When someone sets up a self-hosted WordPress site, I see the same mistakes over and over and over. In an attempt to help beginners (and veterans too!) – I’m going to make a list of the most common WordPress mistakes that newbies make.
1. Installing too many plugins.
When you first move to WordPress, you might be overjoyed at the sheer number of possibilities. Pinterest plugins, video plugins, even fish swimming in a pond plugins! The rule of thumb with plugins? Do not install unless your website absolutely positively without a doubt needs the plugin in order to run. If you can do the same task without a plugin, do it. This may mean learning CSS or hiring someone for help, but plugin incompatibility can ruin your site’s performance.
2. Keeping plugins out of date or deactivated in your list.
If you aren’t using a plugin anymore, delete it. Some plugins will leave the files on your server too, so check to make sure everything is gone. This is one of the ways malware gets injected into your site, through plugins that are outdated– and even inactive!
3. Purchasing an overly formatted theme.
If you’ve just begun, use a stable and well-known theme. The three themes that I use repeatedly are Prophoto, Genesis, and Weaver Pro (I listed them in order of most expensive to least). You’ll need to know code to make Genesis look exactly how you want it unless you go with the Prose child theme, but Weaver and Prophoto are very user friendly! Steer clear from themes that claim you can get 100 designs for $40.00.
4. Forgetting to create a child theme if you’ve customized your style.
This is confusing to a lot of new bloggers on WordPress. Most themes are just a skin (like a cellphone case). When updates are required, you may lose some of your customizations, especially if you (or your designer) have edited the theme files. This isn’t always true, but to avoid the problem, using a child theme and a framework is the best option. All three frameworks I listed above work with child themes automatically! The framework is the sturdy, stable structure and then you can create subthemes or styles that overlay on the framework. Then you are able to save your theme style settings so updates don’t wipe out any customizations.
5. Never cleaning out the database.
Everyone wants a fast loading website right? There could be a number of problems that contribute to a slow experience– pages that aren’t cached, poor server host, or perhaps your database is cluttered. To clean out your database, you can install a plugin like WP Clean Up and with one click, it will sweep through your database and get rid of draft revisions, spam comments, etc. This brings me to a side note. When you write directly into WordPress, it saves your work automatically. Everytime you hit the update button, it saves a revision of the post. While it’s a cool feature, a large website with a lot of posts can amount to thousands of revisions that aren’t needed.
6. Forgetting to cache your pages.
Use a plugin like W3 Super Cache (which is going to take some research to customize) or WP Total Cache (which is simpler). These plugins give your users a better experience because it loads a previously rendered page in their browser. Without a caching plugin, your database and server have to do a lot more work.
7. Forgetting to label images as they are uploaded into your media library.
This means labeling and describing each photo that you upload, so they are easy to find later. Once your site grows, you’ll want to reuse a lot of the same pictures. Searching for IMG_3435 is less intuitive than a descriptive title. Another reason to label your images? SEO. Your images are more likely to come up in Google image search results.
8. No understanding of the cPanel on your server.
This one is a bit vague, but I notice this a lot. If you have a self-hosted WordPress site, it is imperative that you get to know your file manager on your server. Locate your directories, learn how to edit, delete, upload, and download files. Use an FTP program to manage your website files as well. It’s not enough to understand WordPress unless you plan to pay someone to maintain your site. Take some time to learn the backend of what is going on.
9. Not realizing that WordPress is a database!
Have you ever had your site break? There are ways to modify the files in your WordPress site by going into the database where all the data is stored when your dashboard is no longer accessible. Have your host provider (or a developer) teach you the basics of your WordPress database– where to find it on your server and how to view it. PROCEED WITH CAUTION if you start making changes.
10. Forgetting to categorize, tag, and write summaries.
These things are enormously tedious to do after the fact. Do it for each and every post, starting today. You can go back and do one post a day until you are caught up. Try to get a system of organization up and running, right from the start. Categories are so important because they are the backbone of your navigation system. Tags can be helpful as well, IF you reuse the same keywords over and over (that’s recommended). Summaries are good for search engine result pages and link previews on social sites like Facebook and Google +.
11. Thinking your site is fine once WordPress is installed.
There are so many vulnerabilities you need to stay on top of. Updates, secure passwords, backups, and using services like CloudFlare to help with performance and protection.
12. Ignorance about how shared servers work.
If you have a big WordPress site with a lot of traffic, you’ll need a professional, grid, or dedicated server. When you are on a shared server (like Hostmonster, Bluehost, Hostgator, etc.) you may be throttling. This happens when there are too many requests made to the server than you are allotted. Your site is put in restricted mode (meaning resources are limited), and you may feel your site slow way down. Hosts do this to keep other websites from getting affected by your site. If your site throttles a lot, it might be time to look into an upgrade. Do this once you’ve done everything you can to optimize your site (including removing pesky and glitchy plugins).
13. Too many posts.
WordPress does have these cool formats that let you post status updates, images, quotes, etc. but think long and hard before you publish a post. Once it’s out there, it’s out there. Broken links happen when you take down posts so try to only publish your best work. If you decide you can’t bear to keep a post up, use the WordPress SEO by Yoast plugin, which allows you to set a redirect on an individual post. That way, when someone clicks on a backlink out in cyberspace, it redirects them to a newer and fresher post that you specify.
14. Menu bars more than one row deep.
Nothing is worse than a site with two or three layers of a menu bar. If you have that many options, use the drop down menu bar option in WordPress, or pick a theme that gives you two menus (one above and one below the header).
15. A weak password.
Make your WordPress password strong. Use uppercase, lowercase, numbers, and special characters.
16. Forgetting about Google Webmaster Tools.
Use the free tools! Verify your site with Google so you can keep track your site’s health, alerts, and performance.
17. Forgetting to turn off user registrations.
Under settings and general, turn off the option that anyone can register on your site (unless for some reason you need this feature). Otherwise, you’re a target for spam.
18. Thinking that the “starter home” mentality works with websites.
The idea that you can add-on or move once you get big, is faulty. It’s best to invest now, and avoid heartache and drama later. Go for the good service, the stable framework, and make the necessary steps now. You can always add design later, but building a solid infrastructure is infinitely more important. If you have $500.00 to spend, spend it on learning WordPress, not on a pretty designer.
19. Thinking WP.com and WP.org are similar.
The backend may look similar, but they are very different. WP.com takes care of all the maintenance, security, and server issues. As soon as you move to WP.org, you are on your own with all of that. I use this analogy: WP.com is like renting an apartment in NYC. WP.org is like owning a farmhouse in the country.
20. Performing too many backups on the server, or none at all!
Get a backup plugin. Keep a few copies on your server- that’s it (because most of them have restrictions as to how much space you are allowed). Then back up your site onto an external hard drive — either online or on your computer (Drop Box, Google drive, etc). Ask your host what their backup procedures are. Save your theme settings and export your content and save it on a hard drive. Back up your SQL database once in a while as well.
I hope some of these help get (and keep) you on the right track. WordPress is the industry standard for websites these days, but long gone are the days of static html sites that required little maintenance. You have to be your own webmaster!