The WordPress CMS (that’s content management system) can be pretty good. In fact, it’s one of the most user-friendly platforms of its kind, with an intuitive dashboard that lets developers and non-developers alike customize and publish content with flexibility. But just because it’s easy to use doesn’t mean it’s entirely foolproof. When working with WordPress, users should be aware of mistakes that can compromise a site’s security and performance. Some of these slip-ups are easily made and trip up even the most experienced WordPress user.
As they say, knowledge is power. With over 8 years of experience supporting WordPress users as a pro themes developer, I’ll take you through the most common WordPress mistakes users make—so you don’t have to make them yourself.
Mistake 1: Avoiding backups like the plague
Backups: they’re inconvenient and easy to forget. But let’s say you run an update on part of your site, and the entire thing comes crashing down. You’ll need either a) the ability to quickly fix the error or b) a backup of your site to roll back to, or you’ll face some serious downtime.
Always backup your site before you make any substantial changes to it. This includes any updates to your WordPress theme or updates on plugins. And if you know you won’t remember to backup, consider taking advantage of one of the many amazing and free WordPress plugins that will run backups for you automatically.
Mistake 2: Forgetting to update your host PHP
A lot of websites use a scripting language called PHP. The newest version, PHP 7, offers one of the biggest improvements in performance we’ve seen so far from this particular software. If your web server is running an older version (like PHP 5.6 or less), and you’re trying to install a new version of a plugin or theme based in outdated code from 2014, you’ll likely experience an error or two. You’re also potentially holding your site back from working as well as it should.
To update your PHP, log into your hosting account. There you should find a menu called “PHP config” or “PHP settings” (the exact wording can vary according to your host), where you can check your PHP version and upgrade. If you need help doing this, you can always contact your host’s support team for assistance.
Mistake 3: Getting friendly with cheap web hosts
Businesses use websites and blogs to engage with existing clients and reach potential customers. While most business owners see the value of creating and sharing amazing content, selecting a decent web host often ends up as the lowest priority. In my experience, most small businesses haven’t properly evaluated their hosting needs and immediately go for the cheapest plan. They end up sacrificing their site’s responsiveness, SSL, and compatibility.
This doesn’t mean that you need the most expensive web host! Save yourself the headache later by making sure you understand your site’s purpose and the traffic you’ll attract. Spend time researching different hosts and reading reviews. Today almost every company has a social network—peruse the Facebook of the host you’re interested in and see what clients have to say before you commit.
Mistake 4: Not testing changes in a staging environment
Editing your site live is one of the most common mistakes you can make as a WordPress user. But what does that mean exactly? Let’s start from the beginning: when building a new website or making changes to an existing one, I’d recommend you install WordPress locally on your desktop to do the work.
When you’re done, you might want to upload it from the local host directly to the live server—but don’t. Sometimes what looked and functioned normally on the local host doesn’t work on the live server. For established sites, fixing errors once they’ve gone live can affect SEO rankings, first impressions—or worse, your sales.
Instead of uploading your changes to the live site, you should test them in a staging area. The staging area is a separate area (and usually a sub-domain) with restricted access. Think of it like the VIP admin room. It’s where you can test amendments to your site, new functionalities and everything else. Only once you’ve tested your site in the staging area should you upload it to the live site.
Mistake 5: Holding on to plugins you don’t use
Plugins are software you install to extend the functionality or add new features to your WordPress site. Keep in mind every single plugin you upload and activate takes up space, which can slow your site down significantly. While plugins are mostly helpful, some act as back doors that can affect your site’s security.
It’s important to regularly check your plugins section and delete any that aren’t necessary for your site’s usage. You should also make sure the remaining ones are routinely updated to keep things running like they should.
Mistake 6: Uploading images that are way too big
Images are crucial pieces of content for your website, providing visual cues for users and strengthening your brand identity. They’re also an integral part of an online experience, and when optimized for SEO (with descriptions and keywords), can drive lots of new traffic to your site and boost sales.
When you upload images to your site that are too large in size, you’re looking at pages that load at a snail’s pace, contributing to higher bounce rates and lost conversions. Always optimize your images for web to maintain a smoothly-running site.
Mistake 7: Underestimating the importance of SEO
Search engine optimization (SEO) means often making small modifications to parts of your website. These changes might seem like incremental improvements when viewed individually; but when combined with other optimizations, they have a real impact on your site’s user experience and performance in organic search results. The point? It’s worth it to invest in SEO. And if you don’t know where to start, there are plenty of great WordPress plugins and online courses to help guide you.
Wrapping it up
Whether you’re building your own website or just maintaining one, knowing the most common WordPress mistakes can save you a lot of time troubleshooting later.
About the author
Claudio Pires is the co-founder of Visualmodo and builds premium, responsive themes and plugins for every purpose. Since 2010 he’s offered high-level support on the WordPress site creation process, and helped thousands of people elevate their brands and online presence.