WordPress, while designed to be simple and user-friendly, has a steep learning curve for those who don’t work with it every day or are just starting out. That’s why we asked WordPress experts (Flywheel’s very own Happiness Engineers!) to give us their favorite basic tips and tricks for designers.
1. Be picky with your plugins
WordPress plugins are great because they can extend the functionality of your site. They’re also not so great because some of them can bring over performance issues. So when you’re browsing the Plugin Directory, be picky about what you decide to install.
“Only use the bare minimum that you need and uninstall any plugins you aren’t using. Also, make sure they come from reputable developers.” – Aaron Onken, Flywheel Happiness Engineer
If you’re not sure if it’s a quality plugin or not, just do a little research. Try looking for user reviews or ratings online. And when in doubt, you can always do a little testing before and after installing one to see how it’s affecting your site.
If your site is a little sluggish, we recommend using a plugin called P3 Profiler to see what’s going on under the hood. It checks all the plugins on a site and generates a report detailing the percentage of load time to which each plugin is contributing. This helps isolate possible issues – leading to a solution and (hopefully) a faster site!
2. Don’t be just another WordPress site
One of the most attractive parts of WordPress sites is how easy it is to get started. But this simplicity is also a pitfall for some designers, as it becomes easy to sink into a repetitive pattern, leaving a lot of WordPress sites with a deja-vu quality. So, don’t be just another WordPress site.
T-Rave, a Flywheel Happiness Engineer, says this is one of his biggest tips for designers of any experience level, and it should be taken both figuratively and literally. Designers should always try to push the limits of their site, but they should also be sure to remove the subhead “Just another WordPress site” from their site titles. (If you don’t, it’s a pretty clear sign that you’re a WordPress beginner.)
3. Upload media the right way
A designer never wants to hear their client complain about the speed of their site, which is why it is important to consider how the site is constructed. Images, while incredibly important to the aesthetic makeup of a website, also happen to cause quite a bit of drag when it comes to site speed. Therefore, it is crucial to pay special attention to how images are uploaded, optimized, and deleted.
“The Enable Media Replace plugin is hugely helpful for designers. It lets you replace an image instead of deleting it and adding a new one.” – Josh Collinsworth, Flywheel Happiness Engineer
The plugin in question is used to replace an image in the media file without needing to delete, rename, and re-upload the image. This eliminates at least some of the margin of error and helps keep the site functioning at its highest capabilities.
4. Use more readable permalinks
Permalinks are the permanent URLs that point a user to a specific page within your website. The standard format for permalinks on a WordPress website looks like this: https://getflywheel.com/?p=123. This is easy for computers to read and understand, but not super great for humans.
T-Rave suggests that designers change the permalinks to something more consumable, like: https://getflywheel.com/sample-post/. By using the post name structure (or a custom permalink structure with %postname% included), your site will use the headline of an article in the page’s URL. Not only is this easier for human consumption, but it also brings with it added SEO benefits – a gift too good to pass up.
For help changing the permalinks on your website, check out our simple guide!
5. Add a favicon to your site
Going back to tip number two, we have another great way to avoid being a cookie cutter WordPress site. A favicon is the small logo either sitting next to the URL in the browser bar or on the tab itself (depending on your browser). It may be little, but it is a great way to customize your or your client’s website.
“As of WordPress version 4.3, you can upload a favicon within the dashboard – no need to add code to your theme. Go to Appearance > Customize, then choose the Site Identity section. Under Site Icon you can upload a square image, at least 512 pixels wide and tall, and save. WordPress will do the rest!” – Sarah Sears, Flywheel Happiness Engineer
The favicon adds site and brand recognition to your website, and it really is that easy to add to your site (we promise!).
6. Save time and headaches by utilizing a child theme
Beginning a WordPress site often starts with choosing a theme that is close to what the client specifies. Yet it is rare – or even impossible – to find a theme that perfectly fits the requirements of the website. It can be tempting for designers to modify this “parent” theme to their specifications, but that’s really not as good of an idea as you might think. Instead, designers should consider a child theme.
“You should definitely know how to create a child theme to add your own custom CSS to the site. That’s where you can make the biggest impact as a designer.” – Josh Collinsworth
A child theme allows designers to use the functionality they’d like from the parent theme, while also being able to modify the pieces they need without hurting the possibility for updates in the future. In essence, creating a child theme is great foresight – it allows for greater customization now and in the future.
If child themes are a new concept, don’t fret. We’ve got a full guide on to create and operate one. Check it out!
7. Utilize WordPress roles
For the same reason that the United States Postmaster General doesn’t have nuclear launch codes, WordPress developers need to be careful about what abilities they give their clients in the WordPress dashboard. Educating clients on how to use the website helps, but another tip is to hide certain options from basic users.
“Utilize the WordPress Roles and Capabilities to hide menu options that will allow basic users the ability to blow up your site in a single click. Be the gatekeeper for things like themes, menu organization, widgets, etc.” – Phil Jarrett, Flywheel Happiness Engineer
By locking down these functionalities, it not only protects your site from inexperienced hands, but it also saves you the headache of fixing the site. Phil also recommends leaving notes and/or instructions for clients to better define exactly how the site best operates. Once again, this tip saves you and them in one fell swoop.
8. Have super solid WordPress credentials
WordPress is an incredibly popular content management platform, and because of this, is often the subject of attacks. Your password is the first line of defense against these hackers, many of which are modern versions of medieval battering rams (i.e. guessing passwords repeatedly until the door breaks down). Having a random, convoluted password might sound like a hassle, but it is much easier than the alternative option (cleaning up a compromised site). Usernames are similarly a chink in your dragon’s scales, and should be treated with the same concern as passwords.
Another way to help boost your site’s security is to hide your WordPress login page. Many attacks come by way of bots programmed to add “/wp-admin” to the end of websites to get to the proverbial castle door and attempt to knock it down. By installing the WPS Hide Login plugin, you can change the login page to anything you want, such as “/helms-deep” to hide from the orc/bot attacks in the first place.
9. Give someone a WordPress site, they’ll use it and break it. Teach someone to use a WordPress site, they’ll cherish it forever.
Like the old proverb, it is much easier for a developer to feel confident in their creation’s future if they know the client is adept in its functionality. If your client doesn’t quite know what they’re doing with WordPress, use some time and energy to teach them all about it.
“I’m a big fan of leaving notes, instructions, and video embeds on the WordPress dashboard to provide a ‘How To’ resource for clients. This helps them better utilize your site and keeps your phone from blowing up with repetitive requests for help.” – Phil Jarrett, Flywheel Happiness Engineer
Like Jerry Maguire would say, help your clients help you. They will appreciate the expertise, and you will appreciate the blessed silence that follows. The less your client needs your help, the happier they’ll be. And happy clients lead to referrals, which lead to more customers, which is exactly why you’re developing in the first place!
10. Constantly seek new information
Here at Flywheel, we’ve been able to assemble the Justice League of WordPress experts – all using their superpowers as one to bring good to WordPress (and the world). As a result, we have amassed an array of blog posts and ebooks that are perfect reading for the designer early on in their WordPress education. Need help improving the performance of your site? This ebook has our best tips and tricks. Need to learn about WordPress functionality in general? Check out our “WordPress 101” guide.
For those more experienced designers – what tips have helped you most along your WordPress journey? What do you wish you had known when just starting? Comment below!