WordPress is the most widely used site building platform in the world, making it easier than ever for anyone to create a beautiful, unique and highly functional website. It’s simple to get started and it offers nearly unlimited options, enough different themes, templates and plugins for a lifetime of websites.
However, many inexperienced site owners get into trouble due to a few easily avoidable mistakes.
Find the most common traps here, and how to avoid them.
Choosing the wrong WordPress
WordPress is WordPress, right?
WordPress.com is a platform for free, managed websites. It’s one of the easiest blogging platforms out there, and yes, it’s 100% free. Just sign up, choose a subdomain, pick a theme and you’re good to go.
It’s perfect for personal blogs. However, if you’re trying to create a functional website for your business or whatnot, you want WordPress.org, the self-hosted version of WordPress.
WordPress.org gives you complete control over your site’s content and appearance, with nearly unlimited themes and plugins to choose from. You can create basically any kind of site you can imagine with it. You can design and manage every aspect of your site.
The only downside is you have to buy your own hosting and install WordPress on it. However, when you look at the limitations of the free platform, it should be clear that it’s not so suitable for a professional website.
On WordPress.com, you have much less control over the way your site looks. You can’t use Google Analytics except on the pricey premium plan, you have to pay extra to monetize your blog and e-commerce isn’t supported.
Oh, and WordPress owns your content.
This is why I strongly recommend WordPress.org. If you already have a WordPress.com site, you can transfer it from the .com to the .org version, but if it’s not too late, save yourself some trouble and start off with the higher powered platform.
Spreading your money around on too much stuff
I’m not saying you should stinge on features for your new site. There are lots of essential, widely used plugins that are well worth shelling out a few bucks for. You might also benefit from premium themes, which tend to be more visually unique and include more functions than free ones.
However, it’s possible to get swept away by the multitude of plugins, upgrades and other possibilities.
But there are so many plugins available, you can easily go crazy with them and end up with a pile of extra features that clutter your page, slow down your site and don’t really do anything for you or site visitors.
Unless a plugin adds functionality that’s part of the essential purpose of your site, I recommend starting off without it. Bookmark it and if further down the line you still feel the need for it, you can add it then.
As for things like branded emails, SSL, 5-year domain registration or other services that many domain registrars often try to upsell to new clients, they’re probably a waste of money for you.
You can get branded email from Google Apps, you probably don’t need SSL, and five years is a big commitment for a site that’s just starting up. (You’ll save more money with renewal discounts anyway.)
Not backing up
Back up your site! Back up your site! Back up your site!
Do I need to say it again?
Most hosting companies offer automatic backups, but nothing on the internet is guaranteed. If you ask me, the risk of losing your whole site is just not worth it.
Neglecting your site’s SEO
When you first install WordPress, it will give you an option to block search engine bots from indexing your site.
While you’re first building it, it’s a good idea to do this. You don’t want too many people landing on your half-finished site, or for Google to mark it under the wrong keywords because you haven’t optimized it. (Or to block it, since an incomplete site might read as fraudulent to Google’s bots.)
However, the danger is that you forget to change this setting once their site goes live, as many people do. This means their sites don’t get indexed – it won’t show up on any search engine results page – and they miss out on huge amounts of organic traffic. It will be hard for people to find it even if they’re looking specifically for your site.
So as soon as your site is complete, make extra sure that this box is unchecked!
If you redesign your theme, check it again afterwards, since it might get de-indexed in the process.
Once your site is indexed, don’t just forget about SEO and hope for the best. Good SEO is one of the most effective ways to bring major traffic to your site. No one can afford to neglect it.
WordPress’s default SEO plugin, unfortunately, isn’t really up to the task. Yoast SEO is one of the most popular and comprehensive SEO plugins, giving you plenty of tools and support to improve your site’s ranking.
Of course, no computer program can do it all for you. Follow these guidelines to make your content and meta data score better by search engines:
- When you write a blog post, choose a focus keyword. This is a word or preferably a phrase (known as a long tail keyword) that your target readers might be searching with. Yoast can help you find these for your site and use them effectively in your content.
- Post titles should be under 70 characters and contain one of your keywords.
- Write a strong meta description, using the focus keyword early within it. A meta description is an HTML tag of 155 characters or less that search engine bots use to understand what the site is about. It will also appear under the link on a search engine results page. The more people click your link, the higher on the page your site will be ranked, so it pays to have an attractive and actionable meta description.
- Structure your content with categories and tags.
- When you have enough content, start internal linking, sending readers to earlier posts on your site. Internal links not only create context and structure within your content: these are considered high-quality links that search engine algorithms will favor.
Not having a contact form
Many people at first think they won’t need a contact form, but it will become extremely useful as your site grows.
Visitors might want to ask you questions, offer suggestions or get assistance from you – and you definitely want them to do this. You need to make it as easy as possible to get in touch with you. Once contact is made, there’s a good chance a site visitor might turn into a customer, but if there’s any effort involved in reaching out, many people who aren’t already committed won’t bother.
You might choose just to list your email, but this forces visitors to leave the site if they want to contact you. Plus, it will probably flood your inbox with spam.
Plugins make it easy to add a contact form to your website, if your theme doesn’t include one. Contact Form 7 and GravityForms are made just for this. JetPack, a jack-of-all-trades plugin that helps with everything from site security to content management, also includes contact forms.
Greeting visitors with walls of text
No-one likes a long block of undifferentiated text. Unless you’re Jack Kerouac and your website is actually a massive scroll on which you’ve typed the first manuscript of On The Road, follow two simple rules with text on your homepage: say less and break it up more.
When visitors land for the first time on your page, they’re not looking for the whole story behind your company. Hit them with too many words and they’ll either skim over them, trying to find the important parts they came for, or they’ll bounce off your site. It’s confusing and off-putting.
Instead, stick to the highlights. Your first page should immediately tell visitors what your site is all about, what you have to offer and how to use it. Clarify your message and offer it in its most condensed, pared-down form.
(If you aren’t able to present your message in a few sentences, it means you don’t understand it clearly yourself. Go back to the drawing board and figure out what exactly you are offering, what problem you’re trying to solve for your clients and what sets you apart from competitors.)
From here, arrange headlines and small blocks of text with images and negative space to create an attractive, easily understandable composition.
Annoying readers with disruptive pop-ups
Pop-ups and modals can be a great way to promote specials and get people on your mailing list. However, a pop-up shouldn’t be the first thing someone sees when they come to your site.
Let people read the content they came for and explore the site on their own for a while.
Being careless with security
Getting hacked is one of those problems that seems abstract and farfetched, like something that only happens to someone else, until it happens to you.
In reality, cyber crime is no joke. Millions of people fall victim to hacking, malware, ransomware, phishing and other attacks every year, and WordPress users are no exception. Especially if your site processes payment in any way – for e-commerce, subscriptions, donations or anything else – security should be high on your priorities list.
Your first line of defense is your password. You’d be amazed how many people have a username like “admin” and a password like “password” or “12345.” And yes, hackers break into these accounts all the time.
There are plenty of tricks for creating strong passwords. In a nutshell, don’t use names or dictionary words, always include numbers, and make them long (ideally, 12 characters or more).
Beyond this, be sure to keep everything updated. Only download themes and plugins from trusted sources, and check that a theme’s code is clean before you install it.
Starting your first WordPress site might feel like wandering into a complicated labyrinth of unfamiliar terms and concepts. If it’s intimidating right now, don’t worry. Getting a site up and running is just a matter of going one step at a time.
When in doubt, keep it simple. You can always expand later on.
Ocean Web Themes offers high quality free responsive WordPress themes that make your work much easier.
Keep your visitors’ perspective in mind, make your site’s message as clear as possible, and you’re sure to succeed. Good luck out there!