Those of us who love to dive head-first into all kinds of code and complicated documentation get excited about the cool new things that we’ve learned how to do. But, for client success, delivering “all the bells and whistles” in a new site isn’t always the best approach, especially if the people who are supposed to use it aren’t particularly tech-savvy.
Many clients who want sites don’t have the time or interest to learn a lot about how the sausage gets made, as it were. And, even if they’re interested in publishing a lot of content themselves, they may not be pleased with the idea of having to “learn WordPress” or having to do a lot of interaction with their site’s backend to do so.
Fortunately, there are a lot of tools out there to help keep things simple. Here are some tips for making great WordPress sites that are easy for the less geeky among us.
Have a clear service-level agreement
Clear communication is key to client — and developer! — happiness, of course. But a tech-shy client may be especially weary of what happens if something in their website goes bump in the night, so it’s important that they know that you’ll be around to assist or, if that’s not the case, that on-going support is not part of your agreement.
The SLA term is used more in the network side of the I.T. world, but I like it for explaining customer service. So be sure, for your benefit as well as theirs, to explain how long you’ll “support” their site (if at all) and what that really means.
And, as part of your support…
Plan for updates and make them simple to do
I like to dabble with code (and Googling for resources once I break it) as much as the next techie, but I’ll admit that it took me an embarrassingly long time working with WordPress to realize the importance of child themes. Here’s the heavily sanitized version of my thought process after an update, lo those many naive moons ago:
Why does my site look totally different? Oh yeah, because I just erased all my CSS changes! Whoops.
Whoops, indeed. To keep your customers from this panic, set them up with info on why updates are needed and how to do them. Leverage existing, well-supported plugins — but only ones that the site absolutely needs to work. This will help to minimize points of failure (more on that below) and risk of creating conflict with future WordPress updates, too.
Speaking of leveraging WordPress…
Take advantage of roles — and don’t be afraid to modify them if needed
Depending on your agreement, you may even still be the “administrator” of the site (making major changes and updates) after your handoff. If that’s your setup, does the person writing blog posts need to see the whole sausage factory of an admin panel?
If you’re willing to handle the technical maintenance, your client may only need authorship, and other users just in charge of one topic or page may need even fewer “rights” than that.
After you have a sense of who will be doing what on the new site, get to know the WordPress Codex’s Roles and Capabilities page and set up your users with only what they need. You can always include instructions on how to “bump up roles” in any personalized training materials for changes later on.
You can also create customized roles with plugins, or via a child theme and its functions.php file. For instance, I’ve modified a theme to allow Contributors to upload images because the “clients” (in this case, students) didn’t need all the capabilities of Authors, but did need to be able to add photos to their posts.
Messing with roles does require a fair amount of planning, but it helps the end product in two ways: Limiting users to only have the ability to change stuff that they should be changing is good for site security, and it can really help the “tech anxiety” a lot of people feel when they see a whole long list of settings and things to change. On that note…
It’s OK to hide stuff (and to keep yourself from doing too much customization)
User-specific roles are a good way to keep down “settings bloat” for users, but I reckon that you can simplify the dashboard even further with customization for the “panel” via plugins.
For example, I’ve used a plugin called Adminimize to hide dashboard options and to avoid going too far down a role-customization rabbit hole. You want to keep things simple for yourself as well, after all, and you don’t want to create unnecessary potential points of failure for the site and sources of computer-angst for the client.
Relate to what they know and keep training resources minimal
During your finished-site “handoff,” it can be tempting to make things too simple, and you don’t want to risk coming across as patronizing or risk creating confusion because you haven’t explained everything. But work to find a balance between how much “behind the scenes” knowledge the client wants and how much training they need.
Even if your client isn’t very knowledgeable about website design, they may have used a content management system in some other way, and asking them what kinds of websites they’ve used before can help you find a good analogy to make their new site seem relatable. I also find that it can be helpful to, if you can, have them write a post (or make some kind of content update) from their admin panel with the site open in another tab, so that you can quickly show where and how that affects things. It gives them the ability to relate their tools to the “live” version with you around as a “safety net” if they’re nervous about making changes.
Another reason why so many people love WordPress is its community and the vast resources out there to learn about how to work with it. But keep in mind that your client doesn’t necessarily need a book-length manuscript of help documentation. You can point them to good outside resources if they’re interested, but focus on specifics and give them the basics of what they want to do with their site. Rather than a long list of blog posts, screencasts, and the coolest new learning tools, consider sending them a slim volume (two or three pages!) of instructions for accessing, managing and posting, complete with screenshots taken from their actual admin-panel view. Keep it concise and specific to their needs — and to what they will see when they log in.
Overall, success in creating websites that tech-averse folks will really use (and love) comes down to modifying — and simplifying — WordPress into a content management system that fits their needs.
And, finally, in doing support stuff for these folks, I find that “savviness” has a lot to do with confidence. If you can make things easy for them to do what they need to, they’ll often get a positive feeling that leads to trying out other, more complicated tasks. It’s a good thing for them to grow, and it gives you a nice warm and fuzzy feeling to help out.