Speaker Interview: Tony Zeoli

Tim : What’s your WordPress “origin” story?
I got involved in the web early when I founded my first company, Netmix.com, in 1995. Netmix was the first website in the world to aggregate and stream DJ mixes from the world’s most sought after house music, techno, and hip-hop DJs. By 2000, I had my first exit, selling Netmix to another company. My two partners and I set out to work for that company and continue to build and run Netmix, but when the dotcom market crashed around the time of my exit, the investment well ran dry. My partners and I went back to work on Netmix ourselves, but one of the partners tried to take over the company and we broke up. I shut Netmix down for a few years to focus on other things and think about what I wanted to do next.
In 2005, I learned about WordPress. I knew in 1999 that we needed a dynamic, database driven website, but my partner in charge of technology didn’t anticipate the shift and we were caught flat footed in the fallout. I know that if we made the shift from flat HTML to open source content management, we probably would have survived the dotcom 1.0 fallout. Once I’d learned about WordPress, I knew that I could relaunch my site, at the very least, as a blog and a place to post my own streaming DJ mixes. On WordPress, I launched the Netmix Global House Sessions Podcast, which can be accessed on Netmix.com, as well as on MixCloud, iTunes, and Stitcher.
WordPress gave the me the freedom to not have to rely on a CTO and web developers to use my voice and express myself. It was something I could to do on my own. As theme and plugin marketplaces matured, there was little cost in having to actually hire web developers for Netmix. I did invest at one point in theme design and that’s where I caught the bug to start my own web development business, Digital Stragegy Works, to create custom WordPress sites. I started DSW in 2009 and have been working with remote teams for 6-years developing WordPress experiences for our clients.
Because of my history of innovation and working for corporations and well funded startups, I have well developed skills in project management, project management, and information architecture, all of which I have applied to the hundreds of WordPress projects I have been involved with now for over 10-years, since launching Netmix on WordPress.
While I don’t keep Netmix up today as much as I should, it is my learning center and training ground on all things WordPress. It’s evolved in a WordPress Multisite network and I’m planning on raising funding for Netmix in the near future to pursue a music driven initiative based in WordPress.

Tim: What’s your top 3 WordPress plugins? Why?

  1. WordPress MU and Domain Mapping combined have given me the ability to build multi-site networks for my clients, so that they can update WordPress and all plugins once. While there are other plugins that help people manage multiple WordPress instances that are completely separate today, I still love the versatility of being able to navigate between sites in the network in the network admin dashboard.
  2. All in One SEO Pack for WordPress is truly a great SEO plugin. If you actually look at the UI of All in One SEO Pack, it is far superior and less confusing than others. And, every feature has a help icon with a link off to knowledge base to teach you about how to use each feature. That is attention to detail. And, simplicity is key. Having the ability to turn on or off each component in the Feature Manager can help when a client may want to use, for example, another sitemap generator. Even though I don’t advise it, it’s useful to have options. I think this is the best way to architect an SEO plugin with so many tools inside. As semantic search takes hold, All in One SEO is well positioned because of its simplicity. Keyword density is far less important today than it was just a few years ago. There’s no reason to have those tools anymore as Google’s search algorithm gets smarter.
  3. JetPack solves all kind of problems under a single roof, and it’s developed by the folks at Automattic. So, you can trust in the plugins architecture. While I’m on WP Engine and get site backups and security scanning, having VaultPress and Brute Protect in one plugin is helpful. I also love the simplicity of the Publicize tools. Additionally, you can have related posts plugin run in the cloud without it being quarantined by WP Engine or other hosting platforms for hogging system resources. I also love using the Tiled Galleries option. Where I used to use NextGen Gallery, I know simply use the WordPress Media library with Tiled Galleries and the Carousel provided by JetPack. While some plugin developers will say its unfair for JetPack to come in and build plugins that make their own obsolete, all of JetPacks plugins are simple. The plugins they are said to make obsolete are generally a bit more advanced with a greater feature set. But I look at simplicity over complexity as the golden rule, and that’s why JetPack makes my list of favorite plugins.

Tim: What’s your most proud achievement around WordPress?
I don’t know that I have a single proudest achievement. There are many. One is helping my wife start her MelibeeGlobal.com business on WordPress after she was afflicted by mold poisoning in a building at Rockland Community College in Rockland County, NY. After being diagnosed with multiple chemical sensitivity as a result of the exposure and being declared permanently partially disabled, WordPress gave my wife a platform through which to express her views on International Education and Study Abroad. This has led her to having her second conference in Asheville, NC this year, which will be attended by educators flying in from around the country to explore culture, identity, and perspective. I’ve been so busy working on my Digital Strategy Works business, that I don’t take the time (until now that is) to stop and think about how transformative WordPress has been for my wife and her industry.
I’m also proud of having launched two successful WordPress Meetups in the past: WordPress Westchester and WordPress Chapel Hill. Through each, I met so many wonderful people and I loved helping others get involved in WordPress.

Tim: What do you want our readers to know about you?
That besides being this digital strategist immersed in the world of WordPress, I’m also extremely passionate about DJ culture. I produce a weekly house music radio show in Asheville, NC online over AshevilleFM.org and its terrestrial, low-power FM signal, 103.3-LP FM. I have been deeply involved in the house music community for over 25-years and have been a DJ since I was 12-years old. It’s ingrained in me and is a part of me that will never die.
Tim: Define yourself with one word.
Tony is sharing is knowledge aboout Search Engine Optimization (SEO), you won’t want to miss it!