As a content curator, one of the biggest and most embarrassing) mistakes I made in 2014 is to repeat the known mistakes when it came WordPress and blogging in general. Every New Year calls for new resolutions. Some (try to) lose weight – “I’m going to weigh 130 pounds by the end of this year”, some make adventurous plans – “I’m definitely going skydiving in March”, while some decide to finally tie the knot – “It’s time we eternalized it”! Not that we’re a month into this year, let us all add a resolution to the list – “WordPress mistakes never to repeat in 2015 (or the years to come)”.
I’ve been contributing to WPExplorer for over a year now and I’d like to kick off this year with a brand new post series which deals with the most common WordPress mistakes. We start by looking at 5 crucial factors that deal with launching a WordPress site and move on to recommendations that will bear fruit in the long run. These well-known points can be easily classified under “been there, done that” category, but make sure that you don’t repeat them like I did. Remember, even the trained eye gets weary at times.
Why I decided to break this into a post series:
You will find a lot of articles online addressing similar issues that I intend to discuss in the upcoming posts. But I found one aspect that was missing from most of them – an in-depth explanation. Why? Why not? What are the consequences? Any solutions? Alternatives? Examples?
These are the questions I was asking myself when I read these articles. The post series gives me the wiggle room I require to offer you a better, in-depth explanation. I intend to discuss each of the common issues, at length, so that you can have a strong understanding of the subject.
All the points discussed in this post series come from experience, experimentation and of course, lessons learnt from past mistakes. I’ve tried to present as many examples as possible, so that you could gain practical experience, and relate what you read, to actual scenarios. I urge you to save this article in an offline reader such as Instapaper or Pocket and read it at your leisure. So just sit back, relax and enjoy the article.
1. Not Taking a Backup
Have you ever found yourself thinking – Hey this is a new site, I barely have any content. Let me worry about the backup later. Dear friend, let me tell you that it is one of the crucial mistakes you can make in your WordPress career. It might cost you a little money, a lot of money or in the worst of cases, everything. There have been spine-chilling stories of online entrepreneurs (bloggers, content curators, etc.) who’ve lost thousands of dollars, just because they postponed the backup.
Scheduling and securing backups is one of the fundamental responsibilities of a webmaster, from any discipline. When it comes to WordPress, the room for error is limited for an apprentice. But once you get down to the technical side of things, like modifying a theme or configuring an advanced plugin, you could:
- Destroy the site’s look
- Harbour security loopholes
- Spawn the White Screen of Death
Unrecoverable incidents are quite common, and you can’t be right all the time. Thus, a backup is a necessary precaution. If you’re one of those folks who think that WordPress automatically backs up your data – you’re wrong. Read more about the common WordPress backup myths in my article – 10 WordPress Backup Tales That Could Kill Your Site.
There are plenty free and premium WordPress backup plugins available each with varying features. If you plan to have a number of WordPress sites, VaultPress is your best choice. It’s designed and maintained by Automattic (the company behind our favourite CMS) and is trusted by millions of users. Some of our favourite WordPress backup plugins include:
2. Testing New Products on a Live Site
Many folks repeat this seemingly harmless, yet devastating mistake. Suppose you have a live WordPress site and you want to install a backup plugin – say BackWPUp, after reading my last point (yay!). But you decide to install the plugin directly on the live site – just to save the extra effort.
What if something goes wrong, and you need to put your site offline for a couple of hours in order to fix the new, unprecedented damage? Let’s see some of the things you’re going to lose:
- Organic traffic from search engines
- Direct referral traffic
- Affiliate income
- Advertisement clicks
- Conversions and sales
- Email opt-ins
- Lose your search engine rank – when Google redirects a searcher to your site and finds that it’s offline, you automatically lose SEO points
In other words, you’re going to lose traffic and money!
If you are in the business of testing out new themes and plugins in your WordPress site, I’d suggest using an experimental copy of your live site. The best example would be the staging area in WPEngine. It simply replicates a most recent copy of your WordPress site as another installation, for you to experiment. If you break anything, you can simply restore from the last working backup.
If your host does not have access to a staging area (highly unlikely unless you’re on a Managed WordPress Hosting environment), I suggest you setup your own staging area (tutorial coming up). Experiment with new products and services on your experimental setup. Once the new addition is properly configured in your site, simply merge it with your live site.
3. Not Securing your WordPress Backup
Or as I like to call it: Backup your backup.
Yep, that’s right. Taking a full backup and keeping it in your computer’s hard drive is as good as taking a backup in a scratched DVD. The most reliable way is to upload your backup to the cloud – and we’ve got plenty of (free) options to choose from – Dropbox, Box, SkyDrive, etc. We recommend the free BackWPUp plugin, or VaultPress – both of which automatically uploads your backup to the cloud.
4. Not using Permalinks
Permalinks are nothing but the way your site’s URL is structured. By default, WordPress uses the following permalink:
Let’s remember this structure will always work, regardless of adding new permalink structures. It is recommend to use a user friendly URL structure – one that contains keywords. This will your visitors remember the URL better, and will improve search engine rankings. Consider my MaxCDN review article. Both the following URLs work, but the second one is more memorable and works well for search engines.
We at WPExplorer use and recommend using the Post Name permalink structure.
- To change permalinks through the WordPress admin area, your .htaccess file must be writable.
- To do this, WordPress officially recommends that you change the file permission of the .htaccess file to 644.
- If you do not have permission to update .htaccess through the admin area, WordPress will give you the code for your chosen permalink structure so that you update the .htaccess file manually. You can then manually update the .htaccess file via your hosting account file manager or using a File Transfer Protocol (FTP) client.
5. Using Cheap Web Hosting
Most people recommend using a shared host when you start with your WordPress site. We’ve used BlueHost in the past and highly recommend it. While it costs around $5 a month, some people try to go for new hosting companies they’ve seen in various hosting forums. Reason being – they’re cheap. (Some even offer hosting packages for $1 a month!).
The Problem with Cheap Web-Hosting Companies
You get what you pay for. Cheap hosting companies usually flood their servers with one too many client accounts. One traffic spike (or a DDoS attack) and the whole cluster (including all the websites in that cluster) is down! Such hosting companies also have a very low tolerance limit for resource overuse.
A classic example is the Yet Another Related Posts Plugin (YARPP). YARPP queries the WordPress database to find out the posts that are related to a certain post (let’s say XYZ), using search parameters like tags and categories. The resulting posts are then displayed below the current post (XYZ). This technique serves as an excellent means to improve user engagement and bounce rate of your WordPress website.
In the backend, YARPP’s search process requires significant queries to the WordPress database, which increases with the number of posts, tags and categories in your WordPress site. More queries = higher server load = slower site.
The problem is, this overuse happens automatically, and you cannot limit the amount of server resource the plugin can use. (Would be awesome though, if you could). But you’re accountable for the resources you use. Once you exceed a certain limit, the server resource monitor logs a resource overuse/abuse against your account. Repeat this a couple of times, and your account is automatically suspended.
Therefore, you should always go for recommended web hosting companies and when the time comes, move to a more powerful solution like a VPS or even better, Managed WordPress hosting.
The journey of mastering WordPress is a long and enriching experience. These five points conclude the first part of our post series. Next week, we’ll talk about the various interdependencies between plugins, themes and its other aspects. So stay tuned!