Things to consider before commissioning a WordPress site

WordPress is a great platform on which to base pretty much any website, eCommerce store, Directory or Listing site, or blog site. The core software is free to use, there are over 20,000 plugins you can use (mostly free of charge) to do all sorts of cool things including social media interaction, creating newsletters from your content, improving your design, improving your SEO, speeding up your site and lots more. A massive 20% of all new websites are built on the WordPress platform, so, on the face of it, there’s a lot going for it.

Luxury bathrooms website in WordPressWe’re huge fans of WordPress, and focus our business around building impressive sites at cost-effective prices for all sizes and flavours of business, helping them to compete on line with their peers, and also helping smaller companies to punch above their weight with businesses much bigger than themselves.

However, whilst we highly recommend WordPress, you do need to be aware of a few things that many website companies might not point out to you, and which might impact your overall cost of ownership or necessitate additional time that you spend on your website.

1. Keeping WordPress updated

WordPress dashboard screenshotWordPress is a large system comprising around 1,000 files (and a database), and is constantly evolving to include new features, run faster, fix bugs and, most importantly, to plug security loopholes. Since version 3.7 minor updates to WordPress take place automatically (so, 3.9.1 to 3.9.2 etc.), but you still need to apply the major updates (e.g. 3.8.x to 3.9) yourself.

You can do these updates yourself, provided your developer has given you administrator access. It only takes a minute or two, but there is a small chance you will hit problems – for example, if your server doesn’t transfer all the files, if a plugin won’t work with the new version.

So, find out from your developer whether they offer a maintenance scheme to keep your site up-to-date.

If they don’t, you might like to take a look at our own WordPress maintenance package here!

2. Keeping WordPress plugins updated

WordPress code exampleJust like WordPress itself, plugins get updated for the same reasons. Also with plugins, try to make sure that your developer sources these plugins from the WordPress plugin repository. Although not perfect, it is more likely that these plugins would have been tested rigorously, maintained regularly, and are less likely to be poorly coded and with security loopholes.

3. Don’t expect your developer to know everything about WordPress

WordPress is a big platform. There are thousands of themes and tens of thousands of plugins that can be used to improve your website form and function. In addition, there are hooks and filters that can be used to modify the behaviour of core WordPress code. This is huge, and as experienced WordPress developers ourselves, we know that we’ll never know everything. However, a good developer will know where to look, and will almost certainly know more than a friend down the pub!

4. Sometimes things break!

Occasionally, there will be issues that conspire to either break the design, stop an aspect of your site from working as required, or even cause the site to fail entirely. WordPress is a large and complex collection of software, and we’re not going to spend time here covering all the possibilities. However, you should expect problems to arise from time to time. If you have learnt a little about WordPress, and websites in general, you might be able to figure out what’s wrong and fix it, but there will be times when you do need to call on a developer to help out. So, ask your developer how long they will support the site after it goes live, what their hourly rate will be thereafter, and what sort of response time you should expect.

5. WordPress can be a bit slow

A fast responding website is important – search engines assign more importance to fast-loading sites because humans engage better with quick sites.

A bit of background – when someone visits your WordPress site they trigger some scripts which then build and deliver the page. During the course of this script execution, many calls will be made to your database, and images and other elements are loaded. Generally, the more plugins you use the more scripts and database calls are required. These take time. The more large, un-optimised images your page or post has the longer it will take to load. If your site uses a large or complex theme, then that too can result in more delays to your page load times.

There are plenty of caching plugins, content delivery networks and other services such as Cloudflare, that can help improve page load times, so ask your developer about these if you are concerned about performance issues.

On top of all of this, not all website hosting packages are the same! Make sure that your site is going to be hosted on a server that can cope. Many free or low cost hosting options will run your site alongside thousands of others on a low-powered shared hosting platform. This might be good enough for you, but just bear in mind that if things run a little slow and you cannot reduce the resource usage within your site, then you might need a more powerful, professional hosting service.

6. Hackers like WordPress

Double padlock denoting extra security

Photo by Paolo Gadler

Once your site is established and gets a little traction you may well find that you start attracting some unwelcome interest. WordPress is the biggest web development platform on the planet, so hackers love it. That’s not to say that WordPress sites are more vulnerable to hacking than other sites – they’re not as long as they are kept up-to-date (see earlier points)! However, if you let your WordPress version or plugins get out-of-date, you’re asking for trouble.

It’s difficult to disguise the fact that your website is built on WordPress, so make sure you keep your software up-to-date. In addition, don’t make things easier for hackers by leaving your dashboard usernames and passwords easy to guess. A big no-no is to leave your admin username as ‘admin’. Hackers know that this is the default WordPress admin username, and will target this username when attempting to log in to your site.

So, ask your developer to change your default admin username to something harder to guess.

7. WordPress can seem daunting to use at first

Any platform that is as powerful and flexible as WordPress will have a slightly longer learning curve than conventional systems. Don’t let that put you off though. There are lots of resources available on the web to help you get started and to help do more complex tasks when you are ready.

8. Understand that plugin support and updates might not be forever

Not all plugins are free to use. Some require an upfront payment often followed by monthly or annual subscriptions. Typically, this is for plugins that are larger and more complex than normal, or which offer a tangible return on investment. Although giving an opportunity for the plugin developer to make a little money, it also generally ensures that plugins get continually improved.

So, plugin updates are good, but if your developer is going to build some premium plugins into your site, make sure that you understand whether you or your developer will be paying to keep them up-to-date.

Conclusion

In summary, if you are purchasing a WordPress website remember that the up front cost might be relatively low, but that there may well be additional work (either for you or for a developer) further down the track. This shouldn’t be a problem, but it’s as well to be aware of this before you start. Remember also, that WordPress is the most widely used web development and content management platform and so there are many, many developers who can help you if you get into trouble. You don’t need to stick with your original developer when you want to make changes.

If you find that you do need outside help to maintain and improve your website, why not try us? With over 100 clients on our books, and with many years experience of building and supporting websites just like yours, we can help you with anything from the smallest niggle with your WordPress site to an entire new website.

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