If you’re an agency and you build, or manage, any WordPress websites, I’d recommend reading this.
If you don’t currently work with WordPress, but want an easier, more cost effective method of building websites for your agency, I’d also recommend reading through this guide.
In this guide I’m going to introduce you to WordPress The Easy Way, the system we use to build WordPress websites. If you’re an agency and have had headaches with WordPress in the past and given up on it, I am almost certain this would be due to the way your sites were built or maintained. There are two ways of working with WordPress, the easy way, and the headache inducing way!
If you’re already using WordPress regularly and want to build, and manage, sites in a more profitable, easy to maintain manner, read on!
Let me just start by saying that WordPress is not fit for every single purpose. What WordPress is perfect for, is building small to medium sized websites, with varying levels of complexity.
If you regularly build brochure websites or small online stores and you’re not using WordPress, you are probably losing money by overspending on development.
Here’s why I’d recommend using WordPress for these types of projects.
- You can build anything with it
- It’s much cheaper building with WordPress, than building from scratch
- It has a great CMS that’s very customisable, which allows you to keep the client happy and give them a degree of control over their website, or your own team
- It’s easily extendable, through the huge library of plugins and extensions
- The whole team can use WordPress
- WordPress websites can be built much faster than those built from scratch
- It’s much easier to make updates or changes on WordPress sites
- WordPress sites can be just as fast as those built from scratch, if built correctly
If you’re still not convinced, I wrote a more exhaustive list of reasons on why WordPress is the best platform to build your business or startup website on which you could check out.
How are agencies using WordPress
Lots of agencies use WordPress, which is not surprising, given that 39% of all websites on the internet use WordPress.
Not all agencies use WordPress the right way though, which is understandable, given that agencies wear many different hats, and are not always WordPress geeks like we are. Typically, we see agencies build WordPress sites using premium themes and a collection of plugins and page builders, with the tech stack differing from project to project.
It’s not just agencies however, the majority of WordPress websites are built terribly and exist in a permanent state of chaos.
Most WordPress websites have a bloated premium theme, 70 plugins, ancient PHP version, 1 or more page builders, and are stuffed on a shared hosting plan somewhere. The site owners then wonder why the website keeps breaking everytime they update something, or why the site is painfully slow.
These are not profitable, easy to maintain WordPress websites.
Building a WordPress website for your client should be a piece of cake, using the same simple steps and technologies each time, not a chaotic mess you are scared to update that is constantly breaking.
What agencies are doing wrong
What many people don’t realise, is that most of the big page builders completely eliminate the need for WordPress themes, and have done for many years. And, Elementor is the king of the page builders.
Themes can be attractive to non technical buyers, or agencies without developers inhouse, as they seem to do a lot of the hard work for you, through importable demo content, templates and additional options built into the CMS through the theme.
The problem with themes, is that they aren’t very good. They’re also very inflexible, so once your client starts wanting to add new pages, or change templates, you then inevitably need to introduce plugins or page builders to help do that.
This is where the problems start, and why themes are a bad way to build a WordPress website these days. Themes come with tons of code and bloat. They are supposed to be a done for you solution, but the reality is, no websites are simply built and then left as they are forever.
When you start installing lots of plugins and page builders to your website, they start conflicting with each other, and your theme.
Page builders each have large code bases that are installed to your website, just like themes. When you combine a large theme code base, and a large page builder code base, you’re asking for problems. Throw in 50-60 plugins to the mix, and every time something is updated the site is going to break.
To build an easy to maintain WordPress website, remember that less is more.
A lot of the plugins that we see agencies install are not necessary, and the functionality they provide, can often be found within their theme or page builder.
If you are building websites the easy way using Elementor, most plugins become redunant, as it can do almost everything. When your site has minimal plugins, and doesn’t have large code bases conflicting with each other, it runs faster, rarely breaks when updated and and requires less time on upkeep.
WordPress The Easy Way
The system we use to build WordPress websites is simple, and works well every time. Here’s all you need to build the majority of WordPress websites:
- Elementor Pro
- Hello Elementor Theme
- Hello Elementor Child Theme
- ACF (Advanced Custom Fields) – if appropriate
There is no need for a theme or 90% of the plugins that are out there. Elementor is a complete solution for building WordPress websites, and comes with its own starter theme called Hello Elementor, which is a lightweight starter theme with minimal styling designed to work well with Elementor.
With just Elementor, Elementor Pro and some small snippets of code, you’d be amazed at how many different types of website you can build. I’m not just talking about templates here either, we rarely build anything from templates.
The websites we build from our clients are usually from Adobe XD, Figma or Sketch files. The clients give us the designs, we develop them.
90% of the work can be accomplished using the Elementor builder in most cases. It’s then usually a case of using custom post types, advanced custom fields and custom code to achieve the remaining 10%.
This truly is building WordPress websites the easy way.
It’s all very well building a WordPress website the easy way, what about hosting it the easy way!
Where you host your websites can seem complex and overwhelming. There’s tons of info out there pulling you in different directions, and lots of hosting companies with good marketing. It’s actually pretty simple though!
There are three types of hosting:
- Shared hosting. Lots of websites on one server, all sharing fixed resources.
- Cloud hosting. Usually your own ‘container’ on a server with dedicated resources just for you, that be increased or decreased to grow with your site.
- Dedicated hosting. This is your own server and usually only used for very large websites or sites with huge amounts of traffic.
Shared hosting can work fine for small sites, if you pick the right host and don’t put too many sites on your plan. Cloud hosting is what you should be using for any kind of ecommerce store making more than a few thousand per month.
Which host should we be using?
After working with websites across all of the major hosts, and many of the smaller hosts, there are only two hosts that I would recommend using and they are Siteground and Kinsta.
- They have the best support
- They have the best infrastructure
- They offer one click staging creation for your websites
Both companies support is top notch and you will be dealing with actual developers, rather than non technical staff following scripts.
Believe me, the last thing you want when your clients site is down and they are pressuring you, is to have to deal with support staff who don’t know what they’re doing.
The infrastructure they provide is also important. Both provide you with all the tools needed to manage WordPress websites effectively, many hosts do not. After building a ton of WordPress websites, one of the biggest headaches you can deal with, is when you have to work with a site on sub par hosting, this is outside your control and not something you can usually rectify through your own hard work or problem solving.
Although I’ve already saved you the hard work and recommended the two best WordPress hosts above, here are the criteria I use when evaluating hosting infrastructure:
- FTP access – essential
- SSH access – essential
- PHPMyAdmin – essential
- Server backup and restore tool with the ability to restore specific files or database tables – essential
- File manager – essential
- Built in staging functionality – essential
- Usage stats for server performance – essential
- PHP version control per website, not per server – essential
- Does it use cPanel? cPanel is the industry standard and provides all the tools required to manage the day to day of your server. If cPanel is not available, there should be equivalent tools provided.
Siteground and Kinsta are the only two hosts that tick all of these boxes, as well as providing great support, 24/7, by developers, you can’t go wrong if you use either of them.
Site security is another common issue that agencies deal with regularly. Keeping WordPress sites secure can be a minefield, it has taken us many years to figure out exactly what works, and what doesn’t.
There are two things you need to bear in mind when it comes to security:
- Keep your plugins, WordPress version and PHP updated.
- Install WordFence and make sure it is configured correctly, if you have a high traffic website or ecommerce website purchase the premium upgrade and configure the options it provides.
- Run regular scans using WordFence to check for vulnerabilities and any malicious files
These two things will largely keep your WordPress websites safe. However, the first point is kind of chicken and egg!
When agencies are managing WordPress websites that are built poorly, with tons of plugins, a bloated theme and page builders, they delay processing updates, because they know updates mean headaches.
When you update these types of sites, stuff breaks. This can be small stuff, or big stuff. On ecommerce websites, the checkout could break, or customers could lose the ability to add things to cart, which effectively halts trading until it is fixed.
If you’re not a WordPress specialist, this can be scary, and very stressful once the emails from the client start arriving asking you why their site is not working. Don’t worry though, there’s an easier way!
Building WordPress websites
As an agency, there are two ways you can make money from WordPress. Building WordPress website and maintaining them.
The most common method of building WordPress websites is to design templates that the client signs off for you to develop. We regularly work with agencies who provide us with signed off design files that we then use to build into a WordPress website.
However, there are many different ways to build WordPress websites, and not all of them are profitable or efficient, which can put some agencies off working with WordPress if they end up losing money on a few projects.
Designing WordPress websites
The first part of building a WordPress website is to design it.
Designing a WordPress website is usually done in a tool like Adobe XD, Sketch, Figma or Photoshop.
Most agencies we work with are strong on this part of the process and have no problem creating visually appealing designs for their client.
Developing WordPress websites
This is where the agencies we work with typically require assistance with WordPress. It could be that they don’t have a developer inhouse, aren’t sure on the most efficient or profitable method of building with WordPress, or simply don’t have the capacity to handle all of the projects they want to.
Luckily for you, you already know about WordPress The Easy Way, the simple system we use to build WordPress websites that works like a charm every time.
Just to remind you, here’s the toolkit you should be using to build WordPress websites for clients:
- Elementor Pro
- Hello Elementor Theme
- Hello Elementor Child Theme
- ACF (Advanced Custom Fields) – if appropriate
So essentially, it’s Elementor and the starter Elementor Theme, with a child theme added to store any customisations you need to make with code.
Elementor is literally a complete solution for building WordPress websites and removes the need for a premium theme, or tons of plugins. Remember, bulky theme and tons of plugins means WordPress headaches.
ACF can be installed if the site will be using lots of dynamic data, to allow the client some control over the data from the WordPress backend.
Developing on Staging
The most efficient method of developing a new WordPress website is to do it on a staging environment, this applies if you are redeveloping an existing site or building a new one from sctatch.
A staging environment is usually a copy of the live website you are working with. If you’re building a new site, without an existing site to redevelop, think of it as a private development environment.
For example, staging.yourwebsite.com. If you are redeveloping an existing website, and the existing site is already on WordPress, this is absolutely the most headache free method of redeveloping the site.
The first thing you’ll want to do, is create a staging copy of the existing website that contains all of the files and existing database. All of the website data is stored in the database, this includes pages, posts and any other kind of data, so you want to ensure this is present in your staging environment when you start developing the new site.
This makes the process a lot easier for you. As you have all the data in your staging copy, now it’s simply a case of developing the templates that your client signed off, and applying them to the data that already exists in the database (pages, posts, products etc).
It also means you don’t have to try and combine the database from the old site with the files (templates and code) from the new site at the end of the process, which can be difficult.
From here, once you are setup as described above, you can proceed to strip out the old theme and plugins, install Elementor, Hello Elementor Theme, then get going! The pages, posts and data will be unaffected by this, so you can build out your new templates in Elementor then apply them to the appropriate pages, posts, product or data as mentioned previously.
Once the new website is complete and signed off, you can push it live to the clients domain. If you use a good host like Siteground or Kinsta, there is one click push functionality to take care of this process for you. Otherwise, you can copy the new files and database over into the new domain within your hosting account, and the new site will be live.
If you’re new to staging and want to learn more about how to apply it in your agency, you can learn more here in our guide, what is WordPress staging and why should you be using it?
One of the beautiful things about WordPress is its use of templates. I’m not talking about the premade things you import from themes, I’m talking about the ability to design and build a template yourself and then specify where it is applied.
Elementor makes this process a breeze. You can build templates everything, including the header, footer, single page, single post, products, archive, 404 page – you name it.
Use Elementor to bring your design files to life once, then tell Elementor under what circumstances that newly designed template should display. For example, you might have one template to display on all pages.
Or, you might need multiple, a different template for each service you offer.
You can develop as many templates as you need, and specify exactly where they apply, you can even set it by specific URL, if the generic display conditions are not specific enough for you.
Maintaining WordPress websites
After you’ve built your WordPress site, you need to maintain it.
The more complex the website, the harder it becomes to maintain. If you use a simple framework for building your WordPress sites, like WordPress The Easy Way, maintaining them becomes a much simpler task.
If you have a portfolio of websites, all with different themes and combinations of plugins, maintaining them becomes more difficult and requires more care.
These are the things you should look at when it comes to maintaining your client WordPress sites:
- Regularly update theme files and plugins
- Update the PHP version when available, and ensure you are using a secure version of PHP
If you are not a developer, or have a developer inhouse, updating theme files, plugins or PHP version can break your site and potentially make it inaccessible.
However, you do need to regularly process these updates to secure your sites and prevent them from being hacked.
Outdated plugins, or insecure PHP versions, are how WordPress sites get hacked and infected with malicious files. These files can redirect users to nefarious websites on the internet when they land on the website, lock you of the dashboard, or even take the website down completely.
Bad hacks can be challenging, especially if you are not able to simply revert back to an old version of the website, as that will delete the clients work, or if it’s an ecommerce store, wipe out all the orders.
When processing any large updates, ensure a full server backup is available before doing so, to ensure that you can restore back to a working version of the client site in the event that something goes wrong.
Applying this to your agency
If this guide has made sense to you, and some of the points raised have struck a chord with you, you might be wondering how best to apply this advice to your agency.
Here’s what I recommend:
- Build any new projects using WordPress The Easy Way, the toolkit listed above
- Evaluate your current host, do they provide the infrastructure listed above, if no, decide if its time to move
- Start regularly updating the theme files, plugins and PHP version across your websites, if you don’t have a developer house, look for someone to source this out to
- If you have particularly fragile out of date websites, assess whether it might be time to rebuild them so they are more stable, and what this might cost
- Consider whether there are projects you are currently turning down to concerns that you can’t build them within the client budget, building them using our recommended toolkit might change this
I hope you found this guide helpful and it has taught you something new about WordPress, thanks for reading!