Typical Mistakes Even Experienced Developers Make In WordPress

Written By Tracey Jones

We all know and love WordPress, which is why it’s used for 4.7% of all websites on the internet. One would think that developers would be way above making any mistakes on such a huge platform by now. And one would be wrong.

Despite using the platform for more than a decade and watching it evolve through so many updates, many developers still manage to bumble and blunder while using it.

The following mistakes are typical not only of rookies but also experienced professionals. Developers may make these mistakes because they never considered them their problems or were simply unaware of the issues to begin with.

Regardless, these very common and very solvable problems can be put to rest with the following solutions:

Trouble with Taxonomies

Boy and girlWordPress uses categories and tags to sort content and make your posts easy to find. Users can browse through content easily with Subject >> Topic instead of going through an alphabetically sorted index.

So What’s the Problem?

As simple as the concept sounds, a lot of WordPress sites still don’t use categories and tags properly. “But,” you say, “it’s a content thing Why would I, a developer, trouble myself with that?”

That’s the kind of thinking that leads to bad site structures and the creation of many categories that boggle your visitors’ minds.

And yes, dear developer, a hard-to-navigate site is very much your problem.


First, understand the difference: Categories are for broad groups. Think of them as major subjects your site focuses on or broad divisions of content. The categories can be divided into subcategories. The tags are specific descriptive words. They are for micro-categorization of content.

Next, plan with content-first approach: This is currently a devoutly followed best practice, regardless of your job title. You make navigation and search engine optimization (SEO) easier with this approach.

The general rule of thumb is to have around four to five major categories coded as front-end tabs. These can be further divided into subcategories (drop-down menus, etc.). It depends on your site’s content.

Once you understand the content, you can better plan the cleanest, clearest way to divide it and show it.

Depositphotos_85515538_m-2015Cold to Cache

You can minify all your JavaScript and CSS, optimize your images, and compress the crikey out of server-side scripts. Well done, indeed. That’s all you need to optimize bandwidth and improve performance.

So What’s the Problem?

Developers tend to forget to cache or disregard it entirely.

While static web pages are gradually gaining traction again (thanks to superpowered browsers), you are likely going to be working with dynamic sites on WordPress in the present and foreseeable future.

Caching dynamic sites is tricky, and sometimes the changes you make in your WordPress site could fail to take effect” due to caching. Or sometimes you think you’ve done enough and you don’t need to cache.

But performance loss from not-caching knocks all other conceivable cons out of the water. It’s that big of a mistake.


First, improve performance. And yes, use caching. WordPress has amazing plugins you can install, like WP Super Cache and W3 Total Cache. Use them and let them take the burden.

Then, use a CDN. Content delivery networks can give you unsurpassable boosts in speed and performance, with added bonuses of crash resistance and a better user experience. CDN services like CloudFlare, MaxCDN, and CacheFly are top-notch for the job.

Any possible problems you may face with caching are already documented in the codex. So refer to it in dire cases.

Slips in SEO

WordPress, on its own, is primed for SEO success. Indexation, template hierarchy, clean and search-bot-friendly code, and more: these all make optimization awesome. Add some plugins to that, and you can present your clients with a website that’s sure to get them vast amounts of traffic.

Slipping on a toy

So What’s the Problem?

While WordPress SEO is stunningly straightforward, troubles can (and will) arise seemingly out of nowhere. For starters, you may have installed a WordPress blog on a subdomain or subdirectory. If you didn’t take clients’ context into account, their (and consequently your) entire operation could be in deep trouble. No traffic and zero ROI on SEO efforts equals unemployment for you, developer.


The context I speak of refers to clients’ online needs. Both subdomain (blog.website.com) and subdirectory (www.website.com/blog) can become blessings when used correctly.

First, consider what the clients’ blogs are trying to achieve. Is it recognition as trendsetters/opinion leaders? Or are clients trying to generate more business/leads? How is their online reputation?

Then, understand the benefits and pitfalls of both goals.

A subdirectory-blog is a safe and profitable option for businesses/entities that have nothing to lose in terms of online reputation. It will add fresh content to their parent domain and increase traffic to main site. It’s relatively cheap to host and easy to manage. (You get complete control through parent domain). The catch here exists in the form of having no “separate” brand listing on search result pages.

Subdomain-blogs, on the other hand, will give your clients’ online brands additional search engine results page (SERP) presence (apart from parent domain). Any reputation, good and bad, built through parent domain will carry over to subdomain blog. That relationship is one-sided, because the blog’s traffic and value isn’t likely to be transferred to the parent domain.

Finally, choose. Pick an option based on your clients’ online needs and budgets.

Once you’re over that hurdle, then you can apply the best SEO practices and configurations for results your clients want. Those include use of focus keywords, categories and tags (see “Trouble with Taxonomies” above); SEO-friendly titles and content; and meta descriptions.

Fright of Form Fields

Form fields are a necessary evil for all concerned parties. The least painful forms (that’s the most pleasant adjective applicable to forms) are tricky to make. Thankfully, WordPress has plugins to take care of that.

So What’s the Problem?

Forms created with plugins are great, really. But plugin-made forms aren’t tailor-made to fit with your website’s design. If you set out to create your own forms using custom pages, you may end up with forms that kill all concepts of usability.

Whether you’re using a plugin or making your own forms, you can wind up seriously compromising user experience (and hurting your clients’ business/marketing goals) if you don’t get it right.


As I said before, you can’t take away the pain of form filling. You can only make it a less painful experience.

First, keep best practices in mind.

  1. Ask for relevant information ONLY – Don’t take visitors’ time and patience for granted. Make brutal cuts until you reach the bare minimum of required fields. Twitter’s signup form is exemplary in this regard.
  2. Inline validationProvide immediate feedback on all fields as they’re filled so users know if they are doing something wrong.
  3. Input hints – Use (non-irritating) pop-ups and example placeholder text in input fields to tell users how data needs to be entered. Alternatively, use a conversational tone, as put to good use by Virgin Atlantic.
  4. Use White Space – Leave enough padding around fields to make them more usable on mobile and neat-looking in general.

Always, always test. Just because it’s a best practice doesn’t necessarily mean it will be good for you. So split-test all elements and improve as required.

User experience is everyone’s responsibility. Yours, too, dear developer.

Wandering Away from WordPress

Teenager in the Autumn ParkYou chose this platform because it’s the best. It’s simple, flexible, and easy to set up, customize, and maintain. Their very APIs are the stuff of legend.

So What’s the Problem?

WordPress allows for a lot of freedom, but it also needs to retain its structure. It’s entirely possible that you can get carried away while customizing your WordPress site to the point that those very features seem restrictive to you. Template hierarchy sounds stupid, and why should you not add some features to a theme to make it stand out?

That’s how you end up ignoring everything WordPress provides you. And yes, that’s a major concern.


Write down and memorize this: never, ever ignore WordPress specifics.

It’s such a little thing, but I have come across developers who prefer to hardcode CSS and JavaScript instead of using wp_head, which is provided by WordPress to make revisions easier and reduce conflicts. Rather than using the WordPress provided function, get_template_directory(), to get to theme location, they would use TEMPLATEPATH or bloginfo.

This is like asking for a present and then spitting on the person who gave it to you, just because.

Do yourself a favor. Prevent errors, breaks, and unnecessary confusion. Follow WordPress coding standards and use the APIs. They are there for your benefit.

Final Thoughts

I said it in the beginning. It’s been a decade since WordPress’ origin. That’s a long enough time to figure out and correct any mistakes.

And if you haven’t figured out and corrected your mistakes yet, it’s never too late to start.

Give everyone a chance to learn from your experiences. Share your own WordPress mistakes and what you learned from them in the comments below.