Are you creating a new website for your business? You may want to build it on WordPress.
WordPress is a free blogging and content management system and a hugely popular website platform. More than 60 million sites are on WordPress, with 330 million visitors viewing 3.4 billion pages each month.
We recently created WordPress sites for one of our clients and for our strategic marketing consulting firm in Cleveland. Here are some tips and tricks we learned about WordPress that could be helpful to your smart marketing strategy.
Why We Chose WordPress and What We Learned
Our old website was in Joomla, but I use WordPress for my Smart Marketing Strategy blog. Our familiarity with WordPress and the vast array of WordPress development tools made it a logical platform for the new sites. Here are some things we learned:
1. WordPress is (mostly) easy to use. WordPress is a robust, customizable vehicle for publishing, editing, and sharing web content. Multiple users can quickly and easily add, edit, and curate content without a programmer. Getting content onto your site is simple, but getting the exact look and functionality you want can take some work. Plan for a learning curve and be prepared to use online documentation to address issues. And it helps to have programmer friends. You may need them.
2. Themes are great, with limitations. Many commercial “themes” are available to jumpstart WordPress page layout and design. If you’re not a programmer or know only basic CSS, HTML, or PHP, a theme can help you achieve a great look quickly. Premium, customizable themes are at Studio Press, Headway Themes, and DIY Themes, among others.
But themes have limits. You can customize only up to a point. In our case, the benefits of a theme (quick development time, lower development cost, and an overall pleasing look) outweighed the design compromises. But if you want full customization, create a WordPress site from scratch.
3. You don’t have to be a programmer, but it helps. Even if you use a theme, you’ll still want to customize your site. Simple changes like a background color or font are straightforward. Adding widget areas or sidebars or more sophisticated stuff requires at least a little PHP programming and knowledge of CSS.
To customize our site, we implemented workarounds documented in the WordPress Codex (a coding reference on the WordPress site). If you delve into programming, be prepared for some things not to work as documented or to work inconsistently. Trial and error – and extensive testing – may be required.
4. You may still need a graphic designer. The structure of WordPress and the plethora of commercial themes make it easy to design an attractive site on your own. But we still needed our graphic design team to create certain elements like headers, photos, and call to action graphics. WordPress can reduce design time, but for a truly distinctive site or full brand integration, a designer is needed.
5. Consider site structure when importing old content. Permalinks are the URLs associated with posts. They can be date-based or formatted other ways. If you’re importing blog posts or pages from an older site at the same URL, you need to keep permalinks formatted the same way. If you change your file structure system from date-based to post-name-based in your new site, for example, and then import older blog posts, outside links to your older posts, like bit.ly links, will break. Plus, links to images in blog posts can break if the file structure is changed.
We made this mistake and had to painstakingly edit all our old blog posts and image links. Keep your new file structure the same as your old one to avoid this.
6. There are loads of free, helpful plugins. Over 25,000 plugins are available to add functionality like social media links, spam blocking, and e-commerce to a WordPress site. Most are free; some have “premium” versions. But beware. Most are created by third-party developers and some may not be reputable. Older plugins may no longer be supported. Some are buggy and cause problems. Research any plugins you’re considering. If a plugin has been downloaded a lot, has good reviews, is updated frequently, and is still supported, it should be safe.
7. Find help on the Codex, forums, and blogs.
- The WordPress Codex documents all things WordPress, including topic-specific support forums, blogs, plug-ins, and wordpress.tv videos.
- YouTube videos range from beginner level (“build your first website”) to theme- and function-specific videos, like creating a slideshow or contact form.
- Theme forums offer online help, tutorials, and support.
- WordPress Forums and LinkedIn groups can be helpful:
- Blogs by WordPress developers are great for tips and even programming code. Here are a few we’ve used:
8. Use Firebug. If you do any customized programming, Firebug, a free Firefox browser plug-in from Mozilla, is a handy tool to detect bugs in your code and see how other sites are written. If you find a site with functionality or a visual element similar to what you want to create, use Firebug to find out how it was done. Google Chrome has something similar called Web Developer.
9. Plan for security. As WordPress has grown in popularity, so have botnet and SPAM attacks on WordPress sites. Plug-ins like Akismet, Bad Behavior, and Limit Login Attempts help prevent attacks. We’ve also instituted techniques to harden our sites. Here are some security tips from the Codex:
10. You can’t control everything – but you can try. Your beautiful new site may be perfect in Firefox or Chrome but have problems in Internet Explorer 9. IE doesn’t follow the same standards as other web browsers or you may have made a programming error. Use Firebug to help find and fix these errors.
Why WordPress is a Boon for Smart Marketers
Whether you sell to consumers or businesses, your website is a crucial element of your marketing strategy. You need a dynamic, attractive, engaging site – with constantly updated content – to convince prospects to consider your organization and do business with you.
WordPress makes it very easy to create a website that supports smart marketing. But keep two things in mind:
- Using WordPress may require some knowledge and experience;
- You may need a different platform and a full web design and programming team to create a site that suits your needs.