Brian Jackson Interview – “Write for the user, but be smart about it and make everything count”

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Hey people, welcome back to a cool interview about all things marketing with Brian Jackson from forgemedia. Lowercase intended. In this post, he will share his insights on how to effectively promote a WordPress product, earn money from your blog, create quality articles, and many other savory tips.

Before moving to the marketing realm, don’t forget to catch up with our latest conversations here on the blog. The last one tackles web design in WordPress. Hear more from John Fraskos, the creator of our Neve theme’s beautiful starter sites.

Brian Jackson interview at Themeisle

Now, back to today’s guest. His name might seem familiar to you as he used to be the marketing chief at Kinsta, the popular WordPress hosting company. Now, he’s doing pretty much the same thing, only for his own business he started with his brother years ago.

Brian‘s world revolves around marketing, content, SEO, and web performance; but, sometimes, he’s involved in plugin development too. You will find his blogs and tools under the name forgemedia, the two-member project that has kept our interviewee busy lately.

In what follows, you’ll read about current WordPress topics, tips to start and make money with your blog, marketing trends, the importance of content, and more curiosities about growing an online presence that matters.

Now it’s time for Brian to steal the show. He likes to write a lot, so make yourself a cup of coffee and enjoy his catchy stories.

Brian Jackson Interview – “Write for the user, but be smart about it and make everything count”

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

I started my first WordPress site in 2008. At the time, I was working as a help desk technician in the IT department at Walla Walla University (previously Walla Walla College). I already had a personal website and wanted to start sharing things I was learning at work. This was mainly due to the fact that many of the solutions to problems I was encountering couldn’t be found online at the time.

I had already built quite a few HTML sites, but this was the first time I needed something to power a blog (comments, pagination, feed, etc.). In 2008, WordPress was still primarily known for it’s blogging capabilities, not so much a framework to build entire sites.

After diving in and learning how to use WordPress I was pretty much hooked. My first blog is also what led me to fall in love with writing and content creation. So in a not so direct way, I have WordPress to thank for most of my career.

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

Even though I work from home and am my own boss, I still wake up each day and treat it like a typical 9 to 5 job. I shower, get dressed, sometimes go for a coffee run, and then sit down to check my email for the day. Having discipline and a routine is vital in every job, but especially for those working remotely.

Below are a few tips and tricks I use throughout the day to stay productive and on task:

I use a free Chrome extension called UnDistracted. This allows me to hide my Facebook feed, LinkedIn feed, etc. Little things like this help me to stay focused and not get distracted during the middle of the day. I still use social media networks for marketing my business, but I keep personal use for the evenings or the weekends.

I use a Gmail app for macOS called Mailplane. This allows me to have multiple G Suite accounts (and calendars) open in tabs and also keep Gmail out of my browser. This speeds up my email workflow and also supports must-have integrations like Grammarly. Another bonus is that it has the best looking dark mode for Gmail I’ve seen to date.

I use Trello and Confluence extensively. Trello helps to ensure my tasks are getting done each day. Confluence lets me document procedures, email template responses, and anything that I do on a regular basis. This speeds up my workflow so I can simply copy and paste or follow steps the next time a situation occurs.

It’s good to move around to keep the creative juices flowing. I rotate between working at my sit-standing desk and outside on the patio as the weather permits. Staying cooped up in one spot doesn’t do anyone any good, both physically and mentally.

You’ll almost always find me with my Airpods, as I listen to music throughout most of the day. My genre of choice is synthwave. In fact, I even have my own curated playlist with 18+ hours of my favorite musicians and songs.

How do you define “being successful”?

If you asked me this question 10 years ago, I probably would have said wealth. My family didn’t have a lot of money growing up, so I’ve always pushed myself to succeed in this area.

But over the past decade, my outlook has changed quite a bit on what the term “success” actually means. I’ve gone through a couple of medical scares in my life and have come to realize that health and happiness are two of the most important things.

I define being successful as enjoying what you do, learning from your mistakes, and at the end of the day, having a feeling of accomplishment. And doing this in a way that doesn’t impact your health in a negative way.

What do you like to do when you’re not WordPress-ing?

Living in Arizona, I love spending time out on my patio. During the middle of the summer when it’s super hot, I’ll be out on my patio almost every night. I also enjoy a good long hike. I try to go out on the trails whenever I can.

I’m also a big movie buff! It doesn’t matter the genre, I’ll pretty much watch anything. I enjoy going to the theatre and seeing the latest flick on the big screen.

What do you wish more people knew about WordPress?

I wish people knew more in general about how WordPress plugins actually work. There is so much misinformation out there that can give people the wrong impression. For example, take the Yoast SEO plugin. It’s an awesome plugin, and one I use myself. However, getting a green indicator in Yoast doesn’t mean anything in regards to how you are actually ranking in Google. It’s simply a helpful indicator and guide.

I’ve seen so many forum questions in the WordPress community asking why their site isn’t ranking even though they did everything right in their SEO plugin. And this is just one example.

However, you also can’t expect every WordPress user to automatically know these things. Many of us have used WordPress for years, even decades, so things like this are second nature to us. I just wish, in general, that there was better information out there to inform users.

Who’s doing things that are just cutting-edge and incredible in the WordPress space right now?

So I was not a fan of the WordPress block editor (Gutenberg) when it first came out. My first impression as a writer was that it was just going to slow me down. And as a site builder, it wasn’t going to help me at all.

However, after having used the block editor for quite some time now, I’ve completely changed my mind. Writing in markdown is a lot easier now, which means bouncing back and forth between different apps is better. Being able to use a backslash shortcut key to access a quote or tweet block is awesome. And the new view options also make it nice for writing.

There are also new plugins coming out like GenerateBlocks. This has completely changed my entire site-building process. I recently rebuilt my sites entirely out of blocks! With no extra custom code needed. It’s fast, and it’s easy. It’s what page builders should have been.

So with that being said, I’m actually really excited about the future of the new WordPress block editor.

Describe the WordPress community in one word.

While it might sound cliche, the one word that comes to mind is “awesome.” I’ve made so many connections (both friends and colleagues) over the years, all thanks to WordPress and the amazing people in the community. If you are ever in the Scottsdale, Arizona area, hit me up on Twitter and let’s grab a coffee!

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

I would love to see a more performance-focused development approach when it comes to WordPress core, plugins, and themes. Right now, things are all over the place. Many developers are simply pushing features as fast as possible just to increase sales. And the downfall is that it impacts users’ site performance without them knowing how to fix it.

However, I can’t complain too much; otherwise, our Perfmatters performance plugin wouldn’t even exist. But there are positive things happening here as well. I’m excited to see lazy loading finally coming in WordPress 5.5.

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

Overall, I think WordPress is on the right track. If you look at the market share, it comes down to a competition between WordPress, Wix, Squarespace, and Shopify. Joomla! and Drupal aren’t growing much these days.

To beat these other platforms, WordPress has to be really easy to use. That’s likely one of the reasons why they released the new block editor (Gutenberg). We’ve still got a long way to go, though, as hundreds of thousands of different themes and plugin choices don’t make it easy to learn WordPress.

However, on the flip side, that is also what makes WordPress so powerful, having customization options. So I think finding a happy medium, while still making it easy for end-users to adopt, will be the make or break it for WordPress continuing to grow.

How will Elementor’s recent $15M investment affect the WordPress industry overall?

I think it’s really hard for anyone to know yet how that will impact the whole ecosystem. I love the team over at Elementor, and they have a great product, but I’ve personally never been a huge fan of page builders.

However, you can’t argue against the fact that they are making WordPress site building easier, especially for newer users. It was no surprise to me when they made that announcement. They have grown really fast! So I’m excited to see where they take it.

I’m actually more curious to see how their Elementor Blocks for Gutenberg plugin plays out. Or their idea to launch a SaaS model. These are definitely things I’ll be watching.

Regardless, I think there will always be a divide between users and developers/implementors. This is simply because one set needs pure simplicity, while the others are looking at other factors: speed, code quality, maintainability, development workflows, etc.

Which one is the most demanded form of marketing? What are people most interested in?

There are a lot of different mediums you can choose from when it comes to marketing, but I would still say content marketing is at the top of the pack. Why? Because well-written content helps drive traffic, it aids in creating opt-in products like ebooks, and can also be the foundation of a social media campaign. Content is so important because it can be used in re-used in so many different ways.

Business owners ask me all the time where they can find good writers. So I think this is a massive problem at the moment. You would think there would be so many writers on the web that it would be hard to pick from them all, but that’s not the case. Finding high-quality writers that are actively engaged with your brand and fit well within your workflow are simply hard to find. Many have to go through dozens of writers before finding one that works.

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

I’m a content guy, so my answer will probably always be, start a blog. 🙂

However, there are different ways you can approach your content. With a product, make sure you have in-depth documentation. People tend to forget that you can easily rank your documentation. When writing a new help doc, I look up search volume, the same as I do for blog posts. I always say, “Write for the user, but be smart about it and make everything count.”

One thing I would advise here is to avoid SaaS platforms like Help Scout for hosting your documentation. The reason is that you will never have full control of your content or be able to customize things like you do if you use WordPress. I’m a huge fan of the Heroic KB plugin from the team over at HeroThemes and use it for all of my public-facing WordPress product documentation.

Another recommendation is to launch a great affiliate program. Adding different sources of traffic for your product is always a good thing. This will also help you through the ups and downs of traffic from Google fluctuating due to changes in SERPs. AffiliateWP is an awesome plugin and pays for itself.

Do you think content and marketing usually go hand in hand or do you see them as two distinct subjects?

I think content and marketing should always go hand in hand. But at a lot of companies, they rarely do. During my time as the CMO at Kinsta, I can tell you that having an SEO and writing background was something that came in very handy and it helped us scale the company really fast.

You should never underestimate the power that content can have on your entire marketing strategy. And maybe you aren’t as skilled at SEO or writing, which is perfectly OK. If that’s the case, find someone that is, and don’t let them go.

The individuals you have doing social media, PPC, etc. should all be talking with the individuals writing and producing your content. Everything can stem from your content, and when it does, you get an unstoppable machine.

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

I’m a huge fan of long-form content, as you can probably tell from this interview. Longer content, in most cases, simply does better in Google if you are trying to rank it. So I generally prefer to write longer articles.

I like producing problem-solving tutorials as this is something a reader can take right away and apply to their own website or business. These types of articles also do well on Google because people will never stop searching for answers.

Having a well-constructed piece of content is also important. This means you should always check your grammar, don’t make the paragraphs too long, and break up the content blocks with images. Including facts and statistics is also something readers love.

How can you get new visitors on a niche blog on a regular basis? (as opposed to returning visitors)

This might be the one answer you don’t want to hear, but from my experience, it’s all about two things: quality content and consistency over time.

I’ve launched dozens of new projects and blogs over the years. If I could go back in time and change one thing, it would be to start only one blog and never stop or change it.

Consistency over time when it comes to building a blog is way more important than people realize. You will get more backlinks, more shares, it all starts to add up, and this will, in turn, bring in not just returning visitors, but new visitors.

And of course, while you are consistent, make sure to keep updating your content so that it doesn’t become stale. Evergreen content for the win!

Any marketing or content trends that you think will get all the hype in the near future? E.g., the rise of the podcasts in the past three years.

This is more of a forced trend, but I’m curious to see how marketing eCommerce and SaaS businesses change over the next couple of years. Due to the pandemic, unfortunately, many big box and brick and mortar stores have been completely devastated. A lot of them simply haven’t been able to weather the storm.

Because of this, I think the impact in regards to online shopping will be huge. More people will be buying online than ever before. And this means the competition for marketing in the space will be increasingly hard. Marketers will have to think outside the box to get eyes on their brands, whether this is content, podcasts, social, etc.

You are NOT a marketing professional if you…

You are NOT a marketing professional if you… don’t like looking at stats. 🙂 I’m a sucker for stats, charts, and graphs.

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

That’s a great question. I’m driven mainly by my passion for writing and WordPress, along with my entrepreneurial spirit. I’ll never stop blogging because I thoroughly enjoy it. Making money from it for me is just a bonus, and still blows my mind to this day that it’s actually a job.

My personal mission is to keep producing high-quality content that helps people with their online businesses, as well as developing WordPress plugins that solve problems. I’ve been blessed to work with my brother, who is also my business partner, going on five years.

And while I’m very dedicated to my work, I want to ensure that I keep a healthy work-life balance. Nobody looks back on their life and wishes they had worked more. It’s important to take time and enjoy the little things.

That sums up our Brian Jackson 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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