from an older person’s point of view, and understanding how beginners think by struggling myself to understand each technological concept I came across.
My motivation was to do this all by myself. To prove I didn’t need some young geeky whipper-snapper to tell me what to do, and in a way I couldn’t understand. I still remember having a commenting conversation with a particular young chap who was exasperated because I didn’t understand his totally jargon filled, inadequate technical explanation on how to accomplish something in WordPress. In the end I worked out how to do it myself, and was thoroughly proud of my achievement!
It was this perseverance to overcome barriers and learn from what I did that enabled me to help others. By going through the angst first, I could then provide an easier method in much more appropriate language for other non-technical bloggers. This required a totally different mindset which I still find is rare these days! Many copy my techniques of explaining how to do stuff on the web, but few manage it in the detail that is necessary.
What advice would you give to older or non-technical bloggers looking to start creating content as part of their marketing strategy?
The first thing to do when creating a post is to think about your readers. What do they want to read about? Which subjects interest them? How can you help them? What value can you give that would make a difference to them? And – how relevant is this to the objectives of my blog?
It is important to pay attention to the title of your posts. The title at the top should be focused on your readers. It should ‘speak’ to them and encourage readers to click on it (when shown in social media) or to answer a question or solve a problem they may have. The other important title is the SEO title, which includes the main keyword and heads the rich snippet created for the search results.
Finding an appropriate keyword certainly helps with SEO. However, the most obvious one you can think of probably won’t be the most suitable. You need to find one with a low difficulty with a high amount of search requests. Then strategically insert this into your post: title, image alt text, a subheading, first, middle and last paragraphs, making sure everything still makes sense to the reader.
People like things made easy for them. Images that explain the subject clearly. Infographics to glean the post in a pictorial format. Sub-headings which help readers skim and still understand the subject. Short paragraphs and sentences to facilitate easier reading.
Quality of writing is imperative for blogging. You don’t need to be a whizz-bang author, but you do need to know how to spell correctly, plus suitable grammar and sentence construction. Ideally blogging is like having a conversation with your readers, so a relaxed form of communication makes things easier to read. Imagine transcribing your conversation into your blog, which may mean adapting your vocabulary and adding in social elements which show off your personality.
It’s worth doing a lot of reading around to find a ‘blogging mentor’ to help you. Blogging isn’t just writing, it’s reading other people’s posts as well. And commenting too: engaging with these bloggers will help you to get to know and glean ideas from each other. The blogosphere is a collective environment of like-minded people who should be willing to help each other and their blogs to thrive.
I noticed that you also started The Commenting Club a couple of years ago where you provide tips on how to create insightful comments and basically bring back the true art of commenting. Anyone reading this with a WordPress blog will understand the lost art of commenting all too well as they scroll through the comments looking for approval in their WordPress backend. What made you decide that it’s time to re-educate people about this aspect of blogging?
When bloggers started closing down their commenting facilities in 2014, I realised something had to be done to remedy this. The main reason was because of spam. Popular bloggers were becoming inundated with spam, which swamped any real comments. Moderation took ages to deal with this, even with many spam blockers in place.
These bloggers felt the only alternative was social media. It was there that proper real-time conversations and discussions could take place with real followers. This was all well and good for their regular readers, but it meant their blogs became ghost-towns for new readers who couldn’t see any social proof that these bloggers had a large loyal audience.
As a result their readership numbers started to fall. These worrying stats encouraged the bloggers to turn their commenting facilities back on a year later. They also realised spammers tended to attack older posts, so by restricting the number of days commenting could be done on new posts, their loyal fans could still have their say before the spammers started doing their worst.
However, this year of only engaging on social media meant commenters acquired bad and sloppy habits. Social media interaction is different from commenting on blogs. Since conversations are in real-time, they became bitty and disjointed. The rise in hand-held devices encouraged quicker commenting styles: single words, emojis and likes. The art of communication dwindled as there was no need to have a lengthy say to put your point across.
Proper blog commenting has almost become non-existent. Before 2014 I could guarantee a reasonable amount of blog comments that were worth publishing. Now if I get a ‘Nice post’ I’m lucky. It seems people have forgotten how to comment anything more than a few words, or even to bother at all.
This is why I started The Commenting Club blog. Originally it was a membership site, focusing on educating people with posts and creating online courses. My aim is to resurrect the art of commenting, not just on blogs but anywhere people congregate to socialise. There are so many social benefits commenting can have for individuals and businesses which people don’t realise.
You have a pretty big following on social media and I’d assume the same is true with your Fairy Blog Mother website as well. What WordPress blog marketing strategies have you proven to be the most effective for you? What three pieces of actionable advice would you give to newbie bloggers who are looking to attract readers to their WordPress blog?
I have been on social media since 2007, so my numbers have grown organically. They could be a lot more, but this is not really important to me. If I had done more interaction and engaging with my followers (in other words, practiced what I preached), I could have a more thriving and successful social media presence.
For newbie bloggers in today’s blogosphere, commenting is the best way forward. Commenting is much quicker than writing a post. You don’t need to think what to say, you merely respond a reasonable amount to the post. Well written comments show off your writing skills, and the engagement endears you to new readers and attracts you to influencers who could help you. Commenting can be used to help people with your freely given knowledge, which could also help draw attention to you for the right reasons.
There are other ways of attracting readers apart from writing fabulous posts. Find out your readers’ problems and create something to give away in exchange for their email addresses. Then regularly communicate with them in a newsletter by providing interesting information, sharing your knowledge and promoting your latest posts. Building email lists are only effective if you use them regularly and provide content people value and can find a use that will change their lives.
Success is more likely to happen if you continue to engage on a regular basis with your readers, both on your blog and in social media. Use the latter to find new people, influencers to help you, mentors to give you guidance, like-minded bloggers to get ideas from, friends to give you encouragement, and so much more. The last thing you want is to be a blogger that sits in their room looking at the four walls and not knowing what to write or what other people are writing.
Use a variety of media to get your message across. It doesn’t have to be solely writing blogs. Create live videos in social media. Design brightly coloured memes to sprinkle everywhere. Record podcasts and invite guests to participate. Think what your readers are interested in and engage them in conversation. Look outside the box and present what you need to say in a different way from anyone else.
I see a lot of “how-to” and listicle types of content on your blog such as the “10 Clever Ways to Get More Blog Subscribers” and “How Blogging Can Build Customer Loyalty”. How effective has this type of content been in helping you build up your blog audience?
People respond to numbers. Having a number in your blog post title is telling your readers here are some valuable items about this subject they need to know about. It is almost a promise they will get something worthy to read. It doesn’t matter whether it’s 3 or 10 or even 101, as long as the points are valid and relevant to the headline.
“How-to” posts always attract readers. Here you are offering a solution to their problems or answering their questions. People always want to learn something new that could make their lives better. Providing a method to accomplish this will always be a big draw because people want to know how to do things themselves.
You’ve been blogging for many years now, and you’ve probably seen your fair share of successes and failures as a blogger. If you could go back in time and give yourself three pieces of advice when you were just starting out as a blogger, what would those pieces of advice be?
- Get the basics right from the beginning by focusing on your settings. Make sure your blog is readable, indexable and easy to navigate. Carefully choose your categories and permalink settings.
- Find out about your readers and research the subjects that interest them. Write what they want to read and provide this on a regular basis. Also engage with your readers from the beginning to create a good rapport with them.
- Make sure you’re passionate about what you’re going to write about, and become as knowledgeable as you can, so you don’t get too bored too quickly and abandon your blog.
Thank you Alice for taking time out of your day to speak with the MalCare blog readers today. To our audience, if you’d like to learn more about Alice, you can follow her on Twitter here or visit the Fairy Blog Mother website.
Swaahili is a WordPress enthusiast, and enjoys sharing their experience with fellow enthusiasts. On the MalCare blog, Swaahili distils the wisdom gained from building plugins to solve security issues that admins face.