This week’s post is the final one in the series. Today we’ll be talking about some of the finer aspects of a well maintained WordPress site.
The Story So Far…
We’ve covered the common mistakes a beginner is most likely to commit. Let’s quickly recap them: the most Common WordPress mistakes, common mistakes with WordPress security, common mistakes on branding your WordPress site – and today we’ll be covering subtle mistakes. So let’s get into it!
Not Using Child Themes
Initially, WordPress beginners don’t have the technical know-how to start modifying the look of the WordPress theme. That’s why they prefer changing from one theme to the next. We’ve talked about this in Part 2 of this series, point 7. Once you get a “feel” of how things work around WordPress, you might want to start to experiment with stuff.
That’s great, but try to remember our little talk on testing new things on a live WordPress site (Part 1, Point 2). Now let’s say you follow all those rules and start modifying a theme on a secondary (or cloned) WordPress installation. Yet, there’s something wrong with it. You’re not using a child theme.
Child Themes 101
A WordPress child theme is an extension of the parent theme. It inherits all the attributes from the parent theme and appends its own modifications to it. (The modifications being coded by you, of course).
Consider a case where you’re not using a child theme. You’re directly editing the parent theme. Say you want to edit the theme’s font family and the layout. You’d probably start editing the theme’s stylesheet.css and functions.php files. This is where the problem lies.
Standard WordPress themes are constantly updated to erase bugs, improve performance, remove obsolete elements, add new features, or simply keep up with the latest version of WordPress. Just as it is important to update your WordPress core, you need to update your WordPress theme as well.
When you update the parent theme, all the modifications made on that theme is lost. After the update, all the changes you made to the theme will be lost. Therefore it is recommend to always use a child theme while making changes to your theme.
When you use a child theme, all the code from the parent theme is automatically inherited. You can add new properties or modify existing ones (for instance, the font family). The properties you don’t modify revert to their original definition (that are defined in the parent theme), since they are already inherited.
- All the changes that you make to the theme are organized into a file.
- When the parent theme is updated, the new features are automatically inherited to your child theme.
- You get the updates without losing your own modifications.
WordPress child themes are really easy to build. Check out the official WordPress codex to get started.
Not Leveraging WordPress Caching
Caching your WordPress site significantly improves performance and consumes less server resources in the long run. This is great for improving you SEO scores as Google loves fast websites. Furthermore, your visitors love being served a super-fast website (which improves user experience) while delivering minimum load on your server. This is ideal for shared hosting environments, where the server’s resources are shared. We’ve got a whole post-series on WordPress Caching, explaining what it is, how it works, and how to implement it.
Not Moderating Comments
Comments start to flow in from the first day only under the following circumstances:
- Your content gets featured in Reddit or Digg
- Gets viral on social media
- You announce your blog to your friends and family
- You already have a huge email base where you announce your new website
In all other cases, a steady flow of comments take time. It also depends on how engaging your content is, or how you conclude your posts. In any case, once comments start flowing in, you should start moderating your comments. Here are a few tips to help you with that –
- Install an anti-spam plugin, for example, Akismet.
- You can also use a comment management plugin like Disqus or Livefyre. This saves you the burden of installing social login plugins
- Don’t approve all the comments that come along your way. Read the comment. If it’s a link bait, change the name of the commenter. If someone named “best hair spa boston” writes “thanks I found this very insightful”, it usually means the bot (used for mass commenting) has a good algorithm!
- Once the spam queue or the thrashed comments start to bloat, empty it. This will reduce the size of your WordPress database, since all comments, (spam or otherwise) are stored in it.
Improper Balance between Categories and Tags
While tags tend to get indexed faster, in the long run, a well-structured website will always win. Some SEO “experts” tell you to use as many tags as possible. “Title of the post? Use it as a tag!”
Do yourself a favour and don’t listen to them. Only trust authority blogs like Moz, SEJ or Matt Cutts – people who know what they’re talking about. Here’s a general rule of thumb when it comes to tags and categories. Since most of us are WordPress enthusiasts here, let’s take that as an example.
Suppose our site has the following categories –
- Theme Lists
- Product Reviews
You can dig deeper by using sub-categories. For example, the Tips category can be refined into Security Tips, Performance Tips and Monetization Tips. How you choose to refine your site is solely up to you.
Tags on the other hand need to be handled delicately. Keep the number of tags to a minimum. Manage them thoroughly. For example, if your site focuses on security, you should use security tips as a tag rather than a category. Consider the following posts:
- Review of a WordPress security plugin
- Round-up of free security plugins for WordPress
- Tutorial on .htaccess tips to improve security
- (Opinion) Why WordPress Security should be a Priority
All these posts have one thing in common – security. Each of them belong to a different category. Thus, instead of assigning multiple categories to each of these posts, assign one category and “security tips” as a tag!
There is no “perfect” solution on which one to use – tag or category? The important thing to remember is not to overuse either of them. Google’s only getting smarter. Play the game fair (which undoubtedly will take substantial time and effort). At the end of the day, your site will see negligible downfall in traffic while others crumble at the release of a new search algorithm.
The last two tips are my favourite. I have committed them as I’m sure 99% of WordPress users have, in their first attempt.
Indexing your Site after Installation
During the final phases of WordPress installation, it gives you a small check box that reads “Allow Search Engines to index my site”. You don’t have any content to index right then, do you? Even if you planned everything out, chances are that you will modify some of the features like tags and categories.
My advice is to uncheck that box during installation. Once you have 2-3 posts ready to be published, revert the setting. This can be done from WP Dashboard > Settings > Reading > Allow Search Engines to index my site. Once done, don’t publish the post just yet!
Go to Google/Bing Webmaster Central and manually register your site. Once the request is submitted, head back and publish the post. WordPress will now ping all search engines about your new post.
This tip is more of a suggestion, learnt from practical experience. Search engines are very good at prioritizing your site’s content. Once they see that a piece of content or a post/page is missing, they will eventually remove it! This is just to give you a head start in your new business endeavour.
Bonus Tip – Start Building your Email List
I did not know about the importance of an email list before I read Jon Chow’s blog. Don’t make the same mistake I did! Email newsletters are one of the most crucial aspects of any online business! They are an evergreen, on-demand source of traffic that only increases. You can get stared for free with email marketing software like MailChimp.
Over to You
This concludes our post-series. I got to relive that magical moment when I got my first email subscriber, or that first comment in my blog. Now that I look back at the mistakes, I don’t regret making them. Because I learnt from them. And today I’ m sharing them with you. So if you have already committed several or all of these mistakes, don’t (even for a second) feel bad.
Why do we fall, Master Wayne?
In times like these, Alfred’s question gives me inspiration. Batman’s answer rejuvenates my soul –
To get up and fight again
I won’t ask you to comment, because you already have (like always). Thank you for that! I hope that you’ve learnt something new from this post series. If you have a story to tell or a tip to share, we’ll eager to hear!