Today we have Ben Townsend as the guest in our WP-Professional of the Month series. He is well-known for his unique and innovative WordPress projects like LayerWP and Miliion Dollar WordPress page. Today he shares with us his WordPress journey and how WordPress has changed his life for the better.
WordPress has been to Ben a fairy godmother. He was a “fu*king failure” (his words) after quitting his film studies and was going through various jobs like dustbin man, cleaner, etc. It was a trying time for him and he suffered from anxiety and low self-esteem. A far cry from the person who is bringing out innovative projects and calls a spade a spade in social media.
You can find him on Twitter adding his two cents to WordPress discussions.
You are well known in the WordPress circles. How did the journey start? How did you get introduced to WordPress?
I’m not sure if I’m well known in truth! Far from it, but I’ll take it! I originally started with WordPress back in 2011 (I believe), I know it’s been at least 10 years, which when it comes to a CMS, is a long, long time.
I remember being asked by my employer at the time to look at ways to increase exposure on the web and let people purchase from them directly, without going through a wholesale outlet.
Having never built a website in my life, I ended up building an eCommerce site (using tutorials). I used OpenCart for this.
It was at this point, after some research into other tools. I discovered WordPress. I started playing with it and realized that, as a non-coder, it really didn’t matter.
I could build a website and have fun in the process. Every time I needed some kind of additional functionality, there more often than not was a plugin to do what I needed.
Ever since then, I have become hooked.
Where are you based? Does your location influence your work?
I’m actually based in the UK, although reading my blog, you’d think I’m from the USA, mainly because I use American spellings, which to this day I have no idea why I do that. Heck, even this interview is packed with US spellings.
My location doesn’t impact my work, I don’t work on a geographical basis, and I don’t see the point. As WordPress is global, it makes no sense to pigeonhole it geographically speaking.
Please share some projects you are currently involved with.
Currently, I have three projects on the go:
LayerWP Product Directory
I started a WordPress product directory on LayerWP, it’s my attempt at showcasing WP products that perhaps don’t get as much love as they should.
It’s user-generated, so business owners/developers can post their products, tell people about them with links and such. It’s going really well, I’ll be honest, when I started it, I didn’t even think I’d get one product, let alone 68 at the latest count!
The reception of the directory has been great, and I’ve been fortunate to speak to lots of business owners and developers.
Via video calls or email, offering help, speaking about marketing and more. It’s been a lot of fun and really eye-opening.
If you own a business/product, you can always find out more here.
Million Dollar WordPress Page
This project is a bit of fun for me, and a novel way to advertise a product/business. It’s based on an old idea called the Million Dollar Homepage.
Essentially, people can pay and choose a pixel advert size for their advertising block. It was designed to be a bit of fun, and like the directory, I didn’t realize it would blow up!
So far it has 37 paid-for ad slots, and I’m receiving interest daily, so long may it continue!
WP Deals – A Deals Via Email Newsletter
I initially started this project around 2 years ago, then the Pandemic reared its ugly head, and things fell apart. I actually wrote about what happened and why I relaunched it here.
WP Deals is similar in principle to my directory on LayerWP. It’s about product discovery, with a twist.
Developers/business owners can submit deals/offers to the site. It’s completely free to do so. If they have an affiliate program I’ll sign up to it and use affiliate links, if they don’t, I’ll still run the offer/deal.
The TWIST: I listened to a number of product owners, and a lot of them were reluctant to offer deals. One of the reasons that kept cropping up was competing with search engine results pages.
If they offered a deal, and people searched for ABC + deal on Google, it brings up thin content coupon sites. This means they’d have to compete with them for their brand/product name.
As a by-product, I thought, why not hide the deals?
So I locked them behind a password. Every Friday, I send out a newsletter with that week’s password and a link to the deals page.
Subscribers won’t know what deals are available until they enter their password.
This protects businesses and creates some excitement for subscribers, the not knowing part. Plus, everyone who subscribes gets entered into a prize draw to win WordPress products!
Please share the story behind LayerWP and also the amazing team behind it.
Team wise? It’s just me, I don’t have a dedicated team of writers available. I wish I did, but it’s not the case.
I’ve run other WordPress blogs in the past, but started up again a few years ago. I write in my own style, my own way. I see LayerWP as an outlet, and love reviewing WordPress products, and sharing tips.
I suppose LayerWP is a chronicle of things, things I can look back on that could help me, if I ever forget anything. Plus, the directory helps me remember products that I need to check out, or look into in more detail!
What makes WordPress so special to you?
The impact it’s had on my career. I’ve had many jobs over the years. I used to be a cleaner for a corporate headquarters, and have had quite a few jobs since then.
This is going to sound cheesy as hell. WordPress literally changed my life. If I hadn’t discovered it all those years ago, I’d probably be stuck in a job I hated.
WordPress will always hold a special place in my heart, always.
What is your favorite a) Plugin b) Theme c) Hosting and why?
Can I have more than one?
Plugin wise? I’d go with SEOPress, I love it. Whenever I build a new website, it’s the first plugin I’ll install. I’ve used a few different ones over the years, and SEOPress is my favorite.
I also really enjoy using JetEngine as well, it’s a great plugin for Dynamic content, Custom Post Types, Taxonomies and more. It does an awful lot, and if I have to build something a little more complex? I’d use JetEngine.
Like the modular aspect of it, enable what you want to use, disable what you don’t.
Hosting? I’d go with Kinsta, having been with them for years now. Support is always quick and they’re super friendly. The control panel is so damn easy to use, everything is where it should be, and it’s clearly explained.
20i is another one to look out for, I have a number of sites hosted with them, and have never had any issues. Their dedicated WP solution is shaping up very nicely.
What do you think about the future of WordPress and Gutenberg?
I actually like the Block Editor (Gutenberg). From a content perspective, it makes things so much easier. So much so, that when I do write for somebody else, and they give me access to the classic editor, a little piece of me dies.
I think the future of WordPress isn’t going to hinge on Gutenberg, but it will play a big part in it. With Full Site Editing on the horizon, the potential impact for theme developers could be huge.
I’ve played around with an FSE-compatible theme, and need to revisit it again. At the moment as it is, it’s a little confusing, especially when you’re used to working in a set way, with a specific theme. That’s my personal opinion, and not meant to ruffle anyone’s feathers, for the record!
As I said, I do need to take another look into Full Site Editing themes.
There is a talk that WordPress is becoming more and more complicated. What do you think?
I remember this discussion on Twitter, I think it was Lesley from NewsletterGlue who wrote a tweet about it. Yes, yes, it is becoming more complicated.
If I’d discovered WordPress in its current state, all those years ago, I would have been dumbfounded at how to get it to work. I’ve been luckier than most, having been privy to its changes over time.
We live in different times, and people have different expectations of website building platforms. People want things done yesterday.
They don’t have the time to sit and learn all the aspects of WordPress, coupled with differing opinions on ways things should or shouldn’t be done, it’s confusing for people.
Those who have the time to invest, and learn WordPress, not from a coding perspective, I’m talking from a user/admin one, will see results. This is the thing it takes time to learn.
When you compare it with other platforms, which pride themselves on ease of use, and simplicity, people will pick the path of least restriction. Not everyone has the time set aside, and therein lies the problem.
From my view, I see WordPress as being in a state of flux. You have page builders such as Elementor that can speed up the process, and using it you can get relatively quick visible results.
Then you’ve got the likes of Block Editor plugins, GenerateBlocks, Kadence Blocks, Stackable and more. Solid products that are designed to help you make websites using the Block Editor.
So which is it? To me as an outsider looking in, what solution do I have to get on top of my WordPress powered website, so I can actually build it?
It’s no longer about just WordPress, it’s what you need to make the most out of it. I understand the solution being proposed is that of Full Site Editing. I’ll be honest, I’m excited about this prospect.
In its current form, it’s confusing.
To this day, I’ll never understand why Automattic didn’t just buy Elementor, GenerateBlocks, Kadence Blocks or Stackable. These solutions really can make a difference and help users create websites quickly.
What would you like to see implemented in WordPress as a Core feature?
Honestly? I’d like to see a better Block Editor designer. I love what GenerateBlocks, Kadence and Stackable does.
Containers, rows, padding/margin adjustments, better text/heading settings, ability to hide certain things on mobile devices. The list goes on!
We had so many acquisitions in WordPress in recent times. What are your thoughts on it?
If a developer/business owner has lost passion for a particular product, and someone can come in, offer them a deal, to keep the product going. That’s completely understandable.
What I am seeing is hosting companies swooping in and snaffling up products. Every other week, it seems like a product changes hands. I can see why hosting companies do what they do.
My only reservation with hosting companies doing this is, how long before the product is no longer available? How long before you must be a customer of ABC hosting to use a specific plugin?
Life has both success and failure. Please share one mistake that you made early in your career.
Trying to copy other blogs. I used to run a blog called WPin.me, when I first started with WordPress. It was going great, but my constant tinkering and believing it wasn’t good enough for visitors, ultimately destroyed it.
I have a tendency to overthink things, and if the above has taught me anything. It’s that you don’t need to fit in. Be you, work your own way, believe in yourself.
What tips would you give to WordPress plugin authors, especially when it comes to marketing?
A great question!
Own your mistakes:
Never ever be afraid of highlighting a mistake, write about it. Show how you solved it, what you did, nothing says more than a company having an issue and showing a solution.
One person outfit:
Sole business owner/developer? Go to the bathroom, and take a look in the mirror, you’ve just met your best marketing asset.
Nobody knows your product better than you, so what if you don’t know a thing about marketing. That’s what YouTube is for, search the web, view competitors’ sites, and see how they do things.
If you have a product, don’t be scared of building a list of websites, you’d like to approach. You’ll probably get quite a few thanks but no, thanks, but if you don’t ask, you don’t get.
Paying for posts
I’ve spoken to lots of developers, and some blogs charge a fortune for a mention in a list post, or a mention full stop. Personally, I wouldn’t go down this road, but if you have the budget, it could generate some traffic. Until someone else comes in, pays more, and you go down the pecking order.
Set up an affiliate program
I cannot tell you how important this is. Set one up as part of the process, you’ll thank me later! That way, you can incentivize people to share your product or write about it.
Be careful with your affiliates
Affiliates can be good for your business, and very, very bad. Always ask questions such as: how will you promote us? This is your affiliate program, so scan the applications from potential affiliates.
Look at their website, see how they operate, weed out the spammy affiliates, of which I can assure you, there are plenty of. Spammy affiliates will do more harm than good.
Twitter is a great place to connect with other developers/business owners. People like to share on Twitter, so you can usually find some great tips, or quality threads tackling problems.
Just don’t go direct messaging people, you’ll get their backs up. Join in on conversations if you have something useful to contribute.
There’s more I could mention, but I think that’s enough for now!
Several discussions are going on about WordPress contributions. What do you think? Should it be voluntary or paid or compulsory or optional?
I think it should be sponsored/paid, these people are giving up their free time to make things better for everyone.
People have bills to pay, and families to support, I think at the very least they should be rewarded financially.
Especially as the rest of us, use WordPress to generate revenue from.
What is Ben like away from WordPress? What are your ways of chilling?
Despite being known as the annoying loudmouth on Twitter, in real life, I’m actually pretty laid back.
I’m a gamer, since the good old days of the ZX Spectrum 48K, and Manic Miner! I’ve always enjoyed gaming, it’s a release for me. Switch off the work worries, and chill.
I’m a big movie fan and love independent movies and ones that make you think. I love a film that sparks a conversation. Sadly these days, they are few and far between, so I can often be found rewatching some older classics like Memento and such.
The WP-Content team wishes him all the very best for his future endeavors and hopes to see him make more contributions to WordPress.
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