A few weeks ago, one of my customers asked me to carry out a maintenance operation on his site.
When I logged in, I had this kind of reaction:
Apart from the theme, there was nothing: no plugin installed, no update done since WordPress 3.0., no SEO work, etc.
Not very professional, don't you think? This led me to ask myself the following question: what is a professional WordPress website?
This is what you will discover in this post. I'll provide plenty of advice, resources and tips about design, ergonomics, SEO, content, security and performance that can be applied to your project immediately.
You will see that, to look like a pro to your visitors, there are a lot of things to consider. By the way, it starts even before WordPress is installed.
I suggest that you see this first point right away, just after the table of content.
- I – The essential prerequisites
- II – A professional website on WordPress requires a neat design
- III – A professional WordPress site needs content
- IV – Don't forget SEO and performance
- V – Do not neglect security
- VI – Conclusion
I – The essential prerequisites
1. A professional website on WordPress starts before its installation
If I had to make a comparison, I would say that a website is a bit like a house. It needs a solid foundation to last.
To have the most professional image possible to your future visitors, you musn't leave anything to chance. It starts even before the creation phase.
At that point, you will have to:
- Find a domain name.
- Choose a good hosting provider. It's essential for your website's performance and security.
- Choose a good theme.
- Install the right plugins.
2. Clean your dashboard
That's it, you've just installed WordPress on your site or your customer's site. Now, we're going to do some cleaning because you'll see that, by default, a lot of parameters don't look very professional.
a) Bye bye bye Dolly
First of all, delete the Hello Dolly plugin. Created by Matt Mullenweg, one of the founders of WordPress, this plugin has no use.
As explained in its description, if you enable it, “when activated you will randomly see a lyric from Hello, Dolly in the upper right of your admin screen on every page”.
b) Delete the original widgets
Get rid of the original widgets (in Appearance > Widgets, on your dashboard).
I have nothing against them. But you'll that there are many more effective ones. And even so, some do not look very professional (the calendar display, for example).
c) The General Menu
In this menu (Settings > General), remember to fill in the title of your site (e.g. WPMarmite) and your slogan (e.g. Get the best out of WordPress).
For security reasons, do not check the box Anyone can register. Finally, choose Subscriber for the default role of any new user.
d) The Writing menu
In order to optimize your SEO and make it easier to understand your site, you must delete the category Uncategorized in Settings > Writing. Why? Well, because by default, all the articles you publish will be assigned this category.
The problem is that it does not give your visitors any precise information about the content.
Note that, in order to delete it, you will first need to create a new one in Posts > Categories.
Afterwards, don't forget to select it in the Default category of items (in the Writing options menu).
e) The Playback menu
In this section (Settings > Reading), the important thing is to not check the Discourage search engines from indexing this site box.
Otherwise, your site will not be indexed by Google and its friends. You want them to send you traffic, don't you?
f) The Discussion menu
We are now in the Settings > Discussion menu.
Here, enable all the default settings for the items (even if the first two settings are not as important as they seem today).
On the other hand, never check the Enable threaded (nested) comments X levels deep and Break comments into pages with
X top level comments per page and the page displayed by default: in terms of SEO, in particular, this is not top notch.
Finally, remember to check the Comment must be manually approved, especially to fight spam.
g) Change the author's name
A word of advice: do not choose your pet or child's name as the name to display publicly. This is the one that will appear as an author when you write your articles.
Admit that a top-level resource with Fido as the author's name does not sound very professional.
To change your name, go to Users > Your Profile, and enter a nickname. Then, you can choose this nickname as the name to display publicly.
h) Add your logo and a favicon
To do this, you have to use the Customizer (Appearance > Customize). If your theme lets you do so, there will be a setting available.
Regarding the favicon, please note that the WordPress Customizer allows you to integrate it, but it is possible that it may not display correctly on all devices. If so, I recommend this plugin.
i) Translate your theme, if necessary
Actually, this is not going to be a problem, because the large majority of themes and plugins are in English. But if you need to translate them to another language, you can use the excellent Loco Translate plugin.
j) Disable page comments
Leaving a comment on a static page is of no interest, you will agree. Admit that if someone commented on your Legal Notice page and said to you: “I love the content of this page”, it would be weird.
It is possible to remove the commenting option on static pages very easily.
Go to Pages > All Pages, then select the page(s) of your choice.
Select Edit from the small drop-down menu at the top of your pages, then click Apply. In the new menu that has just opened, all you have to do is select Do not allow and click on the Update button (process detailed in the capture below).
k) Use a gravatar
You must have noticed that, when you comment on a blog, an image accompanies your text. To look professional, it is important that you use a serious image (photo of your face, logo etc.).
So spare me the strange photos of yourself in a bar, or even better: of your cat (even if you think it's adorable, it doesn't belong there).
To get your avatar, go to Gravatar. It will allow you to link a photo to your email address.
Now, every time you post a comment with this address, your picture will appear.
l) Remove the link to the media file from your image
When inserting an image, WordPress will, by default, link the image to the media file, i.e. to a page containing only the image (like this http://mywebsite.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/name_of_my_image.jpg).
Plus, by default, this link opens in the same window. In fact, when your visitors click on the image, they will find themselves on a page with only that image, and you risk sending them away from your professional website.
Most of the time, there is no point in linking the image to its media file. The only time this can be interesting is when the image of your article must be available in a larger size (to be able to read it, for example).
So when you insert an image, select None for the Link to option.
Now, your visitors will no longer be able to click on your images and they will stay on the page reading your article.
Also, do not select Attachment Page. This will display your image on a page of your site and will not bring anything more to your visitors or search engines.
Congratulations! Your site is installed and you have applied a bunch of essential settings to your dashboard, to make it more professional. But you're only at the beginning of the path. Next step? The design.
II – A professional website requires a careful design
1. Why is design important to make your WordPress site professional?
Actually, the user experience (UX) is predominant. Your website must be clear, refined, easy to use, consistent and reflect the image and values of your brand/company.
To convince you, here are some statistics that speak for themselves:
- 68% of users leave a site due to a bad user experience.
- 79% of people who don't like what they find on one site will go to another.
- 95% of users believe that a good user experience is the most important factor when browsing a site.
And do you know what you will have to insist on, to make your visitors addicted to your site? Responsive design.
2. Focus on Responsive design
According to Wikipedia, a site that is responsive “makes web pages render well on a variety of devices and window or screen sizes”. For example:
- Desktop computers.
- Digital tablets.
The good thing about WordPress is that the vast majority of themes are “responsive”. Given the importance of this criterion, the developers are working hard on it, as you can imagine.
So, before choosing a theme, make sure it is responsive. A look at its characteristics will give you the answer.
Alternatively, you can also test it by reducing your browser window. If it doesn't display well, there's something wrong..
Having a responsive site is essential for the user experience, but also for your SEO. Since March 2018, Google has implemented what is called mobile-first indexing.
This means that Google mainly uses the mobile version of your site to index and position your pages in the results of its search engine.
You got it: not owning a responsive site can make you look like an amateur. If you are a freelancer specialized in website creation, you cannot compromise on this point.
According to this infographics, 57% of users say they will not recommend a business if its website is not optimized for mobile browsing.
So if you still live in the Stone Age, be a responsive webmaster right now!
3. The user experience is the key
You now have a nice responsive site. But in order to not ruin everything and damage your image, you can't be satisfied with just that.
What if your visitors get lost on your site, because the navigation is bad? What will happen? Surely, they'll go and see if the grass is greener elsewhere.
Optimal navigation contributes to the professionalism of a website. In the broadest sense, we talk about ergonomics.
In short, you must make it easier to navigate through the content of your site, in order to bring the user closer to his goal.
It starts with a well-designed menu.
Then, it will be necessary to offer your visitors consistency in the colors of your site.
If possible, avoid what Alex calls “Christmas tree” sites.
To continue with this hallucination, here is the address of the site (which is not a WordPress one). Don't thank me, it's a gift.
You get what I mean: to be professional, you have to be consistent. If you need to create a site talking about ecology, don't use black as the main color.
And don't put all the colours everywhere, pretexting that you like red, green, purple and orange.
Colours have a meaning, as this resource explains.
To avoid making any mistakes, I recommend 3 tools:
Since we're on the visual side of things, let's stay there and conclude this part. Also pay attention to the font you use and its size.
Do you love Times New Roman and Arial? Sure it's your Microsoft Word side talking. Please don't go that way on your website.
Thanks to Google Fonts, you will be able to find lots of free fonts to match the personality of your site.
Be aware that in general, a standard size of at least 14px is recommended, and that sans serif fonts are best suited for reading on smartphones and digital tablets.
To avoid killing the pro look of your site, do not use more than 2-3 fonts (one for titles, one for texts, for example). To combine them well, you can use Font Pair.
Note: to install a font on WordPress, I recommend this plugin (but check if your theme does not already allows it).
Finally, also remember to leave blank spaces in your texts. It allows your website to “breathe” and your users to easily find their way around, especially on mobile phones.
III – A professional WordPress site needs content
You are beginning to understand the point: the professionalism of your site remains poised on a knife-edge. Even if you have the best WordPress website in the world, don't forget that even a small mistake can ruin all the work you have done before.
Example: your design is superb, the ergonomics of your site is well designed: perfect. But if your content is not OK, you have done all this for nothing.
Remember: your visitors have no mercy. If the information on your site does not suit them, they'll go elsewhere. Their only goal is to satisfy their interests.
Of course, if you are a website creator, you will have to take into account your customers' requests and meet their needs.
But anyway, if you want to reflect a positive image, you won't be able to skip several essential pages:
- Homepage: Your visitor needs to quickly understand who you are, what you are offering, where you are, how to contact you, and how you can help him solve his problem. It's a bit like fishing here: you have to bait your visitor so that he wants to take the bait.
Note: Whether on your homepage or other pages, consider including call-to-actions, depending on what you want your visitors to do (e.g. contact you, download a form, subscribe to your email list etc.).
- About: it is too often neglected and botched. Wrongly. Because this page is often very popular, sometimes more so than the home page. Here, take the opportunity to reveal yourself a little more, tell us about your background, your mission or your vision of the job. But if you had to remember one thing: talk little about yourself and focus on your target audience, on the benefits your services can bring them.
- Services: present here the services you offer to your visitors. What are your specialities? How do you differentiate yourself from the competition? What is your work process? If so, what is your pricing?
- Contact: Essential. You have seduced your lead, who has been convinced with the professionalism of your WordPress site. Stay with him until the end by offering him or her to contact you! On this page, you can include your phone number, address, contact form, access map to your company if necessary. Remember that it is essential to be able to easily access it from any page of your site.
- Privacy notice: this page is not glamorous but you have to create one.
If a Blog page is not mandatory, know that from a SEO point of view, it is still good to offer fresh content to search engines. You can also start positioning yourself on different keywords.
Well, speaking of SEO (Search Engine Optimization), I suggest you move on to the next part: SEO and performance.
Come on, let's keep going.
IV – Don't forget SEO and performance
Having a well ranked website and being able to optimize the SEO of your customers' sites is a (big) plus, it's obvious.
Of course, SEO is a technical discipline that requires basics to start getting results.
1. Some essential SEO-friendly settings
To start, make sure that the box Discourage search engines from indexing this site is unchecked.
Remember, I told you about it at the beginning of the article.
It sounds silly, but it happens, especially when you have chosen to tick the box in pre-production. It is then easy to forget to uncheck it.
Second adjustment to be made: changing the permalinks. But be careful: if your site is already online, think carefully before doing so, because you could seal your entire SEO.
Ideally, I advise you to adjust your permalinks as soon as you have finished installing the WordPress core files.
Otherwise, remember: it's at your own risk.
If you have properly assessed the risks and want to take action, go to Settings > Permalinks. I advise you to tick the Post name. Remember to save your changes carefully to finish.
Third advice for a more professional website: set up a personalized 404 page. For the record, a 404 page is a page that does not exist, or no longer exists. Your visitors won't like that, neither will search engines.
Finally, even if we are a little outside the scope of WordPress, I can only advise you to look at local SEO.
Creating a Google My Business page will allow you to boost your visibility near you. Besides, it's free.
2. Optimize your content
To gain rankings on Google, you will have to produce content. Then it will have to be optimized.
Because even with the best content in the world, if you don't make the necessary small technical adjustments, your readers may miss out.
Let's start with the title and meta-description tags.
Often, we forget to fill them in. Or we don't voluntarily fill them because we are lazy. What a mistake! These tags encourage the reader to click on your content. They musn't be neglected (the title tag is even important in SEO). So fill them in for all your content (posts, pages etc.).
By the way, it is very simple to do so with a SEO plugin like Yoast SEO.
Then, don't forget to work on your on-page SEO.
To do this, you must in particular:
- Write your title and meta-description tags.
- Structure your titles and subtitles (h1, h2, h3 etc.). As a reminder, the h1 tag should only be used once (in the title of your article or page).
- Fill in the alternative texts of your images.
- Do not stuff keywords. This medieval technique no longer works in 2019.
- Use your keyword in the first 100 words, and use as much synonyms within your content as you can.
- Create internal and external links (the tagline is: give to receive).
- Use sharing buttons on social networks.
3. Boost your performance
When a website takes ages to load, I don't get embarrassed: I close my browser window after a few seconds.
And obviously, I'm not the only one who's bothered.
Take these two stats (source), for example:
- 47% of consumers expect a page to load in less than 2 seconds.
- A slow charging time of one second would cause a 7% reduction in conversions.
Conclusion: if your WordPress site/blog takes too long to load, your visitors will go. You risk losing potential customers, contracts, and money. Not to mention one thing you don't always think about at the time: reputation.
Among the people who encounter loading problems during a transaction, 77% will talk about it around them.
To find out if your site loads correctly, you can use one of the following 3 tools:
Then, I can only advise you to use a caching plugin like WP Rocket. The latter will simply accelerate your site.
Finally, take particular care in optimizing your images. They are responsible for nearly 50% of the total weight of a web page. So if they're too heavy, I'm not telling you what to do. The solution? The Imagify plugin.
To go further on the subject of performance, you can read the article How to speed up a WordPress site without breaking the bank on WPMarmite's blog.
V – Do not neglect security
To be pro until the end, it will be necessary to implement security best practices.
Admit it: it would be a shame to lose the benefit of all your work by being hacked…
Well, take a look at this “scary” stat : on average, 1 website is hacked every second in the world.
So, let's put all the chances on your side so that it doesn't happen to yours (even if no site is foolproof). Or worse: to your client's.
1. Update WordPress regularly
According to a 2018 Sucuri report, 36,7% of WordPress sites were hacked because they were not up to date.
Currently, only 25% of the sites have installed the latest version of WordPress (5.1). If yours is one of them, kick your butt now (or have someone do it for you, it may be easier).
When we talk about updates, we mean the core files of WordPress, of course, but also the themes and plugins.
According to a study conducted by WordFence, 55.9% of hacked sites were hacked because of a failed plugin. An extension is great for adding features to your site without having to code. But we can never tell you enough:
update them, or delete them when you no longer use them.
In the same vein, consider limiting spam on the sites you manage. To do this, the easiest solution is to enable Akismet, which is bundled by default on each WordPress installation.
With this, you should avoid:
- to appear to be an impostor
- your client's insults in case a hacking occurs.
2. Backup your site
Imagine. Your customer calls you in a panic. His site is down. The famous “White Screen of Death” has appeared.
Of course, your customer wants you to get his installation back on track as soon as possible. Makes sense.
Um, little problem: you didn't install a backup solution beforehand, to cover yourself in case of an accident.
The kind of silly thing that can make you look like an amateur. You need to anticipate this.
Consider implementing an automated backup solution like Updraft Plus, which also allows you to store your data in the cloud.
If you are in charge of maintaining several sites, you should take a look at Manage WP, which allows you to manage your updates and backups from the same dashboard. And, above all, to restore them in one click. Try it, and you'll love it!
Note: for several reasons that are not always controlled, your site may experience downtime (it is no longer available to your visitors).
To be automatically notified, you can use a free monitoring service: UptimeRobot.
Protect your site
Well, here's a little detail that doesn't look very professional:
You may have noticed it in the last few months: the Google Chrome browser sanctions HTTP sites by telling the user that he or she is browsing an insecure page.
Not great, to reassure a potential future customer. If you still haven't switched to HTTPS, you'll have to get started.
First of all, you will need to activate an SSL certificate. You'll then have to to redirect and replace all references to ensure that the HTTP version is no longer available. You can do this manually, or thanks to the Really Simple SSL plugin.
Talking about security, you can also opt for an all-in-one solution such as iThemes Security. It will apply several security settings:
- Protection against brute force attacks
- Blocking malicious IP addresses
- Security alerts
- Malware scans etc.
VI – Conclusion
Design, ergonomics, content, SEO, performance, security: throughout this article, I have presented you with the essential components to optimize for any self-respecting WordPress professional website.
This will provide you with a solid and sustainable foundation.
Be aware that it is possible to go even further in the professionalization of your site, especially in terms of marketing. You can also:
- Enable social sharing on your articles with the Social Warfare plugin.
- Track your statistics (and/or those of your customers) with Google Analytics and the Google Analytics Dashboard Plugin for WordPress by MonsterInsights.
- Create email capture forms to be able to communicate with your target audience and propose free or paid offers.
- Generate revenue by monetizing your site.
Now, it's your turn. I'd like to hear your opinion. What is a professional WordPress website for you?
Give me your point of view below. And if you think this post may be useful to others, share it on social networks.
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