28 minutes | Aug 13, 2020

Episode 135 – David Zimmerman

Introducing David Zimmerman David has been working in SEO for about 12 years, five years on his own as Reliable Acorn. Over the past couple of years, he’s been speaking at WordCamps about SEO and client management. Show Notes Twitter | @reliableacorn Website | Reliable Acorn Webiste | Curious Ants Preferred Pronouns | He/Him Episode Transcript Tara: This is Hallway Chats, where we meet people who use WordPress. Liam: We ask questions and our guests share their stories, ideas, and perspectives. Tara: And now the conversation begins. This is Episode 135. Welcome to Hallway Chats. I’m Tara Claeys. Liam: And I’m Liam Dempsey. Today we’re joined by David Zimmerman. David has been working in SEO for about 12 years, five years on his own as Reliable Acorn. Over the past couple of years, he’s been speaking at WordCamps about SEO and client management. Under the current COVID-19 shutdown, he misses the friends he’s made in the hallway track. Welcome, David. David: Hello. Nice to be with you two, today. Tara: We are glad to have you in our virtual hallway. Thanks for joining us today, David. Can you tell us and our listeners a little bit more about yourself? David: Yeah, I see. I live in Charlotte, North Carolina with my wife who is just really of about nine months now. It’s been a great time to get to know my wife in quarantine over the last few months. It’s kind of a new thing for us. And we’ve been having a good time doing it. She has been here working from home, getting used to me, who’ve been working from home for a long time now. Tara: So you’re newly married, and then right after you got married you ended up in this work together? Did I understand that correctly? David: Yeah. Sorry, that wasn’t very clear, was it? We got married a few months before the pandemic. So about March when she was working from home, she got to join me who have already been working from home for a long time. So it’s been a fun way to kind of get to know someone even closer. Tara: Yeah. I know when you have a vacation where you stay at home you call it a staycation. What do you call a honeymoon when you’re stuck at home? David: Yeah, exactly. Exactly. Tara: Well, excellent. Tell us about how you’ve discovered WordPress. You say you have an SEO agency and SEO doesn’t always mean WordPress. So tell us a little bit about your connection with WordPress. David: I’ve been kind of a half developer, half marketer for years, and then someone introduced me to the concept of SEO. It appealed to both my technical side and my content creative side. It was a kind of a weird culmination. As someone who came from that background, WordPress was a kind of a natural fit. It just was easy to use and had the flexibility where I could dink around with it. I don’t call myself a developer, I really don’t do that. But WordPress allowed me to have enough. For instance, I eventually built my own little theme from scratch just to really familiarize myself with how WordPress worked. I learned a lot in the process. Now the theme is really super ugly because I am definitely not a designer. But it taught me how WordPress renders things. It taught me how to speak to designers and developers who are building WordPress websites, so I can give them the best technical SEO advice I can being that I understand how the platform works. I took that and I started going and traveling around to different WordCamps around the southeastern United States and meeting friends, speaking on things that I was excited to speak about. Now I feel like I’m pretty involved in the community. I was on the organization team to organize WordCamps Charlotte this year. Was. So maybe next year. Liam: Hopefully next year, right? Hopefully next year. David, I want to talk a little bit about your diving into that WordPress theme and making that. I’m a big fan of knowing a lot about the ancillary roles to mine. I’m in the design and marketing side, not the development and marketing. Very much in the design and marketing. But dabble enough in code not to write a theme that I would ever put on a public-facing website, but to your point to be able to talk to developers and to talk to clients where we could do this technically and that technically. I know that is simpler than this other task I have no idea how to do either. But I know that that’s simpler than that is more complicated. I’m interested, when you were going to make this WordPress theme, was that just an educational idea? Or were you really thinking, “You know, maybe I’ll sell it” or “maybe I’ll design it up and use it on my own?” Where are you going with it? David: Because I knew it would be ugly, I knew I wasn’t going to be able to sell it. I actually stole someone’s design in a way. There is somebody who developed this idea called the fluid baseline grid. He developed this very simple CSS system that handled text really well and introduced me to concepts like letting and design concepts like that. It was also responsive before responsive was really a thing. It was mobile-first. It was my first experience with mobile-first web design. And that really changed the way things happened. So it was an intellectual exercise to understand WordPress, because I was taking these important concepts like mobile-first and responsive web design, doing it using someone else’s idea and trying to convert it into WordPress. So now when I go to a developer, I can tell you did not design this from a mobile-first perspective. And I can say, “Remember, Google is evaluating your site from a mobile-first experience when they’re deciding to rank your site.” So when you build a mobile-first design, what you’re doing is you are building it in light of how Google would like to think of your site rather than designers who build desktop and then crack it down to mobile, which ends up being usually a very cumbersome site. It can be a real big SEO problem. So that’s kind of how I approached it. Learning the things that then WordPress could do with that helped me a lot. For instance, one of the biggest SEO problems on WordPress is the idea that if you have an entirety of a blog post on a category page, and then you have the same blog post on a date page, you are duplicating your own content. Google doesn’t like that. Why would Google want to serve up those pages if it’s the same stuff on every other? So you have to use the preview. You can do that manually. You can go in there and then little line the read more tag. But Gosh, it’s a whole lot easier if you know there’s a function that you can put in your functions of PHP file to say, “Hey, only show the preview on archival pages.” Once you know that, oh, that’s a million times easier. And it was things like that I discovered that I could build into the theme. And now when I work with a developer to build a site, I say, “Hey, I need you to crack open the functions of PHP theme file and I need you to go and you need to fix this code problem.” Tara: That’s really interesting. When I think of SEOs, I think there are a lot of SEOs, maybe less nowadays, but that actually understand and know about those kinds of technical things that do definitely impact SEO. SEO agencies are often not building websites or understanding theming and functions file. So you’re way more of a developer than you let on at the beginning there I think, David? David: Oh, yeah. Well, you’ve not seen any of the code I’ve produced. Liam: Well, there’s certainly value in doing enough code so that it works, right? If you’re treating it as an exercise in learning, and not, you know, this is necessarily the fastest or the most efficient way to code or latest trend of coding. It’s really, what is this doing? How does this work? That’s a different project. Let me ask you one last question on this topic. And it’s really how long did you plan to spend on developing your theme as an educational exercise? And then how long did you actually spend? David: Wow, that’s a great question. I don’t remember. I did it while I was working at an agency before I went on my own. So that was kind of a fun hobby project. I don’t know now that I’m on my own if I would have the time or desire to do this. Because here I am sitting in my office all day. I don’t want to do this after hours. I want to go upstairs. I want to walk around. But I think it took me a good year of off time to work on it. If no one is looking at the technical documentation on WordPress site, it’s really good. Someone like me who doesn’t have a background in computer science can read it and follow it. Anybody can do it. It just takes time. My first foray into development was—and this will date me—writing programs with compilers. It literally took me two years to write a program that was 5k. It was teeny tiny, and it took me two years to do it. It was great. It was a lot of fun. It was, again, a hobby kind of thing. But eventually, it worked, and it actually became pretty popular and had a little bit of income. So, thankfully, if you have that disposable time you can dedicate to it. But maybe if you are a real experienced developer, it would a lot faster for you to build from scratch than it would be to try to take a theme and make a child of it, and then adjust it to what you need. Tara: Yeah. Do you do SEO for other websites that are not built with WordPress or do you exclusively work with WordPress? David: I really only have one or two clients who work on WordPress. I mean, I use it for all of my sites. But some of my clients, it’s one client had a really bad developer experience. I’m sure everybody who works in WordPress understand
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