Whether you’re just starting out or an experienced WordPress user you’re going to make mistakes. What’s important is that you learn from these mistakes and avoid them in the future. Here are 23 common WordPress mistakes you’ll want to avoid making.

Using the default permalinks

Permalinks are the permanent URLs to individual posts and pages. By default WordPress creates permalinks with the following structure http://www.example.com/?p=123. This however isn’t great for usability and doesn’t adhere to SEO best practices for URL structure.

Permalink structure can be changed in the WordPress dashboard under Settings > Permalinks. It’s recommended to include the post title in permalinks, this can be done by selecting the ‘Post name’ option from the list of options WordPress provides.

Not keeping WordPress updated

There are 3 things you need to keep updated to ensure your WordPress site stays secure and runs smoothly.

  • WordPress – Since version 3.7 of WordPress minor and security updates are performed automatically in the background. You’ll still need to do manual updates each time a major update of WordPress is released.
  • Plugins – Plugins need to be updated manually on a regular basis. Not only do updates provide bug fixes and new features but sometimes they address security exploits that have been discovered within the plugin codebase.
  • Themes – Themes generally don’t need to be updated as much as WordPress core or plugins. If WordPress adds new features a theme developer may make an update to use this new functionality. Code that is depreciated may also need to be updated or removed.

Not making regular backups

It’s important to make regular website backups so if something goes wrong your valuable data isn’t lost forever. There is a great free plugin called BackWPup that can create a backup of your entire site that can be scheduled to run automatically on a regular basis. Backups can be saved onto the server, sent via email or stored on Dropbox.

Modifying URL’s when updating posts

Sometimes you may need go back and edit older posts. A mistake many make is modifying the URL when making these edits. If a URL is changed visitors will see a 404 error page when the page is accessed from interlinked pages, bookmarks and until the search engines de-index the page.

If its necessary to modify a URL you can redirect the old URL to new one using a 301 redirect. The Simple 301 Redirect plugin allows you to easily create redirects. By creating a 301 redirect visitors will be redirected to the updated URL and search engines will know that the page have been moved permanently and remove it from their index.

Installing unnecessary plugins

WordPress makes it easy to install a variety of different plugins. Depending on the plugin and the functionality it performs it can have a negative effect on the performance of your site.

You can analyze the performance of plugins using the P3 Profiler plugin. After scanning your site a report is generated with the load times of all installed plugins. If you notice a particular plugin has a slow time and isn’t absolutely necessary consider uninstalling or finding a similar plugin with better performance.

Not using web optimized images

When saving images for the web you need to ensure that you’re using most appropriate file type. There are 3 image file types commonly used with each one best suited for different purpose.

  • JPG – Makes detailed photograph file sizes smaller by removing information the human eye doesn’t detect. Best used for photographs, it’s not recommended for logos or line drawings.
  • GIF – Can only have a maximum of 256 different colors, can also be animated. Good for simple images with solid areas of color, not recommended for photographs.
  • PNG – Compresses images but not as well as JPG, should only be used if you require transparency.

Not adding meta data to images

WordPress allows you to add a title, image title attribute, alt text and description to all images. This not only makes it easier for admins to find images but helps users and is beneficial for SEO.

  • Alt Text – Alt text is the most important of all the image meta data. When an image is loading or if it cannot be found the alt text is displayed. Alt text also provides a description of the image for visually impaired users and search engine bots. Alt text should be a short description of what the images contains, for example – “Small child playing a piano”.
  • Title – WordPress generates an attachment page that allows you to view individual images. If you have entered a title it will be displayed on this page similar to the title on a standard post. By default WordPress will use the filename, if you are going to be linking to attachment pages use something more appropriate.
  • Description – Just like the title, image descriptions appear on attachment pages. No default value will be set when you upload an image but if you are linking to attachment pages a short description is a great way to provide users with more information about an image.
  • Image Title Attribute – Not overly important but can be used to display a short snippet of text that appears when an image is hovered over in some browsers. You can use the image title attribute for things like crediting the source of an image.

Not having a site search

Even though there is a search widget bundled with WordPress many websites still lack search functionality. Adding a site search is as simple as going to Appearance > Widgets in the dashboard and dragging the search widget into the desired sidebar.

Not making it easy to share content

One of the best sources of referral traffic is from visitors sharing your content with their friends and followers on social networks. To increase the frequency content is shared it’s vital to use a social sharing plugin that allows content to be shared directly from your website. Smart Website Tools by AddThis is one of the better social sharing plugins to get started with.

Not installing Google Analytics

Google Analytics provides valuable insights into the audience of your website. Without analytics you essentially have no idea how people interact with or are finding your website. Google Analytics is a free service, all you need to get started is a Google account.

Google Analytics by Yoast is the simplest way to integrate Google Analytics into WordPress. Once installed you only need to enter the Google Analytics profile you want to track and the required JavaScript will be loaded into your website.

Not using Google Webmaster Tools

Webmaster Tools is a free service offered by Google that helps you monitor and maintain your site’s presence in the Google Search results. Once you have added your site to Webmaster Tools you’ll need to verify that you are the site owner. This can be done using the Verify Google Webmaster Tools plugin that will add the required meta tag to your site for verification.

Poor internal linking

The way you link from one page to another is important for both SEO and helping to keep visitors on your site longer. An example of a site with good internal link structure is Wikipedia, you’ll notice when viewing Wikipedia that related pages are linked quite often from within the content.

You can insert links to related pages manually or automate the process using the SEO Smart Links plugin. SEO Smart Links automatically links keywords in posts to other relevant posts, pages, categories and tags.

Using too many categories

Many users often assign several categories to each post. This makes it difficult for visitors to find related posts within a category. The correct way to organize your content is to have several broad top level categories then further refining these by using tags.

Not adding descriptions to categories

Adding descriptions to categories can significantly increase the amount of traffic your category pages receive from search engines. Category descriptions can be added in the dashboard under Posts > Categories.

Using the default tagline

All new installs of WordPress have the default tagline “Just Another WordPress Site”. Depending on the theme you are using this may be used in the site title or within the theme itself. This doesn’t look professional and you may miss out on some of the benefits of a well crafted tagline.

The tagline can be updated from the WordPress dashboard under General > Settings. A good tagline should be a short descriptive sentence of what your website is about or the location and service you provide if you’re running a business website.

Pasting content directly from Microsoft Word

Many people like to write their content in Microsoft Word then paste it into the WordPress editor. When you paste content directly from Word it comes with a whole bunch of formatting data that will override your theme CSS.

You can ensure this formatting doesn’t make its way into your posts by clicking the ‘Paste from Word’ icon when copying content from Word. If you can’t see the icon you may need to first click the ‘Show/Hide Kitchen Sink’ icon to display all available editor options.

Editing theme files directly

A mistake people often find out the hard way is that if a themes files have been edited and the theme is then updated all changes will be overwritten with the update. If you’re only making CSS changes you can use the Simple Custom CSS plugin to prevent CSS being overwritten. If you’re editing more than CSS you’ll need to create a child theme.

Not using a secure password

You’d be surprised at just how many website owners use insecure passwords even though WordPress provides a password strength indicator when creating an account. A secure password should be:

  • Minimum 8 characters in length
  • Not contain your user name, real name, or company name
  • Not contain a dictionary word
  • Be unique and not used on other accounts
  • Should contain uppercase characters, lowercase characters, numbers and a symbol (!@#$%^&*)

Passwords can be changed in the dashboard under Users > Your Profile.

Using poor web hosting

The difference between a good web host and a bad web host can result in seconds being added to the time it takes for a page to load. Studies have found that even 1-2 seconds of extra load time can make a visitor leave a site. DreamHost is a reputable hosting company for WordPress powered websites.

Not using a mobile optimized theme

The amount of people browsing the internet on mobile devices is increasing every day so it’s important that your website can be viewed on such devices. Most modern themes are built using what is called “responsive design”, meaning they respond to the size of browser. If you’re using an older non-responsive theme it may be time to update.

Using themes & plugins from untrustworthy sources

Some sites provide themes or plugins that include snippets of malicious code. This code can be leveraged to gain control of your site, generating spam links or infecting users computers with malware. The WordFence Security plugin allows you to run regular scans of your site to ensure there are no security threats present.

Using the default favicon

Favicons are the small icons displayed next to the site title in browser tabs. Having a recognizable favicon helps users easily identify your site, especially when they have lots of tabs open and also helps building brand awareness. If you don’t set a favicon you can end up with the favicon provided by your theme or hosting company.

You can create a favicon using a free online favicon generator. Most browsers will be able to identify the favicon if you upload it to the root folder of your site. If browsers aren’t displaying your favicon try using the All In One Favicon plugin.

Not having a contact form

The ability for visitors to easily be able to contact you is extremely important especially if you run a business or eCommerce website. It’s possible to simply include your email address on a contact page or in a sidebar but this can lead to an increase in SPAM emails once bots discover your email.

Fortunately there are a number of plugins that allow you to quickly and easily create a contact form. Contact Form 7 is one of the more popular contact form plugins and will be suitable for the needs of most websites. Contact Form 7 allows you to define the fields to be included in your form then provides a shortcode you can paste into your contact page.

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