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11 Tips for WordPress Developers

Whether you are a new or experienced developer, following the WordPress best practices and tips in this guide can help you sharpen your skillset and create more efficient and effective websites.

WordPress Tips for Developers

Here are some of the top WordPress best practices and tips to implement into your development routine to ensure your sites provide top-notch performance and an optimal user experience.

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Properly Plan Your Project

You can increase the chances of building a successful WordPress site with proper planning. This means creating a comprehensive project brief that clearly defines your scope, goals, budget, timeline, and target audience, plus your site’s functionality and structure.

Thoroughly research your target audience to identify their pain points, needs, and preferences. Use that data when designing your site to ensure it meets your audience’s expectations and needs. You can visualize your website’s layout and structure by creating a sitemap and wireframes to guide you while developing and ensure your site offers a solid user experience and seamless navigation.

When setting a timeline and milestone, be as realistic and specific as possible. You can achieve this by breaking down large and complex tasks that are smaller and simpler to tackle. Through proper planning, you can effectively meet deadlines, keep yourself or your team organized and on track, and produce a high-quality WordPress site.

Pick the Right Theme

Each time you begin a new WordPress project, you must pick the right theme that offers the desired look and feel and fits your site’s requirements and goals. With over 20,000 WordPress themes to choose from, consider several factors to filter your results.

Pick a theme that is visually appealing and complements your content. It must be responsive and mobile-friendly to serve users who prefer to browse on the go. If you plan on using WordPress plugins for added functionality, make sure the theme is compatible with them. Speaking of compatibility, pick a theme whose developer offers solid support and regular updates. This can ensure the theme stays compatible with the more recent WordPress versions and security updates. And if you want more control over the theme’s look, pick one that is customizable and that you can tweak to your liking. If customizable, you can add a unique twist to your WordPress site in terms of the navigation menu, typography, widgets, sidebars, and overall branding.

WordPress theme

Select Third-Party Plugins Carefully

There is no shortage of third-party plugins that can help you extend the functionality of your WordPress site. While it may be tempting to download and install as many as possible to enjoy all the bells and whistles they bring, you should be selective with third-party plugins for various reasons.

Some plugins can negatively impact the performance or security of your site, resulting in a negative user experience and potentially even bigger problems, while others can lead to compatibility issues. As such, you should read plugin reviews and other data to ensure they are highly rated and frequently updated so they help your site instead of hindering it.

If you plan on installing many plugins, a tool like the Smart Plugin Manager (SPM) can automatically ensure problems are avoided, and everything is up to snuff.

Some solid plugins to include in your WordPress lineup include Wordfence (firewall protection, virus scanning, etc.), Yoast (SEO), UpdraftPlus (automated site backup), Contact Form 7 (customize and manage contact forms), and WooCommerce (e-commerce), among others.

Yoast SEO Plugin
Example of Yoast SEO plugin.

Follow WordPress Best Practices When Coding

WordPress is known for its massive community of developers that have come together to provide a plethora of site-enhancing plugins, documentation, support, and additional resources. Over time and much trial and error, WordPress developers have accumulated lists of the best coding standards to follow to produce high-performing, successful, and secure sites. Follow these coding standards, and not only will you become better as a developer, but you will also have fewer headaches to deal with later on.

If JavaScript is your programming language of choice, follow these JavaScript Coding Standards. If PHP is your language of choice for themes, plugins, etc., follow these PHP Coding Standards.

Follow WordPress Best Practices When Designing

Following WordPress coding standards when designing your site is also essential for understanding code and improving collaboration should you work with a team of developers.

Here are WordPress’ CSS Coding Standards and Theme Development Standards to ensure your site looks and functions as it should.

Make Code Readable, Reliable, and Flexible

If you are writing code for WordPress, there are several things to keep in mind, beginning with readability. Chances are, you are not just writing code for yourself. As such, your code should be written so that any developer can read it. You can make your code readable by using grouping patterns and normal spacing and following WordPress’ coding standards that say, “When in doubt, space it out.”

Readability should be prioritized over clever or concise code, and you should include detailed notes (who wrote it, why it is written that way, what the function is doing, etc.) in your code to help others when it needs to be tweaked.

Beyond being readable, your code should also be reliable or structured consistently. This means calling classes, functions, and hooks according to the WordPress core, sticking to naming conventions for files and functions, etc. Doing so will ensure your code meets your team’s and WordPress’ standards for excellence.

Your WordPress code should also be flexible, i.e., editable, so you or others can easily access and expand it in the future. One way to ensure flexibility is by using relative URL paths so if your URL changes, you will not have to edit all the code that calls it.

Use Test Driven Development (TDD)

Most developers are not lucky enough to create the perfect plugin, theme, or new feature on their first try. While trial and error can be time-consuming, it is essential. But you can minimize trial and error using Test Driven Development (TDD) methods.

With TDD, you write a test before writing any code. Next, you write the minimal code needed to pass the test. As you add to code to increase functionality, you write more tests and repeat the process. This eliminates the need to write more complex tests and fix potentially bigger problems.

Codeception is a tool that assists with testing during WordPress development. It offers multiple types of testing (integration, user acceptance, functional, etc.) to ensure your code adheres to WordPress standards and provides an optimal end-user experience.

Example of Codeception

Optimize for Speed

You can enjoy an improved user experience and search engine placement by optimizing your WordPress site for speed, as it accelerates load times, reduces bounce rates, and boosts user engagement. There are many ways to optimize for speed, which begin with choosing a reliable hosting provider that offers fast servers.

Once you pick a fast hosting provider, you can continue optimizing for speed by minifying CSS and JavaScript files to improve page load times and enabling Gzip compression. Compressing and optimizing images with a plugin like Smush can help, too, as can using a caching plugin like W3 Total Cache to reduce server load. Do not forget to periodically clean up your WordPress database, as eliminating unnecessary post revisions, spam comments, data, etc., can also increase site speed.

W3 Total Cache
W3 Total Cache dashboard.

Read: WordPress Database Basics

Test and Debug Before Launch

Thoroughly testing and debugging your WordPress site before launch can ensure users enjoy a smooth, error-free experience. Test your site on multiple web browsers to ensure it looks and performs as intended across platforms. Use GTmetrix, Google PageSpeed Insights, and similar tools to test performance. Ask users to visit and navigate your site to offer feedback on any bugs and what could be improved. And use error handling/reporting mechanisms to detect potential issues before going live to the public.

Enhance Your Site’s Security

Making some simple moves to secure your site proactively can prevent major headaches. As trivial as these techniques may seem, they can keep malicious bots, users, and services away.

First, choose a secure username and password for your WordPress site’s admin account, database, and FTP. Avoid common usernames like “Admin” that are easy to guess, and choose a password that is at least 10 characters long and combines letters, numbers, and special characters.

Second, download a comprehensive security plugin to add a protective barrier around your site. Examples include All-In-One Security (AIOS) – Security and Firewall and Solid Security. You could also use a firewall (Sucuri, Cloudflare, etc.) for added control over website traffic and reduced risk of a DDoS attack. Third, limit login attempts to stop brute force attacks with plugins like Limit Login Attempts or Login Lockdown. Lastly, use a filtering method, such as a Captcha, to prevent spam on submittable forms.

Update Frequently

Developers behind the WordPress platform, themes, and plugins typically release updates to handle security and maintenance issues and unveil new features. If you fail to install these updates, your site could be open to vulnerabilities or experience stability and performance issues.

Log in to your site at least once a month to check for updates and install them to keep everything fresh and up-to-date. For added safety, you can create a staging or development instance to run the updates in prior to officially installing them. This can ensure the updates are issue-free and will not negatively impact your site.

Bottom Line

You can follow many WordPress tips and best practices to make your development experience seamless. Start with the ones listed above, then continue adding to your routine to hone your developer skills and produce the best WordPress sites possible.

Read: Best Content Management Systems

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