Mike Zielonka: Finely Tuned WordPress ConsultantStraight Outta’ Racine, Wiskaaanson, Mike Zielonka is talking to us this week.  Mike manages day-to-day operations at Tuna Traffic, and also acts as a Web Strategy consultant with their clients. Mike’s expertise is in Search Engine Optimization (SEO), and Social Media.  He’s also a bit of a baller in WordPress, HTML5, & CSS3. This Tuna can dunk. When Mike isn’t coding and optimizing your SEO, he’ll sit down with a cup of coffee, eat a pizza with extra cheese, and play with his 3 dogs: Bella, Sassy, & Thor.  Ok, he probably doesn’t do all three at once, but it’s a cool visual.

In his own words:

I’m Mike, and I want to make sure Austin covers this:  The Green Bay Packers Blog is the best in the NFL and its build on WordPress. 😛 http://blog.packers.com/.  And when I know I’m going to be working on WordPress, this is how I top my pizza: Thin Crust, sassy sauce (no sweet stuff), fresh Italian sausage, mushrooms (canned), black olives, mozzarella, Colby jack, sharp cheddar, & asiago cheese.

Now, onto Mike’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?  

We (Doug, Brian, Sud, & Myself) founded Tuna Traffic as a Marketing and Technology Company back in October 2010.  One of our first needs was to identify a CMS that we could build our clients’ web presence around.  It was a no brainer then that we choose WordPress. But for the first year, I thought something better would come out that would give WordPress a run for its money.  Ironically, we have never tested another CMS and frankly, may never.  Let me take that back…I did buy a book on Drupal 7 but I never read it (it was an inch thick…since then I now only buy books for my Kindle App on my iPad).

Where do you go first to get your WP news, insights, and updates? 

I used to follow about 10 different WP- centric sites in my feed reader but have since moved on to using Twitter. I found myself only checking my feeds once a week and that put me too far behind.  In no particular order: @wpengine, @managewp, @wpcandy, & @smashingmag are my top 4 that I trust for quality and relevant WP news.  I highly recommend tuning into the @wpcandy podcast…you’ll get to hear some very interesting WP banter for some big names in the WordPres community.  I vaguely remember hearing an “shameless self promotion” by the guy who writes at: http://blog.asmartbear.com/  (ED: Just in case this went over your head, Mike is making a reference to Jason Cohen’s, the founder of WP Engine blog.

What WP consultants deserve more love than they get? Who should we be paying attention to? 

I am sure there are so many more folks out there that I am missing out on but each one of these folks have shared just a little knowledge with me (even if they may or may not know it) here are the few folks that I really think are doing great and innovate things with and around WordPress: Amir Helzer (Founder of onthegosystems.com: WMPL, ICanLocalize, WP Types & Views Plugins), Andrew Powers (Founder of PageLines), Carl Hancock (Founder of Gravity Forms), Joost de Valk (Yoast…I am sure you have used one of his plugins), Vladimir Prelovac (ManageWP), Doug Shimp (Founder of 3Back, Mentor, Friend, Agility Genius, & Scrum Coach), Dan Pastori (Co-Founder at 521 Dimensions, Friend and WP Developer about to release some really cool plugins), Rand Fishkin (SEOmoz…SEO is important…you need folks to come visit your WordPress site, right?)

I’m going to tell it to you like this…it’s not about what you know but who you know.  If you surround yourself with visionary & brilliant friends, mentors, & scholars…you will absorb more knowledge than you could ever dream.  You may never even meet some of the folks you learn from, but the great ones will help lead you down your path to WordPress stardom (or to at least a master black belt ninja level).

What performance tips would you give to other pros (as related to speed, scalability, security, plugins, backup, etc.)?

Do not try and reinvent the wheel.  There are really smart folks out there that have all ready solved 99% of the use cases out there.  Become a master plumber instead. Connect all the best pipes and fittings together to create one bad ass WordPress instance.

Always be looking for the “next big thing” but “always be testing” before going live (trust me…its tempting to just install and activate a plugin).

Make sure you are checking for plugin resource hogs.  Use P3 Profiler.

If you want to know my setup…you will have to tweet me @mikezielonka 😛

Confess to us your biggest moment of WP fail?

I deleted the Production VPS instead of the Staging VPS in cPanel and somehow managed to add the Staging VPS IP in the dns…to make matters worse when I restored the backup (my first multisite btw) only one of the sub-sites would load and the others couldn’t locate the blogs.dir folder. The fix: delete all the imported users until you have just 1 admin and 1 super admin.  I found the solution buried in a WordPress Trac ticket.  Sadly, I never was able to recreate this perfect storm to report it as a bug.

If you were going to spend this weekend creating a plugin that doesn’t exist, what would it be?

I’d either make a really cool section for PageLines or a WordPress plugin for Pizza Restaurants to take orders online (Did I ever tell you guys that I love pizza with extra cheese? Feel free to tweet me for my address lol).  In all seriousness I work 7 days a week and weekend plugin creating time has been scarce. :/

Do you use Themes & Child Themes, roll your own or both?

My setup:  PageLines as my WordPress Theme Framework and then I child theme on top of that.  Note to all “framework haters” you may not use a official WordPress framework but I am willing to bet that you have “borrowed” just a little code to make your own. 😛

What’s your favorite theme or theme framework? Why?

PageLines is the best WordPress Framework by far.  Personally I think it gives the best canvas to lay your design on and plug your code into.  It gives you drag and drop where it makes sense, amazing global and page/post controls and 150+ hooks and actions. The PageLines Store is full of free and premium solutions when I need them and Twitter’s Bootstrap will be built in when they release v2.2 in the very near future.  I gave a nice little talk about PageLines at the Milwaukee WordPress MeetUp Group.

Favorite plugin?

4 way tie… ManageWP, WordPress SEO, Gravity Forms, & WP-Types.

Least favorite plugin?

I don’t want to rat anyone out…but there is one plugin that themes your WP Login page that uses a ton of system resources…and I mean a ton!

What’s the coolest thing you’ve ever done with Custom Post Types? 

Taught customers how to use them when they edit their own sites.  My customers rock!

What do you think is the biggest challenge that WP consultants will face in 2012? 

There really are two:

  1. Learning how to balance monetizing your services while still supporting the best open source community on the planet.
  2. Learning how to become a true “Jedi Master” of one core skill rather than being a “Jack of Trades and Master of None.”

If you could change one thing today about WP, what would it be? 

Re-think how WordPress does mobile sites/themes or refactor the darn visual editor.

Where do you see WordPress going in the next 2-3 years?

I see: media (images, videos, etc.) features/tools being built smarter into the WordPress Core, a true mobile theming vision evolves, and the “Next Facebook” will be built using WordPress.

Tell us a story where you saved the WP day for yourself or on a client project.  What made the difference for you? 

We started our partnership with Halle Cottis and her Organic & Holistic Recipe Site, Whole Lifestyle Nutrition, last fall.  Together we have grown traffic by over 3000% and are adding more amazing members to the community everyday.  The difference wasn’t WordPress per say, but it was the collaboration that WordPress allows Halle and I to have enabling us to work together even though we live 50 miles apart.  It’s already the top Holistic Recipe Blog and within 6 more months it will be the top Organic Recipe Blog.

What’s the biggest misconception you encounter about WordPress, and how do you clear it up for your clients?

I find that folks still don’t understand how powerful and dominating WordPress is as a CMS.  The sheer numbers speak for themselves: 48 of the top 100 blogs are powered by WordPress, and as of March 2012, 72.4 million sites are powered by WordPress. WordPress.com (the world’s largest multi-site) has over 32 million blogs (source: http://yoast.com/wordpress-stats/)

If you were interviewing another WordPress developer for a job, what is the first question you would ask and why?

Tell me your favorite CSS3 feature, explain why, and explain how it works in Internet Explorer.  I assure you the answer you receive from “web developers” or “web designers” will shock you….

Thanks Mike!

You can follow Mike on Twitter at: @mikezielonka until he finishes his personal website.