Sep 10 2013

How To Stay Cool When Your Client Wants To Maintain Their Own WordPress Site

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So your client doesn’t want you to maintain their website for them. I encounter this a lot working with DIY-minded small business owners, and I used to dread it – I mean really dread it. Back in the day, allowing your client access to a website meant constantly fixing it after they broke it. Or worse, they would break it then try to fix it themselves after 3-hours of researching the error code on Google. Yikes.

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Nowadays, however, the improvements in the WordPress ecosystem have made the prospect of a client-maintained website much less frightening. After a few years of trial and error across dozens of client-maintained projects, I’ve developed an internal checklist designed to minimize the drama.

First of all, here’s some general best practices that we employ at Small Biz Triage.

  • Avoid HTML – Rock the Shortcode – Some clients will know HTML … from 10-years ago. Confession: I only found out that ‘CENTER’ tags were discouraged just last year. Embarrassing, I know. But most good theme frameworks and plugins offer great shortcode support, and its easier to teach than CSS. It becomes especially important when handing off a site to a client who loves updating their sidebars i.e. testimonials.
  • Color in Between the Lines – Don’t get me wrong, I love a well customized website, but the more we can stick to the out-of-the-box features offered by WordPress (and the theme developer), the less things are likely to break. I know you can hack the core files … but don’t. Your fix may survive the next 4 WordPress updates … but it will likely get annihilated when WordPress 4.0 arrives. I’ve gotten late night emails from former clients from 2009 whose website broke when they finally decided to dust off the how-to guide I made for them.
  • Use a Child Theme – If a client is maintaining the site, it means they should also be clicking that little update notification in the gray bar when it appears to keep things stable and secure. A child theme will protect all of those cool design and usability features you painstakingly developed for them.
  • Be Responsive – Oh, and finally, stop giving clients websites that aren’t responsive. I got TWO calls from small biz owners this week who blew $5K+ on a custom WordPress theme that is NOT responsive. And their target markets were a mobile savvy crowd.

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Here are the themes and plugins we use at Small Biz Triage on client-maintained website projects.

THEMES

themes

If the client is on a ridiculously tight budget, consider building your client a child theme with one of these well-supported, responsive focused, premium WordPress themes providers. I have used all three on multiple projects with great results … and most importantly happy clients.

WooThemes – Best of the batch due to an incredible family of plugins (WooCommerce) that integrate beautifully with the design. Their shortcode support is also amazing.

Elegant Themes – Some great responsive themes with great documentation. Lowest price of the three.

Kriesi.at – Progressive designs, with some phenomenal features – especially their portfolio widgets. Great for clients in a creative field.

PLUGINS

Note that some of the themes listed above include built-in support for the plugins listed (i.e. many WooThemes)

Optimize / Track

WP Super Cache / W3Total Cache

Both are quite good, but will require a simple .htaccess file hack to enable, so it’s best if you get that sorted out before handing over the keys to your client. We all know that a caching tool is a no-brainer especially when your clients just love to heap on plugins onto their site.

To be brutally honest, these two plugins have also created the most problems for me with clients. Specifically when they make a widget update, hit refresh on their page and see no change – of course forgetting to clear the cache.

In the worst cases, clients will keep trying to update that widget twelve different ways and start getting really pissed off. Other than tattooing “clear your cache after site updates” on their forehead, there’s not much that can be done to avoid it.

WP SEO by YoastAll-in-One SEO Pack

is another option, however the version by Yoast boasts a more intuitive interface. Better for your clients who are self-maintaining. Its built-in sitemap generator is an added bonus. BWP Sitemaps is a good solution if you opt to use All-in-One SEO Pack.

Google Analytics by Yoast

My favorite thing about this plugin is that it will track out-bound clicks which normally requires a messy in-line coding solution that your clients will rarely remember.

Secure / Backup

BulletProof Security

This free plugin only becomes important when you don’t have it. I’ve been victim to .htaccess injection/malware attacks four times over the years, and the common element was total lack of a proper security plugin. With most updates, this free tool will show an annoying “your .htaccess files is no longer secured” which can be cleared by refreshing the browser, or by following the on-screen direction on re-securing your .htaccess file post-update. It’s certainly cheaper than getting your site cleaned after a nasty injected malware attack. I will usually provide training or at least a screenshot PDF guide on usage. There are other plugins available, but this one has been best received by my clients.

Akismet

This is free (even though you have to remember to slide the donation dial to zero when signing for your free account), and is a robust solution for comment spam.

Online Backup

This is hands down my favorite plugin … simply because I can become my clients’ hero after “magically” recovering a version of their site that is only a week (or even a day) old. Usually, I’ll instruct my client to run a local back-up and download it into Dropbox as a failsafe (though they usually don’t) ;-)

onlinebackup

Interact / Convert

Contact Form 7

A slick little tool that makes form building a cinch. Its shortcode support is unmatched, allowing you to drop custom forms into pages, posts and widgets. I’ve even dropped it into a custom theme’s content blocks with little issues.

Nice Contact Chimp

Though this tool is new to the marketplace, I would consider this a must-have tool for your clients who are active MailChimp users. It syncs your Contact Form 7 submissions with your MailChimp email database. So if someone signs up for your service on the, say, Seattle, WA landing page, their information will be logged into the WordPress database AND the appropriate group in MailChimp (i.e. Location > Seattle).

LTW Testimonials

You may not need this one if your theme framework has a Testimonials custom post type such as those found in most of the recent responsive WooThemes. But if you do, it is dreadfully simple, supports categories, and yes, has shortcode support.

Disqus

A must-have for clients with active blogging habits. It will give their site a healthy dose of steroids replacing WordPress’ ugly comment system with features such as nested comments, comment up/down voting, etc… The social media benefits are huge as well.

Maintain

Tiny MCE Advanced

Customizing your client’s website WYSIWYG editor is probably the best way to protect them from themselves. This free plugin replaces the simple editor provided by WordPress. I like to customize the buttons visible in the editor to keep it clutter free. I’ll also disable buttons that are likely to cause problems with a client (CSS button as an example).

Broken Link Checker

A lean little plugin that does a stellar job notifying your website owner(s) of broken links. Recently I discovered my client had been copying/pasting full images into their posts due to the high volume of broken image link notifications from this tool.

For Bloggers

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If your client is running an active blog, these little free gems can help improve their user experience.

WP JQuery Lightbox – This replaces the link to an image attachment page with a cross-browser compatible lightbox.

WordPress Popular Posts – A customizable widget to highlight popular posts.

LinkWithin – A “you might also like” recommendation engine. Disqus has this feature built-in, but LinkWithin’s design is much more lean / minimal.

FD Feedburner – a fairly straightforward tool for redirecting the RSS Feed to Google’s Feedburner tool.

Social Metrics – I first heard about this slick little social media stats plugin from the guys over at Boagworld. I would only install this if social media shares are a key metric in your client’s marketing strategy (which is the case for most bloggers).

Well that’s it. Let me know what I got right (and what I got wrong) in the comments below. Any advice that will improve my client website owners experience is worth taking.

About The Author

natewright Nate Wright is a small biz owner, full-time single dad, and kingdom builder. When he’s not busy running Small Biz Triage, he can be found driving without GPS (or gas money) to some “exotic” location with his 12-year old daughter Anna.

Check out his newsletter: Uncensored Advice for the Small Biz Owner

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Comments and Discussions
  • Jonny Kates, 10 September 2013

    Great article, thanks Nate.

    • Nate Wright, 10 September 2013

      Thanks Jonny. It was more challenging to write than expected.

  • James George, 10 September 2013

    Nate, You have put together a good synopsis on best practices and great plugins/themes to use. I highly recommend Yoast for SEO. Some people would disagree with us, but the results just don’t lie. I shot my portfolio site from obscurity to the first page of Google for local web design in just 3 months, and I am sure that Yoast has had a lot to do with it. Great article Nate!

    • Nate Wright, 10 September 2013

      Cheers for the kind words James. My favorite thing about Yoast is the low overhead – been having a hell of a time keeping load time down on some of my sites and their stuff is super lean.

      We’re shooting for a Tennessee trip next spring (running a Small Biz Owners Bootcamp) and would to connect with you live.

    • Simone, 12 September 2013

      I agree with you James, I also use Yoast for my portfolio/blog website, and had a lot of good positioning on Google! I highly recommend that plugin!

  • Peter Hadorn, 10 September 2013

    Hi, the plugins and themes are a useful general collection, but not really on the interesting topic. Also, most of our clients don’t dig shortcodes. What we find most suitable for really customizing and “dummy-proofing” client websites is creating custom content entry pages with the “advanced custom fields” plugin, often in combination with custom post types. Also, several admin menu customization plugins are invaluable for client sites.

    • Nate Wright, 11 September 2013

      That’s a good point … our last three WP projects all leveraged custom post types, however, some of my clients just aren’t willing to pay extra for them (though they are certainly way easier from a self-maintenance perspective).

  • Zhu, 11 September 2013

    Great list of plugin. Quite a few that may be useful for me!

    • Nate Wright, 11 September 2013

      Thanks Zhu … checked out your website. Fascinating stuff … I lived in the UK with my two daughters for three years, but ended up wimping out and moving back to the states.

      Oh, and I *really* dug the rollover effects on your site menu.

  • abbey, 11 September 2013

    what you write here about wordpress is really informative…. What you write about the plugins are great too.. Thanks for sharing

    • Nate Wright, 12 September 2013

      Cheers for the compliment abbey. Really appreciate it.

  • Robert Davis, 11 September 2013

    I think that HTML-illiterate clients who want to maintain their websites themselves should try code-free website builders :)

    • Nate Wright, 12 September 2013

      heh, heh. I feel that way sometimes … except when a 5-minute task to setup a client with Google Authorship, turns into a 2-hour drama when you realize their site builder (in this case, Yola) doesn’t allow it at all.

      Truthfully, I have used Weebly for a few clients though who don’t require lots of updates (brochure sites, industrial and manufacturing companies, etc…).

  • Naomi, 14 September 2013

    Hello, great article. When I deliver a WordPress website price quote I also have a text I give to the prospective client, I call it ‘disclosure’, where I write things that are obvious for us (developers) but might not be as much to the client.
    These are the topics: (1)Wordpress as open source has versions and will constantly change (2)Plugins might evolve or not with WordPress updates (3)Responsabilities of having a WordPress site, like updates, backups, etc.
    Then I give them the choice to do all the website maintenance themselves, or hire my monthly services. Being sincere, I don´t even have a huge margin with my monthly services, but at least I keep some sites from being destroyed by their owners (ha ha) and they can be part of my portfolio without worries from me.

    • Nate Wright, 16 September 2013

      Naomi,

      That’s a fantastic recommendation Naomi (especially the first topic – explicitly communicating the constant changing of WordPress would certainly help cement their decision one way or the other).

      RE: portfolio’s … when I was customizing Joomla templates years ago, I would keep working copies of the final version of the site for my portfolio, however, WordPress’ undying love for absolute URL’s made it too time-consuming to maintain.

      Cheers,

      - Nate -

  • Azevedo, 14 September 2013

    This was really useful! Thanks!

    • Nate Wright, 16 September 2013

      Thanks! Dig your site by the way – and totally agree about World War Z.

      My business partner and I are both on-again / off-again filmmakers, and roughly 1/4 of our client base is in the movie business.

      Other than his use of the horrific ‘Blogger’ platform, this movie critic is my current favorite: http://www.andsoitbeginsfilms.com/

      - Nate -

  • Swami, 21 September 2013

    wow! very concise, up to date and great article!
    I took a look at http://www.smallbiztriage.com, it looks great,
    did you use a theme to build that site?
    thanks!

    • Nate Wright, 23 September 2013

      Swami,

      Thanks! We used WooThemes “The One Pager” responsive theme + the WooDojo Custom HTML / CSS feature to handle the style overrides. AustinMartin.us did that rad retro/vintage redesign of our logo with the simple red-black-white color scheme.

      The big challenge lately has been configuring W3 Total Cache to work with HostGator and our unique blend of plugins … always a student I guess.

      - Nate -

  • James Mowery, 27 September 2013

    This is a very useful roundup, and I have some thoughts to add to the discussion.

    Over at ManageWP, which is a service we created that enables clients to automate the management of WordPress sites, we’re finding that many of our customers want to manage sites on their clients behalf, and charge for this service. However, as mentioned in this article, clients sometimes desire more control — perhaps because they feel it will be cheaper to do it on their own and whatnot.

    I think it’s fair for the client to request this, especially if they have some experience with the likes of WordPress or other self-installed CMS.

    However, it’s a problem when you give people the opportunity to royally screw things up, which is certainly a possibility. Our service actually helps out with this problem in a very significant way, so people who manage sites on a client’s behalf can be as hands on or hands off as they desire.

    If you have to let the client maintain near total control, the aforementioned plugins should certainly do a very fine job of giving the client the freedom, while keeping them relatively safe, which is always a good thing!

    That being said, it’s a very fine balancing act.

    • Nate Wright, 03 October 2013

      Took a look at ManageWP. Fantastic service. Keep it up!

      Agree wholeheartedly about the ‘very fine balancing act’ … however, much of my job entails coaching clients. And diving into the murky waters of WordPress oftentimes gives the confidence to try other things. I just had a call earlier today with one of my older clients (64-years old) and I got the fated “So I was working on my website today, and had few questions”.

      After my initial panic subsided, I realized that nothing was broken, and his questions were valid (updating the prices of some digital downloads, and an overdue WP Updates to 3.6). The rest he had figured out just fine.

      Shocked and happy,

      - Nate Wright -

  • Kelvin Castelino, 01 October 2013

    Good one! I was more of looking for a document that could be shared of the do’s and dont’s on wordpress! And also pictorial document showing how to create new post, to select category, to edit a post, to update a plugin and so on!

    • Nate Wright, 03 October 2013

      There are quite a few great WP Tutorials (especially on YouTube), which is why I avoided writing that type of post. If you need more help, get signed up for our newsletter ( http://smallbiztriage.com/newsletter ) – we regularly give out free one-on-one training via Google+ Hangouts.

      Take care,

      - Nate -

  • Tom, 03 October 2013

    Great post Nate! What are your thoughts about giving the client access to premium plugins like Gravity Forms?

    • Nate Wright, 04 October 2013

      Tom,

      Never used GravityForms with a client before. Though not as versatile, ContactForm7 is my go-to forms plugin due to its simple shortcode implementation. As far as other premium plugins … every once in awhile. One of my coaching clients uses questionnaires a lot, so we purchased her a premium survey builder that was not very flexible, but seriously easy to use.

      How about you?

      - Nat e -

  • Luke Wright, 23 December 2013

    Great post and very well written, all the tips are very important and useful and thanks again for sharing it with your readers.

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