3 critical mistakes WordPress web designers make

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This is an important topic that negatively effects a lot of businesses who have websites built in WordPress, so bear with me if you have any interest in this area. There are – as the title suggests – 3 critical mistakes WordPress web designers make on a regular basis. There are many more besides the 3 outlined here, however, I have described 3 of the biggest.

You may or may not have heard of WordPress. The fact is that more recently you are very likely to have heard of it. WordPress is essentially the most popular content management system in existence today. By the last count at the beginning of 2014 it was powering over 20% of the web and that accounts for many, many millions of websites.

So why is it important to know all of this? Well, the problem is that because WordPress is a lucrative CMS for web designers and agencies to claim knowledge of, there are a lot of web companies and web design individuals out there using it very badly indeed. Their poor practices are akin to a ‘cowboy’ building contractor attempting to engineer a block of flats, you know the results will be short lived and treacherous for those concerned who have to live with the consequences. The only winners are the ‘cowboy’ contractors.

So what are the three most critical mistakes that designers make with WordPress? I’m going to write a series of posts explaining each one in more detail. But for now I’ll touch on the various culprits with a brief excerpt on each:

1). Using cheap marketplace themes without telling the business that a template is being used

Themeforest LogoThere are a number of marketplaces for WordPress where premium themes can be purchased (Themeforest is one of the largest). Often, web designers will use a marketplace theme and customise it to reduce their time involvement in building a website over having to custom build the project from scratch.

Ethically and practically, if a third party theme (a template by other terminology) is used, it will mean that another company is involved. The business for whom the website is being built should be made aware of this.

It causes no end of confusion if a business puts in a support or a change request only to be told that there is another company involved that they weren’t originally aware of. You see it so often happens that the support or change request is beyond the capabilities of the web company who used the marketplace theme to build the website, simply because they didn’t build the theme in the first place and have little knowledge of its complex inner workings. Therefore, in turn they have to request support from the company who built the theme, usually with little or no resolution.

There are a number of other reasons why using marketplace themes without informing the business concerned is very bad practice. All of which I will explain in a followup article.

2). Not focusing on security at any stage

Being aware of website security issues is an absolute requirement for a web company. All CMSs need to have a skilled hand to steer them and ensure best security practices are used. WordPress is no different, because it is THE most popular CMS available, a good deal of expertise and attention is needed to ensure the system is kept secure or else it can become a target to hackers and spammers. This is often with very bad consequences for the business that needs the website to be operational and to present them in good standing.

The trouble is that not many web companies are not aware of security implications or do not care. They install many poorly built plugins or marketplace themes into WordPress and employ sub-standard coding practices that serve to open the website to hackers and spammers.

I will write up a much more in-depth article on security in a subsequent blog post.

3). Not using a child theme

Best practices in WordPress dictate that if you want to extend the functionality of a third party theme (one purchased from a theme market place for example) beyond what the theme itself allows you to do; you really should be using a plugin or a child theme to do so. Anyone who spends even a small amount of time researching best practices in WordPress should be aware of this. Yet, I consistently come across the debris left over where another web company haven’t followed this particular advice and it often has to result in a complete rebuild of the website using a custom theme.

The consequences of a web company not following this simple best practice approach are often in leaving a website with their being no prospect of being able to update the theme, either through the WordPress updater or otherwise. Instead, because customisations have been built onto the theme itself it becomes almost impossible to update the theme functionality without loosing those customisations completely.

I have personal experience of dealing with themes that have been customised in this way and because it takes so much time to pick through what is going on it costs a lot of money to make even simple changes. If best practices were followed by the original web company in the first place, nearly all of this could be avoided.

To anyone who has worked with WordPress as a CMS and who has an ethical approach to building websites the above list is basic and one that shouldn’t pose a problem. However, as already mentioned, depressingly few designers actually spare a thought for them.

Ray Dale

Brand Strategist. Web Designer. Web Consultant. UX Designer. WordPress Specialist. Creative Director. Co-founder of The SeedMill. With 20 years of commercial experience in web and design industries, Ray is fascinated with all forms of design and business strategy, whether that is web design, video or data driven design. Having worked for small design agencies and large corporate companies, Ray has seen all sides of the web design and marketing industries. With a head full of ideas & strategies and a skillset that is rare to find, Ray is extremely passionate about helping businesses to achieve growth online through strategy and design.