10 WordPress Mistakes Every Designer Should Know About
There isn't a web professional out there who isn't familiar on some level with WordPress. It may be that you are a skilled WordPress developer; and it may be that you only know that it is an extremely popular blogging application. But this isn't about what you can do with WordPress. It's about what you shouldn't do with it.
Because it is such a popular application, powering over 15.5% of all websites, mistakes are made with it. Some of these mistakes are made more frequently by the amateur designer, but anyone who has worked with the WordPress platform can probably think back to a time or two when they were guilty of at least one offense on this list:
Mistake Number 1 - Downloading Free Themes
Most designers wouldn't be caught dead using a free, or even premium, theme. However there are developers who aren't as skilled when it comes to aesthetics and web site owners who are more interested in the content or marketability of a site than its looks. People who could care less what the golden ratio is just want something that makes their site look nice. Sometimes they turn to free, downloadable themes. But this is a big mistake. For one, there are probably thousands of other WordPress sites that are using that same theme. If you are trying to establish a brand, using something that is already overused isn't a good way to start. More importantly, free themes can be host to a number of vulnerabilities. While premium themes have also been known to be exploitable, when you pay for a theme odds are that hole will be patched and you will be notified. If the theme was free you are often left to your own devices to find and fix any security threats.
Mistake Number 2 - Using Too Many Plugins
We picked on developers a bit in the last piece so let's dish it out to the design crowd here. While the may be able to come up with a visually stunning site, their skills with backend coding may not be as strong. WordPress makes up for this by offering a number of plugins to help expand a site's functionality.
The problem with plugins is that they often bog down a site and cause poor performance. People tend to get plugin happy when it comes to WordPress and they install things that they will never use, but they look cool and might come in handy some day.
Some plugins are security nightmares as well. Poorly coded plugins could render a site open to attack with the click of an Activate link. Add to this the fact that many plugins will actually break a site and you have enough reason to think twice before overdoing it.
Mistake Number 3 - Getting Widget Happy
Want a search box on top of the category list? Want to see your most recent tweets right next to a custom coded HTML message? Widgets make this possible on WordPress. They also make it possible to clutter up your sidebars and footer rather quickly with "information". There is a reason cliches like "keep it simple", "easy does it" and "less is more" exist. Widgets are one of those reasons.
Mistake Number 4 - Failing to Monitor Comments
I once saw and advertisement for someone who was looking for someone to clean up 175,000 comments on a WordPress site. Clearly, these comments were spam but failing to see what was going on here is a big mistake.
Keeping up with comments should be a two pronged approach. First, you need to have something set up to filter out all the spam; because you will get spam. Lots of spam. The Akismet plugin is one of the best out there for the job. You simply install it and register for an API key. Once that arrives in your email you simply copy and paste it into the required text box and it starts keeping the comment spam at bay.
The second step is actually reading and replying to your comments. Comments are what makes blogs so unique. They give you the chance to interact and engage with your readers, so take that opportunity to respond and add to the conversation.
Mistake Number 5 - Forgetting to Secure Your Blog
WordPress is a web application, which means that there are currently known security vulnerabilities in its code, and there will be more vulnerabilities found in the code. Any software is susceptible to attack and when that software is hosted on the web it becomes an even more lucrative target because odds are, it has not been secured behind a firewall and other appliances to prevent bad guys from getting in.
Most WordPress installations are attacked by lower level malicious hackers looking to inject link spam into a blog with good traffic or by automated scripts that troll the Internet looking for web apps that have specific vulnerabilities. The good news is that taking even the basic steps to secure your WordPress site is often enough to keep a good percentage of attacks away.
Mistake Number 6 - Overusing Categories
One of WordPress' biggest problems is that it is too easy to do things in it. Creating new categories is no exception. Often times someone will write up a post and instead of using one of the existing categories they simply create a new one.
The purpose of categories should be to give your content a container in which to store it in. It shouldn't be in two containers, or more, it should stay in one. If you write only one post about responsive design then it can go under the Web Design category, it doesn't need a new category. While you're at it, ease up on the tags as well. Five tags is good, 25 tags is a bit tacky.
Mistake Number 7 - Stealing Images
No. No, no, no, no, no. It is not ok to take images from Google Images and use them. They are copyrighted and owned by someone. If you are using these images on a business blog there is a good chance that you could start receiving cease and desist letters.
Images are a great way to compliment your content but make sure that you find images that are under the Creative Commons License, GNU Public License or in the Public Domain.
Mistake Number 8 - Having Weak Content
The reason people install WordPress is so that they can frequently update and add content. If you were not going to touch your content use regular HTML and CSS to create your site. It will load faster and be much more secure.
So if your purpose is to have a content rich site, make sure that your content is well written, grammatically correct and strong enough to keep your readers coming back. I hate finding coming across a site that looks great visually but has nothing to say. It seems like such a waste.
Mistake Number 9 - Forgetting About the Little Guys
The smaller screens of mobile devices will make your site hard to see if you don't design with these users in mind. We've all seen the debates about responsive design and mobile friendly sites. No matter where you stand, make sure that you remember that many people will visit your site on a smartphone or tablet.
Mistake Number 10 - Forgetting to Backup
I made this mistake. I used a framework to create the theme and edited all of the CSS right in WordPress itself. I had pages and pages of great content. I lost most of it. The worst part is, I had a backup of my site. The problem was that the backup was corrupted. I never tested out my backups so when the time came to restore the site, I got nothing.
Research some backup and recovery plugins and choose one that you like. My suggestion is run a local install of WordPress on your computer, a virtual machine or even on a subdomain and test your backup files to make sure that they work when you need to recover them.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jeff is the web content developer for PhishMe, a security training and awareness company. He frequently writes about design, blogging and WordPress. You can follow him on Twitter @jeorl