My Tips for Building a Custom WordPress Website
There’s no getting around it, since it was founded in 2003 WordPress has become the overwhelming favourite platform for building CMS websites. In fact WordPress is now the largest self-hosted blogging tool in the world, used on millions of sites and seen by tens of millions of people every day.
So why is WordPress so popular? There are several key reasons.
1. It’s free
2. It’s completely open source
3. It’s straightforward to use
4. It’s extremely well supported
Now you could argue there are other CMS systems out there that offer these same features and you’d be completely right. WordPress, however, simply does it better and on a bigger scale. There are countless custom themes, plugins and widgets available for WordPress that add up to an infinite number of styling and functionality combinations. This makes WordPress simple to use for those starting out in website design as well as offering the power and customisation to seasoned professionals.
Having used WordPress for several years now I’ve learnt a few key tips and tricks, which I always refer to whenever I begin a new build and I’d like to share some of these with you. Hopefully they’ll be as useful to you as they have been to me.
1. Functionality over style – Custom themes are one of the reasons WordPress has become so popular; sites such as themeforest.net offer thousands to choose from with new themes added daily. You can have a fully functional, great looking mobile friendly theme from as little as £15, however it pays to do your research.
Before you begin any design work, or buy any themes, make a plan of what features you, or your client, want the site to have. Will it require ecommerce capabilities? Does it need to support an older browser like IE7? Will it need to be responsive for mobiles and tablets? Only once you have this information can you begin to work on the design. Too often people buy a theme or start designing based purely on the look of the site, only to end up wasting time and money when it doesn’t offer the required functionality.
2. Do your research – You’ve seen a custom WordPress theme you’d like to use, the description says it’s responsive, it works on older browsers, it is well documented and supported and is 100% bug free. So you buy it right?
Always research any theme or plugin you are looking to use before you buy or install it. A live demo of a theme is the least you can expect; sometimes it is possible to see examples of customer sites where this theme has been used. If you have any questions or concerns then ask them, either directly to the developer or through any available comments sections or forums. Read feedback and comments from others, did they get an answer to their question? How long did it take to get a reply? Was it an answer they were happy with? Chances are if a developer is quiet or tries to dodge a question there is a good reason why.
Use other tools to your advantage, if the developer says it’s responsive then find out. There are free websites that allow you to test how responsive a website really is, responsive.is is just one example. It just isn’t realistic to test a website on every available device and browser, so tools like these offer the next best option.
3. ALWAYS backup your files! – I can’t stress this enough. It’s a lesson I learnt very early on and it’s not something I’d ever want to happen again. A lot of WordPress themes come with their own admin areas that let you change the colours of headings, font sizes and add social media profiles. This is really useful if you have no interest or experience in editing, or adding to, the CSS, HTML and PHP files manually.
Unfortunately, if you do plan to do all or most of the coding yourself, this admin area can cause huge problems and end up costing you hours of hard work, sometimes through no fault of your own. The issue in question raises its ugly head when someone makes a change to the site using this admin system. It can be something as minor as changing the colour of a heading from orange to red. As soon as the ‘save’ button is clicked all the CSS files used by the site are overwritten by the admin system, sometimes even replacing them with the default files that came when the theme was first installed.
All the CSS you spent hours working has been replaced and, unless you’ve saved a copy locally, lost forever. I’m sure I don’t need to tell you if you’re working on a live site this can be a disaster. I highly recommend saving a local copy of the entire site and backing up files every time you make a change. You’ll be glad you did.
4. Test, test and test some more – Remember the tools you used when doing your research? It’s time to dust these off once again and put your WordPress site through its paces.
First things first, don’t make the common mistake of waiting until the site is finished before you do any testing. I always run tests after each major change I make, it saves so much time and is a lot less stressful to find any errors and fix them as you go instead of saving them all up until the last minute.
Don’t forget to proof read your site too, check for any spelling or grammar mistakes yourself instead of relying on your computer’s spellchecker. Once you’ve finished checking ask someone else to have a look through it, a family member or a friend is fine. Often a fresh pair of eyes can pick up a spelling mistake you’ve missed or suggest a different way of wording a passage of text.
5. Ask for feedback and listen to it – Following on from the previous tip I highly recommend you get as much feedback as possible. Ask friends, family and, unless it’s a conflict of interests, work colleagues. Ask them for their honest opinions on what they like and don’t like and the reasons why. Did they find the site easy to navigate? Was it informative? Was there too much copy or not enough?
Now comes the most important and challenging part, taking this feedback and listening to it. Before you begin throw your ego and emotions out the window. You might think your site is perfect and that nothing needs changing, these people are mad! In reality though you are only one opinion. If you build a WordPress site to sell shoes but you’re the only person who likes it then you’ll be going out of business pretty quickly.
Sure you’ll have a few stupid comments to sift through but if you are finding the same issues from multiple people then you’ll want to seriously think about fixing these. Once you’ve made any changes repeat the process again until you feel you are happy to show your site off to the world!
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