Warren Laine-Naida is a WordPress developer and digital marketing expert who has been in the WordPress industry for over 25 years. Throughout his journey, he has served and completed thousands of projects. To know more about him, let’s read from the man himself!
Ashmal: Hi Warren, thank you for joining the RedSwitches interview series. Let’s start with getting to know you a bit. When and how did you start your career? And any insights you’d like to share about your professional career?
Warren: Thank you for inviting me! As my wife says, I like any opportunity to talk about myself! (chuckle) However, I have been teaching for some time now, and I hope my experiences can help others. Currently, I teach digital marketing courses. My focus is WordPress, Search Engine Optimisation (SEO), and Social Media. I teach at the community college and vocational levels.
I started in marketing in the 1980s after I finished school. Back then, it was mostly Fax and Door-to-Door Marketing. In the dot-com boom, I was hired by Joerg Geissler at Springer & Jacoby’s New Media agency, Graffiti, in Munich, Germany. The internet was called New Media back then. I was building websites with Dreamweaver and Flash. This was way before mobile websites.
There’s really nothing new about the marketing we do today compared with what I did 40 years ago. The tools may have changed, but the game is the same: Get in front of people and solve their problems in a way they understand, when and how they want them solved. Delight them, and they will return and tell others.
Ashmal: You have been building websites for 25 years now. What’s your aim, and what technologies are you working on these days?
That’s a good question. I think when we started building websites, they were Informational, similar to a billboard. Then we added Flash, and they became Interactional. Finally, Mobile came along, and websites became a way to Connect and Convert. As I see it, each new technology fits into that, whether it be social media, email marketing, or even SEO.
My aim is to help people over hurdles. As Bridget Willard and I say in the introduction of our book, The Online Online Marketing Book You Need for Your Small Business – we want to help people avoid being taken by snake oil salespeople. If you understand and can use digital tech – even if it’s a Wix website – then you are empowered.
It’s all about being able to do things for yourself – or at least understanding what needs to be done, so you know how much to pay someone to do it for you – Lifelong Learning, Empowerment, Accessibility – you can attach whatever buzzword you want to this idea.
I’ve been really focused on WordPress lately, especially large and small websites and all the plugins. It may not be sexy – no AI, Kubernetes, DevOps, or DogeCoin in the Cloud – but it’s easy tech that opens the internet to everyone.
Ashmal: As a WordPress developer, which projects do you usually like to work on? How do you manage those projects, and what is your development workflow?
I started with static websites, and it was some time before I saw the need for a CMS. Most of the websites we built were managed by an agency or a freelancer. Clients didn’t need to, nor want to access their websites. They would send up images and text, and we would update that on their website.
My first entry into CMS was with Imperia, Bitrix, Joomla, and Typo3. Even Flash was being used as a CMS. I remember that my largest and longest project at that time was built in Drupal, which was a great system. However, in 2012 when the amazing Ehtan Marcotte introduced the idea of Responsive Web, it became clear we needed responsiveness in the CMS theme. So we started building that on the side.
WordPress was the first CMS to offer a responsive theme. I started with WordPress in 2013, and over the last ten years, I have moved completely out of other systems. Now, I work only with WordPress.
Most of my websites are for small businesses, schools, or nonprofits. The websites are, as we say in German Klein aber Fein, small but fine. Some websites are much larger and include WooCommerce, LifterLMS, and other popular components.
I prefer smaller projects because I can deliver the site quickly to my clients. This way, they can start learning how to use it. I don’t want to have clients depending on me to update plugins or content.
I don’t have a very complicated workflow, mostly because the websites are small. Larger websites we built had a versioning control like GitHub, and we had a production server we pushed from. Most of the time, my WordPress websites are built live on the client’s hosting server. If they don’t have the capacity (they only have one database, and the website needs to be relaunched), I will build on my own production server and switch it out.
My workflow would probably sound quite primitive to the readers.
- Planning (WHY this website – what should it DO?)
- Content and Structure
- Prototype – Design – designing in the browser
I’m a great believer in Soft Launches that get what you have online as soon as possible. Next, iterate and get input from stakeholders. A website is never finished, so don’t wait for it to be perfect before launching it – that never happens.
Ashmal: What challenges did you face working with top WordPress Enterprise Agencies and clients, and how did you tackle them?
I guess I’ve been lucky in that most of the times I have been The Boss or the agencies we have worked with have delivered elements other than the website.
I did have the pleasure of working for a long time with Bright Solutions, a German agency.
One of the partners had his own Drupal agency, and we worked together for many years. Ralf and his team taught me a lot about how the Big Boys and Girls work! Now Ralf is a partner with Bright Solutions, and their focus is on Drupal and WordPress.
There is always a challenge when working with a large agency. It’s difficult to let go of the reins. However, if you look at it from the angle that they’re the ones carrying the heavy load, it gets easier. Ego management always comes into the equation, but honestly, would you build your own office building? Probably not. Let some things slide off your hands so you have more time to focus on your customers.
Ashmal: How do you manage website performance, and what’s your take on the hosting solutions?
Warren: Website optimization is obviously essential, but you can over-optimize too. It can become a bad habit. Remember, if it isn’t broken, leave it alone. For most websites, a page speed of 80 is perfectly fine. If your website is an international eCommerce platform, you probably want it faster, somewhere above 90, of course.
Stores offer a unique challenge because there are a lot of elements, such as images, size guides, customer input areas, payment, and shipping. The entire process is managed by plugins that themselves bring in a lot of “weight” on the system. There are a lot of links in the chain, and the entire chain breaks if only one of those links fails.
I think if your focus is building a shop, it’s better to go with a system like Shopify. If your focus is a website and you’re selling one or two items, then WordPress with WooCommerce works pretty well.
Shared hosting is good for most of our websites. For larger eCommerce sites, managed hosting is really important.
What’s important to hosting is hardware (the servers), software (WordPress, WooCommerce, PHP, DBMS, etc.) and Support. You need really good support. Your host should provide great support and superior knowledge, right when you need it.
Ashmal: Please share some insights on WordPress plugins and page builders, especially the newly revamped Gutenberg.
Here I’m pretty old school. I like a basic theme, Neve, or something similar. I have built hundreds of websites and only used a page builder, like Elementor, for one of them. And, that’s because the client was insistent that we use it. However, after we’ve delivered the website, they’ve not updated it in two years.
We were talking about website speed and optimization, which for me also means keeping themes, plugins, code, images to a minimum. I think developers, these days, build a lot of websites using Divi, Bakery Builder or Elementor, without thinking if these tools should be used (or not). I don’t like the new WordPress FSE. I don’t see people moving from a page builder to FSE any time soon. There are simply too many other good, simple themes out there.
Plugins? I think here less is more. No website needs 100 plugins. Most of my sites have 6 – . Yoast, WooCommerce, WP Forms, Borlabs (cookie and data protection), and WP-Optimize. The sixth plugin is probably Polylang, if the site is multilingual. I might also add a password protection plugin, but I prefer to handle that through the .htaccess file.
I had the Gutenberg plugin running because I really like the time it saves me. But lately there’s a bug, and I had to uninstall it. I’ll go back to it and see if that bug has been resolved.
Ashmal: Let’s talk about WordPress’ challenges and opportunities in the coming years. What features do you like to see in the upcoming releases?
Warren: Less new features, and perhaps looking at what we really need. I like ClassicPress because it’s simple and offers everything that most people need for their website. ClassicPress is WordPress before the blocks were introduced, and here’s where we could go in the future – WordPress for developers and ClassicPress for regular people.
Here’s an example that explains this idea. The soccer coach who wants to build a website for his local team needs one type of WordPress, and the Agency owner with eCommerce clients needs another type of WordPress. We should split them out.
People are easy to understand – they want it fast, simple, and good. They also want it cheap. Offering new features isn’t the way to keep people interested. The key is to just solve their problems quickly, simply, well, and cheaply. I think WordPress is losing focus in that regard, which means they could easily lose market share. Wix, Squarespace, and other platforms are growing in popularity because they aren’t for developers. Not everyone is a developer, and most people just want a website.
Ashmal: Any tips you want to share with newbies who want to tap into the tech and digital world?
Warren: I think what some of my students get wrong is that tech is a skill. Tech is a tool. Marketing, cooking and driving are skills. I think you should find something you are passionate about and focus on that. Use tech when and where necessary.
When I was cooking professionally (that’s 20 years before I got into online marketing), I was really against food processors. In fact, I can’t remember that we even used a food processor during the years I was at the chef’s school. We used a lot of other things, but nothing fancy you needed to plug in. You can make a great meal with just a knife. You’re a good chef if you can use just a knife to create what you’re serving. The skill is cooking. The tools are just that – tools.
Ashmal: Apart from work, how do your days look alike?
Warren: Well, you can check out my chocolate website, and I also write a lot for myself and the clients. I write 15 articles a month for various clients and for my own blog. It’s a creative outlet, and it’s a break from making websites.
I get up at 0530 each day – some days I go to the gym, some days not. I try to work as much as I can in the mornings and leave the afternoons free for meetings, and whatever unexpectedly arises.
Ashmal: Please share a picture of your workstation with the community.
It’s funny that you should ask me that! My youngest son has an expensive office chair for his desk. It should be for his homework, but he mostly plays computer games. My oldest son told me he was getting a new office chair for his home office, and I had to laugh because I have this 5-dollar IKEA chair I’ve been using for years now.
I wrote all my books using this chair, have taught online for three years using this chair, built websites, and everything. So I posted this on Twitter and got over 2000 views! Life is funny. My workstation is very spartan.
My son: Mum's getting me a cool office chair for homework and gaming 💺
— Warren Laine-Naida (@WarrenLNaida) February 20, 2023
Let’s Do A Rapid Fire!
|Tea or Coffee
|Traveling or Movie
|Mountains or Beaches
|SaaS or PaaS
|Depends what we need it for. SaaS most of the time, but PaaS like Dropbox or Salesforce too when needed.
|VPS or Dedicated Servers
|Again, it depends, probably on need and cost. A dedicated server is a lot more expensive and larger than a Virtual Private Server.
Thank you Warren, once again. It was amazing speaking to you. Cheers!