These are some questions I think about before starting a new website project. It’s a great checklist to go through before starting to help you scope out your project.
A. Audience and Purpose
- Who is the target audience of the website?
- What is the site tagline, in non-marketing speak?
- What is the number one thing you want your visitors to accomplish on the site?
- What are the top three goals of the website?
- What is the criteria for success for this website?
- Will the site visitors be mainly new visitors (for example, for a sales funnel) or repeat visitors (for example, for an association website)?
For more information on this section, see “Three Basic Questions You Should Answer Before Building Your New Website“.
B. For Site Revisions / Migrations
- Is this a brand new site or a revision of an existing site? If new site, skip to next section.
- Do you see this as a complete re-do of your current site, or just a cosmetic makeover?
- What things do you hate about your current site?
- What things do you like about your current site?
- How will the old site be backed up before we replace it?
- How much content will be re-used from the old site vs. new content?
- What is the plan to migrate data from the old site to the new one?
- What is the plan to update the new site with new content while it is in development?
- Do we need to redirect old URLs?
- Do you have a site map for the new site?
- How many pages will it have?
- Do you have an outline for each page?
D. Written Content
- Do you have all of the text content for the site ready?
- Will the text be completely proofread and approved, or are changes / corrections likely during development?
- Who will do most of the content entry?
E. Image Content
- Do you have all of the logos and icons for the site?
- Do you have all of the images for the site?
- Are the images existing original images? Stock? New photography?
- Will the images need to be cropped, adjusted for brightness or edited in any way?
- Will there be background images with text over them?
F. Video Content
- Will there be video on the site?
- What format will be video be in? (I highly recommend hosting embedded videos on YouTube or Vimeo, not serving video files from your webserver!)
- Will there be video backgrounds?
- What features do you want on the site?
- Events management?
- Contact forms? With logging?
- Other forms? With logging?
- Popups? (Searchable, linkable, shareable?)
- Social sharing buttons? Social follow buttons?
- Custom post types?
- Custom fields?
- Custom search/filtering?
- Google map?
- Ability to upload documents?
- AJAX (elements of the page loading without a full page reload)?
- Third-party plugins, widgets, APIs?
- Will the site be sending email?
- Has the new site already been designed by another designer?
- If not, are we creating a brand new design concept, or are we adhering to an established design language?
- Are we using an existing design template?
- Is there a style guide?
- What fonts are we going to use? Paid or free?
- How many different types of page designs will there be?
- What percentage of your users will be on mobile vs. desktop?
- Does the site need to work on Internet Explorer or any other non-modern browsers?
- Do you want any special hover effects? (Note that hover is not good for ADA compliance and that there is no hover on mobile devices).
- What user information do you intend to collect? (contact forms, email addresses, email list signup forms)
- Are you prepared to comply with the requirements of GDPR and CCPA if a user makes a request for their data?
- Does the site need to be ADA (WCAG2.0) compliant?
J. Search Engine Optimization
- Do you need help with SEO?
- Do you need help optimizing your content for SEO?
- Do you have analytics data for your current website (if there is one).
- Do you have a Google Analytics account? (If so, I’ll need your UA- tracking number if you want to track your site using GA).
- Do you need to track any other events on the site other than simple page loads? (i.e., button clicks, form submits, etc.)
- Do you need any other tracking services on the site?
- Do you want to do eCommerce on this website?
- Are there known individuals or parties who might target your website for attack (such as DDOS attack). Examples include disgruntled ex-employees, activists, political enemies, etc.
- What hosting service will we use? (I can offer suggestions)
- Does your host offer SSL?
- Do you have control over your domain name?
- Do you have an SMTP email account that we can use to send email from the site?
- What is the estimated traffic of the site?
- How much storage (in GB) will be needed for the site?
N. Testing and Approvals
- Who will help test the website before launch?
- Who needs to approve the website before launch?
- Who are the stakeholders for the website?
- What is the desired launch date?
- Is this a hard deadline (such as a trade show, event, etc.)?
- How long will it take to create and gather your content?
- How long will the approval process take? (Is your boss easy to reach? Are they responsive?)
- What is your budget for the site?
- Do you want to pay hourly for the site, or have a fixed price?
- If fixed, it is a “not-to-exceed” or is an estimate OK?
- Who will be updating the site content after launch? What is their technical experience?
- Do you need training on how to update the site?
- Who will do maintenance on the site? (WordPress core, plugin, and theme updates)
- How often will the site content be updated?
- What is the backup strategy?
- Do you need a staging site? (i.e., a copy of the site that you can play around without affecting the production site).
WordPress makes it very easy to update your website to the latest versions of the WordPress core, plugins, and theme. Just click a few buttons, right?
Well, anyone who’s worked with WordPress for a while knows that simply pressing “update” without some serious preparation can be a recipie for disaster.
Here is a list of things you should do BEFORE updating your WordPress site!
1. Make a Backup
If you do nothing else on this list, please do this one thing: make a backup of your site. I like to use the free Duplicator plugin to do this. Sometimes it doesn’t work for large sites. If not, try Updraft Plus. Some web hosts like WP Engine have one-click backups in their admin panels (in addition to daily automatic backups).
2. Test the Live Site Before Updating
It might seem strange to test something that is supposed to be working before you even touch it, but I’ve had cases where a site wasn’t working properly after an update, and it turned out that the problem actually had nothing to do with the update.
Make sure the live production site is working properly BEFORE you do anything to it, or else the update could lead you on a wild goose chase while you try to figure out why your update “broke” the site (when it had nothing to do with it). Not to mention, this way you won’t be wrongly blamed for a site that was broken before you did your updates!
3. Take Screenshots of Important Pages Before Updating
I’ve had situations where I’ve updated a site, then wondered, “hmmm… was the space between the header and the body really that big before the update??” (In this particular case, nothing changed after the update; I was just paranoid).
Taking a screenshot of the Home page and any other key pages can calm your fears if you start to get paranoid and think something changed after the update. Or, it can confirm that the update did indeed break something.
A variation of this is to load some of the pages of the website in a separate browser window, leave them there, then open a new window to do the updates. Then, you can compare the new site to the old (just don’t accidentally refresh the windows with the pre-updated site!)
4. Keep a Log of Changes
When I update a site, I keep a log of every change I make. I note the old and new versions of everything I update. To make that easier, I copy the plugins section of the WordPress Updates page and paste it into a file. That gives me the old and new versions of every plugin that needs to be updated.
If something goes wrong, I have a list of plugins that could have caused the problem!
5. Check for Major Version Updates
Before updating, I scan the plugin version numbers to see if any are jumping to a new major version, like going from V2.9.2 to V3.0.5. If any are, I read the plugin notes to check for any compatibility problems with the new version. Same goes for themes, and the WP core.
6. Check for Recent Updates
Building on the previous point, if there has been a major update to a plugin or theme, I check to see when that update happened. If it was very recently, like yesterday, I will sometimes hold off on the update for a while and let other people be the guinea pigs to test the new version, rather than having it break my site.
7. Check Your Server’s Version of PHP
If you’re updating a site that hasn’t been updated in a very long time, there’s a good chance that it’s running an old version of PHP. Doing updates to such a site could be disastrous, because the new versions of the theme and plugins might not be compatible with your server’s version of PHP.
I like to use the Duplicator plugin to check the version of PHP. Go to Duplicator -> Tools -> PHP Information to see what version of PHP your server is running. Call a web developer if it is below 7.0.
8. Test Updates On a Staging Copy
Now that you’ve done a lot of the preliminary work, it’s time to test the updates on a staging site, i.e., a non-public copy of your site.
This can be a site hosted locally on your computer using a program like MAMP (kind of advanced), or a copy of your site online that your web developer can create for you. (Just make sure the staging site is running on the same version of PHP that your production site is).
WP Engine provides a free one-click staging copy for this purpose. Siteground offers staging copies, but you have to set up the subdomains in your DNS records first. Whatever way you do it, if you want to avoid downtime after a botched update, test on staging first!
9. Have FTP and Database Access
Sometimes, even when you do everything “right”, things go wrong. That’s why I make sure that I have FTP access to the website’s server and phpMyAdmin access to the database (or SSH access) BEFORE I update anything. That way, I know I have a way to restore the site if anything should go horribly wrong.
If you’re not a developer, then you should have a developer “on call” in case something goes south.
After the Update – Do Not Skip This!
OK, so you’ve done everything on this list, and clicked “update”, so now you’re done, right? Not quite. You need to test the production site thoroughly for any issues. Remember to clear all caches!
The one thing folks always forget to test is the contact form! Do a test submission and make sure the person at the other end receives the email. Do not skip this step!
Oh, and don’t forget to make another backup of your site, so you have a nice clean updated copy!
A Final Note
The steps I’ve outlined above should be considered the minimum you should do before updating a WordPress website. If you’re running an e-commerce site that brings in thousands of dollars per day for example, I would go over and above the steps I’ve outlined here.
Please leave questions and comments below! – Brian
I personally use and recommend SiteGround shared web hosting for WordPress sites because their servers are fast and reliable, the cost is reasonable, and their support is good.
But, if you go on their website to pick web hosting for your WordPress site, you’ll find “Web Hosting” and “WordPress Hosting”. What’s the difference?
I was wondering that too so I messaged them. The answer is pretty simple and less than what you’d think.
SiteGround’s “WordPress Hosting” comes with WordPress pre-installed. That’s it.
Since you can easily install WordPress on their regular Web Hosting Plan, the two plans are pretty much the same.
I suspect they have the two plans for marketing reasons, to compete with other providers’ “WordPress Hosting” plans. But the truth is that you can install WordPress on either plan (or not). – Brian
Note: I receive compensation from service providers when you purchase through the affiliate links (at no extra cost to you). I test and/or research each service thoroughly before endorsing it. I own this site and the opinions expressed here are mine.
When your web developer makes changes to a website, you might not see those changes in your browser because of something called “browser caching”.
Basically, that means that the browser keeps old copies of parts of the website locally so it doesn’t have to re-load them each time you visit a new page on the site.
That’s great for making pages load fast, but it could mean that you’re viewing an old version of the site, especially if your developer has made changes recently.
Here’s how to do a “hard refresh” to clear your desktop computer’s browser cache
Windows Chrome and Edge
Hold the CTRL key, then click the “reload” button on your browser.
Hold the CTRL key down and press F5
Mac Chrome, Firefox, and Safari
Hold the SHIFT key, then click the “reload” button on your browser.
On Chrome, you can also hold down COMMAND, SHIFT and press the ‘R’ key.
On mobile devices such as iPhones, iPads, and Android devices, I find that I need to completely clear the browser history to see the latest version of a website.
- Open the Chrome app.
- Tap the three dots at the bottom to get to the main options
- Tap History
- Tap “Clear Browsing Data” in red at the bottom of the screen
- Confirm all of the types of data are checked off, then tap the red “Clear Browsing Data” at the bottom of the screen again.
- In the popup, tap “Clear Browsing Data” yet again!
- Tap “Done”.
- Tap “Done” again.
- Go to the Settings app and find Safari. I find it easiest to type “Safari” in the search field.
- Tap “Clear History and Website Data”.
- Tap “Clear History and Website Data” again.
- Open the Chrome app.
- Tap the three dots in the upper right corner of the browser.
- Tap History
- Tap “Clear browsing data…”
- Tap the “Clear data” button at the bottom.
- Tap X to close the window.
If you do this, you should be able to see the latest version of the website. The browser cache will clear itself naturally over time, so your visitors will eventually be able to see the latest changes as well without having to do a hard refresh. – Brian
Knowing the answers to these three questions will help your site’s messaging stay focused and clear.
Before thinking about your site’s colors, fonts, images, and content, you should answer these three basic questions about your website’s messaging and goals. The answers will guide you throughout your site design process and help insure your site is focused and will get the results you want.
1. Who is your target audience?
Sometimes the answer to this question is obvious, but in many cases it’s not. Often companies and organizations will offer a variety of goods or services which target different markets. It might be best to split your site into two very targeted sites rather than having one aimed at two separate markets, which would be confusing.
2. What is your tagline, in non-marketing speak?
Have you ever visited a corporate website, studied their home page, and still had no clue about what their product or service was? I see this all of the time. Often, there are two reasons for this.
- The website didn’t bother to mention it succinctly. Companies can be so wrapped up in the minute details of their products or services that they forget to mention, in basic language, what they actually do on a fundamental level. Or…
- Their tagline consists of marketing gibberish which is virtually meaningless, i.e., “Enterprise solutions that adapt to your business needs” or something like that. Don’t try to sound fancy. Explain your product or service in one sentence of plain English and make that your tagline! It’s what everyone will be seeing on your home page and in Google search results. (You should include search keywords in that tagline, but that is an entirely different conversation about SEO).
Your visitors should be able to tell what your company offers within ten seconds of visiting your site.
3. What is the number one thing you want your visitors to do on your site?
This is another seemingly obvious consideration that is often overlooked. Folks want their site to have the latest widgets and animation effects, but don’t consider the fundamental purpose of the site. Perhaps you want people to:
- fill out a contact form
- give you their email addresses for future communications
- purchase your product or service via your online store
- donate to your organization
- sign up to volunteer
- call your business’ land-line
- come to your physical store
Make sure your call-to-action is clear, and that your site clearly guides people to that goal.
The End Goal
The goal of these questions is to make your site FOCUSED and CLEAR. The message has to be really dumbed down. I’m not saying that your visitors are dumb, but they are busy and don’t have patience to decipher vague websites and messaging, and they’ll move to competitors who can communicate clearly.
So, stay laser-focused on keeping your messaging clear and your call-to-action prominent and simple on your website! – Brian
If you want to put your site on the Internet, you’ll have to choose a hosting provider. This is the company that will store your website on a computer which is connected to the Internet and can serve it up to visitors.
If research hosting companies on the Internet, you’ll find so many conflicting opinions about hosting companies it will make your head spin. I’ve used all of the large hosting companies on dozens and dozens of websites. Here are the companies that have the reliability, speed, and cost in my experience.
My Recommended Shared Hosting: SiteGround
For low-cost shared hosting suitable for most small business and small nonprofits, I recommend SiteGround. When I migrated all of my personal WordPress blogs from a big-name competitor to SiteGround (I used the “GoGeek” shared hosting plan), I noted the load times before and after. On average, the load time was cut in half from around 5 seconds to a little over 2 seconds with SiteGround! After that, my sites were a joy to use and maintain.
They also offer some perks like powerful caching (which makes your site even faster), and free Let’s Encrypt SSL certificates, which provides additional security for your site, and is indicated by a green lock in the browser bar. They also offer easy staging site generation and backups.
Another important factor is customer service. Last time I had to talk to them, I was able to get a real person on chat in about a minute. She was able to solve one of my problems right away. She created a ticket for my other one, which was solved in about ten minutes.
These are the reasons why I’m a huge fan of SiteGround! They are perfect for small to medium traffic sites (100,000 visitors per month of fewer).
SiteGround is based in Sofia Bulgaria (although they have data centers around the world).
My Recommend U.S.-Based Shared Hosting: InMotion
If you need or prefer U.S.-based shared hosting, I would recommend Inmotion Hosting, based in Los Angeles, CA. They have speedy servers and reasonable prices, and offer free SSL! I’ve been to their headquarters and I recommend them.
My Recommended Managed WordPress Hosting: WP Engine
If you need a more premium WordPress hosting solution, I would recommend WP Engine. Yes, they’re more expensive, but their servers are insanely fast and they offer really easy staging sites, backups, along with all of the amenities that SiteGround offers.
WP Engine is based in Austin, TX. I’ve visited their headquarters and spoken with their employees there. I recommend them for high-end WordPress hosting, if you have the means.
My Recommended WordPress Cloud Hosting: Gridpane with Vultr
If you need more powerful, scalable, hosting, you’ll probably look to a cloud hosting solution like Amazon Web Services (AWS), Digital Ocean. However, these companies provide unmanaged servers, meaning you’ll need sysadmin expertise (or an IT person) to set up and maintain your servers.
One solution is to use a hosting control panel service on top of your cloud hosting. This provides a slick interface to your server with simple controls to create servers, install WordPress, set up SSL, and so forth, so you don’t need to do any command-line work to set up your servers. Unless you’re a server expert, these are worth every penny!
Gridpane is my recommended WordPress control panel. Gridpane is specifically geared to WordPress hosting only, so they’ll take good care of your sites. I use them along with servers from Vultr, which provides super-fast cloud hosting.
Companies to Avoid
I don’t want to mention any hosting companies by name, but there are definitely many who cram so many users on a single server that the sites on them are as slow as molasses. If you message me privately I can steer you clear of these. Unfortunately, some of the largest, most popular hosting companies are now among the worst.
I hope this has helped! – Brian
Note: I receive compensation from service providers when you purchase through the affiliate links (at no extra cost to you). I test and/or research each service thoroughly before endorsing it. I own this site and the opinions expressed here are mine.
One question I sometimes get from clients is whether they should use WordPress or one of the online website builder services like Wix, Weebly, and Squarespace. Unlike some web developers (and designers), I believe those services can be the right choice in some situations.
Just to be clear though, when I mention “WordPress” in this article, I’m talking about hosting it on your own hosting, not at WordPress.com. WordPress.com is a all-in-one hosting service similar to Wix, Weebly, and Squarespace. More on this in my article, What is WordPress?
When I mention “website builder services”, I’m talking about services like Wix, Weebly, and Squarespace.
When a Website Builder Service (Wix, Weebly or Squarespace) Can Be the Right Choice
Some web designers and developers like to disparage services like Wix, Weebly, and Squarespace. But honestly, the quality of the templates provided by these services has risen dramatically, to the point where sites based on these services look very modern and are mobile-friendly. So, the previous argument that these sites didn’t look good just isn’t true anymore.
Here are some situations where using a website builder service might be a good choice:
- You have limited budget and web development experience
Unless you create your WordPress site yourself, these builders will get your site up and running for very low cost compared to hiring a web developer to set up a WordPress site.
- Your site is purely informational without unusual functionality.
If you are a small business that just needs an informational website, hiring a web developer to create a site might be overkill. There’s nothing wrong with using a website builder service in this case.
- You don’t want to worry about site maintenance
WordPress sites require maintenance in the way of updates to the core, theme, and plugins. Plus, you’re responsible for backing up your site and restoring it if it gets hacked. If you use a builder service, they will do all of these functions for you.
When Site Builder Services Are Not the Right Choice
Here are cases where site builder services probably won’t cut it:
- You want a full custom design
Site builder services are limited in how much you can modify the design of the site. If you want full control over your site’s appearance, don’t use a site builder service.
- You need special functionality not offered by the website builder services
If you need to interface with an API or have some feature on your site not offered by the builder services, you’ll have to look elsewhere. WordPress has tons of plugins to do almost anything under the sun. If you can’t find what you need in a plugin, a programmer can probably do it for you.
- You want to save on monthly fees
While site builder services don’t have an up-front development cost (except for your time), they do charge monthly fees. Hosting a WordPress site has fees as well, but they are slightly less for the equivalent hosting.
- You want to tinker
If you enjoy tinkering with the nuts and bolts of your site, a self-hosted solution like WordPress will give you much more freedom.
If any of these are true in your situation, WordPress might be a better alternative than one of the online website builders.
My other caveat about “do-it-yourself” builder services is that although they are marketed as being easy to use, they actually do have a significant learning curve. If your time is very valuable or scarce, you might be better off hiring a developer than spending your time learning how to use these builders.
I hope this has helped you understand when site builder services might work for you, and when they won’t. Please leave your questions below in the comments! – Brian
WordPress is free software that lets you create a website using pre-made templates and plugins, and it allows you to update content by logging into the site and typing in a text editor. This allows you to create professional-looking sites and update the content yourself, without writing code (as long as the features you need are not too specialized).
In technical terms, WordPress is a “content management system” (CMS).
WordPress started out as blogging software but is now used in many other kinds of websites. It is the most widely-used website content-management system in the world. It has been estimated (as of 2017) that WordPress powers 20% of the websites in existence.
WordPress.org vs. WordPress.com
Before I go any further, I want to sort out one of the most confusing things about WordPress: the difference between WordPress.com and WordPress.org.
WordPress.org is where you can get the free WordPress software, but you need to have a place to put it, namely, web hosting from a provider such as GoDaddy, Inmotion, WP Engine, SiteGround, or many others. You’ll need to get a domain name (URL) as well.
WordPress.com is a fully hosted service. You can sign up for a WordPress site there, and you don’t need to worry about hosting it or getting a domain name (you can get one in the “wordpress.com” domain). It’s kinda like Squarespace or Wix, where you just sign up and instantly you have a live website. The downside is that your choices of themes is limited, and there are many other limitations to what you can do on your site. If you’re doing a personal blog though, it’s probably fine.
In this site, when I say “WordPress”, I’m usually referring to the first case, namely, WordPress software hosted on your hosting provider, not on WordPress.com. When most people talk about WordPress, that’s usually what they are talking about, not the hosting service.
The Benefits of Using WordPress
OK, back to the fun stuff. Here are some of the reasons why so many people, companies, and organizations use WordPress for their sites:
- Tons of themes available. Themes determine the “look” of your site. There are themes specifically for restaurants, churches, photographers, design firms, corporations, and many other niches.
- Tons of plugins available. Plugins add functionality to your site, such as e-commerce, photo galleries, events management, forums, membership, and much more.
- Ability to edit without writing or understanding HTML code. Text editor is similar to Microsoft Word. No need to hire a programmer every time you want to change the content of your site.
- Huge installed base means lots of support in the form of online help (just Google the problem you’re having), meetup groups, freelance contractors, training programs and annual WordPress gatherings called Word Camps.
- It’s a mature, stable, platform that is constantly being updated with new features and security fixes.
- It’s flexible, enabling programmers to create custom themes and plugins suited to your specific needs.
The Downsides of WordPress
No content management system is perfect for all applications. Here are some of the downsides of WordPress:
- Because WordPress is so popular means it’s a target of hackers and bots.
- It requires maintenance. The WordPress core, themes, and plugins require regular updates for security fixes.
- You need to have a backup strategy, in the form of manual backups, an automatic backup plugin, or automatic server backups provided by your host. Otherwise, if your site is hacked or your server drive dies, your site could be lost forever.
- The fact that there is a database means that a WordPress site will load slightly slower than a pure HTML site (but there are some things you can do to mitigate this issue, like installing a caching plugin).
There are many other pros and cons which require a greater understanding of how websites work, but I believe these are the biggest issues.
What WordPress Is Good For
WordPress can be used to create almost any kind of site. Here are a few categories that it is especially well suited for:
- Corporate or nonprofit informational sites
- Portfolio sites
- e-Commerce sites
- Events management sites
- Membership sites
- Sites that store information in the form of custom post types and taxonomies (for example, if you have an dog rescue service and you want to display the name, breed, color, age, etc. for a large number of dogs).
WordPress can be used for many other types of sites!
What WordPress Isn’t good For
- Super high-security websites like banking sites
- Super high-performance websites, where there are extremely high numbers of visitors at the same time (i.e., like the NFL website during the Superbowl).
- “One page websites”, i.e., web apps where the whole site loads at once instead of having individual pages loaded from the server as they are visited.
I hope this short introduction has helped you understand what WordPress is, and its strengths and weaknesses. Please leave any questions in the comments! – Brian