Interview with Adam Connell – “Creative boundaries can be transcended. Creativity is a muscle, you just have to tighten it more”
Hi! Our summer interview series begins with Adam Connell, the owner of Blogging Wizard and a content writer, who shares his insights into content writing (obviously), WordPress, marketing, SEO, and productivity at work.
Before you get to Adam, be sure to check out last month’s interview with Tammie Lister on the WordPress block editor, web design, and the development of WordPress itself. If you want to hear more from people working in different fields, check out our full collection of interviews here.
If you’ve been a part of the WordPress community for a while, you’ve probably come across this Blogging Assistant.
It is one of the best blogging resources, not only for WordPress users but also for any person who wants to start a blog of their own.
Adam Connell is the man behind this project. Initially, he used his website to share his job titles as a marketer at the time. But his initiative has since blossomed into a professional blog that millions of readers come to every year for their dose of blogging information.
Adam writes most of the content you’ll see on Blogging Wizard, but he also collaborates with other bloggers from around the world.
Incidentally, he has degrees in music technology and music marketing, plays the guitar and rose to fame in college when his music was downloaded 3 million times after being promoted on a blog. The power of blogging, right? 🙂
In this interview we won’t talk about music (but you can find some references). We focus on content writing, WordPress, a bit of marketing, and other diverse and inspirational tips to get your job done better.
Interview with Adam Connell – “Creative boundaries can be transcended. Creativity is a muscle, you just have to tighten it more”
When and how did you start working with WordPress? Is there an interesting story here?
It is strange. I never intended to use any particular CMS and I definitely had no intention of starting a blog.
I started an online record label when I was in college and used Dreamweaver to build the site, but damn it was a struggle to keep up.
Around 2009, I noticed a humble app called WordPress on my host’s dashboard.
Without knowing too much about it, I installed it on my server and gave it a try.
I was already familiar with platforms like vBulletin so it didn’t take much getting used to.
Although I didn’t realize it at the time, that afternoon was probably one of the most life-changing moments of my entire life.
Since then, WordPress has enabled me to create so much that I could not have done before. It has literally become 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 will orientate myself and write my tasks on a notepad. The process of taking these tasks out of the digital domain and writing them down on a physical notepad is something I find crucial to my routine.
Depending on which tasks I take on or how I’m doing, I structure my day differently.
In general, I like to get creative tasks done as quickly as possible (e.g. writing) and postpone more boring tasks until the afternoon.
Sometimes I either work on smaller tasks first. This is ideal to get going. The more I can scrape off, the more momentum I build up.
And if there’s a big task I’ve put off, I make that my first thing so I can start the day with a big win.
After breakfast I go back to my desk and do my homework.
I like to work in the mornings to relaxing music – especially when I’m writing. My point of contact is this future garage Playlist on Spotify.
In the afternoon I usually change my playlist and listen to something more energizing. This helps especially in those moments when I feel like I’m running out of breath.
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 that there are short breaks every 45 minutes.
How do you define “successful”?
I think everyone has a different idea of what it means to be successful.
For me, success means being able to earn my living with what I live. It’s more about the journey than the destination.
Life must be lived.
What would you wish more people knew about WordPress?
I wish more people understood that WordPress is made possible by an incredible group of volunteers.
These nice people don’t get paid. They sacrifice their free time so that an enormous number of people can benefit from the platform.
Describe the WordPress community in one word.
A word? That’s a tough nut to crack!
The WordPress community is incredibly generous and supportive. Let’s just stick with it Fantastic.
What’s the one thing you want to change about WordPress?
If I could change one thing, I would probably change how Gutenberg was introduced.
It had to be done, but at first the new editor definitely wasn’t ready for prime time.
How do you see the development of WordPress compared to, for example, ten years ago? Is it on the right track?
Looking back at things 10 years ago, it’s amazing what progress has been made thanks to the volunteers’ hard work.
Also just a small sample like SSL. It used to be a hassle to get this right, but now it’s baked right into the core as of WP5.7.
What used to be just another blogging platform can now support social networks, forums, job boards and more.
Is WordPress now on the right track with Gutenberg? I like to think so, but I’m not sure.
My hope was that we would see full site building without the need for third-party plugins, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. Especially given that certain features require the use of Gutenberg addon plugins.
Still, tremendous progress has been made with Gutenberg, and while the transition is a bit messy, I believe it will be worth it 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 suits us better. There will always be those who prefer a dedicated page builder. And there will be those who prefer to work natively within the platform.
What is the #1 thing a new business getting into the WordPress space should do?
I would consider risk assessment critical for any business. But as WordPress is going through a significant transition period due to Gutenberg, it’s more important for WordPress businesses.
In business, we cannot think months or even a year ahead. We have to think 5-10 years ahead.
We need to understand the industry we are entering. What are the risks? Which market factors are critical to success? Is there anything we can do to offer maximum value to our users?
Understanding potential risks is critical to ensuring we can pivot and survive if something happens to a platform or company we rely on.
For example, if I were to introduce an addon plugin or template library for Elementor, I would want to figure out how to do business if Elementor introduced a feature that supersedes the functionality we offer. Or what if Elementor no longer existed?
Yes, that is an extreme example. I didn’t imagine Elementor going anywhere, but it’s important to think about these things. And it can get you thinking about other business opportunities that you might not otherwise have been open to. You’ll be able to implement some of these sooner rather than later.
What do you think is the most efficient way to market a new WordPress business right now?
When you start a business, you have nothing. No audience, no reach, no customers.
It’s a bit like a burned spy. Is Michael right?
You need a way to reach your ideal customer.
The best way to do this 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 will likely want to start by reaching out to smaller influencers (micro/macro influencers) until you build your brand.
They could offer money for sponsored content, which is fine for established companies but isn’t an option for a bootstrap startup.
A great alternative is to launch an affiliate program. This allows you to get content creators to send you clients on a CPA (cost-per-action) basis.
You could use an external one affiliate network but a dedicated WordPress plugin such as AffiliateWP would be cheaper and offer better control.
What is your personal definition of “quality content”?
I’m not entirely sure I’ve settled on my exact definition of quality content. Something has changed in the last few years.
But in general, I consider quality content to be concise content that serves its purpose.
It was written by someone who knows his 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 resorting to politicization.
What are the most important aspects you consider when building your content strategy?
What I love to do is look beyond the content strategy and understand how to keep certain components of a business aligned.
Actually, I covered this briefly in a recent post Blogging for photographers.
Essentially, there are four key areas of a business. Your business model, your audience, your content and your marketing.
For a content strategy (and a business in general) to thrive, these areas need to be aligned.
Bloggers are an important part of my audience and a problem I often see is that some people come up with a content strategy that doesn’t align with their sales strategy.
For example, a blogger can write reviews about gear and then rely on CPC ads to generate revenue. Ads require a lot of traffic and reviews will not attract enough traffic.
Are there tools that you often use to optimize your daily work?
performance was probably 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 because I’ve been able to create a business management dashboard that fits the way I work and not how someone else works.
What is your favorite/must have WordPress plugin and why?
I manage a few different websites. Many of them have different plugin combinations, but the only plugin that never changes is BlogVault.
There are many other backup solutions on the market, but I never have to worry about backups slowing down my site or taking forever – they’re incremental and run on BlogVault servers.
There is also a dashboard that allows me to manage all my websites from one place. Staging site creation, firewall, malware scanning and an activity log.
A particularly nice feature is that I can easily test backups.
What is your #1 rule when it comes to blogging in general?
It depends on.
I am not joking here. This is a legitimate rule.
Let me explain:
Man is always looking for the best. Best tool, theme, car, guitar pedal, etc.
But the reality is that the best of everything 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 favorite – “what should I blog about?”
The answer to all these questions? it depends on.
If someone tells you that there is only one best, they are probably wrong.
Sure, it sounds great if we can distill an answer into a unique and easy path for someone to follow, but we wouldn’t be doing them any favours.
So when we are looking for the best way to do anything, we need to focus on our goals. And don’t just let others decide what’s best.
We must decide what is best for us.
Can you name a way of blog monetization that always brings results?
Any blog monetization strategy can fail.
There are pros and cons for each. And as I mentioned in a previous question, your monetization strategy needs to align with other aspects of your business – content strategy, business model, etc.
I personally really like affiliate marketing. This allowed me to quit my job as a marketing agency manager and publish long-lasting content that I care about – without paywalling.
But it’s not without its limitations. There’s the obvious distortion it produces, but it’s not the most reliable either.
The key to monetizing a blog? It’s about diversity.
How do you expand your audience and attract new visitors (as opposed to returning visitors) on a niche blog?
SEO and paid traffic are particularly good at 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’re only paying with your time.
Is SEO the Enemy of Real, Honest Content? To what extent can SEO kill creativity?
I don’t think SEO is the enemy of honest content. I would attribute that to human nature.
But SEO can definitely be a barrier to creativity.
Google’s need to provide the fastest answers possible has created an ecosystem where thin content that lacks expertise obscures creative, expert-written content.
Is this really Google’s fault? Most of the algorithms are the same.
They will surface content that gets the most views and engagement. It’s up to us as users to dig deeper.
Does quality content still need SEO? Why?
When you say no to SEO, you’re saying no to a channel that can deliver massive amounts of traffic.
Social media traffic is fleeting. There is a traffic spike. Oh wait – it’s gone.
As content creators and business owners, we are all at the mercy of algorithms, but nothing is quite as ephemeral as social media.
Do you remember Google+? Some developers have invested a lot of time in building a following on this platform. And shared some extremely high quality content at the same time.
Then…. It was gone.
While SEO is definitely a barrier to quality content in some cases, the two are not mutually exclusive.
You can find a balance between the two. And once you find that balance, the extra traffic you get from SEO will translate to more sales. This allows for a greater focus on high-quality content.
Can bad content rank high with good SEO?
It can and often does.
Google is not 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 job, I write about topics that are close to my heart, such as marketing, blogging, and WordPress.
I recently rediscovered another passion of mine – guitar. So I’ll write about it when I get a chance Island of Sounds.
Which is weird because I hated writing when I was in school.
I think it’s that powerful combination of figuring out what you love and writing about it.
How do you see the transition to full page editing in WordPress?
Let’s say bumpy.
It got off to a rocky start, but it’s improving with every update.
Are you part of any cool online/offline communities or groups? Can be any topic, not necessarily work related.
I am currently not active in any community.
But Instagram has been a great channel for me since I rediscovered my love for the guitar a few years ago. While not a community in the typical sense, it was a great way to network with other musicians and guitar gear lovers.
What drives you to keep doing what you do? What is your personal mission?
A big part of what drives me is knowing that I can wake up every day doing something I love.
Freedom, passion and the ability to create things that others will appreciate are tremendous motivators.
My personal mission is to help more people follow a similar path – start their own business or do something so fulfilling it doesn’t feel like work.
One thing I’ve found particularly inspiring lately is watching some people adapt to the challenges the pandemic is throwing at them. People in the guitar field are a great example. A man lost his job in the travel industry. Now? He has turned his hobby of building guitar pedals into a full-fledged business. Incredible.
What are the biggest challenges to keep up with your mission?
There really aren’t many challenges at all.
However, if I had to single out something as a legitimate challenge, I would have to say creativity.
Growing up, I had a somewhat negative relationship with creativity.
My perception was that creativity doesn’t follow a schedule and cannot be forced.
Now I know that my creative limits can be overcome. It’s a temporary problem that will pass.
Creativity is a muscle. I just have to bend it more.
And this has been a challenge, especially as my business has grown and I’ve started to rely more on content outsourcing.
That gave me less reason to flex my creative muscles. So one of my goals is to spend more time writing.
But like most challenges, this is just an opportunity in disguise.
That sums up our interview with Adam Connell. If you liked it and want to learn more, please leave your comments in the section below. If you also have ideas on who we should talk to next, please feel free to share your suggestions with us!