Building your corporate or small business site on WordPress — Hiring the right person for the job
I’ve been building WordPress themes for the better part of 12 years now. From the days when it was just a simple blogging platform to it’s present incarnation as a CMS capable of running large corporate and e-commerce solutions. I’ve seen WordPress evolve, and have molded it to fit the needs of a diverse expanse of clientele, giving them control over their content in a direct and meaningful way. WordPress can be whatever you want it to be.
Now while that all sounds very romantic, I’ve also seen the ruin that has befallen the unprepared, or ill-informed client resulting in design and build confusion, delays or worse, a crashed site from possible exploitation of vulnerabilities that can arise from improper WordPress setup and maintenance.
This is my guide to getting your corporate or small business site built on WordPress with someone who knows how to do it right.
Q: Can I build my corporate or small business site on WordPress?
A: Absolutely!… maybe.
Suppose you are a medium to large-scale MedTech company. You have an IT department that you use to handle updates to your old static HTML or ColdFusion or whatever archaic code has been are used to build your website.
The marketing team needs to update the homepage banner with a simple announcement or change an image. So they put in a request to IT, who is already 4 weeks behind on the latest product build. In a mere 7 weeks you finally have your image updated and a shiny new banner! (All of which are now fully out of date. Yay!)
Maybe it’s time to hire a design department? But with the company pouring all their funds into research and product build that’s not really a priority. How about a do-it-yourself solution? (You see where this is going…?)
This is usually the point at which someone from the marketing team gets referred to me and we start talking about the magic of WordPress.
In the beginning my approach wasn’t perfect. I fell into all kinds of pitfalls in predicting how the company would handle and interpret the overarching process that was involved. But over the years my predictions have gotten much much better and I am able to plan for many things ahead of time and to adapt very quickly to the things that I didn’t see coming.
As the client these are the phases I think it most critical to consider before starting your project:
What is your starting point? Is there an existing domain name, hosting and a server setup? Is it setup correctly and optimally for the type of project you are doing?
Do you want to build your site on a staging (temporary domain) first so you can view and test it while it’s being built and then push it to the live permanent domain later?
Do you need a Web Designer, WordPress Designer or WordPress Developer?
There are 4 main parts that go into creating a WordPress site, you may need some or all of them.
- The design (new or updated site design)
- The front-end code (HTML/CSS)
- The back-end code (PHP and database hooks)
- Server and hosting setup
If you have an existing static site you may not need nos. 1 or 2.
Who do I need to for the job?
Web Designer: This person will create static design files (in Photshop or Sketch) and then in most cases do the front-end code (HTML and CSS) for you. It’s important to find out if they will be creating responsive designs for you as well so that everything looks cohesive on mobile and other non-desktop devices. The Web Designer will not convert the files into WordPress for you or do the back-end coding needed. For that you will need to hire a separate Web Developer or WordPress Developer.
WordPress Developer: This person will take the flat design files you receive from the Web Designer and convert them to front-end (HTML/CSS) and back-end (PHP) code then build the custom WordPress admin options mapped to your design. Most WordPress Developers are more back-end focused and do not do actual design work. This is a good choice if you already have existing static site files but need someone to convert it to WordPress or you want want custom WordPress admin options.
WordPress Designer: While some WordPress designers are also WordPress developers, there are some that simply take the flat designs and put them directly into an existing WordPress theme (meaning they don’t build the actual admin options like the WordPress Developer above). Many WordPress Designers can also take an pre-built WordPress theme and create your site on it without having to produce any static design files prior to this step. With so many amazing themes available, this one in my experience, makes the most sense for many people. Unless you are hiring a very experienced WordPress Designer/Developer to do something very specific and custom you would probably do well to hire one of these guys/gals.
WordPress Designer/Developer (The Unicorn): This is the most experienced of the lot and while they may seem expensive they are all of the above rolled into one. It’s one stop-shop in which you don’t have to hire anyone else to do design, front-end or back-end work. It also means that they probably have experience with server setup and have a very efficient flow design and developer flow and can get the job done quicker than if you had to run around, coordinating with and explaining things to multiple people.
What else should I consider?
Server and Hosting:
Your server and hosting need to be setup to optimize your WordPress site. For instance, when you are uploading high resolution images, you need to increase your memory limit in WordPress to something higher than the default. You may also need to increase your post max size etc.
Talking about your server and hosting needs with your developer/designer ahead of time is important because if the designer is creating incredible full screen high resolution images and has no idea how they will be implemented into WordPress, you could be stuck in a troubleshooting loop with your hosting company when your designer can’t figure out why the images won’t upload or having to hire someone else that does. It’s not always common that a WordPress designer will actually have any server experience, but if you are dealing with a large corporate site and have web users that are integral to your business, you should look for one that does or has resources that they can lean on to help them if they don’t.
If you have an existing site or domain you’ll also want to consider whether you want to build the WordPress site on the live domain, or building it on a temporary staging domain before you push it live. That way you can view and test before launch and you can also do update on the stating site rather than the production site. This requires some very specific configuration and workflow but also creates a nice redundancy if anything should go awry in the future.
WordPress is wonderful, but it’s also really vulnerable. I can’t tell you the number of times that a client has made it all the way to this step only to have their site hacked and loose everything because the designer/developer didn’t secure their server, backup or maintain their site properly.
Security and server hardening involves specific setting that make it difficult and unappealing for hackers to find their way into your site. Such as locking the site down after multiply failed login attempts etc.
If you have multiple people from your company or department that will be accessing the site and adding content, you’ll want to create separate accounts and roles/permission levels for them within WordPress.
WordPress Core — WordPress is an open-source platform that releases updates to it’s core technology ever so often. With this comes a slew of new bug fixes, patches, features etc. Naturally, while it’s important to perform these updates regularly it’s equally important to know how and in what order to perform them so that there is the minimal downtime of your site.
Theme- If your site is built on a theme, the developer of the theme will also release updates periodically, especially in conjunction with new WordPress core releases to ensure compatibility. You’ll want to have these updates installed whenever new versions are released.
Plugins- Plugins are a huge access point for those attempting malicious attacks against your site. Keeping them updated and deleting old, deprecated plugins is part of the on-going maintenance process.
Backup- Make sure that you have some sort of recurrent backup plugin installed. One that backs up both the site content as well as the database, themes, plugins and media. Store this on the cloud or somewhere off-site so you have a clean duplicated to roll back to in the event of catastrophe.
- Find out what your starting point is and talk to your designer/developer about what their starting point is. Come up with a plan to get all the parts done.
- WordPress is not a ‘set it and forget it’ type of deal. It requires on-going maintenance to be functional and safe.
It can seem like a long, confusing process but an experienced WordPress person can make it really really easy. Have questions or thoughts about any of this? Let’s start a dialogue in the comments.
Feel prepared to start your new WordPress project? Send me an email and we can talk in person.