Most of our websites are built on WordPress. As a content management platform, WordPress is extremely customizable and because it has such a large market share (37% of all websites at the time of writing this), the community around it is astounding. But the truth is that there are a lot of bad WordPress websites in production across the world and some of the best things about WordPress are also potential downfalls if it isn't used responsibly. Here are a few things that can contribute to a WordPress site that is prone to performance issues, bugs, design inconsistency, and security problems:
Lots of Plugins
Plugins that do too much
Our goal at Motion Tactic is to create websites on WordPress that aren't prone to the common problems that WordPress websites encounter. We accomplish this by bringing industry standard development practices to the WordPress environment. Our development practices are inspired by custom web application development practices that are proven to create scalable, maintainable, and overall high-quality products. At a high level, there are two things that we do to get great results from WordPress. 1. We develop custom themes for each project. 2. We limit the use of plugins.
A Note on Technical Debt
Technical debt is the sum total of all of the times that someone does something quickly instead of doing it right. Every time a feature is rushed, a bloated plugin is added, or quick/untested changes are made to a website, technical debt increases. It's important that the development team evaluates changes and makes sure they don't negatively effect the project in the long term. You know you have a lot of technical debt when things are difficult to change, breaking frequently, or are more complicated than they should be (ultimately leading to higher costs). Technical debt can be accrued during the initial setup of a project and also when changes or additions are made to a project. Since marketing websites change and evolve with a business, it is vital to start a project with a strong technical foundation and to continuously review new additions and modifications to prevent a mountain of technical debt.
Custom Theme Development
WordPress themes control how a website will look and many of the options it has for customization. Premium WordPress themes are typically built to be extremely flexible and to cover the needs of many different types of businesses. While this sounds convenient in theory, they also come with a lot of baggage. Since they are built to cover the needs of many different businesses, they inherently have features built in that you don't need. The end result for many organizations is that their website becomes a Swiss army knife with tons of features and functionality that they aren't using. All the while, the additional code contributes to performance issues and security vulnerability. Many premium themes advertise their ability to be customized but, in reality, implementing a custom design using a premium theme is much more difficult than custom coding it. Starting with a custom theme that is developed to meet your needs is the first step to creating a solid foundation and preventing an initial balance of technical debt.
WordPress's large market share means that it has a massive community of people developing plugins to meet their needs and open-sourcing them or turning them into premium products. WordPress makes it easy to install new plugins and add functionality to your website. While this is one of the most attractive features of WordPress, it is also one of the largest contributors to technical debt. Each plugin comes with its own set of problems. While some may be much better than others, it is ideal to vet plugins individually and to limit the quantity of plugins used entirely.
Most web hosts that our customers use are considered "shared hosts". This means that your website is given a tiny slice of server space and that server is shared by many customers. This is a totally understandable model since most websites don't demand the resources of their own dedicated server. We run into trouble when a web host tries to maximize profits by packing too many websites on a given server and puts minimal investment into the tools that allow development teams to manage the server.
Quality web hosts have systems in place to balance servers and prevent the servers from being overcrowded and overused. They also invest into things like deployment tools, SSL tools, caching, and great support. This is not an area where the modest monthly savings of a budget option is worth it. Some digital agencies offer hosting on a server as a part of a bulk plan that they resell. We do not offer that. Our recommendation for a quality host doesn't benefit us financially. With that in mind, at this time, we recommend a few hosts (in this order):
Launching a Website
The website launch can have several moving parts that need to be coordinated with both the agency and client teams. Typically, there are two big questions that help us to create a launch plan:
Will we be provided with access to the web host?
Will we be provided with access to make changes to the domain?
The answers to these questions provide us with a roadmap for how we will proceed and may lead us to ask several more questions depending on the specific circumstances. Many organizations have internal IT teams with strict security procedures and we won't be able to access either the host or the domain. In those scenarios, we would deliver files and stand by to support while your team launches the website. In the case of our team having access to both the host and the domain, we'll handle the entire process.
The developer working on the website will be responsible for completing a deployment plan worksheet 1-2 weeks before deployment to ensure that the plan is well thought through and to reduce the risk of down time. The plan is then reviewed by our lead developer before being approved.