I’ve been using WordPress for a little over 5 years now, and one of the things that continually surprises me is how complicated some people make their WordPress site. A CMS is meant to help keep content clean, organized and easy to maintain. It also should allow people, who aren’t tech savvy, to make changes to their website without having to know or touch any code.
However, this doesn’t always end up being the case. Sometimes, in an attempt to make things “easier” or to save time, we developers make choices that actually make things more convoluted, messy and difficult to maintain. Luckily for us, all of this can be avoided. Here are 5 ways to keep your WordPress site clean and simple:
Build your own Wordpress theme
There is a nearly endless supply of free and premium WordPress themes out there to choose from. While it may seem like a quick and simple way to get your (or a client) website up and running, in the long run it might be better for you to create your own theme if you have the coding chops to do so (there are a ton of resources out there on WordPress theme development).
But why? Why build your own theme if there are plenty of others? The simple answer is that your custom theme will be built with your exact needs in mind. Chances are high that, even if you find a theme that you love, you will at some point want to make modifications to it. If these modifications become extensive enough, it may become more difficult to bend the theme to your will than it would be to build something from scratch in the first place.
Also, free themes usually don’t come with any kind of support, so you will probably be on your own if you run into any issues. Premium themes can contain many customizable options, but many of those can go unused and aren’t necessary. I don’t mean to suggest that either of these are bad options, I’ve done both myself, but in the interests of keeping things as simple as possible, a tailor-made theme is a good way to go.
Avoid excessive plugin use
Plugins extend the functionality of WordPress and can be used for just about anything. While there are great free and premium plugins out there that are definitely worth using, there does become a point when too much is, well, too much. Plugins can quickly bog down your website if you are using them for everything under the sun. Worst case scenario is that they conflict with one another, which can cause errors on your site, or are written poorly which may lead to other concerns.
A good rule of thumb is that if you can create the functionality that you need with a moderate amount of effort, then it may be best just to do it yourself. If the plugin is going to save you a bunch of time, do some research and see what other people say about it. If all checks out, then you’re most likely going to be all right.
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Avoid page builders
There will be those who strongly disagree with me, but I am strongly against page builders. Admittedly, part of this is because I think they take all the fun out of building a website, but also because they can actually make creating a page more difficult in some cases, and a pain to maintain.
Now, I know that the purpose of these page builders is to make it simpler for the non-developer to create complex layouts, but there are other ways this can be accomplished (with custom fields, for example) that are far less resource-heavy and where the learning curve is not quite so steep.
If you absolutely have to use a page builder for whatever reason, there are a few that aren’t bad. Beaver Builder and Page Lines aren’t too bad because they allow changes to be made on the front end of the website in real time, so it makes the editing process a bit better.
Keep code out of the text editor
Not too long ago, I was reskinning a website for an architect friend of mine, and I noticed that their previous web company had placed nearly their entire HTML layout directly in the text editor. Not only was this surprising to me, it struck me as pretty lazy practice. The text editor is meant for just that, editing text. Really, the only tags that should be used in the text editor are ones related to styling said text (strongs, spans, h1,h2, etc.), not divs.
Problem is, one false move by your client, and your whole layout can be broken. It’s a far better option to place any layout code you are going to need for a page in a page template file, and if you need to have a more complex layout then a text editor can provide, again, use custom fields and populate them in your template accordingly. This will ensure your layout stays in tact no matter how many revisions made be made to the text, and keeps the code out of the CMS.
WordPress gets upgraded regularly, and it’s a good idea to keep you version up to date. There are many reasons for this, but mainly it’s so you can take advantage of the latest features, as well as any security upgrades that have been made so your site will remain as safe as possible.
By following these guidelines, it will be far easier for you to maintain a clean, simple and quick WordPress site that will be easy to understand and use by anyone who needs to.
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