“Everybody makes mistakes. Everybody has those days…” That’s why today we’ll create a beginners guide to WordPress what not to do.
Miley may have gone crazy (see: twerking) but her words of wisdom shall remain with us. “Nobody’s Perfect”…yes, thank you Miley. Now stop twerking. For the love of God. Ahem.
Horrible flashbacks aside, Hannah was right. We do make mistakes. How else would we learn and grow?
But it isn’t necessary to make them. We might as well be smart and circumvent the ‘making our own mistakes’ thing. By looking at what others who failed did and not doing it.
And that, dear reader, was what prompted me to write this article about common mistakes that almost everyone makes on WordPress. Note: In the enthusiastic ecstasy common to all beginners, many of you will still make some (or more) of these mistakes.
That’s okay. I’ll still hope you won’t…
Choose the WRONG Platform
Did you know there are two different WordPress Platforms?
For those of you who weren’t aware, WordPress comes in two ‘flavors’.
WordPress.org gives you complete control of your website: codes, plugins, making money, etc. But it’s self-hosted, meaning you’ll have to get your website hosted yourself. You’ll also have to perform backups and maintenance, and take measures to secure your site yourself.
A website built on WordPress.com however, will NOT give you control over any of that. And that’s great for people who only want to have a free blog or website without having to worry about getting it hosted or custom templates and plugins.
There’s really no excusing this one. WordPress, on installation, gives you the option to change administrator username from default ‘admin’. And yes, it’s a very big deal.
If you forget to change your admin username, you’re leaving your site vulnerable to hackers. It will take them no time to guess at username ‘admin’ and use brute force to crack your login. So don’t use ‘admin’ and change your username.
On the same note, also make sure to have a good strong password.
Use a Bad Theme
If you searched for ‘free WordPress themes’ on Google, found a theme and installed it, there’s a whopping 88% chance it was filled with SEO/spam links.
A lot of users unknowingly fill their code up with SEO, spam links, and malware. This commonly happens when they download and use a theme from a bad source.
To prevent this, make sure you always, always use themes from trusted sources. WordPress theme directory is always good for free themes. For others, see Themeforest iThemes, Elegant Themes, ThemeAlley, etc. Here’s a list of trusted WordPress theme providers.
Note: Once you pay, premium themes are for life. Before you choose a commercial theme, make sure you are guaranteed active support from the theme developer.
Use the Same Old Tagline
Set yourself apart from all the other amateurs who leave the default tagline “Just Another Blog” as their site/blog description: It gets indexed in Google, after all.
Change the line with what your site/blog is really about. You can change it in Settings > General.
Keep the Default Favicon
These little icons show up next to your page title in a browser window. A lot of people ignore them, with the result that their site shows up with favicon of their web-hosting service or Theme Company.
Favicons can be thought of as your company’s own unique identity card. It really wouldn’t do to keep using someone else’s favicon, when you can show off your own. So change it if you haven’t already.
Add So Very, Many Tags
In a nice uncomplicated website, there are usually 4-5 major categories depending on the industry. While WordPress makes it easy to create tags and categories for just about every single post, they should be used sparingly to avoid confusion for your audience.
Unfortunately, most beginners completely lose their heads and go heavy-handed on these. Let me clarify: There are no SEO benefits of assigning single post to multiple categories. In fact, you may get penalized for duplicate content.
Understand the difference between the two: Categories are broad groups, while tags are for micro-categorizing every piece of content. Tags are more descriptive than categories. So use both sparingly. If you still can’t fit everything in their proper place, consider restructuring.
Use Default Permalinks
The default WordPress permanent static hyperlink structure goes something like this: www.mywebsite.com/?p=345. Forgetting such a simple detail won’t look like much. It’s just URL, right?
You’d be surprised.
A properly structured permalink will help you get higher rankings in search engines. You can give your SEO a boost by structuring a permalink with appropriate keywords instead of numbers that make no sense to anyone but your site’s code.
There’s also the added benefit of specific URLs which look compact and precise to your users.
With this in mind, make sure to change your permalinks by going to Settings >> Permalinks on your WordPress.
Forget to Cache
You can lose your hope of getting enormous traffic if your site takes a long time to load. Really, your users don’t have all the time in the world just to see what you’ve got to say.
This is why site speed is important. It’s even more imperative if your site is heavy on content and design and/or gets huge traffic.
Every time a user visits your site, they see a WordPress page. Then php recognizes the call and jumps into action, prodding the MySQL database, which finds the required page and outputs it. This entire cycle takes a chunk out of your server resources.
Having a cached copy allows you to skip it and makes your site considerably faster. It will also prevent server crashes and downtime at moments when your site is getting exceptionally heavy traffic.
Put your E-mail Address on Contact Page
So you created a contact page and listed your email addresses there, hoping to receive fan-mail/suggestions/business; only to have all your hopes dashed when your inbox begins to overflow with spam.
The internet is a weird, creepy place. Leaving your mail address on your contact page is tantamount to sticking an “I’m an idiot. Kick Me” sign on your forehead while walking down a street full of very aggressive teens.
The solution is simple. Contact Forms.
All you have to do is install a plugin and let it do its magic. Gravity Forms is popular for its ease-of-use. There are also others, like Jetpack and Contact Form 7 that are equally effective.
Change the URL & Lose ALL Traffic
Let’s be honest: In our beginner’s excitement, most of us end up registering a domain name which we wouldn’t normally be seen dead associating with. (Kittensarecute.com? What was I THINKING?)
That’s when we inadvertently switch domains and everything goes pear-shaped. We end up losing all traffic.
That doesn’t mean you have to stick with the horrible travesty that is your first domain name for as long as you live. You can and should change your URL (if you hate it), albeit carefully.
There’s prep involved if you want to keep your traffic and don’t want to start from scratch. Creating Backups, using plugins like Duplicator to help in migration, redirecting your users with permanent 301 redirects, and notifying Google and your users of the change is part of it.
Forget to Create Backups
Creating backups is like learning to swim. You don’t think you need it until you get in a spot of trouble.
Now I know that’s a somewhat frail analogy. But it works if you don’t stretch it too far.
Backups will come to your rescue if you accidentally lock yourself out, make a spectacular (read: irreparable) mess of something, or when hackers get a hold on your site.
If creating them manually is a bit too tedious for you, use plugins to create automatic backups. Make sure the backup schedule is in sync with your updates so you don’t miss anything.
Neglect WordPress Updates
No matter how much you’re afraid you’ll ‘break’ your site if you do, update WordPress and all your plugins.
Whenever a plugin or WordPress update is released, a document accompanies it, listing previous bugs which are fixed in the newer version. Often the security flaws with older version are listed there for everyone to see. That’s basically hackers’ bonanza. Anyone can find out whether you’re running on older versions or not by clicking on View Page Source. And if you are, you can kiss your website goodbye.
Your chances of getting hacked are high on days these updates are released and you neglect to update. On the other hand, if you DO update, you also risk messing up your code or making a personal acquaintance with the White Screen of Death.
Update carefully. Have your backups ready in case of crisis, and try to update the plugins first and WordPress itself after. It’s like ripping off a band-aid. The longer you stall, the harder it will be.
Take Security Lightly
If you think security is a laughing matter, you really have no reason to be surprised to open your browser one sunny day and find that your serious individual-journalist blog/website is now nothing but a giant ad for ‘enhancement’ pills.
Take security seriously. The importance of backups cannot be understated. You should also do all you can to make security on your WordPress as airtight as possible. Install plugins and themes from trusted sources only. Limit login attempts. Use Google Authenticator for two-factor authentication for further security.
If you’re really getting harassed by login attempts and bots trying to take over, try using a security service like Sucuri. It’s a premium service with various plans to suit your requirements.
Forget to Optimize Images
Finer points like performance, storage, speed, etc. are really not something beginners concern themselves with. In an attempt to make their site look great/present information nicely, a lot of them upload a lot of images.
This is great for aesthetic value, not so great when the huge image sizes come back to bite you as your site’s performance lags.
Compress the images for the web and save your users the brain-ache that goes with waiting for “the page to load already!” Don’t worry about quality. With Adobe Photoshop you can ‘Save for Web’. GIMP is a raster graphics editor you can use for the same. There’s also Corel Photo-Paint that’ll allow you to optimize images for web.
Ignore SEO Settings
Many beginners, during installation, will check the box that prevents search engine bots from indexing your site. It may be something to do with not yet being ready to show yourself to the public.
That’s fine. That’s great actually. It only becomes a problem when you forget to uncheck that box and your site never gets indexed, keeping your handiwork in the dark. Make sure you remember to uncheck that box.
Others who are aware how important SEO is install plugins like Yoast SEO by WordPress and leave it to take care of everything.
It’s not that easy. While Yoast is a great plugin, you still need to actively update your SEO meta data. Titles and meta-descriptions can improve your rankings. Use focus keywords for titles and headings. Also, try not to go cack-handed with keywords in your content.
These are the most common mistakes made by WordPress newbies. You’ll notice they’re not that difficult to work around.What is difficult to work around is thinking you know everything there is about the platform.
Try to read and learn as much as you can about WordPress as a platform, and if you can, get involved in the development effort. A little extra knowledge never harmed anyone.