Before you founded WP Site Care, a premium WordPress support company, you offered consulting to small businesses, and were even the VP of Marketing for a home care company. What intrigued you so much about WordPress, and diving into it full-time?
I learned about WordPress when I was exploring options for our company’s website almost 5 years ago. It was still really immature but I loved how it put control in our hands when we wanted to launch new stuff. We didn’t have to wait on web developers, or edit 1,000 lines of code, etc., for the majority of the stuff we wanted to do and I loved that. We could come up with an idea and move ahead, which is how marketing on the web should be.
The more I used it, the more addicted I got to making things work the way I wanted them to work. My background before marketing was in systems administration and architectures for health care records, so I was comfortable with coding, etc., and the more I hacked away, the more I started to understand how flexible it was.
I realized what an amazing tool it could be for other small businesses and after working with WordPress for about 2 years, I jumped into consulting. After a few years in the consulting business, I noticed a huge need for follow up support and maintenance and that’s what inspired me to start WP Site Care.
What are the advantages of the WordPress platform over similar platforms?
Amazingly flexible while maintaining consistency. Anyone who has worked in software training can tell you that the smallest changes can cause huge changes in business and productivity. We needed a platform that allowed every day folk to update and make changes to our website without having to learn a coding language. We could still make WordPress do whatever we needed it to do from a functionality and design standpoint, but we needed to keep the user experience pretty much the same. WordPress blends those two components better than any other platform.
Out of all the mistakes people make with their WordPress blogs, what would you say are the top five?
There are quite a few :) But I would say these are the top 5:
- Don’t keep backups – I know this is drilled into our skulls like crazy, but as someone who runs a support company, it’s still shocking to me how many people don’t keep backups of their site. Keeping backups not only protects your files and data, but it also makes resolving issues much quicker.
- Don’t run current software – Keeping your WordPress and plugin versions current is important for security, performance, and ongoing compatibility. A lot of people have a mindset of “what if this update breaks my blog or website?” If that does happen, it’s much better to know that updating one plugin broke things, instead of letting everything get outdated and then not knowing what broke things after applying a mass update, or worse, getting hacked.
- Not setting permalinks – a lot of new bloggers forget to set clean permalinks for their posts. For SEO reasons and just because it’s easier for people to remember URLs, go to Settings –> Permalinks and set your permalink structure to “Postname.” Note: If you’ve been blogging for a while with another link structure, look into the SEO implications of changing your links. It might be smart to leave it alone or hire someone who can help you redirect things properly.
- Disable comments and sharing buttons on pages – Chances are people aren’t going to be leaving comments or sharing stuff from static pages, so it’s best to leave those things to blog posts.
- Get rid of twitter widgets – This one is probably a personal pet peeve, but I don’t know what good twitter widgets that display your latest tweets are. They’re really just taking up valuable sidebar real estate for no good reason in my opinion. An image link to your twitter page is a much better alternative.
Security is always a hot topic. How can people ensure their sites are locked down, and safe from outside forces?
This may sound strange, but my first recommendation to keeping your website secure, is to keep backups. That way, even if a vulnerability in your site is found and you’re hacked (it will probably happen at some point), you’ll be able to quickly restore your latest backup.
There are also great security services like Sucuri that provide 24/7 malware scanning, among other things, for a very reasonable price.
As far as DIY things that bloggers can do today, ensure that your WordPress version and plugins stay up to date, never use “admin” as your username (here’s a video that will show you how to change it to something else), and use strong passwords. You can also install plugins like limit login attempts that will block people after a certain number of failed logins, and if you’re crazy about security like I am, you can setup two factor authentication for your WordPress blog with this plugin, and even force SSL (secure socket layer) on your WordPress admin.
We’ve seen speed become more of an important factor when it comes to search engine rankings. Plus, nobody likes dealing with a slow website. Are there some ways that people can speed up their WordPress blogs without having to get super technical?
Definitely. Here are the things I’d start with first:
- Be sure to always optimize your images. Here’s a ridiculously good post about optimizing your images for WordPress.
- Sign up for a content delivery service like Cloudflare. Their base tier is free and allows for some pretty significant performance improvements.
- Optimize your database. ALWAYS make a backup before doing anything with your database, but once you’ve agreed to take an oath and backup your database, a plugin like WP-Optimize will clear out your spam comments, post revisions, and optimize your database tables.
- Only install plugins with good ratings and reviews. The number of plugins you run on your site doesn’t matter, as long as you’re running high quality plugins. High quality plugins will generally aid in better performance.
- Install a caching plugin like W3 Total Cache. If you don’t see performance improvements right away, you may need to get help with configuration from a professional as it’s a pretty complex plugin, but it’s a really solid option for getting the most out of your server.
- As you tweak settings and configurations, you can use Pingdom Tools to see if the changes you’re making are helping with page load times or not.
If you’ve implemented all of these changes and are still having issues with page load times, it’s probably a good idea to look at better hosting alternatives. Your server itself could be the culprit. Hopefully I didn’t get overly technical :)
What are your absolute favorite plugins or tools?
My favorite plugin is one I pay for, but it’s worth every penny: Gravity Forms. Other plugins that I like are WordPress SEO by Yoast, Simple Image Widget, Jetpack, BackupBuddy (also a paid plugin), and Akismet to help with spam. For anyone looking to sell digital products online, I’ve really been digging Easy Digital Downloads.
Where can people learn more about you, and check out your stuff?
I mostly talk on twitter @ryandonsullivan. For anyone wanting WordPress Support Services, you can find us at wpsitecare.com, and read our company blog where we publish WordPress-related stuff pretty much every week.