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Expert Interview Series: Katie Keith on WordPress for small businesses

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Posted by Mark Parent - April 27, 2016

Image of Katie Keith of Barn2 Media, a WordPress website design firm.

Katie Keith is Operations Director at UK WordPress web design firm Barn2 Media, where she helps businesses to get the most out of their website.

We recently checked in with her about the advantages of using WordPress for your small business. Here's what she had to say:

Image of small business office. WordPress website design templates offer many advantages for small business.

Thinking about building a website for your small or mid-sized business? WordPress platforms offer thousands of themes and are easy to use, often requiring little to no coding. Twitter icon for click to tweet

What makes WordPress a great platform for small business owners?

WordPress is the world's leading web design platform, powering over 25 percent of websites worldwide - a number that continues to increase each year. This makes it a great platform for small business websites due to the size of the WordPress community. There are tens of thousands of themes and plugins available, both free and unpaid. These can be used to create literally any type of website, often without touching a single line of code.

When we launched our WordPress web design firm back in 2009, we were one of the first agencies to specialize in WordPress. Now, there's a whole industry of WordPress companies and freelancers offering services for small business websites. Business owners with small budgets can either build their own website (although I wouldn't necessarily recommend this...) or employ a WordPress "assembler" who will develop the website using off-the-shelf tools.

Companies with bigger budgets can enjoy a professional website design service with bespoke design, custom functionality or any combination of the two. WordPress is perfect for both ends of the scale and can be tailored around each businesses' needs and budget.

As a content management system (CMS), WordPress gives small business owners full control over their content. People with no technical expertise can make basic changes to the text and images of their web pages or creating blog posts. People with a bit of experience can make more significant changes to their website such as adding pages, slideshows and changing layouts. This is a huge step forward compared to the static HTML websites of the past, as small business owners no longer have to pay their web designer each time they want to change something.

What are the most common misunderstandings or misconceptions about building websites on WordPress?

As the owner of a web design firm, I constantly come across small business owners who believe that WordPress websites don't require maintenance. The fact that WordPress is a CMS creates the false impression that once a website is live, small business owners can do EVERYTHING their website needs without any professional support. I've lost track of the number of websites we've designed where the client has turned down our maintenance package and let the software on the website get seriously out of date. After a while, things start breaking and the website is much more likely to get hacked.

The ability to edit the content on a website is absolutely nothing to do with maintenance. A very simple WordPress blog with a wordpress.org theme and very few plugins can probably be updated and maintained without professional input. However most WordPress business websites are more complex than this. For example, they may have a premium theme, associated plugins that are tricky to update such as Visual Composer or Revolution Slider, and various other plugins and bespoke functionality. These websites need professional input to keep everything running smoothly and a lot of clients are reluctant to accept this.

The other common misunderstanding I come across is that business owners can design their own WordPress website. Yes, the tools are available and a lot of WordPress professionals develop WordPress websites without writing any code. However, creating an effective website is still a professional task and isn't something the average business owner can achieve on their own. You need to understand WordPress enough to work with it rather than against it. You need to know how to select high quality themes and plugins. You need to know what functionality is needed and avoid adding clutter that will slow down the site and make it less stable. You need a good understanding of web design trends (even if you're using a theme) and a good eye for design. You need to know about image optimization and performance. To prove this, we receive a lot of enquiries from people who have tried to design their own WordPress website and given up as they realize it's harder than they thought.

What should businesses be doing to get more out of their WordPress sites?

WordPress offers a fantastic opportunity for businesses but they don't always make the most of it. My top tip is to use the CMS to keep your website content fresh.

Business owners are often very busy and once their WordPress website is live, they breathe a sigh of relief and move on to other things. Before long, their content is out of date. Their search engine ranking starts to drop because search engines can tell that the website isn't being regularly updated, and prioritize websites with new and fresh content.

Websites are great because they offer free marketing. Once you have paid for your website, you can add as much SEO-friendly content as you like for no further cost. This can dramatically increase your enquiries and sales, often to the extent that you can reduce your spend on paid marketing.

Set regular reminders to refresh the main pages of your website and write new blog posts. It can feel like a hassle when you have so many other priorities, but it can really pay off.

What considerations should businesses make before building a site on WordPress?

WordPress websites can be very simple or very complex. This affects how easy they are for businesses to update in future.

If you're not very technically savvy then I'd recommend keeping things simple. The overall design of the website can be attractive, but you need to stick to basic actual page content and layouts. By default, WordPress has a fairly basic WYSIWYG editor which is similar to using MS Word or similar. Most people can easily add and edit content using this.

At the other end of the scale, WordPress pages can be extended using shortcodes and page builder plugins such as Divi Builder, Beaver Builder or Visual Composer. These allow you to design a WordPress website with much more fancy layouts - multiple columns, content blocks, rows, toggles/accordions etc. Or alternatively, a WordPress developer can develop custom templates with the layouts you require. More complex page layouts give extra "wow factor" to a business website, but they also make it harder to edit. Only consider fancy layouts if you're prepared to put time and effort into learning how to maintain them.

How easy is it to migrate from another CMS to WordPress?

It's relatively easy to migrate content from another CMS to WordPress and many tools are available for this. However that's only a tiny part of the picture.

To migrate to WordPress, you need a WordPress theme - either by developing a custom theme to match your old website, or creating a new design. All the functionality from the old site needs rebuilding in WordPress - either bespoke or using WordPress plugins. And the content you have migrated from the old CMS will need restyling and formatting to look good with the new theme. You're basically building a brand new website from scratch, even if some of the content is being migrated from the old platform.

We're often contacted by businesses who want to migrate to WordPress from another CMS. In most cases, their old website has been around for several years and no longer meets their needs in terms of design or content. The best option is often to use this as an opportunity to redesign and modernize their website, rather than trying to replicate the old website in WordPress.

What are some of your favorite WordPress tools? Why do you love them?

We use WP Engine to host all the WordPress websites we design and maintain. They're an optimized WordPress host and are completely different from the standard hosting companies that offer WordPress hosting.

Whenever we migrate a website to WP Engine, the page load times significantly decrease - often by several seconds. This is because WP Engine offer various performance tools such as built-in caching and content delivery network (CDN - depending on your plan). These tools are hard to replicate elsewhere.

WP Engine also offer various WordPress tools which make businesses' lives easier. They automatically back up the site every day and you can create extra backups in a single click - much easier than all the backup plugins I have used. Server-level backups are also much faster than using a WordPress backup plugin, and won't slow down your site. It's also ridiculously easy to restore a website to a previous backup if anything ever goes wrong, which adds a lot of peace of mind for business owners.

I also love WP Engine's staging sites. These allow businesses to create a duplicate version of their website where they can test changes without affecting the live website. Once you're happy with your changes on the staging site, you can easily copy them back to the live site. These tools offer a safe, professional environment for managing a WordPress business website without taking unnecessary risks with your live site.

Woman working at laptop. New content, blog posts, news articles help keep your website fresh.Keep your website fresh by adding regular content, blog posts, or news articles. Twitter icon for click to tweet

What should businesses be doing to make sure their WordPress sites get noticed?

Keep your website fresh by adding regular content and blog posts or news articles. This will add plenty of keyword-rich content to the site, which will help to build your search engine position and tell Google which keywords you want to be ranked for.

You also need to do some SEO (search engine optimization) work, both on your actual website and by building your wider online presence. When your WordPress website is first designed, make sure you use a firm who will perform keyword research and optimize it for search engines. After the site is live, invest in ongoing SEO and online marketing to focus on tasks such as social media marketing and building relevant, high authority links to your site. Continue to optimize your content on an ongoing basis.

All SEO work should be natural, "white hat" and in line with the latest best practices and techniques. This is not an area to cut corners. If you have the budget, pay an SEO firm or see whether your web design firm offers WordPress SEO services. If you don't have a budget for SEO, it's better to do it yourself than to go cheap - think about which keywords your target audience are searching for (use a keyword planning tool if possible), use Google to find out which sites are linking to your competitors and do some outreach work to ask them to link to your own website.

 What are some best practices for good housekeeping/maintenance of a WordPress site?

As I mentioned earlier, all WordPress websites need maintenance. As a minimum, this means keeping WordPress, the theme and plugins updated to the latest versions - and testing the website after each update. This is vitally important as it keeps things running smoothly and helps to keep your website secure. Out-of-date software is one of the single biggest reasons a WordPress website gets hacked.

A WordPress website is built by combining software written by various different people. For example, the WordPress core, the theme and each of the plugins were written by various third parties. This is one of the biggest advantages of having a WordPress website because you can benefit from this huge ecosystem instead of having to develop your website from scratch. However, it does create a maintenance overhead and you need a clear plan for ongoing maintenance and testing.

In terms of general housekeeping, I recommend keeping things organized behind the scenes. Delete plugins you're not using because these will be slowing down your site (which can affect your SEO). Delete any images from the Media Library you're not using. Use a plugin such as WP-Sweep to perform tasks such as optimizing your database, removing post revisions and deleting spam comments.

What WordPress trends or innovations are you most excited about right now?

The WordPress REST API has recently transformed WordPress into a fully fledged framework that can be integrated with almost any other platform. This is already paving the way for other exciting developments such as front end frameworks that allow you to edit WordPress websites without using the WordPress admin or PHP. I'm eagerly waiting to see how the WordPress opportunity will interpret this opportunity and what doors it will open up in the wider web world.

What are your favorite resources for learning more about how to use WordPress?

My two favorite WordPress resources are WPLift and wpMail. These both offer email newsletters which collate the best WordPress articles and tutorials from around the globe. It means that I don't have to subscribe to lots of different WordPress blogs, as everything is available in one place.

Much thanks to Katie for taking the time to offer her insight for our blog. We hope this information has been helpful to readers who are in the process of building a new website or redesigining their old one. For more background on what makes a good website, check out our blog article, "The 4 pillars of great website design."

To learn more about our agile and data-driven approach to website design, get your free copy of our growth-driven design eBook and see how you can give your organization a website that consistently adapts to meet your needs.

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Topics: Agency Services, Website Design/Development


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