When developing with WordPress you are often dealing with other people’s work, other people’s ideas, and other people’s code. Although inevitably this can turn up difficulties, more often than not it will open you up to new ways of working and better practices. I’ve tried to include below a handful of small tips and tricks that I’ve learned over my time in the industry; this is not an exhaustive list, however should give you some grounding in the tools I found useful when starting out in the WordPress world.
Developing live on the web is a great place to start, however you will soon find its limitations. Before I discovered the wonders of developing locally I, one, had to have an internet connection to work, and two, was reliant on creating subdomains to test out changes to sites. Creating a local environment is quick and easy to do, and completely changes the way you work. Having an independent, offline copy of the sites gives you the freedom to test out changes before uploading them to the web. I recommend WAMP (Windows) and MAMP (Mac), these allow you to create a development environment on your local machine for free. Building on this, there are other tools in the pipeline that will make the world of local development even easier. Top-tip, keep your eyes peeled for ‘Local’ from Flywheel (currently in beta).
Plugins are your friend, but use them sparsely. During development there are a few I install straight away, use to get the project running, and uninstall on the live site. Keeping your site clean of unnecessary code should always be in the forefront of your mind. Here are a few plugins I always install.
- For working on sites that aren’t your own, or the ones with more complex themes, ‘What The File’ is a must have. This gives you a toolbar showing the file and template-part being used on the page you are viewing; a great time-saver for those more intricate customisations.
- There will be times when you need to work on live sites, sometimes even taking them offline for a short period of time. Adding a styled holding page is a useful option here. ‘Coming Soon and Maintenance Mode by SeedProd’ gives you a flexible and easy to use holding page that can be instantly switch on or off.
- Another plugin I use with almost all sites is ‘All in One Migration’. You can use this to create a copy of your site that you can install on your local environment. It’s quick, easy to use, and flexible. Just watch out on larger sites for the 512mb upload limit!
With these few plugins you can massively improve your development process and knowledge of WordPress.
Optimise your images, it’s essential. There’s nothing worse than going to a site, only to find you’re being brought back to the dark ages with images loading at snail’s pace, down the page, row by row. While there is no magic number for the maximum size of web images, there are ways to keep your images as small as possible.
For example, one trick is to look at the maximum size an image will be displayed on your site and work from there; if you have a 1200px container on your page, uploading a 3000px wide image is wasteful.
You will find that you can typically reduce jpegs of 2 -3mb down to <200kb, with an almost unnoticeable drop in quality. Similarly, using tools like Optimizilla and tinyPNG you can reduce pretty much all images to a tiny size. With each image that you optimise for web, the quicker your page will load, the better your SEO, and the better your UX.
DNS is complicated, and granted is on a slightly different skew than the rest of this article, however when understood adds a valuable tool to your arsenal. There is nothing more intimidating than finding out you need to make DNS changes, and not having a clue where to start. I’ll include the standard caveat here that messing around with DNS can have disastrous consequences. The best piece of advice I can offer is to use your hosting provider, they will have the knowledge to help. A five minute call, or an instant chat session, can save hours of trawling through videos and outdated articles. Personally, I’ve found the staff at Vidahost extremely knowledgeable and helpful.
Another trick I found useful when learning about DNS is having two domains independent of any live projects. You can play around with the DNS settings on these to get an idea of what does what. This is a great way of simulating the live DNS changes you might need to make on a production site, without the risk of breaking anything.
Some final thoughts
You can be sure that every WordPress developer has a unique way of working, and looking for the perfect method for yourself and your clients does take time. I’ve found that when I step back and get out of my bubble, when I start looking into how other people work and what’s coming up in the future, that it’s then that great little time-savers emerge.