Working with WordPress – simple rules.
WordPress is today without a doubt the most popular CMS tool on the market. With a number of millions of pages built in WordPress together with the tool’s extensive documentation, it is far ahead of the CMS in second place. Wordpress is so-called open source, which means that it is free to use and the users in turn help to develop the tool. There are countless themes and add-ons for WordPress and very many of them are completely free.
WordPress was originally intended to be a pure blogging tool, but is used today for all sorts of websites, everything from personal blogs to larger corporate sites. The largest companies often use their own CMS tools. The great thing about WordPress is that you do not really need to know much about html, css or php. Everything is managed easily via a user-friendly interface. Even the update of the CMS tool itself is often handled automatically or via a few clicks.
For developers, however, there are possibilities to dig deeper and if you want to get exactly what you want, you often need a little more knowledge about how WordPress is built and works.
Which theme should I use?
Well, it all depends on the type of site you want to build. There are themes that are specially adapted for different purposes. For example, there are special themes for the hotel industry, restaurants, car rentals and so on. But often you can use a theme that can be expanded with various extensions and plugins.
Many themes are completely free. Most are good and well-developed themes. But there are also many that cost money, so-called “premium themes”. These are often specially built for a specific purpose or in other ways adapted to, for example, make it as easy for the user as possible. What has become big lately are so-called “drag-and-drop themes”. This is such a theme. It’s called Ultra and is made by Themify. They were one of the first companies to introduce drag-and-drop as a way to build websites. And yes, the theme costs money.
Child Theme – a Must?
When I build a website in WordPress, I usually use a child theme. For those of you who do not know what a child theme is, I can explain it as follows: It is a “copy” of the original theme. The child theme retrieves information from the parent theme. The difference is that if you make a change in the parent theme, all changes will disappear if you update the theme. If, on the other hand, you have a child theme, the changes will remain. Features are updated when you update the original theme, but your settings remain. It is a “non-destructive” way of working.
What are plugins? Well, they are extensions to WordPress that allow you to expand the functionality of your website. For example, if you want to sell things, it can be good to have a plugin that works as a store. If you want to increase the security of your website, you may want an plugin that takes care of just that bit.
There are a few different plugins that I (almost) always use when I build websites. They are:
- Contact Form 7 to build contact forms
- Duplicator to be able to move my page to another domain or from localhost (I usually build the pages locally on my computer first before uploading them). It also works as a backup should you need it.
- Child Theme Configurator or Child Theme Generator to make child themes.
- Some sort of plugin to keep track of your website traffic. There are quite a few to choose from, but these are som of the more popular ones: Google Analytics Dashboard Plugin for WordPress by MonsterInsights, Google Analytics Dashboard for WP by ExactMetrics. Lately, I have started using Googles own plugin, Site Kit by Google after I noticed some of the other plugins were slowing down my sites.
- Some kind of security plugin, for example All-in-one WP Security & Firewall, iThemes Security or Wordfence to keep intruders away.
- Yoast SEO or RankMath for search engine optimization. This is also perhaps more important for a business site.
- Woocommerce. This depends entirely on the type of page I am building. But if I am going to build a site that sells stuff, this is what applies. Now Shopify has become increasingly popular. It is another CMS tool completely focused on web shops and online sales.
- A plugin for GDPR. Since I live in Sweden, this is a must, especially if you are running a commercial site. The plugin I have found good is GDPR Cookie Consent (CCPA Ready). It has quite a few settings in the free version.
Http vs https.
SSL is an abbreviation for Secure Sockets Layer and is a standard that allows your website to send and receive information in encrypted form. It is a security that I think will become standard. If you are going to sell something on your website, ssl is a must today. Why, do you ask? If it continues at this pace with online scammers, SSL or TLS will probably become standard by law. Even today, Google ranks pages that use SSL certificates higher than pages that do not. So you end up further up in Google’s ranking if you have an https in front of your website url.
If you only have a small blog where you want to write, it makes no big difference. But if you are a company that wants to sell things online, you need to get an SSL certificate.
And how do I do that then?
Most web hosts today offer some form of simpler ssl certificate – often for free. Then there are more advanced certificates that cost several hundred bucks and that include several pages, a so-called wildcard certificate. Let’s Encrypt offers free ssl certificates for web pages. Ask your web host for help.
Special features and customization.
You can do basically anything in WordPress. Adapting your theme and appearance is very common today and there is not a single site I have worked with where I have not made any change or adaptation of either the theme, appearance or both.
Themes today are very developed. You can do a lot of things to get the features or the look you are looking for, either with the help of various plugins or in the theme itself. But sometimes it does not really work and this is where knowledge comes in. Although the theme is very developed, it is just a framework. It is impossible for those who have built the theme to know exactly what you want on your website.
What should you do then? Yes, the simplest answer is that you get help from someone who knows WordPress. It is not so easy to make changes to php code if you are not sure what to do. A single small character in the wrong place and the whole site may stop working.
If you now absolutely have to go into the php code and litter, as I mentioned above, it is important not to make changes directly in the theme, but to make a child theme where you can make changes. And to take a backup before. You can do this in your c-panel or equivalent. Or by using an plugin with a backup function.
The most common problem, however, is so-called responsiveness; how well your page adapts to the type of device you use to view the page. Today it is more common for us to surf with a mobile phone than with a computer, so “mobile first” is an common concept. If you install a theme that is “100% responsive” and think that everything is hunky dory, you may be disappointed. It depends on several things, but the two most common are:
- Those who have developed the theme do not know what you want to show on your site
- Different browsers and devices display your page in different ways
There are ways to get around these things. In this theme, Ultra, there is a feature that allows me to decide what to display depending on the screen resolution that the visitor is looking using, I can tell the theme to display certain things on desktop but not on tablet and mobile. Or vice versa. In several places I have had to make two different variants of the same thing where a variant is only shown in mobile mode. One such example is video. If you have a video background somewhere, it will most likely not be visible on your mobile phone (mostly because of security och bandwidth reasons). Therefore, it can be good to then show an alternative with a regular background image in mobile mode instead.
So what is css? Well, if I simplify it all, you can say that if it is the theme and WordPress that tells the browser what to display, it is css that tells the browser how to display it. If you removed the contents of the css file, the page would theoretically only show a white background with black text, like any other document.
To get the ultimate look in any device, you will probably need to learn css. With that said, I do not want you to be intimidated in any way. In most cases, your page will look perfectly ok on all devices, so do not run away in a panic. But from experience as a web designer, I know that customers want everything pixel perfect and I have often received requests to, for example, move a background image “a little to the left” or “a little to the right” so that more of it is visible.
If you want to build a website in WordPress, I can highly recommend it. It is a simple, stable CMS tool that is constantly updated and improved. It is easy to find a web host with excellent knowledge of WordPress should you need assistance. Installing themes and plugins is done (mostly) in a few seconds and a few clicks. I, who have worked with Drupal before, can say that WordPress is easier to work with, much is automated. However, I miss some things such as the complexity of customization found in Drupal.