WordPress has evolved over the years from a simple blogging platform to something that now powers over 30% of the website. While WordPress is one of the most robust options for blogging to eCommerce and beyond, if not properly maintained it can descend from a wonder free platform to a time draining headache to have to deal with. WordPress is like a family unit made up of WordPress core, a theme, and a collection of plugins. To keep the family happily together takes work, but like any family, it’s better to nip problems in the bud before they arise after all an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. So how do you keep the family going? Let’s take a look.
WordPress (Core): Head of Household
WordPress core is the first member of our family. While the core of WordPress functionality has remained relatively unchanged (with the exception of the new Gutenberg editor), there is one part that is continuously being updated: security. Like any site, security should be high on your list of concerns both to protect yourself and your users. Keeping your WordPress up to date goes a long way to maintaining a site free of issues. You can check out the latest security updates in the security section of the official WordPress blog. But that doesn’t necessarily mean you want to smash the update button as soon as one is available. As much as an update can fix bugs, it can introduce new ones as well. So, make sure to read through the changelogs to see exactly what is being updated with each version. You can also look in the support forums for any issues that may have appeared at launch to see if you should hold off or not on the update.
Of course, even if you don’t see any issues before an update that doesn’t necessarily mean they are not there. You will want to test the key functionality of your site once you have updated, like any forms or carts that you have and run through a couple of pages to make sure they still look the way that they should. Your version of WordPress can even become incompatible with your plugins and theme.
Your Theme: The Spouse
Like any relationship, compatibility is a large factor in the success of the union. Picking a theme is of utmost importance. A theme controls the visual elements of your site, what layout you can use, and core parts of how your site can function as well. So, what theme you put on your site should not be a light decision. When you pick a theme, you are limiting yourself to the options of that theme, from the fonts and colors to the animations and how your site looks on mobile. Your theme can control every design aspect of your site.
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It’s important to make sure that the theme you are using gives you as close to the look and feel that you want as possible. But while there are many themes to choose from you want to make sure that you are getting one from a reputable developer. One of the worse things that can happen is you send all your time and energy tweaking a theme just to find out it is no longer supported by the developer that made it and is not getting updates.
Even if your theme is being regularly updated, keep in mind that if you make any edits to the theme files directly when it updates all those changes will be lost. How can you avoid this? By using a child theme. A child theme is a theme that uses the core files of another theme but allows you to overwrite just the parts that you would like to. By doing this you don’t have to worry about any changes you’ve made CSS of your site or any PHP functions you may have edited.
Some themes have a custom CSS section that allows you to add in your CSS. While this can be great for testing you will want to move the majority of this code to your style.css in your child them for better readability, change tracking, and organizing what your CSS is for. Some themes will not save this if you change to a different theme, this can cause you to lose all your CSS code if you are trying out a new theme or you have to switch back to an older one for some reason. Avoid this issue by putting CSS in the correct place.
Plugins: The Children
WordPress by itself does not have much functionality out of the box. A massive number of plugins found in the WordPress plugin ecosystem can cover almost any functionality you are looking for. Plugins though are like children. They need to be watched to make sure they don’t misbehave, and they don’t always play well with one another. You want to limit yourself to only using plugins that are necessary for your site to run to avoid unnecessary problems. Excessive plugins can slow down your site and every plugin you have opens you up to new issues with security and compatibility.
Like themes, you want to make sure your plugins come from reputable developers and they have not been abandoned. Check the last updated date to see if the plugin is still supported. On the plugin page, it will often tell you what version of WordPress the plugin was last known to work with. All these things can help avoid a plugin disaster where you must manually test each plugin by turning them off one at a time and turning them back on to find the issue.
Sometimes plugins can break each other or worse a combination of plugins can break your site. That’s why it is so important to check the compatibility of your plugins and using the minimum you need. Avoid using plugins that are repetitive, you don’t need 3 image shrinker, 2 SEO plugins and 2 caching plugins for your site. In the case of plugins less is often more, so save yourself some trouble and carefully select the plugins you want to use and get rid of any that you are no longer using.
Is This a Family to Avoid?
With all these issues it might sound like I am telling you to avoid the WordPress Family. On the contrary, WordPress is a reliable platform that has been around for over 15 years. There is a reason so many people use it and its wide array of features and functions make it ideal for use from the humble blogger to a large corporation. But maintenance is not something that should take the back burner on your WordPress site. Taking some time at the beginning and doing short regular reviews when updating can save you a lot of heartache, time, and money down the line. Every platform has trade-offs, but WordPress wins far outweigh the losses. So, don’t be afraid to join the family! Just know that it takes effort from all members to make it work and you are now the in charge of putting it all together.
Authorship: Taj R.