We see a lot of WordPress websites as you can imagine with WordPress development being a core service we offer. Within these WordPress websites we see an awful lot of baggage which is limiting the growth of the website and is often caused by poor technology decisions earlier on. This post is designed to help you understand what the common issues we see are, what they mean in non-technical terms and most importantly what you can do to avoid these same problems in the future.
If you have been sent this link from a member of staff, then the likelihood is that you have unfortunately made the wrong technology decisions on your website 1-2 years ago which is now coming back to bite and it’s unfortunate that the only way of dealing with this is to bite the bullet and implement the right technology which comes at a cost. Instead of us keep explaining the variety of reasons why something cannot be implemented effectively on a website, we’ve decided to put together this guide to outline this information in more depth which can be referred to by everyone and to hopefully avoid others making the same mistakes as we see so many businesses make.
Ok, so you’ve decided to use WordPress for your website. Awesome! WordPress is a great choice for many businesses and is the leading content management system on the planet, powering over 23% of websites on the entire internet. There are over 30,000 free plugins available, thousands of themes and even more “WordPress Developers” who claim to be able to implement all of these things well. There are many free options and a smaller number of paid options for all of the above and herein lies the problem. The theory VS the reality are rather different and have significant implications for your business in the short, medium and long term. Here are a few common comments we often hear from businesses, again to avoid repeating ourselves on the matter, let’s just cover off a few things straight away;
“WordPress, it’s free right? So why does this cost money to do?”
Hmm. Yes, WordPress core functionality is indeed free and if you want your website to look like it was free then you are more than welcome to give this a go yourself. I’m going to tell you a little story here about a boiler person fixing a problem to highlight what you are paying for.
So you are sitting at home all cosy and all of a sudden your boiler stops working. You go to the boiler, try and re-pressure the boiler, tap on the dials a bit, press a few buttons and then you are still no wiser as to what has happened or how to fix the problem. So you decide to call out a boiler engineer. The next day the boiler engineer comes around to your house where you then explain the problem to them and it is a common problem they have dealt with many times before. By the time you have offered to make them a cup of tea, they have given the boiler a couple of taps and everything is back to normal again. They hand you an invoice for £150 for fixing the problem and just before they leave you have a question running around in your mind and decide to speak up. You say, why has this cost me £150, you’ve only been here 5 minutes? Ah, the boiler person says, it is not the time you are paying for, it is the expertise to be able to fix this problem within this small amount of time. It’s about knowing exactly where to tap on the boiler when this problem occurs. You see, you could quite happily have spent days searching around the internet trying to solve the problem for yourself or had a junior boiler engineer come around and fix the problem over 6 hours, but with me, with me you get many years of experience and vast expertise so that this problem can indeed be fixed in as little as 5 minutes. You see, anything is simple when you have the experience and knowledge to do so. The trick is, acquiring this knowledge and experience over a number of years takes a dedicated amount of time and effort.
Website development is no different.
“Why do I have to purchase this plugin, can’t you just build this yourself instead?”
Premium plugins and themes are awesome and you need to understand that this is the way the WordPress ecosystem works. It is the reason WordPress websites are so cost effective in comparison to building your own custom build technology. The difference between buying a premium plugin VS building this functionality yourself is the same difference between buying a high performance car from a showroom VS building your own car from the raw materials. You just aren’t going to do that are you now? For the cost of premium plugins, you would never even contemplate building your own functionality if you can simply purchase this and it does exactly what you need as it would cost 10-50x more to do this manually from scratch due to how complex WordPress actually is in the background to get things working correctly.
“Why do I need to pay annually for a licence for a plugin or theme?”
You want your website to be up to date and secure, right? This is what you are paying for. Premium plugin and theme developers continually keep their technology up to date, add features and functionality along with patching security holes that have been identified. When you decide to save a few pennies on your technologies, you will be bitten in no time when your website is hacked into by an automated robot. We’ve seen this happen too many times and we will quite happily help to clean this up for you when this does happen which will cost you more in the long run.
This has to be one of the biggest issues we see for businesses. To keep things simple and straight forward, you must use a child theme if you are making any customisations to your theme! It really is this simple.
Ok, so what is a child theme? A child theme a way of customising your WordPress website, generally by the developer who built it, whereby you can override key functionality in a safe way. As mentioned previously, security updates and feature addons to themes come out all the time, so it is important to keep these up to date. If you edit your theme directly, when you press the friendly looking “update” button, you will be left with a shocking surprise when all of your customisations have been deleted. Again, we’ve seen this happen time and time again.
What this means for business owners is that you need to check that your WordPress website is being built by a reputable developer in the first place and also that they are going to be using a child theme for any customisations that are made. If not, then when someone else takes this on, such as our self, there can be no guarantees that a theme update will not cause any issues. A simple theme update could actually cause days if not weeks worth of work to fix critical problems just to get your website looking how it was looking previously.
What often happens is that when businesses come to us, we explain that a website hasn’t been built using a child theme, that we cannot guarantee no issues and really they are going to need to redevelop the website. Which often is a little confusing to hear as they only wanted a few simple changes to be made. The reason why this is required is because if we press the nice little “update” button and cannot guarantee that updates will no break anything, then we will be left with the situation of having to clean up the mess from other developers which we are not willing to do and is something that often you would not be willing to pay for as you would see the situation that we have broken it. When in fact, the problem lies with the poor technology choices you made previously.
If your website has not been customised with a child theme, the short answer is always going to be that you need to get this redeveloped properly. Unless you are 100% confident that you or your previous web developer has not made any changes to the core theme files and that you are willing to pay extra for when things break and have to be cleaned up, then the only option is to rebuild your website. Out of experience, the simplest and most cost effective solution is to just do the right thing and get the right technology in place.
Theme Market Place Themes
This nicely brings us onto how many websites end up in this situation. Generally speaking, experienced WordPress developers do not purchase their themes from theme market places because they are often utter garbage when it comes to how they have been built, how they are maintained and most importantly how difficult they are to use from a development point and also for users. Often we find that when businesses come to us with WordPress related problem that they are struggling to make the changes that they want to the website, this is often down to either their self or their last web developer who has decided to purchase a $60 bargain basement theme from one of the theme market places because it looked pretty.
Sadly, we’ve yet to experience a good result when businesses have gone down this route. If this relates to you, do not be offended when we refuse to work with your current theme and can only help when rebuilding your website with leading technology.
We often find with themes that have been purchased from theme market places is that the theme will be bundled with a bunch of plugins, aka additional functionality, which is never a good solution. As mentioned previously, themes and plugins are being continually updated with new features and security patches. You tend to find when you purchase themes from theme market places that these themes aren’t that up to date and often when a security patch is announced then the theme author doesn’t update the theme which results in your website being vulnerable and open to being hacked.
Quite simply, plugins should not be bundled into themes. Plugins should be stand alone separate systems which users have the option of updating separately and most importantly turning on/off the functionality as they need. If you are in a situation whereby your theme has multiple plugins bundled into it, be very wary and you’re probably going to hear those words from us very soon… You’re going to need a new website.
Lack of Security Updates
We’re going to be covering this topic in much more detail in another blog post. For now though, let’s keep things simple. As WordPress powers over 23% of websites on the internet, it is naturally a target for attackers. These are often not targeted attacks but are vulnerability attacks. This means that a robot will run through all websites on the internet, identify what version of WordPress a website is running, what plugins and themes the website is running then most importantly check for known vulnerabilities for these websites and hack into them, fully automated.
Some of the largest causes of hacked WordPress websites comes down to lack of security updates. This is in the form of theme updates, plugin updates and WordPress core updates – or lack of all of these. Quite simply, you need to keep your entire WordPress website up to date to avoid being hacked into. The choice is yours.
Can’t Edit the Content Yourself
We often hear;
“Isn’t WordPress supposed to allow you to edit everything yourself?”
Well, yes, in theory. The reality of this can be very different based on how your WordPress website has been put together and most importantly what technology has been used and how good the web developer you used was.
The reality of many websites we see is that things are so difficult to edit from a novice user point of view that this results in all changes needing to be made by an expert or a web developer which is kind of missing the point of WordPress.
We see content stuffed into sections of WordPress which were never designed to hold such content, we see content that is stuffed away in PHP files which users cannot edit their self, and we see content hidden away in a complex array of plugins and hidden settings and more. Most WordPress websites have been built without the user in mind which we just cannot understand. From our perspective, we do not want to be spending time editing text content on your website. This is not a good use of your budget and quite frankly this is something you should be doing yourself, it is your website and your business. We can work on the more cool pieces of functionality and integrations that is going to grow your business.
Quite simply, if you are struggling to edit content on your WordPress website then it has probably been built extremely badly. So don’t be surprised if you soon hear us utter the words… You’re going to need a new website. As it will be much more cost effective in the long run when you can run your website as you need to.
Access Restrictions & Owning Your Own WordPress Website
We still see so many issues related to ownership of your own website. You need to have access to your WordPress login area as an Administrator, you need to have FTP access to the web server where your website lives, you need to have control panel access for your web server. To keep things simple, you need to be using our free Digital Assets Tracker to keep track of who owns what and who has access to what.
Could You Just…
Ahh… one of the common starts of sentences which really translates to “I don’t want to pay you for this, so could you just do this for free?” Sorry, no. You wouldn’t ask a car mechanic after fitting a new tyre, “Could you just wash my car too?” Website development is no different. What you may see as a simple thing to do, often actually isn’t and requires a reasonable amount of time and customisation to get right. You need to understand the time involved in aspects of work, so don’t be offended when we can’t just tweak something for free. We can quite happily provide a quote for the work and you can then make the decision to either go ahead with this work or not, this is your website after all.
We often hear comments along the lines of;
“Can’t you just make the current website responsive?”
I’m sorry, WordPress just doesn’t work like that. The theory of WordPress means that you should just be able to place a new theme on your WordPress installation and everything looks different. The reality is hugely different. If your website isn’t responsive currently, then quite simply you are just going to need a new website built to cope with this.
Responsive web design is a whole topic in itself which we will be covering in more detail in a future blog post. What is important to understand though is that the basics of responsive web design mean that you have the same content accessible which is just presented in a slightly different way. Note the use of the word slightly here. Responsive web design is not a framework for showing users different content based on the device they are using, that is adaptive web design. Responsive web design is about re-jigging things a little based on the user’s device which is significantly different. For example, responsive web design just doesn’t work when you want things such as “I don’t want this section to display for users on mobile devices”. The technology simply isn’t designed for this, so again, don’t be disgruntled when we say that this cannot be done.
Overall this blog post is not designed to be a moan about problems we see. No. Instead this blog post is designed to help you understand where we are coming from when we say different things during discussions. Most importantly though, by understand the concepts above and how this relates to yourself, this will hopefully help you to avoid making the same mistakes as others and also be able to plan for the right technology improvements that you are going to need within your business.