Zig on out to the country

When everyone is zigging, you should be zagging.

In a recent article in the Straight, the Vancouver newspaper reported that East Vancouver City Council had updated it’s standard for “affordable for-profit housing”. The number that qualifies under their incentive programs as “affordable” was about $3,700. I don’t recall if this was a 2 or 3 bedroom home, but smaller homes had different criteria down to around the $1,600 mark for a studio apartment. The affordability math according to the commonly used “keep your housing costs under 30%” rule is that to afford $3,700 per month in rent your net income (after taxes) would need to be $120,000.

According to Statistics Canada, the average wage for Canadian employees is currently $952 per week – or just under $50,000 a year.

For low and even average income earners Vancouver housing is increasingly priced out of reach. This is a trend in many of the world’s cities. In Vancouver the current mayor has made a lot of efforts to create affordable housing via new taxes or levies designed to curb speculation or tax empty homes, and has pushed for low income modular housing to be installed as a solution to homelessness and housing shortages. Personally I applaud the efforts of the mayor, and especially the perserverance they’ve shown when faced with opposition to many of these proposals. Still I think we need to take a step back and see the big picture.

I believe many people who currently live in cities would be better off if they left. And also that the city, and the people who stay in it, would be better off if a significant number of people left. The fundamentals of economics are powerful forces. When people work against them it is often like swimming against a strong river current. You could apply this analogy in a positive light when it comes to why people have moved into cities to begin with. For many the job prospects are far better, the lifestyle more convenient, it just seems to be the sensible and logical choice for most people. Yet I think now we may be beginning to see a tipping point. A point where the benefits of city life might for many be surpassed by the benefits of rural life, or small town living.

Like many people who want to design a great lifestyle and prosper, I’ve often asked myself where should I be. After all I have had perhaps the luxury of not having any significant roots that would stop me from either travelling or relocating. Originally from Vancouver myself, I’d grown up in the interior of BC and lived in the province most of my life since an early age. Yet when I looked at return from Spain after 3-years of the digital nomad life and visiting 14 nations, I didn’t really have anything to return to. Entering the rental market, knowing I could not immediately purchase a home and that it would likely be out of reach for many more years, I looked instead for a piece of land. And to my surprise, given I thought all land in Canada was priced like that in BC where acreages are often in the 100K+ or even multimillion dollar range, actually there is relatively affordable land in Canada still available. I purchased 5-acres in New Brunswick. Only 45-minutes from Moncton, 25-minutes from the Atlantic coast. Nestled amongst several small townships. A place to call home, a place to build, a woodlot lined with maple trees, birch and fir. Enough timber to build a home.

Currently I’m less than a year into my homesteading adventure. So far it’s been rewarding financially, and given me a sense of purpose in terms of developing new skills, learning a new way of life. It’s exciting, yet at times very challenging and even frustrating. Progress has been slow in building, many challenges both expected and unexpected have made it a relatively difficult path. Yet I remain a believer that this zag is better at least for some than the zigging city life. And I feel that what would make the transition from urban to rural living easier is some form of framework, a structured approach to helping people establish their new lifestyle. What I imagine is similar perhaps to the concept of an ecovillage, but not exactly in that format. It’s a work in progress, and that’s all I can share for now. Thanks for reading and stay tuned for more updates from New Brunswick.


Increasing traffic with evergreen SEO

Evergreen content is a concept that has been around for awhile. In some ways it’s a traditional SEO strategy, if there can be traditions this early on in the life of search. Evergreen content uses the power of the written word, and uses length, not brevity, to maximize impact. And the impact is felt not only with the audience, the engagement of readers, but also with search engines. It’s Google’s long-stated objective to reward content creation, publishing consistency and content quality. Evergreen SEO is a method of search engine optimization that swims with the current, making your site a recognized topic authority.

2,000 plus word articles, have you gone mad?

You’re the one that is mad thinking your 500-word blog posts are going to make a splash in the ocean of content in your niche area. Unless you face little or no competition, which usually means limited traffic opportunity, then you won’t win search rankings with short-form blog posts. Research clearly shows the majority of top ranking spots are routinely taken by long-form articles and archives or other content that leads to long-form articles. Having long-form articles in your site can also improve the overall status of your site as an information resource, lending improved rankings even to shorter pages.

To be clear you don’t need every page on your website to read over 2,000 words. That would be wasteful and annoying to most visitors. There is a time and a place for the long-form of content we call evergreen. For an Evergreen SEO strategy to work we need to select topics carefully and ensure the topic warrants an evergreen level coverage.

Can’t we just write long blog posts ourselves?

Sure you can! Evergreen SEO is a strategy that site owners can in many cases do in-house. In fact we encourage site owners to learn Evergreen SEO, even if they are hiring contractors to provide content, do social posting or other activities involved. Learning these skills makes it easier to direct the work even when you grow tired of being directly responsible. See for most business owners, this work simply doesn’t rank as a “high value opportunity”. In terms of things you should be doing to run a business, writing content can be a part of that but usually it’s more efficient for you to suggest topics, approve drafts, sign off on budgets, and do other management activities that take less and more greatly effect the results. It’s not that you can’t bootstrap your SEO efforts by writing all your own content. It’s just that in the long-term, hiring a content provider actually costs less. They have a more efficient approach to producing high quality content. They focus on this area full-time. And if you’re able to hire an evergreen content producer with experience in your industry, they may have written other great content already and be able to draw on all their research and findings that apply to your business.

What type of topics work best for Evergreen SEO?

Learning, tutorials and how to’s. Everybody loves to learn a new skill or a strategy that is going to help them. Learning is arguably the most solid, principle-driven opportunity and benefit on the internet. People recognize (especially the best people!) that the chance to learn something is the chance to make valuable use of their time. They appreciate quality learning content. When their buying, they gain confidence in sellers who demonstrate knowledge and who share that knowledge in a professional manner. The next best thing you can do short of full-scale elearning applications such as courseware, is to provide feature length, long-form content that educates. Evergreen content articles are exactly that. Designed to inform, engage and educate readers. They draw readers in with facts, insightful points, and a creative approach to conveying topics. As a result readers not only want to digest the information, they want to share it as well. They want others to gain the same benefits that they did. Or they know somebody who would benefit directly from the content. Some people even share evergreen content that they don’t really find interesting for themselves, but simply because they know somebody it would be relevant for. It’s important to recognize that the quality of the content can be appreciated even when it isn’t suited to the person reading it.

Feature profiles, presentations, research. Yes there is actually a time for explaining the features of your product, or exploring features of a comparison product, or a style of item similar to what you produce. Presentations, properly written can also be great evergreen content. Research findings, especially when packed with carefully gleaned statistics can also be very rewarding because people doing research appreciate and remember the sites that provide them with useful information when they needed it most.

Documentation, support threads. Yes, helping your customers get help and support can be the ticket to search marketing success by applying the principles of evergreen content marketing. We know you want to provide great support, why not make your support work a positive factor for your site SEO?

What does it cost to have Evergreen Content articles produced?

Evergreen content can be produced on nearly every budget. What varies is usually the length of articles and volume of articles. We never sacrifice the article quality, but we do offer 2 different writing levels, which also determine the caliber of editing applied to the work. We never produce just 1 or 2 articles, our minimum order is 3 articles for a bulk evergreen content project, or 1 article per month (minimum 3-months). This allows us to put together a more efficient writing process. We’ll do the research for a batch of articles on related topics. This minimizes research time and also maximizes results, leading to the development of statistic-rich, compelling copy.

Our rate sheet offers a range of purchasing options all based on the standard price article of $100 per 2,000 word article. That’s $100 per 1,000 words for the math challenged. The actual price you’ll pay when buying bulk evergreen articles, or a subscription to our evergreen content publishing services, is going to be discounted from the base rate anywhere from 10-40%. Bringing the actual cost down to anywhere from $60-90 per 1,000 words.

What’s the difference between the Professional Quality and Premium Quality evergreen content articles?

As the names suggest all our evergreen content articles are written to a high standard and reviewed by experienced editors. The difference with Premium Quality articles is in the level of research, the depth of research. Also factored in is more time for editing and refinement of the text. Some of our specialized evergreen content authors will only be able to produce Professional Quality articles for us. Others can produce both Professional and Premium Quality articles. For them it’s only a difference in time budgeted for the project.

Sometimes it’s the content topics that determine the quality bar that needs to be set. For highly technical writing, and writing that requires extensive research or study, we recommend Premium Quality services. With this less time sensitive approach more focus can be paid to understand the topic fully. It is so important that our writers be able to write from a place of mastery of the topic.

Driving traffic with evergreen content articles

Even before they become food for hungry search engine spiders, evergreen content articles are a powerful tool for social engagement and traffic from social networks. You just need to get the word out to your base on social network accounts. Post on your company Facebook page, on Twitter and any other networks where you’re active.

Try guest posting the evergreen content article on relevant forums or blog comments. Just be sure to do these activities carefully, following best practices and being wary of the perception of spamming.

Evergreen content articles are a must-have for your newsletter. Just be sure to have a great excerpt for the article so your subscribers are compelled to jump into the full article online. Try to come up with at least 1 hook-line that you can display as a sub-header to summarize the article. This can often work better than just having the beginning lines from the article itself. An excerpt can be either directly from the article or a summary of the article, perhaps with actual snippets from the article.

Anywhere that you advertise your evergreen content just remember that it’s important to “sell the benefits” of reading the article. It’s absolutely true that people today are inundated with information and much of it isn’t really relevant to them. People are very selective about where they put their time. Even though we say not to be too concerned that users only scan through text instead of reading it line-for-line, keep in mind we do need to win them over to get them engaged. Always be pointing out what they can learn, what is interesting, what other readers said about the article, learn to sell the benefits of the content. Rather than just displaying what the content is, sell the reader on “why” this article has been written, in the context of what it will do for them. This is why you invest the time, that’s the message you must successfully deliver to your audience.

What is article spinning and should your evergreen content be spun?

Experts are sometimes divided over the use of article spinners. We’re wildly in favor of them. They save time and money in the creation of quality evergreen content. Case closed? If you’re not familiar with content spinners already, these are software services (most have API’s today and are cloud-based) where you can send content (articles, sentences, keywords) and get back “spun text”. For instance if I sent the text string “we have a great selection of toys for your pet dog” the spun text I get back might read “we have a great selection of toys for your pet cat”. Notice the replacement of dog with the word cat. Spinning can go further, replacing more of the words for instance so the resulting sentence reads “we have a great selection of treats for your pet cat”.

Article spinning software has improved a lot over the years. Today there are a lot of settings that experienced article spinners can use to get the best quality result. Is it as good as writing a freshly researched article, and carefully editing it? No. What article spinning does do however, is take the already great, refined content you have such as evergreen articles, and expand your selection with minimal time and cost.

Evergreen content stays relevant for years, if you maintain it

Evergreen content can remain relevant and ranked for years. Yet this doesn’t happen without some effort. The author should revisit their evergreen content at least once every 6-months to freshen up the article. This small amount of trimming and adding nutrients will keep that evergreen healthy and strong for years.

If you’re using an XML site map generation plugin such as Yoast SEO, your evergreen content pages will show up in the list as modified when you make edits to the page. This is useful in communicating to Google and other search engines that it’s time to send in their robots to take another look at your content. This re-evaluation may lead to higher rankings for that content piece, and even a site-wide improvement in your site’s authority ratings.

Key ingredients of an evergreen content article

  1. Quality. Evergreen content has to be compelling and useful to the reader.
  2. Addresses an audience need. This is why you must know your audience, because your evergreen content articles should provide information they truly need.
  3. A compelling headline. Important to get off to a good start with the visitor, providing a headline that creates interest.
  4. It passes the long-click test. Google cares about whether visitors it sends actually take some time on the page they visit. It’s important that your evergreen articles pass this test, over the long-term.
  5. It’s readable. Don’t just cater to search engines. Make sure your human visitors can easily read and understand your evergreen content.
  6. It’s written with SEO in mind. Other principles of SEO should be be kept in mind when writing evergreen content such as keyword density.
  7. The chosen topic doesn’t date quickly. Try to choose topics that won’t be subject to rapid change. Avoid reporting news or subtopics that might fall out of date shortly after publishing. While you can edit and maintain your evergreen content, it’s easier to have content that stays fresh longer on it’s own.


Today is a great day

Today is a great day. I am thankful for opportunity to work and play, this day is a great day. This day will be memorable, exciting and fulfilling. I am in no rush today. I enjoy the moments. I am focused. I work smart, efficiently towards measurable goals. Today is a great day. I share the greatness of this day with everyone I meet. Inspiring them, helping them, being patient and kind with them.

How important is plugin specific experience when hiring a developer?

This question came up and was debated recently with a colleague I respect very much. He has years of project management experience as well as a background in design. Like myself he’s a veteran in the industry. We often agree on a lot of topics, but not this one. His opinion was that plugin specific experience, or experience with specific technologies within a project, is vital when hiring developers. Personally I have almost the polar opposite view. My argument was that WordPress experience matters, experience with similar complexity of programming matters, a lot of experience factors matter. Knowing a specific plugin however, not so much. Here is why:

  1. Developer’s can’t possibly remember even 1% of what they learn. Development is arguably the most information rich field, meaning that you’re constantly learning techniques, learning API’s, learning your client’s codebase… it’s not like some professions where learning happens at designated times, outside the work itself. Developers have to learn as they go in order to complete projects. In this sense whether you have 2-years experience or 20-years experience, you’ll still end up reading the documentation, Google searching for advice, posting in forums, and brushing up on the latest changes in whatever system is involved.
  2. Great developers are extremely fast learners. Weaker developers can’t keep up with the pace of learning required to be productive and produce quality code. Know matter how many years a poor developer has worked with a given system, if they haven’t learnt a better way they’ll continue to make the same mistakes. Good developers on the other hand absorb information rapidly, and the more new the topic is the more they are interested to read about it. Experience working with a given WordPress plugin is not as critical as the developers ability to learn what they need to know in order to execute a project. Going back to the previous point, regardless of experience some level of research and learning is involved anyway, and the more complex the project the less likely even the most seasoned developer who specializes in the plugin is able to hold any advantage over someone less experienced. Case in point I’ve worked with developers who built a given plugin, and yet was able to identify issues in the code faster than them despite never having read the code before.
  3. Development processes and practices matter far more than technology specific experience. Let’s say we’re debugging a problem with the shipping calculation in WooCommerce. Knowing how WooCommerce provides an API for shipping, and perhaps having worked on shipping integrations before would help. However, the work still involves learning, researching and investigation. Unless the issue is something very common and obvious, in which case it’s not really a development bug, instead it’s something a site admin or webmaster could probably diagnose. If it requires serious developer skills, it’s knowing how to run tests, isolate issues, making choices about which directions to follow in determining the issue. And once the problem is identified, it’s knowing what the appropriate and effective fix is. In debugging issues (which makes up a bulk of development time on most projects) it’s processes and practices that matter. It’s efficiency in testing. PHP experience can certainly help. I’d rather hire a seasoned PHP developer with good debugging methods, and one who is both fast and diligent, than to hire somebody who claims intimate knowledge of the plugin involved. Developers that rely on “knowing what they already know” are grasping at a thin layer of ice.

I’d love to hear what you think about the value of plugin specific experience? One thing I agreed with my friend on is that having experience with a specific plugin is helpful in cases where the project involves very similar solutions. For example if I’m doing a translation project involving WPML, having somebody who has done a similar type of translation project could be very helpful. Still, I’ve seen many situations where the developer with more plugin specific experience was not as effective as the one with rock star skills. What makes a developer a rock star is their talent, their dedication to quality. If a developer has this, it can be applied to whatever, whenever.

How to screen WordPress developers during the hiring process

By learning to effectively screen WordPress developers during the hiring process you can avoid the challenges our firm faced with hundreds of failed hires.

Hiring developers can be fraught with disappointment. The risk of failure is high. A good developer can be a star player in making your site a success. A bad developer can not only cost you time and money, but even leave your site in a state of ruin. It is essential to go into the hiring process understanding what differentiates developers, and being prepared to wait for the right candidate before moving forward. It’s worth noting that there are ways to mitigate the risk involved in hiring a developer which we’ll cover more in-depth in another article. For example common risk mitigation techniques when hiring developers includes giving limited access to your website and server and testing your newly hired developer with pilot projects. Although the principles discussed here can be applied to hiring any type of developer, we’re going to focus on what we know which is WordPress development.

Screening WordPress developers by developer type

It’s really important right from the start to be clear on which of the common developer types you need. You should not rely on developers to screen themselves, let’s suppose you are mainly looking for a webmaster or site manager type, someone who has coding skills and can modify functionality. If you hire a WordPress plugin developer for this type of project, it’s quite possible they will be bored, and perhaps have difficulty managing the variety of tasks, or they may struggle with the scheduling. This is because they are used to larger, more technically challenging projects. What you want is “easier” in a sense, but actually comes with some challenges a plugin developer doesn’t handle as often. Conversely if you’re building a WordPress plugin, and you hire a developer who mainly customizes themes, they could be in over their head very quickly and prove unable to handle the learning curve involve in modern WordPress plugin development.

Here are the most common types of WordPress developers available. Note that there is some overlap because both buyers and sellers of development tend to use a myriad of different terms to describe similar development concepts.

  1. Theme customization developer & site manager. Knows their way around WordPress as an admin. Familiar enough with plugins to recommend and configure them. May have limited PHP skills, usually lacks experience with plugin development.
  2. Front-end developer. In WordPress a front-end developer would work primarily on themes. One distinction is that a high level front-end developer might have advanced skills in javascript/jquery. They might also have an eye for design. Most will have limited PHP skills, some may not know PHP at all aside from being able to navigate around it in the theme layer.
  3. WordPress theme developer. Although very similar to a front-end developer (the terms are often used interchangeably) we would recommend you view only developers who have built entire WordPress themes as theme developers. Meaning that while all WordPress theme developers are doing front-end development, not all front-end developers can actually build an entire WordPress theme.
  4. WordPress back-end developer. A back-end developer for WordPress works primarily with plugins. They may extend plugins using hooks, modify custom plugins, and possibly build plugins.
  5. WordPress plugin developer. As with front-end developers and theme developers, the distinction between a back-end developer and WordPress plugin developer, is that the plugin developer must have demonstrated the ability to build entire plugins. Not all back-end developers (PHP developers) are able to build entire plugins of any significant sophistication. Some can handle smaller utility plugins, or custom plugins that provide a few features for a site, but would be in over their head on a full plugin build. WordPress plugin developers however, should have the top notch PHP skills and the ability to organize code, adhere to standards in a way that makes them fit to build plugins.
  6. Specialized WordPress developer. There are some developers who specialize in (and have exceptional skills in) certain areas such as debugging, or optimization. At times if your project falls into a category such as this, you may want to aim for a specialist who can bring exceptional skills in that specific area.


Screening WordPress developers by communication and language skills

Technical skill isn’t everything when hiring a developer. Definitely take into account the communication and language skills of your developer prospect. A poorly written project bid or email has to be given a strike against. Bear in mind that it is very unlikely a WordPress developer is going to communicate better during a project than during the sale. After all, they have incentive to proof-read their communication and write clearly during sales. And if they don’t take the sales and consulting process seriously, will they take the project seriously?

When it comes to language skills many offshore developers go to great lengths to cover up their lack of skills. I found in hiring on Upwork for instance, that I kept hiring developers who seemed to have 80% fluency in English during the sales process. Yet once the project started, it suddenly dropped to 50% or worse. What was a reasonable level of clarity at first, degraded into a complete communication break-down. In some cases offshore firms may actually do a sort of bait-n-switch routine where the person who you’re speaking to during sales is not actually the developer but is a manager, or a translator they’ve hired. In that situation they are pretending to be the developer working as a freelancer. Another case that is more predictable is when you make the deal with a sales person or project manager at an offshore firm. Later when you need to communicate with the developer during the project, you find the language skills are vastly poorer. This is very common, and should be expected. Generally if you can’t speak to the developer directly during the sales process, then you have to accept you never will. Which brings up more issues because it means you’ll always be dealing with the project manager, and that adds a sort of gravity that can slow down communication compared to dealing directly with a qualified developer.

Let’s suppose you’ve navigated past language issues and you have a candidate who presents themselves as a professional and clear communicator. It’s important to screen more deeply for a very crucial developer communication trait. Make sure that when you speak or write words, that they know what you mean in technical terms. It may sound obvious, but many developers actually lack the ability to translate requirements into technical solutions. This is especially the case if they’re used to working under lead developers or at a firm with a project manager. They may be order takers, and may be used to getting work broken-down for them by someone else. As a client, you probably won’t match that level of clarity in your instructions unless you happen to be a technical project manager yourself. So take the time to discuss in detail a few of your requirements, and assess whether the prospective developer is capturing what your saying and is able to propose solutions. If they really know what their doing they should be able to explain their solutions to you, in reasonably simple to understand terms.

Evaluating WordPress plugin developers

WordPress menu styling template

The main styles you can set for a WordPress menu are shown below, replace “.topbar-menu” with the wrapper class for your menu.

Peter Schiff with Joe Rogan about the Minimum Wage

Peter Schiff makes a compelling argument against having a minimum wage in this video with Joe Rogan. He argues that the minimum wage removes the ability for people to sell their labor and artificially creates unemployment.

Truth and Freedom

It is often said that the truth will set you free. With it’s origins in the Bible, John 8:32 this wisdom has since been adopted far outside Christian circles as principled idea. If truth can set you free, then what might happen to your freedom in a world where truth is suppressed? Increasingly we’re finding the answer to that question today in a world of spin media, corporatist collusion with big government, and hypocritical thinking dominating a generation.

The most core freedom we have as Canadian’s, and throughout the western world, is that of freedom of speech. We must never under-estimate exactly how vital this is to supporting all our other freedoms. How even a small degree of loss of freedom in speech, impact’s your ability to think, communicate and engage with the rest of the world. Today we see pressure on freedom of speech from many, many powerful sides. And we must ask ourselves what is the actual objective of people and groups who want to suppress freedom of speech? I would suggest that the answer is found in that principle of truth setting you free. Those who feel that truth will not benefit them, must aim to create a world where truth is not respected or spoken. Where facts, or even simply opinions and views, or statements open to interpretation, are reviled for being outside of a commonly determined narrative and structured messaging.

Recently in Canada, groups who identify (or are commonly labelled as) white nationalists, or far-right, or conservative, held a number of rallies. These protests were formally organized under the law and permits were issued. Counter-protests were then organized by people who described themselves as anti-fascists, or anti-racists. In Vancouver, the counter-protests were for the most part entirely peaceful. In Quebec City, counter-protestors used violence, attacking both the original protestors but also media and the police.

I will extend an olive branch to those who say we don’t want to see racism, hatefulness or people perceived as hateful and racist organizing on the street, even under the context of a peaceful protest. I will say to them that counter-protesting, when done legally, non-violently, is an effective way to express your views, to compete in the world of ideas and in the battle for hearts and minds. The difference is in effect the sword versus the pen. If your protest is largely about the signs and slogans and speech and visual display, then it’s an extension of using the pen, communicating speech. And this is fundamentally why we have freedom of assembly and the right to protest, is because it is based on the principles of free speech.

What is more concerning to me than the Quebec City counter-protests, violence committed by people who claim to be the “good guys”, against people labelled the “bad guys”, is the media response and political response. Overwhelmingly the political and media establishment condemned the legally organized protests, and showed absolute support for counter-protests, with the notable exception of the violence that occurred. The message to me was that our government is now actively involved in determining what speech should be spoken, what ideas should be accepted, who should be able to exercise freedom of speech, including who should be able to assemble and protest.

What should the government have said both to be less biased and to calm the nation? The TRUTH! That protesters on both sides had a right under law to protest. That while the media reported one side as being filled with racists, that is only a matter of opinion and does not affect the legality of their speech unless specific hate speech crimes were being committed during the protests. That any counter-protests that turned violent, are concerning and warrant the arrests made and investigations into any groups involved that may have organized those crimes. That freedom of speech is a fundamental right shared by all Canadian’s, and that anyone who makes it their aim to violate those rights should understand the government and the people will never accept that.

Masters guide to working with WP admin menus

In this guide we explore every aspect of working with WordPress admin menu’s. Like all our Master Guide’s, it is designed primarily for WP plugin developers.

WordPress 2-tier Admin Menu System

The WordPress admin menu system has 2-tiers. There is the top layer (menu items) and under them, submenu items.

Admin Init Filter

Use this filter to access the $submenu as a global. Set the priority based on your goals because existing plugins may be manipulating the values at various priorities. For instance ACF adds it’s option pages using admin_init at priority 99.

Add Submenu Page