WordPress has become a major lifesaver not only for web developers but also for beginners who simply want to start a website without going through the code jargon. It has now evolved into a complete CMS package, with options to improve the interface using downloadable plugins and themes.
While installing WordPress and customizing the interface is easy, many users have missed a lot of opportunities to make this blogging platform the key to their online success. I have seen many businesses whose websites are running on WordPress, but they fail to capture the online market due to misuse of this amazing application.
Are you sure you’re not falling into the same mistakes that other WordPress users have committed? I suggest you read through these common pitfalls in using WordPress:
- Choosing a WordPress platform that does not suit your needs
There are two ways of using WordPress: creating a free account at WordPress.com, or setting up a self-hosted WordPress site.
The free WordPress.com account gives you the basic blogging features that WordPress has become known for, including access to thousands of themes. Unfortunately, you cannot use this method if you want to earn money from your site, or customize WordPress to your heart’s content.
On the other hand, a self-hosted WordPress site requires a web host and a domain name, both of which will need you to shell out money. If you want to learn more about the difference between the two platforms, see this handy comparison.
- Using an unreliable hosting company
If you choose to host your WordPress installation through premium web hosting companies, make sure that the company already has laurels on its name. Naturally, a startup company would opt for cheap web hosts, but this might lead them to receive lackluster services as well.
One effective way of choosing the right hosting company is to do a quick Google search on web hosting companies. Browse through a handful of web hosting review sites, and pick from the top 10 names that come up often. Once you have selected a web hosting company, make sure that it offers a money-back guarantee or a free trial account. This gives you assurance that the company is serious in providing good service.
In addition, try to contact their customer support, and check how long the response takes. This will give you an idea on the company’s concern for clients.
- Choosing a theme from a bad source
The standard for themes has changed over the years. For this generation of WordPress users, a good theme should be able to provide the following: multiple content types, customizable widgets and layouts, responsive design, cross-browser functionality, and access to customer support.
On the other hand, you should avoid themes of the following sort: premium themes that have been “converted” for free downloading, too many hidden links especially at the footer, incomprehensible and malicious code, and no support from the theme author. If you happen to download this kind of theme by chance, then you might end up spending your time troubleshooting instead of writing your potential Pulitzer Prize winner.
My recommendation: head on to reputable theme developers and catalogues. You may want to start with the free downloadable themes at WordPress.org. If you cannot find anything that piques your interest, then look for big names in the world of theme creation.
- Not backing up your site
Creating site backups on a regular basis is one of the most important things you can do for yourself if you are a website owner. You never know what could happen. Sites get hacked every day. Our passwords aren’t as strong as we think. Sometimes we delete or make changes to the wrong file and break something. What if you have a bad plugin that gives you a fatal error? Mysterious crashes happen. I’ve seen it happen many times. It is NOT fun to deal with! I highly recommend using Backup Buddy. I personally use it for all my sites and ShiftWeb also uses it for our backup services. Give yourself a piece of mind and back it up!
- Ignoring security
Your WordPress site runs through a combination of Web programming code and a database. Failing to put up a great wall of security over your site could spell trouble with a capital H (for “hacked”).
Developers have come up with a lot of ways to provide security for WordPress. Some of the best security practices include, setting up a limit to login attempts to your site, and hiding common security vulnerabilities within WordPress.
One plugin that I recommend is iThemes Security (previously known as Better WP Security). The free plugin provides more than 30 methods to protect your site from threats and attacks. It does so by obscuring WordPress vulnerabilities particularly on admin and database access, protecting your site from malicious users and codes, detecting potential attacks, and recovers backups in case of attacks.
- Not having a responsive website
The rise of the machines has already begun years ago (my apologies for the Terminator reference), and the same is true for mobile browsing. If you don’t allow your website to adapt to various browser sizes, then you might as well stick to the time when Netscape was the browser of choice!
Seriously, there’s no better time to adopt a responsive design than now. Mobile users are running by the millions, and this potential market of on-the-go users might get interested in your company once they like how your website appears on their tablets and smartphones.
The good news is that many new themes are already equipped with responsive designs, while some are even powered with touch swipe technology.
UPDATE: Google is sending mobile usability warnings to webmasters who has websites that aren’t mobile friendly! Is your site mobile friendly yet? If not, your site may not be ranked as well soon. Read more about that here.
- Not using FTP access to change files
This mistake is geared more towards those who need to customize their WordPress installation. Whether you like it or not, FTP is here to stay because it provides basic and rudimentary access to all of your files in the server.
Whether it’s for themes, plugins or the core WordPress codes, editing files is best done locally. That way, you don’t mess up your website, and your site visitors won’t experience errors as they browse. At the very least, if the updated file causes errors in your website, you can just overwrite it with the original file. On that note, make sure that you save the original file before uploading your edits.
In addition, not all of the files are accessible through the Edit Files section in your WordPress admin pages, so you will still need FTP to dive through your files.
Try Filezilla, it’s our favorite free FTP program.
- Ignoring WordPress and Plugin updates
Sure, sometimes they are annoying, but the update alerts are there for a very important reason. Many of the updates for WordPress and several themes and plugins are related to security issues. If you do not accommodate updates in your code, then chances are you might get bitten by the next security flaw or attack.
Hackers and site attackers love to exploit vulnerabilities in your website, but it’s a good thing that the talented and dedicated developers at WordPress are constantly checking the code to discover potential security flaws. When they see one, that’s when the prompt for an update pops up. In short, seize the update before the hacker seizes your site!
- Not creating a Gravatar
Short for “globally recognized avatar”, this service puts a face to your website and provides an identifying mark for siet visitors. This is a great way for users to connect with you, because they can see that the website is not being run by a robot.
Probably the best advantage of Gravatars is SEO. When you comment on another WordPress site, your pretty Gravatar will appear beside your comment, making your comment pop out of obscurity. Other visitors and commenters should be able to see your Gravatar, be attracted to it, and be encouraged to click your link. Voila, you gain a new visit from another website to yours!
Setting up your own Gravatar is easy and free. Just go to gravatar.com and follow the instructions. You need an email address, a photo of you or your website logo, and your website URL.
- Not having a contact form
Don’t you just hate it when you need to ask the site owner a question but cannot find any means of posting your question? This rule should apply to any WordPress site owner, because connecting with site visitors has already become a responsibility and burden of the site owner.
If you have a WordPress site, you ought to provide a contact form for your site visitors to write on. We are now in the age of social media and online communication, so setting up a contact form is key to engaging other online users.
- Using the default favicon
Now is not the time to be lazy, people! If you really want to use WordPress as a tool for online success, do not rely on default settings and hope for the best. For instance, the favicon is a huge opportunity for your website to leave a mark on the memory of visitors. The favicon – that small icon at the left side of the address bar where you find a website’s URL – gives an identity to your pages.
Notice that when you visit popular sites such as Facebook, Yahoo! or Google, you will see their logos (or a smaller representation of their logos) embedded as a favicon in the address bar. You can do that in your WordPress site as well. You can either use a theme that provides access to changing the favicon, install a plugin that helps you put a favicon, or install a favicon manually through HTML code.
- Not integrating webmaster tools
WordPress install? Check. Themes and plugins intact? Affirmative. Content uploaded? You betcha! The next step is to use applications that can help you monitor the chances of your website to get indexed in major search engines. You may have missed a thing or two on coding, which could potentially harm your page ranking.
A huge range of developer tools is available for download on the Web, but one of the most popular is Google Webmaster Tools. This free service by Google is designed to help webmasters and site developers finetune the indexing status of their websites. The service checks for existence of a sitemap and robots.txt, crawl rate, broken links, keyword searches, and more. Google Webmaster Tools provides a veritable array of features that can boost your SEO.
- Not using an analytics program
In the same fashion, you should also monitor the performance of your website, whether people are visiting or not. Again, Google has a famous freeware program in Google Analytics, a comprehensive statistics service that assesses site traffic and conversions. In contrast to Webmaster Tools, Analytics is intended more for marketers who want to get the greatest bang for the buck out of their websites.
If you don’t use an analytics tool, how will you know if your website is already generating a steady following? These tools can show you how many page views your website has in a day, and can reveal your most visited pages.
- Using an unfriendly permalink structure
Permalink, coined after “permanent link”, are human-readable URLs that make it easy not only for your visitors to understand what your page URL contains, but also for search bots to identify the page content.
By default, WordPress generates a geeky URL for your posts, like http://yoursite.com/?p=523. Doesn’t look nice, does it? Apart from possibly alienating your site visitors with an incomprehensible URL, it’s also minus points for SEO. Search bots like to understand the URL of your pages, so a numerical URL cannot be indexed properly by the bots, as opposed to, say, http://yoursite.com/best-wordpress-magazine-themes. In other words, relying on the default permalink structure leads to double jeopardy.
Setting your permalinks is easy. Head on to your WordPress admin dashboard, and click on Settings > Permalinks.
- Not resizing images for the web
Most WordPress bloggers focus merely on content, without regard for page speed optimization. Did you know that slow-loading websites are penalized by Google in terms of page rank? Yikes!
One of the bad practices that lead to slow sites is gigantic and uncompressed images. Uploading a series of photos with a width of 4096px will drag your page speed down the abyss. To solve this, you must save images “for the Web”. This involves a cornucopia of image optimization techniques, including image resizing, image quality, and file type (choose .jpg or .png, instead of .gif).
Some of the major photo editing applications, such as Adobe Photoshop, are equipped with image compression commands to reduce file size worthy of the Web.
- Ignoring SEO
I have been mentioning SEO a lot in the past bullets, and rightfully so, because SEO should never be disregarded. I want to stress this further: What is the point of putting up a website if no one can discover it through search? The best way to ensure that your pages appear on search results is by focusing on SEO.
I’m so glad to be living in this generation, because WordPress plugins have really come a long way in terms of functionality and ability to address a web developer’s needs. In the case of SEO, I highly recommend the WordPress SEO by Yoast plugin. It’s a one-stop shop for everything you need regarding SEO. All important aspects to optimize your search result placement are neatly organized in tabs, and all you need to do is enter the information and do a few clicks.
- Not changing WordPress defaults
I told you earlier about the disadvantage of being lazy in setting up your WordPress site (review number 11 above). Here’s another fairly common and widely dismissed mistake of WordPress users worldwide: not minding the default content of your WordPress installation.
Right after you install WordPress, you will see a default post titled “Hello World”, as well as a page called “Sample Page” (probably for a lack of a better title). Meanwhile, the default tagline is “Just Another Blog”, which sounds about as cheesy as a pack of Cheetos.
My last piece of advice? Get rid of these default content! Otherwise, your default pages may appear in Google search along with thousands – or millions – who like you may have forgotten to remove them. Delete the default post and page, and change the tagline. I urge you, for the sake of humanity!