When I think about the first few months of using WordPress, the first thing that comes to mind is how much time I could have saved if I knew about a few simple things that I know now. On the other hand, I would probably still have been super stubborn and the time was ultimately not totally wasted because I learned a lot from it, but the time would’ve been better spent otherwise. These are the 8 most common WordPress mistakes beginners make.
1. Confusing WordPress.com and self hosted WordPress
This was very confusing to me when I started out, and I think it’s that way for a lot of people. Choosing between WordPress.com and a self hosted WordPress website isn’t too hard when you know the difference, but knowing the difference can be quite confusing at first. People often just want to create a simple blog and end up with a self hosted WordPress site which is a tad harder to manage and costs money. The opposite also happens quite frequently, where a user wants to have full control over his site but ends up with a WordPress.com blog which doesn’t serve this purpose. For more info on the difference between the 2, you can read the official WordPress.com article.
2. Deciding to just use a free WordPress theme
This is, in my opinion, the mistake which in the end cost me the most money and time. It’s funny how sometimes saving money will ultimately cost you a load more money than you would’ve spent if you weren’t so focused on spending as little as possible to begin with. Don’t get me wrong, spending as little money as possible is perfectly fine, just not when it comes to WordPress themes. At an average price of about €50, WordPress themes are more than affordable and the value you get is without a doubt worth it. This is what I learned after trying hard to stick to the free WordPress themes for about 2 months. It sounds awesome that you can get started without any cost at all, but I reckon it takes someone a maximum of a month to realize it’s actually not that convenient. It took me a month, and then another month for me to actually give in an admit I’d wasted my time. Check out Themeforest, they offer some of the best themes out there for very affordable prices.
3. Clogging your WordPress with plugins
If you like free stuff as much as I do, seeing the immense amount of free WordPress plugins will instantly get your senses tingling. I believe I had no less than 35 plugins running on my first website, using a plugin for every little thing I needed. While it seems convenient (especially for lazy people like myself), eventually you’ll start to feel the weight of 35 plugins running on your website. The first thing you’ll start to notice is the speed of your website, which will severely suffer if you run a lot of plugins. Then, there’s clashes between plugins or incompatibilities with WordPress in general which is bound to happen if you have so many plugins running. Weird errors can start popping up for no reason, especially when there’s a WordPress update. Considering you have 35 plugins running, finding errors by deactivating all plugins 1 by one can be a very tedious (and very very boring) task. The golden rule is simply that if you don’t necessarily need a plugin, don’t use one. This is particularly relevant when using simple plugins that can easily be replaced by even simpler codes. Nowadays plugins like Jetpack offer so much functions that it negates the use for a lot of plugins.
4. Not using a child theme
Again this was a lesson I had to learn because of my sheer laziness. Creating a child theme when having little to no experience with files like ‘functions.php’ and ‘style.css’ kind of scared me. I also didn’t really understand at that point why a child theme was actually so important (I felt like people should stop nagging about it), so I decided to just go with the original theme and keep my fingers crossed nothing would go wrong with updates. Dumbest mistake ever, as it didn’t take more than a few days before all of my work was basically ruined. Granted, the work I did in a week back then I can now do within a few hours, I was still pissed off. Learning the hard way is often the right way, however. Since that day I never touch any parent theme, and neither should you.
5. Paying too much attention to details
Whether you like it or not, your first few sites will most likely mainly serve as a learning purpose and not as a long-term thing. There are some exceptions with people having good prior experience in webdesign or choosing a template which perfectly fits something simple you want to create. In general, however, you should focus on learning as much as possible and not try to force yourself to make a long lasting site when you don’t possess the required skills yet. I found myself spending a week trying to make a contact form look good, while I learned nothing more than some basic CSS rules in the process. Needless to say, I should have spent my time otherwise and focused on the more important aspects which would help me learn more in the long run. The golden rule is that if implementing something simple feel inconvenient in WordPress, you’re probably doing it wrong and should refrain from investing a lot of time into it.
6. Using a plugin without checking its condition
I used to search for plugins for whatever I needed. Apart from installing too much plugins, I would often install a plugin regardless of the average user rating, how responsive the author is in the support section (especially for plugins without a lot of downloads), how often it was updated and so on. While it’s possible that a plugin that doesn’t look good can in fact be useful, more often than not you will hit a wall where it lacks a certain feature (or contains bugs) and you won’t find a way to resolve this because there is both a lack of support and people don’t figure it out on their own. This can be extremely frustrating, and after quite some headaches I decided to not use any free plugins that lack in the aspects I mentioned. Either find a free plugin where the author offers support or search for a paid plugin where the support is almost always better. Even for paid plugins, be sure to check user ratings.
7. Not taking the time to go through WordPress basic functions
While designing stuff and changing up the site with CSS is cool and interesting, basic WordPress functions often get overlooked. Take for example permalinks. By default, they are set to *yoursitename.com*/?p=PostID . This is both bad for users and SEO, and should be changed as soon as possible. You can do this by going to settings » permalinks.
Another example is the tagline. I can’t recall how many sites I’ve seen that still have the “Just another WordPress” tagline in their title, which can be easily changed by going to settings » general. These are settings that might not be apparent or seem important,but taking the time to scroll through all settings pages will help you understand the structure of the WordPress back end, which never hurts.
8. Clumping the sidebar of a new site with unnecessary widgets
WordPress comes with a set of widgets which you can use and which enabled by default. This is nice and all, but there are a lot of widgets which don’t serve a purpose. Some widgets might not be useful until you build out your site (recent comments, popular posts) and some widgets I’ve personally never found useful (the default related posts, tag cloud). Most default widgets don’t serve a purpose until later on, and keeping it simple is often the best choice when starting out. You can delete or add widgets by going to appearance » widgets.
In the end, some mistakes can be more costly than others. Some tips are there to help you create a good workflow in the long term, while some are there to save you headaches and time. The bottom line and most important advice I would give my struggling self in 2012 would be to both keep an eye on the big picture and that paid themes and plugins will save you a lot of time and money in the long run. Still need help? Check out my services and follow me in order to learn more about WordPress. Also, let me know in the comments what your biggest mistakes were when starting out with WordPress!