The Ultimate WordPress Guide
What is WordPress?
WordPress is open source software you can use to create a beautiful website, blog, or app. According to WordPress' official website, 43% of the web uses WordPress.
From hobby blogs to the biggest news sites online, WordPress has evolved from a simple blogging platform to a fascinating solution for website building.
Fun fact: the official website for the White House is running on WordPress.
You can WordPress in its basic form or headless. The first option is more straightforward, and the latter requires more technical knowledge.
Either route, WordPress can make your life easier when managing your site and all of its content.
Arguably, WordPress gained such massive popularity due to the first option; its natural form. In this form, you can put an entire website or app together without touching any code. And even more so, it can be up with the latest trends and requirements; SEO Friendly, Security, Responsiveness, and so much more.
WordPress matured as a platform on a fundamental premise of openness and flexibility.
Sounds great, right? Yeah, not so fast.
On the surface, openness and flexibility is an attractive offering. Under the hood, though, it hosts an array of vulnerabilities.
Essentially, any given WordPress installation will not resemble the next, even when the end goal was the same. This open concept can present not only functional problems but, more importantly, security vulnerabilities.
If you're just getting started with WordPress, you can quickly find yourself feeling overwhelmed. As of this writing, the official marketplace for WordPress plugins has over 55 thousand options.
My intention isn't to knock the platform at all.
I've launched dozens of WordPress websites and developed some opinions about the platform. Learned what I like and what I don't. Each build made the next one more manageable and better. My goal is to share some of the processes and plugins I've found useful.
I'll treat this guide as the resource I wish I had when starting a digital agency.
My most important rule of thumb to WordPress is not to install more than ten plugins. It has forced me to question my builds continuously.
The more plugins you install, the more resources that need to be loaded. You want your site to load blazing fast, be bug-free and secure. So, try to hold back and question yourself before you install yet another plugin.
How do you limit WordPress to 10 plugins?
Build, test, and repeat.
At WebLime, we review WordPress builds for our clients all the time. Something that strikes out the most is WordPress installations having more than 25 plugins. I've even seen sites with more than 50 plugins installed and active!
Generally, the premium plugins allow you to achieve more. Instead of loading four plugins to achieve four features, you load one plugin that'll cover your needs.
Also, and you may be surprised to read this in a WordPress guide, but don't swear by WordPress at all costs.
Sometimes WordPress is not the ultimate solution.
Since adopting my ten plugin rule, I've had to consider new technologies and approaches for clients. And sometimes, that means walking away from WordPress.
For example, Shopify is my choice for anything eCommerce.
I have found that WordPress, a platform that originated from a blogging concept, gets way too bloated when the goal is to build a store.
With just about any WordPress build, one of your ongoing considerations is which plugins to install. Essentially, your goal is to choose the best plugins to enhance WordPress and achieve the desired outcome.
I'll recommend the typical set of plugins we use on just about every WordPress build and then a few extras that I like.
Before listing anything, I'd like to clarify that we have no affiliation with these plugins. This list is compiled purely from my experience, preference, and opinions.
My go-to plugin for WordPress optimization is Autoptimize.
It can aggregate, minify and cache scripts and styles, inject CSS in the page head by default and do so much more.
Some highlights include:
- Lazy-load images
- Optimize Google Fonts
- Async non-aggregated JS
Once you have a stable build, you'll want to optimize for SEO. My choice here is Yoast. This plugin was founded 14 years ago and has evolved and kept up with WordPress.
The plugin runs on more than 11 million sites and on 15.4% of the top 1 million sites in the world. That includes our very own White House.
With Yoast being a part of your build, the ranking will become more intuitive. It'll guide you on SEO basics and best practices.
Some highlights include:
- Keyword optimization
- Readability check
- No duplicate content
- Works in the block editor, classic editor and Elementor
- Internal linking suggestions
- Redirect manager
Rank Math is an easy-to-use WordPress plugin that helps you get the most out of your website's SEO. It is packed with several helpful features, including:
- Easy setup: You can use the Rank Math SEO plugin in just a couple of minutes, even if you're a beginner;
- Simple user interface: The user interface is clean and intuitive so that anyone will feel right at home;
- Content AI which automatically analyzes your content and suggests relevant keywords, images, and more;
- Advanced SEO analytics module packed with insights you need to improve the ranking of your site;
- Google index status;
- Google Analytics 4 integration;
- Rank tracker allows you to easily monitor your website's position on each keyword in real-time so that you can respond quickly to any changes;
- Schema markup generator, a feature that lets you generate schema data for any type of content on your site for an extra SEO boost.
However, keep in mind that you should stick to one SEO plugin only, so if you've already installed YoastSEO, make sure to deactivate it before installing Rank Math.
Now that your WordPress environment is optimized for speed and search engines, you'll be ready to start building.
As always, WordPress has a lot of offerings in this respect. I've tried them all and found Elementor to be far superior to the rest. It truly is in a class of its own.
If you can afford to go for the Pro version, you'll have an even more extensive library of widgets.
A WordPress builder like I've never experienced before.
Some highlights include:
- Drag & Drop Editor
- Design system
- Global fonts & colors
- Integrates with many plugins (i.e. Yoast)
Are you tired of spending hours fiddling with code to get your site just right? Or maybe you're just not a coder and want to get your site up and ready as quickly as possible. Either way, with Envato Elements, you can accomplish it all in a matter of minutes.
Envato Elements isn't just a WordPress theme marketplace—it's a set of tools that allow you to build beautiful, professional-quality websites faster than ever. With the plugin, you'll have access to a library of professionally designed templates that look great on any device. And while they're just a click away, you'll still be able to customize each one so that it matches your unique brand.
Use the built-in image library to find royalty-free images for any element on your site or even create new ones from scratch—all within the WordPress dashboard.
No matter what kind of business you have, WooCommerce is the most customizable eCommerce platform for building your online business. You can sell both physical and digital goods in all shapes and sizes, offer product variations, multiple configurations, instant downloads to customers, and even sell affiliate goods from online marketplaces.
The WooCommerce Marketplace features over 3,000 extensions that make it easy to customize your store to sell anything you want. Whether you need additional payment gateways, accounting integrations, shipping tools, or marketing extensions - they have it all. Plus, it integrates with industry-leading tools like Google Analytics and MailChimp, so you can keep growing your store with ease.
WooCommerce is also fully customizable — developers can create their own themes and extend functionality with actions and filters.
Advanced Custom Fields
ACF is by far one of the most popular WordPress plugins with over 1 million active installs. If you want to customize your edit screens and take full control of your custom fields, this is the perfect plugin for you.
Advanced Custom Fields (ACF) is a free WordPress plugin that replaces the regular custom fields interface in WordPress with something much more powerful. It helps developers build better content management systems by making it easier to add new fields and display them in the post editor screen.
The best part about ACF is that it doesn’t require any coding knowledge to use. You can add custom fields for posts and users without writing a single line of code.
Pods - Custom Content Types and Fields
Pods is a powerful plugin that helps manage all your custom content needs on WordPress. Similar to Advanced Custom Fields, it includes features such as Custom Taxonomies and Custom Post Types built from the ground up to work with the core WordPress systems. These features might require more knowledge on how to use them, but they can give you even more control over your data. Pods also has extensive tutorials that take you step by step throughout the entire process.
In addition to creating content types, the heart of Pods is the powerful field management system where you can add fields to any content type in seconds. These fields can be grouped and organized however you'd like. This plugin is an excellent addition to your WordPress automation stack because it allows you to create connections between any content type through relationship fields.
Sandhills & WP Simple Pay
In general, Sandhills Development has a fantastic WordPress plugins offering. Anything they offer is superior and well crafted.
If you're not building an eCommerce solution but still have some payment processing requirements, look no further than WP Simple Pay.
You can accept one-time and recurring payments on your WordPress site without touching any code.
Some highlights include:
- Drag and drop form builder
- Integrates with Stripe
- Custom subscription options
- Offer discounts and coupon codes
If you're building a WordPress instance locally or need to move your website from one server to another, this plugin will be a lifesaver.
The best part? You can use it then remove it. So, you get the job done, and your site remains clean of excessive plugins.
In a few clicks, All-in-One will generate a downloadable file of your WordPress website, including the database, media files and plugins.
Some highlights include:
- Uses chunks to bypass upload size restrictions
- Zero dependencies
- Support for MySQL
- Cloud options
WP Cerber Security, Anti-Spam & Malware Scan
When running a website, it's your job to keep the content safe and make sure the site isn't susceptible to hackers and attacks. WP Cerber is a security plugin that helps you do just that. It uses various tools to defend WordPress against attacks and protect your website's integrity.
WP Cerber uses a security engine to monitor user activity and stop attacks. If attackers try to guess your password through the login form, XML-RPC, REST API requests, or using authentication cookies, WP Cerber will block them. The plugin tracks all actions taken by users. You can receive instant push notifications about attacks on your phone or desktop.
The plugin's anti-spam engine stops spammers from registering on your website or posting comments using Google reCAPTCHA. IP Access Lists allow you to set rules for specific IP addresses so that they can access some of the website features while still protecting other areas from unauthorized access.
WP Cerber also checks every single file uploaded to your website for malware with an advanced scanner tool and verifies the integrity of each file.
One of the faults with WordPress is that people treat it as a no-code solution. While that's ok, it can lead to WordPress' biggest pitfall: installing an endless amount of plugins.
My suggestion is to stay away from code for the most part, but be open-minded about touching it when you need to. In some cases, you don't need to understand what's going on entirely; copy and paste a snippet of code into the right location, and it'll work!
Here's an example of how some of that can look.
In your child theme, you can add a function to your functions php file. Then add scripts that trigger when the function is called.
This will allow you to trigger analytics tags like Plausible or Google Search Console, without the need for additional plugins.
As with anything on the internet, remember that nothing here is the rule of law.
WordPress, by nature, comes in a raw state, allowing end-users to develop their version of what WordPress can be.
My encounters and struggles moulded these opinions; they've evolved over the years and are bound for change over time. As this continues to happen, I'll do my best to update this document in hopes that it'll serve others as a reference or starting point when working with WordPress.
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