WordPress is by far the most popular platform for building websites. It should therefore be no surprise that many people's first attempt at creating a website is with WordPress.
I have been helping people with WordPress for years. Time and time again I see beginners making the same mistakes with their websites. Some mistakes mean beginners spend more time performing tasks than is necessary. Other mistakes can be costly.
In this article, I would like to give advice to new WordPress users and advise ten things you should do.
1. Learn About Website Hosting and Transferring Files
Hosting installation software such as Fantastico allows scripts such as WordPress to be installed at the click of a button.
This simplifies the process of installing WordPress and saves beginners a lot of headaches. Many WordPress do not even access their control panel as their hosting company will install WordPress for them.
Whilst I do appreciate the benefits of auto installers, I believe that beginners are doing themselves a disservice by using this easy installation method.
Learning how to modify settings in your hosting control panel allows you to make important changes to your website. Knowing how to transfer files to your website is an essential skill too. File transfer protocol clients can be used to upload WordPress core files, themes, plugins, and non-WordPress related files and folders.
I believe it is a mistake to always rely on your hosting company to do every single little thing for you. There will be many occasions in which you could fix something in seconds, but need to wait hours as the web hosting company has to do it for you.
If you own a website, you should understand how to upload files and how to configure basic website settings in the hosting control panel. Failing to do so means that you will always be reliant on others to do simple tasks for you.
2. Remove Unnecessary Plugins
WordPress plugins helped WordPress grow into the versatile platform it is today. Plugins can expand WordPress, change WordPress, and make WordPress more secure and fefficient.
New WordPress users quickly find out how useful WordPress plugins can be and start installing dozens of plugins from WordPress.org.
There are two mistakes that I see people making with this:
- They install plugins that they do not need
- They do not deactivate plugins that they no longer use
Using plugins that are not necessary can add additional bloat and slow down your website. If you do not need the plugin or if you are not using it, remove it from your website.
It is not just beginners that make this mistake.
I recently updated a friend's website to the latest version of WordPress and found that of the twenty-three WordPress plugins activated on his website, only eight were actually being used (the design company was responsible for this). This included multiple widget plugins that were not being used and several gallery plugins that had been tested but not uninstalled.
Remember, if you do not need a plugin, remove it from your website. This make your website easier to administrate and more secure.
3. Keep All Software Up to Date
It is important to keep WordPress, and all WordPress themes and plugins, up to date. There are a number of reasons for this.
Firstly, WordPress is constantly improving. With every major release, new features and functionality are added to WordPress. This is true for WordPress themes and plugins too, so not upgrading means that you cannot use the latest and greatest version of products.
Another reason is bug fixes.
Despite best efforts, bugs can and do slip through into software releases. This can can create problems on your website. For example, you might find that the latest version of your WordPress theme will not function correctly unless you upgrade WordPress too. Likewise, if you upgrade to the latest version of WordPress, you should update your theme and plugins to the latest version so that no conflicts arise.
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, is security. Due to the popularity of WordPress, hackers actively target websites powered by WordPress. Your website will be more at risk if you are using an old release of WordPress and/or you are using outdated plugins.
Be sure to always keep your WordPress website up to date. Failure to do so could create a headache for you in the future.
4. Always Backup Your Website
Most website hosting companies provide backups so that customer websites can be restored if anything goes wrong. While this is a useful service, it is not full proof.
Hosting companies tend to keep internal backups at the same location as their main servers. This means that if there was any incident at the data centre, such as a flood or fire, you could lose everything. That is why it is vital that you backup your websites on a regular basis to an external location.
Having a reliable backup solution means that you can always restore your full website, or part of your website, if your website gets hacked or if something has been accidentally deleted.
Never take chances with your website. If you do not keep backups of your website, you run the chance of losing years of hard work and investment in an instance.
There are a number of backup products and services that make backing up and restoring your website simple. This includes services such as VaultPress and CodeGuard and plugins such as BackupBuddy and WordPress Backup to Dropbox.
5. Focus on Security
Keeping WordPress up to date and backing up regularly are the first steps in protecting your website; however, WordPress itself is not fully secure. Hackers can use a range of techniques to gain access to WordPress websites
The most common technique is called a brute force attack. This is when software will repeatedly attempt to login to your website (at www.yourwebsite.com/wp-login.php) in order to gain access.
There are a number of ways to stop from this occurring.
First and foremost, you should always use a strong password and a unique username and ensure other users do the same. You can also limit the number of times someone can attempt to login to your website and set up two-factor login authorisation. Firewalls can also be used to make your website more secure.
The quickest and easiest way of making your WordPress website secure is to install a feature packed security plugin such as iThemes Security, Wordfence Security, and BulletProof Security. These plugins will address common WordPress vulnerabilities and make it very difficult to hack your website.
6. Use Pretty Permalinks
Permalinks refer to the permanent URLs of your website pages.
The default permalink structure of WordPress looks like http://www.yourwebsite.com/?p=1689; where 1689 would refer to the page ID.
Pretty permalinks look much better. With pretty permalinks, a URL such as http://www.yourwebsite.com/?p=1689 would be replaced with something like http://www.yourwebsite.com/apple-imac-review/.
This type of structure is not only easier on the eye, it also helps with search engine optimisation because keywords are defined in the page URL.
Be sure to set up pretty permalinks once you have installed WordPress.
7. Learn the Basics of HTML, CSS, and PHP
The WordPress platform allows anyone to build a website; regardless of their technical experience.
One reason for this is the WordPress visual editor. This feature makes it easy for anyone to add content. The visual editor is sometimes referred to as a “What You See is What You Get” (WYSIWYG) editor because it allows you to enter your content in the same way as you would in a word processor such as Microsoft Word.
Users can change the design of their website by installing a WordPress theme directly from their admin area. They can also modify their website by installing WordPress plugins.
All of this means that a beginner can build a great looking WordPress website without any knowledge of coding. I love the fact that anyone can create a website with WordPress, however I believe everyone should have a basic understanding of HTML, CSS, and PHP.
If you are using the visual editor, you are limited to the formatting options that is offered. An understanding HTML and CSS will allow you style your content exactly how you want it.
Being able to code will help you make essential modifications to your website; such as integrating advertisements and tracking scripts. It will also help you debug your website when errors appear.
It does not take long to understand the basics of coding, however these skills will save you lots of time and money for many years to come.
8. Be Proactive About Preventing Spam
Spammers are relentless. If a WordPress user has not taken steps to protect their website against spam, it will not take long until the website is overwhelmed with junk comments. This effectively renders the comment area on your website obsolete and gives the impression your website is not regularly maintained and perhaps even dangerous to visit.
The first thing you should do is configure your discussion settings in your WordPress admin area (they can be found at http://www.yourwebsite.com/wp-admin/options-discussion.php). I recommend holding comments in moderation that have one link or more. If you start receiving more spam, I advise enabling the setting “Comment author must have a previously approved comment”. This setting ensures that only high quality commenters can post comments again as the first comment from a person will always be held in the moderation queue.
The next thing you should do is install one or more anti-spam WordPress plugins. Akismet, which comes bundled with WordPress, is an essential anti-spam solution which blocks a high percentage of spam. My recommendation is to install Akismet primarily.
9. Understand the Benefits of Website Caching
The speed of your website is important. Fast loading pages give users a better browsing experience and help increase your search engine rankings.
A caching plugin improves the performance of your website in a number of ways. Page caching stores a static HTML copy of each page on your website. This greatly reduces the number of requests to your server.
Cache plugins also take advantage of techniques such as Gzip compression, browser caching, and minification. Using a content delivery network (CDN) to deliver your website pages will improve your website performance even more.
10. Do Not Be Afraid to Ask for Help
Confucius once said that “The man who asks a question is a fool for a minute, the man who does not ask is a fool for life”.
I believe this is great advice for aspiring website owners. Should you be unsure of something, ask for help. There is no point holding yourself back because you do not know how to proceed.
If your problem is related to a specific WordPress theme or plugin, you should contact the respective developer for support. They should be able to help resolve any issue with the product quickly.
Discussion forums still remain the best place to turn if you have a general WordPress related question. There are a host of online communities you can ask for help.
The largest WordPress forum on the internet remains the official WordPress support forums. I recommend searching for a solution there first because another WordPress user has probably had the same problem as you in the past and had it resolved. If not, you can create a new thread in the support forum and explain the situation in full.
A number of premium WordPress support services are also available online, such as WP Site Care. If your company does business online and needs problems resolved as soon as possible, a WordPress support service is essential if you do not know how to troubleshoot common issues yourself.
What Say You?
What did you struggle with when you first started using WordPress and what advice would you give to a new WordPress user that was building their first website?
Please let us know in the comment area below 🙂