If you have ever run a WordPress site before in the past then you may be aware of just how easy it is to get in a muddle, have a meltdown or run head on into some pretty nasty show stopping problems. Fortunately there are some tips and tricks you can follow which will reduce the number of problems you will face on your WordPress journey.
Whether this is a new adventure, or your trying to manage an existing solution, we have compiled a list of 10 areas which we believe all webmasters should follow or adhere to as much as possible. It’s incredibly important for your WordPress site or blog to not only be amazing for the end user, but to also work for you.
We can pretty much guarantee that at some point in your life as a WordPress administrator that you would of stumbled across some problem along the line, whether this is corrupt database/files, plugins that don’t work or a theme install that typically destroys your website the evening before an important launch! Most of us have been there and learnt the hard way and this blog post is our findings and tips to avoid as many of these issues as possible.
If you are just starting out you probably have no idea what we are going on about and that is possibly a good thing, however we cannot stress the importance of these tips enough! Please read all of them, take them in and taake note as to how they sit with your site and how you can apply them to your circumstances.
If anything is too much, doesn’t make sense or you just can’t see how it will benefit you then please get in touch or leave a comment below, we manage WordPress sites every hour of the day.
So here we go, the top 10 mistakes to avoid
1. Taking backups far too lightly
An often overlooked feature is backups! It is absolutely essential that you keep regular backups of your website or blog both online and locally on your computer. There will always be a time in the life of your website where you may need to refer to this backup, from attempted hacks, viruses or injection attacks through to failed updates, rogue plugins or simply human error.
The biggest issue we often see is people know that the majority of decent hosts backup their servers and thus the web master will often neglect any form of backup solution. This is a really bad practice to get into as you have no control over these backups or the host so it is always advised to take the tiered approach to backup by implementing your own solution.
There are a few solutions we recommend, you have options such as BackupBuddy or VaultPress which are plugins that can automate your backups for you and then place them in various locations such as on the cloud, direct to e-mail, to an alternative FTP server. On top of that there are systems such as managewp.com that offer remote management and backup services as part of its service.
Whatever you decide, and whatever route you take, please backup your WordPress, both the files and the database. Ideally these backups will be to a remote server and a local copy accessible by you.
2. Skimping on your theme
Time and time again we see people spend out money on their domain and hosting, then try to keep the spend low by trying to use free or mediocre themes on their WordPress install.
This is a huge mistake, your theme is what makes your site work, it’s what your users will see and its the power that you have to make the site as you want it to be. By scrimping on this area you can end up with a poorly coded theme that is slow loading, full of scripting errors, not regularly updated, full of security holes and hard to use amongst many other things.
A theme isn’t as expensive as you may think, we highly recommend Divi, XTheme or BeTheme, all of which come with a fantastic control panel, solid reliable code with content builders, elements and vast plugin support. These themes really won’t set you back much and in the grand scheme of things will offer you so much customisation and options moving forwards its worth every penny.
One of the biggest mistakes you can make with a theme is to be customising the PHP files, messing around with the CSS files etc when you don’t have full knowledge of what your doing with child themes. Then when a theme does update a core file you’ve amended you need to spend time to update your child theme too. In an ideal world you will find a theme that does as much as possible for you out of the box to avoid this situation, at best you want a few lines of custom CSS and a nice control panel to manage it all.
If you do need to customise your theme then please ask yourself why you are doing it and try to evaluate what the pro’s are for your users, can it be done without the custom elements? if so why do you not want to go that route? A lot of webmasters will try to over complicate their themes and setups which results in very little, if no benefit.
3. Permalinks are essential
It’s amazing how many WordPress sites are running that simply have never setup their permalink structure! By default the permalink structure on a WordPress website is to use some rather unattractive hard to read URL’s which offer no benefit to anyone except the code reading them!
So what is a permalink? these are templates used to allow you to use pretty URLs, so instead of mysite.com/?p=03 you can have mysite.com/wordpress-tips/ …. much easier to read! These templates are quite easy to use and should be the FIRST area you set before adding your content. Simply do the following
- Login to wordpress to get to your dashboard
- Hover over ‘Settings’ on the left and select ‘Permalinks’
- Select ‘Post Name’, it’s by far the best permalink template
- Click save
- Check any menus and redirects if needed
Don’t worry if you already have an active site, you can use plugins such as Redirect to create 301 redirects on the URL’s, some of the redirection plugins will automatically add redirects too. Also double check your menu links all go to the right places, again you can do bulk find & replace to ensure all links are changed.
4. Too little too often is bad!
It used to be the case that regular content updates was the key to success, especially with regards to getting listed on Google. However over the years Google has become smart, it has learnt to calculate what posts are of value to a user and use this to rank a site accordingly in their listings.
We have found that researching the first page of results for thousands of keywords that there’s a few areas these ranking sites have and that is the content length! Believe it or not, the top page results for the majority of keyword results have a staggering average word count of over 1800 words! and that’s just an average so some will be much higher than this!
We have consistently found that out of the sites we manage, the ones which rank top are generally filled with content that reads like chapters from a book, even this blog post is only just nudging the lower end of the word count! Modern day users have high expectations and if a site does not provide a comprehensive set of information they will simply move on.
We often here stories from clients such as ‘we are only a local business so why would a blog benefit us’, well the true answer here is that by blogging in your industry (like we do here) may not win us clients, but it does prove our knowledge, gain trust with google (and users) and show we have some knowledge and authority in the field we work in. This in turn will boost our organic rankings for local searches and allow us to appear higher up on the keyword lists.
So how can you apply this? if for example you are a local business, rather than having a service page that just lists what you do, why not spend a day for each one generating a page all about that service, think of all the common sales pitches, the spiel, the information, the commonly asked questions, the facts, the data …. list all this onto a single page and you will find it eventually becomes easy generating a 2000-5000 word page on ONE service.
We do it all the time for our clients now with great success and by taking this approach from the start you can avoid a lot of headaches later on when you need to boost SEO and rankings.
5. Plugins acting as parasites
If this is your first time of managing a WordPress website then really sit down and ask yourself if that plugin is needed and whether the plugin sits on the back end or the front end of your website. Ideally you’d need to keep plugins as low as possible to achieve the desired effect for your website or blog.
As you get used to the system and learn which plugins effect overheads then obviously you can increase your plugins making sure you carry out lots of tests as you go but don’t make the big mistake that most beginners do of adding as many plugins as you can get your hands on from the start!
6. Lapse security procedures
Don’t just install WordPress and assume the rest is all handled and cared for, this is a huge mistake and costs many web masters a lot of time both in fixing/recovering hacked sites and recreating lost content! This is also the reason we recommend to have a solid, reliable backup routine in place as this will happen at some point so you need to be as prepared as possible in order to recover from such a situation.
This point really needs an entire blog post to itself (Luckily, we have one here) but essentially you need to ensure that you keep everything up to date (another reason to keep plugins to a minimum), ensure your password(s) are strong, your theme is updated (again, another reason not to customise too much) and you have a reliable, solid hosting provider.
There are steps you can take to assist, for example the guys at ManageWP have included security scans and remote monitoring as part of their services and then there are plugins such as WordFence will act as a application level software firewall, these plugins will prevent denial of service attacks, brute force, viruses, injection attempts etc and are worth the time to install and configure.
Just remember, an out of the box WordPress is like having a car with its doors open, you need to lock the car up and keep it in a secured place. Don’t be a beginner and ignore these issues, master them now.
7. No care for speed or image optimisation
The first way to deal with this is to use a plugin to cache your WordPress which will take some of the workload off the server thus resulting in reduced page load times. A lot of these plugins can also reduce the size of your HTML, JS and CSS files to make transfer quicker, they can also combine CSS and JS files to reduce the number of header requests. We use LiteSpeed on our sites but thats because our host uses LiteSpeed servers, if you don’t have a lite speed server then we recommend.WP Fastest Cache
It’s also worth ensuring your images are optimised where possible, many beginners make the mistake of adding images and leaving it at that, there are plugins which can do this for you and they can really make a difference to load times. Our favourite plugin of choice at the moment is known as Ewww Image Optimizer and can make a big difference
But how do you check this? there are some good tools you can use such as GTMetrix, PageSpeed and Pingdom. These tools will scan a URL given to them and provide a report of how the site performed and provide a score. Within this report will be a list of areas you can change, areas that are good and areas which would need immediate attention. Whilst they are helpful as an overview please don’t get hung up in getting a top score, as long as your rating ‘good’ on the majority of areas, we have yet to see a site score perfectly.
8. Wasting time on SEO techniques or tricks
Some people get their site created and then spend far too much time applying every last SEO technique or tip they find on [insert a site here], in reality these techniques can only work so much magic before the time involved becomes pointless. Google and the other engines are so smart now they understand these tricks.
With the latest 2017 algorithms being used the biggest scoring aspect is coming from user metrics, Google is concerned for your traffic, your bounce rate, your content, mobile responsiveness and user behaviours. Whilst we would be naive to suggest the SEO techniques don’t work, what we do suggest is they don’t have the power they once used to have.
Your time will be better spent on ensuring you have decent, lengthy, high quality content. Make sure a user has a reason to stay on your site, to continue reading, to find value. Only 1/10th of your time should be on fine tuning your SEO and a lot of this can be automated via plugins such as the Yoast plugin.
As an example, you can spend time building up back links to your content (say 10 a day for a week), but when the users get to your content it may be mediocre at best. Now image if you spent the same amount of time actually developing and adding to your content and ensuring google indexes it via the search console fetch technique. This will organically develop back links as the content will be so awesome people won’t be able to help themselves and will naturally share it.
You can spend hundreds, if not thousands of hours trawling google for magic SEO tips, you can read all of Moz, all of Search Engine Land and every last word on the White Hat forums but the end result will be nothing! you will have more success, more traffic and a much nicer time if you used this time building content. Don’t be put off by slow traffic at the start, it can take 6-9 months before the search engines start grabbing your content but by then you will have LOTS to offer! keep at it.
9. Social media isn’t always the key
Social sharing is important but many WordPress beginnings will put this at the front of their to do list, please don’t make this mistake and remember you don’t need 10 share buttons on every page and post!
We have found the best approach is to allow sharing on 3-6 of the top networks that suit your audience, popular options being Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram and LinkedIn. Also don’t make the mistake of trying to cram every last part of your site with social options as this will really put people off!
One area where social does work however and again is often overlooked is your post comments! You have more chance of visiting the moon in your 20 year old car than you will someone signing up to your site just to leave a comment. So how do you get around this? we have found the Disqus feature to be amazing and we use it on this site too (leave a comment to see how it works), you can use a single account across many platforms and sites and it’s free, with a WordPress plugin! what more can you want.
10. Failing to test
Let’s end this blog post on a nice simple one, test, test and do some more testing! We have lost track of the amount of times we re-fresh a new customers website to find features that don’t work, such as contact forms that don’t send, broken links, corrupt images, faulty plugiins etc.
We strongly advise to test every time you make a change and fix the issues before going ahead with any other changes. This may seem pointless or time consuming but at some point in your admin life this will catch you out and the hours spent rectifying the problem, or the lost business as a result of it would of made that time worth while. Not to mention that from an end users point of view, a fully working, clean, reliable and stable site makes a huge difference.
Well there we have it, hopefully you would of picked something up from this blog, or at least learnt something. If you have anything to add we would love to hear from you.