This morning, I’m chatting with Alex Moss, a designer and SEO expert from Manchester, UK. Alex has been designing sites since he was a teenager, creating fan sites for popular TV shows. Even then, he was intuitively aware of the principles of SEO, and was ahead of the search optimization curve. Today, he runs FireCask, which focuses on WordPress development and SEO.
Alex’s WordPress plugins have more than 350k combined downloads, including Facebook Comments and Twitter Feed. He’s a self-taught developer, but his background was in law and television. After spending a few years in the trenches, he went into business for himself.
In Alex’s Own Words
I’ve been working in web design since 1997, SEO since 2007 and have been using WordPress since 2010. I realised that SEO was my true calling when I fell into it, and here I am.
Now Onto Alex’s Answers!
When was the first time that you really got excited about WordPress and at what point did you decide to make it your career?
I think it was when I realised how much I could do that I couldn’t with other CMS’s I’d been developing with the the 2 years beforehand. I decided to focus more with WordPress as a career when I realised that my plugins were being downloaded by more than 10,000 people and that I was receiving flattering feedback from them. This is when I started to develop and fork more.
Where do you go first to get your WP news, insights, and updates?
It may sound bad, but I don’t use a feed reader or subscribe to blogs (not just WordPress, but for anything). I actually prefer using a column of Tweetdeck where I have a private list of WordPress related users that tweet more relevant WordPress related stuff. I find that some individual tweets with links to specific resources are sometimes much better for me than a blog post. I tend to find the following usernames are great for this: @nacin, @ozh, @Viper007Bond, @olidale and others.
What WP consultants deserve more love than they get? Who should we be paying attention to?
For me, it’s actually developers who don’t advertise themselves as WordPress devs who are great. There was one guy who I worked with who had never touched WordPress, but could (on his first project) understand how to do things with the WordPress API that I haven’t seen from most distinguished devs.
To name a few people, Rhys Wynne (part of my team at FireCask) has done some wonderful dev with projects of ours. I also find that Pippin Williamson and Dan Harrison make fantastic plugins and have great knowledge of WordPress in general.
What performance tips would you give to other pros (as related to speed, scalability, security, plugins, backup, etc.)?
Use W3 Total Cache, but use with caution as it can conflict with other plugins quite a lot. Use it correctly and it’s fantastic, especially when connecting to CDNs. For security, WP DB Manager is great for backups if you don’t do it directly via your host. (ED: both of those plugins are disallowed at WP Engine, but will work well in a self-hosted environment)
More advanced… I always like to hardcode as much as I can into any theme, especially when it comes to JS, in order to minimise conflicts and ensure that the most up to date code is present. More recently, I have become more frustrated with people who call themselves theme developers and earn good money when the very basic requirements of WordPress theme development isn’t met. Use wp_enqueue_script() and wp_enqueue_style() people!
Confess to us your biggest moment of WP fail?
No biggie but it’s more annoying that it’s missed for an amount of time… You know that time when you create a page with a specific slug and then later on someone else creates a post category with the same slug and they don’t understand that you’ve use the /%postname%/ permalink structure?? Yes, that. It took me 2 weeks to realise this causes a 404 😛
In all honesty I’m proud to have not had a fail worthy of losing a client. Hopefully I won’t be eating my words soon 🙂
If you were going to spend this weekend creating a plugin that doesn’t exist, what would it be?
A 1-5 click migration from Drupal or Joomla to WordPress. Full migration including content, media, settings, theme template. Good luck to anyone who wants to conquer that!
Do you use Themes & Child Themes, Roll your own, or both?
All of the above, although I only purchase a theme if there is a specific reason to (and if I respect that developer). I am finding that more and more we’re using our own in-house theme and per-client child themes or direct forks.
What’s your favorite theme or theme framework? Why?
There isn’t a good answer to a general theme. Instead I test them by way of checking code, page speed, reviews (and who those reviews are from) and whether they are responsive.
As for best framework – our own 😛 I used to use Thesis religiously but over time developed my own.
Easy – Gravity Forms. Most versatile, useful, actionable, and helps with conversions as well as internal workflow. And of course all of my plugins 😛
Least favorite plugin?
Depends on the day. I hate plugins that sound similar to my own (I get annoying support requests and sometimes don’t realise I’m supporting someone else’s plugin until it’s too late), and any that inject spam/data collection when they claim they’re not.
What’s the coolest thing you’ve ever done with Custom Post Types?
Although I didn’t implement it all, I directed and built spec for a fantastic use of custom post types that Rhys worked on for a client. We developed a WordPress site for a large business that had over 300 locations. We used custom post types to store information on each location and integrate each location into the rest of the site for overlaying on a map, as well as integrating useful information within the maps as well as in other areas of the site.
As well as this, we used geolocation targeting to pull the closest 5 locations from the browsing IP (on a desktop) or GPS location (on a mobile device). We’re pretty proud of it and Rhys did a great job.
The best part about this job was that we learnt a lot more about WordPress that we now apply within other projects.
What do you think is the biggest challenge that WP consultants will face in 2013?
Like digital marketing (which is what my company does as well as WordPress development) we find that any Joe Schmoe can just say they develop with WordPress and claim work that may not be theirs. The shame is that our prospective clients don’t know what questions to ask in order to identify the strong developers from the weak.
The challenge for all of us is to know who the quality developers are, and stick together as a community (which is already strong) so that work can be paid forward. I relied a lot on referrals from other trusted people who passed work to me. Now I am in the position where I can (sometimes) do it myself.
If you could change one thing today about WP, what would it be?
The WYSIWYG editor. It messes with work I do sometimes, and clients need the visual editor when they have no knowledge of HTML.
Where do you see WordPress going in the next 2-3 years?
Nowhere (in terms of presence). It will only grow, control more websites being published today (last I read it was 1 in every 5 sites or 22%) and with that there will be more need for core features.
As well as feature expansion, I think user experience will have a bigger focus, as well as providing better social integration (which at the moment is handled by some third party plugins but will become part of the core)
Tell us a story where you saved the WP day for yourself or on a client project. What made the difference for you?
I usually save the day by fixing someone else’s idiocy. It may be a lot to use the term “idiocy” but sometimes it just is. I’ve witnessed large sites that are down simply because they didn’t comment out a line of .htaccess or there is a loop that isn’t closed. It’s usually the smallest issue that causes the largest issues.
What’s the biggest misconception you encounter about WordPress, and how do you clear it up for your clients?
Two things mainly. The first is that some people still consider WordPress as just a blogging platform and just do not know how versatile it is. I usually clear this up by directing them to previous work we’ve done for people.
The last is using the backend for non-technical clients. One request I’d like WordPress to produce is a famous five minute video on main features of WordPress that can fall inline with the famous five minute install.
If you were interviewing another WordPress developer for a job, what is the first question you would ask and why?
I would be very specific. They’d need to know at least 5 functions from http://codex.wordpress.org/Function_Reference/ and what they do – right then and there; and without reference.
If they can’t name 5 they don’t have enough experience, or they’re lying about that experience.
What did I miss? Here’s your chance to fill in the blanks and add something you want people to know about you!
You guys can check out the work that Alex and his team does at FireCask, including his well-known and widely-used plugins.