Adam Connell Interview – “Creative Limitations Can Be Overcome. Creativity Is a Muscle, You Just Need to Flex It More”

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Hi there! Our summer interview series is kicking off with Adam Connell, the owner of Blogging Wizard and a content writer who shares his insights about content writing (obviously), WordPress, marketing, SEO, and productivity at work.

Before getting to Adam, make sure to check out last month’s interview with Tammie Lister about the WordPress block editor, web design, and the evolution of WordPress itself. If you want to hear more from people working in various areas, check out our full collection of interviews here.

Adam Connell interview with Themeisle on WordPress, blogging, SEO, and marketing

If you’ve been part of the WordPress community for a while now, you’ve probably encountered Blogging Wizard.

It’s one of the greatest resources about blogging not only for WordPress users but also for any person who wants to start a blog on their own.

Adam Connell is the man behind this project. Initially, he was using his site to share what he was learning as a marketer, the job title he had at that time. But his initiative has grown into a professional blog ever since, where millions of readers come every year to get their dose of information about blogging.

Adam writes most of the content that you will see on Blogging Wizard, but he also collaborates with other bloggers from around the world.

As a fun fact, he has degrees in Music Technology and Music Marketing, plays guitar, and found fame in college when his music was downloaded 3 million times after being promoted on a blog. The power of blogging, huh? 🙂

In this interview, we won’t be talking about music (you’ll find a few references, though). We’ll focus on content writing, WordPress, a bit of marketing, and other diverse and inspiring tips to get your work done better.

Let’s go!

Adam Connell Interview – “Creative Limitations Can Be Overcome. Creativity Is a Muscle, You Just Need to Flex It More”

When and how did you start working with WordPress? Is there an interesting story here?

It’s a weird one. I never set out to use a specific CMS and I definitely didn’t intend to start a blog.

Back when I was in college, I started an online record label and I built the site using Dreamweaver but damn, was it a pain to keep updated.

Around 2009, I noticed an unassuming app by the name of WordPress sitting in my host’s dashboard.

Without knowing too much about it, I installed it to my server and took it for a spin.

I was already familiar with platforms like vBulletin so it didn’t take much getting used to.

While I didn’t realize it at the time, that afternoon was probably one of the most life changing moments in my entire life.

Since that time, WordPress has empowered me to create so much that I wouldn’t have been able to before. It has become quite literally, the beating heart of my business.

What’s your technique for staying productive throughout the day?

Everyone is different but what works for me is a strict routine. This includes meditation.

Before breakfast, I’ll orientate myself and write out my tasks on a notepad. The process of taking these tasks out of the digital domain and writing them down on an actual notepad is something that I find critical to my routine.

Depending on the tasks I have lined up, or how I’m feeling at the time, I’ll arrange my day in different ways.

Generally, I like to get creative tasks done as soon as possible (e.g. writing) and leave more tedious tasks till the afternoon.

Other times I’ll either work on smaller tasks first. This is ideal for gaining momentum. The more I can scratch off, the more momentum I’ll build up.

And if there’s a big task that I’ve been putting off, I’ll make that the first thing I do so I can kick off the day with a big win.

After breakfast, I’ll come back to my desk and work through my tasks.

In the morning, I like to work while listening to relaxing music – especially when writing. My go-to is this Future Garage playlist on Spotify.

In the afternoon, I usually switch up my playlist and listen to something more energizing. This is helpful particularly for those moments when I feel I’m losing steam.

This can range from classic rock to something heavier like Architects.

One of the most effective things I use is a timer. I like the Pomodoro 30 minute thing but I’ve found taking short breaks every 45 minutes.

How do you define “being successful”?

I think everyone is going to have a different idea of what it means to be successful.

For me, success means being able to earn a living doing what I live. It’s more about the journey than the destination.

Life is to be lived.

What do you wish more people knew about WordPress?

I wish more people understood that WordPress is made possible because of an incredible group of volunteers.

These kind folks aren’t paid. They give up their free time so an enormous amount of people can benefit from the platform.

Describe the WordPress community in one word.

One word? That’s a tough one!

The WordPress community is incredibly generous and supportive. Let’s just stick with fantastic.

What’s the one thing you’d like to change about WordPress?

If I could change one thing, I’d probably change how Gutenberg was rolled out.

It needed to be done but at the beginning, the new editor definitely wasn’t ready for prime time.

How do you see the evolution of WordPress compared to, say, ten years ago? Is it on the right track?

Looking back at how things were 10 years ago and it’s amazing what progress has been made thanks to the hard work of volunteers.

Even just taking one small example like SSL. That used to be a pain to get right but now it’s baked right into core as of WP5.7.

What used to be thought of as just another blogging platform can now power social networks, forums, job sites, and more.

Now, with Gutenberg, is WordPress on the right track? I like to think so but I’m not sure.

My hope was that we’d see full site building without the need for third-party plugins but that doesn’t look to be the case. Especially given how certain functionality requires the use of Gutenberg addon plugins.

That said, tremendous progress has been made with Gutenberg and while the transition is a bit messy, I believe it’ll be worthwhile in the long-run.

Will this replace the need for page builders? Doubtful.

But that’s what WordPress is all about isn’t it? We can choose what’s going to be a better fit for us. There will always be those who prefer a dedicated page builder. And there will be those that prefer to work natively within the platform.

What’s the no. 1 thing a new business entering the WordPress space should do?

I’d consider risk assessment to be critical for any business. But since WordPress is going through a significant transitory stage due to Gutenberg, it’s more critical for WordPress businesses.

In business, we can’t be thinking months or even a year ahead. We need to be thinking 5-10 years ahead.

We need to understand the industry we’re getting into. What are the risks? What market factors are critical to success? Can we do something to offer maximum value to our users?

Understanding potential risks is critical to ensure that if something happens to a platform or company we rely on, we can pivot and survive.

For example, if I was launching an addon plugin or a template library for Elementor, I’d want to figure out how to pivot the business if Elementor rolled out a feature that replaced the functionality we offered. Or what if Elementor didn’t exist any more?

Yes, this is an extreme example. I couldn’t see Elementor going anywhere but thinking about these things is important. And it can get you thinking about other business opportunities that you otherwise wouldn’t have been open to. Some of those, you’ll be able to implement sooner rather than later.

What do you think is the most efficient way to market a new WordPress business at the moment?

When you’re starting a business, you’ve got nothing. No audience, no reach, no customers.

It’s a bit like being a burned spy. Right, Michael?

You need a way to reach your ideal customer.

The best way to do that is to find the people who already have access to your ideal customer.

I’m talking about Influencers – Bloggers, YouTubers, and other content creators with a relevant audience.

You’ll probably want to start off reaching out to smaller influencers (micro/macro influencers) until you build your brand.

You could offer money for sponsored content which is fine for established businesses but that won’t be an option for a bootstrapped startup.

A great alternative is launching an affiliate program. That way you can get content creators to send you customers on a CPA (cost-per-action) basis.

You could use an external affiliate network but a dedicated WordPress plugin such as AffiliateWP would be more affordable and provide greater control.

What’s your personal definition of a “quality piece of content”?

I’m not quite sure I’ve settled on my exact definition of quality content. It’s changed a bit in recent years.

But in general I think of quality content as being succinct content that lives up to its purpose.

It’s written by someone who knows their stuff and can convey complex ideas in a simple way. (what if I don’t have my decoder ring?)

It also needs to be balanced and professional, without relying on politicisation.

What are the key aspects you’re looking into when you build your content strategy?

What I like to do is look beyond content strategy and understand how to keep certain components of a business in alignment.

Actually, I covered this briefly in a recent post on blogging for photographers.

Essentially, there are four key areas of a business. Your business model, audience, content, and marketing.

For a content strategy (and business in general) to thrive, these areas need to be in alignment.

Bloggers are a core part of my audience and one issue I see a lot is that some folks will develop a content strategy that doesn’t fit their revenue strategy.

For example, a blogger may choose to write gear reviews, then rely on CPC ads for revenue. Ads require a lot of traffic and reviews are not going to attract enough traffic.

Any tools you’re using often to streamline your work on a daily basis?

Notion has probably been the biggest benefit to my workflow.

I’ve had a notoriously challenging history with project management tools over the years.

The reason I like Notion is that I’ve been able to build out a business management dashboard that fits how I work, rather than how someone else works.

What’s your favorite/must-have WordPress plugin and why?

I manage a fair few different sites. A bunch of them have different plugin combinations but the one plugin that never changes is BlogVault.

There are plenty of other backup solutions on the market but I never have to worry about backups slowing down my site or taking ages to run – they’re incremental and they run on BlogVault servers.

There’s also a dashboard so I can manage all my sites from one location. Staging site creation, firewall, malware scanning, and an activity log.

One particularly neat feature is that I can test backups easily.

What is your no. 1 rule when it comes to blogging, in general?

It depends.

I’m not being facetious here. This is a legitimate rule.

Let me explain:

Humans are always looking for the best thing. The best tool, the best theme, the best car, the best guitar pedal, etc.

But the reality is that the best of anything depends on your situation and your exact needs.

I’m often asked questions like “what’s the best email marketing strategy?”, “what’s the best way to get traffic to my blog?”, or “what’s the best way to monetize a blog?”.

Then there’s the all time most popular – “what should I blog about?”

The answer to all those questions? it depends.

If someone tells you there is a single best anything, they’re probably wrong.

Sure, it sounds great if we can distil an answer down into a singular and simple path for someone to follow but we’d be doing them a disservice.

So, when we look at the best way to do anything, we need to stay focused on our goals. And not just leave this decision of what’s best to others.

We have to decide what’s best for us.

Can you name a type of blog monetization that never fails to bring results?

Any blog monetization strategy can fail.

There are pros and cons to each one. And like I mentioned in an earlier question, your monetization strategy needs to align with other aspects of your business – content strategy, business model, etc.

I’m quite fond of affiliate marketing personally. It’s what allowed me to leave my day job managing a marketing agency and it allows me to publish long-form content that I’m passionate about – without paywalling it.

But it’s not without its limitations. There’s the obvious bias it creates but it’s also not the most reliable.

The key to monetizing a blog? It’s all about diversity.

How can you expand your audience and get new visitors on a niche blog (as opposed to returning visitors)?

SEO and paid traffic are especially well suited to attracting new visitors.

Paid traffic is fast but you need to be able to justify the money you’re spending.

SEO is slow but you’ll only really pay with your time.

Is SEO the enemy of genuine, honest content? To what extent can SEO kill creativity?

I don’t think SEO is the enemy of honest content. I’d put that down to human nature.

But SEO can definitely be an obstacle to creativity.

Google’s need to deliver the quickest answers possible has created an ecosystem where thin content that lacks expertise obfuscates creative, expert-written content.

Is that really Google’s fault? Most algorithms are the same.

They’re going to surface content that gets the most views and engagement. It’s down to us as users to dig deeper.

Does quality content still need SEO? Why?

If you say no to SEO, you’re saying no to a channel that can provide huge amounts of traffic.

Social media traffic is fleeting. There’s a spike of traffic. Oh, wait – it’s gone.

As content creators and business owners, we’re all at the mercy of algorithms but nothing is as fleeting as social media.

Remember Google+? Some creators invested huge amounts of time into building a following on that platform. And, at the same time, shared some extremely high quality content.

Then…. It was gone.

While SEO definitely provides a roadblock to quality content in some instances, the two aren’t mutually exclusive.

You can find a balance between the two. And once you do find that balance, the additional traffic you’ll get from SEO will drive more revenue. That’ll allow for greater focus on quality content.

Can poor content rank high with good SEO?

It can and does frequently.

Google isn’t perfect. It’s still learning. Just like the rest of us.

What do you love about your work?

The writing process.

As part of my work, I get to write about topics I’m passionate about such as marketing, blogging, and WordPress.

More recently I’ve revisited another passion of mine – guitar. So on occasions I’ll write about that over at Tone Island.

Which is weird because I hated writing while I was at school.

I guess it’s that potent combination of finding what you love and writing about it.

How do you see the transition to full-site editing in WordPress?

Let’s say, bumpy.

It got off to a rocky start but it’s improving with each update.

Are you part of any cool online/offline communities or groups? Can be about any topic, not necessarily work-related.

I’m not too active in any communities at the moment.

But Instagram has been a great channel for me ever since I rediscovered my love for guitar some years ago. While not a community in a typical sense, it’s been a great way to connect with other musicians and guitar gear aficionados.

What is driving you to keep doing what you’re doing? What’s your personal mission?

A big part of what drives me is knowing that I can wake up every day and do something that I love.

Freedom, passion, and the ability to create things that others will value are tremendous motivators.

My personal mission is to help more people get onto a similar path – being able to start their own business or do something so fulfilling that it doesn’t feel like work.

One thing in particular that I’ve found incredibly inspiring of late is witnessing how some people are adapting to the challenges thrown at them by the pandemic. Folks in the guitar space are a great example. One chap lost his job in the travel sector. Now? He’s turned his hobby of building guitar pedals into a fully-fledged business. Incredible.

What are the main challenges in keeping up with your mission?

There really aren’t many challenges at all.

If I had to single out something as a legitimate challenge, though, I’d have to say creativity.

Growing up, I had a somewhat negative relationship with creativity.

My perception was that creativity didn’t run on a schedule and couldn’t be forced.

Now, I know that my creative limitations can be overcome. It’s a transient issue that will pass.

Creativity is a muscle. I just need to flex it more.

And this has been a challenge particularly as my business has grown and I started to rely more on outsourcing content.

This gave me less of a reason to flex my creative muscles. This is why one of my goals is to spend more time on writing.

But like most challenges, this is just an opportunity in disguise.

That sums up our Adam Connell interview. If you enjoyed it and want to learn more, please leave your comments in the section below. Also, if you have any ideas for who we should talk to next, feel free to share your suggestions with us!

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