Redesigning a website is more than just creating a new look. Within almost every site there are quirks and customizations that need attention. And then there’s the task of adding new functionality and making it work with what’s already there.
It’s a challenge – even for experienced web designers. And as the complexity of the project increases, so does the chance of problems or missing a key detail or two.
That brings us to WordPress. Even relatively simple websites built with a content management system (CMS) have some moving parts. There’s a database, a theme, and multiple plugins to manage—not to mention the nearly limitless range of customization possibilities. Therefore, a redesign will likely take more than activating a new theme.
In fact, there are some common pitfalls when redesigning a WordPress website. Today we’ll identify some of the worst and show you how to prepare for a hopefully smoother transition process.
Review your Plugin Requirements
Along with a fresh look, a redesign can mean changes to the plugins you use. For example, you may decide to change SEO plugins. Or maybe you need to add membership capabilities.
In some cases, you may no longer need a separate plug-in. Consider a legacy product that is no longer supported or a plugin whose functionality will not be part of your site in the future.
WordPress websites develop together with you or your client’s organization. Therefore, it is worth reviewing the plugins you have installed. Redesign offers the perfect opportunity to do just that.
Take a deep dive and determine which plugins are still useful and which can be safely removed. At the same time, make a note of any new plugins you plan to add to the mix.
It is also important to consider the impact of anything you add or remove. If you’re not sure, testing in a staging environment is a big help.
How Will Your Content Change?
Website content can change significantly during a redesign – and it’s not just about text. While those types of changes are relatively easy to make, other aspects require planning.
Organization and Structure
WordPress offers plenty of flexibility when it comes to content structure. Pages can be organized into different levels of hierarchy, and posts and custom post types can be associated with multiple taxonomies.
Moving things around during a redesign is a relatively simple process. However, it could be a problem if menus and internal links are not updated accordingly. WordPress is generally able to indicate content that has changed locations, but it’s worth checking that links continue to work as expected.
Custom Layout and Templating
There are several ways to create a custom page layout with WordPress. And it may require some adjustments, depending on your redesign goals.
If your website was built with the Classic Editor in mind, a redesign is a good time to consider a switch. Converting existing content to the Gutenberg block editor is generally a smooth process. And all you have to do is touch the content you want to change. Everything else should work as is.
For layouts built previously in the block editor, things should remain the same. One caveat to note is any custom blocks that were included as part of your old theme. The same goes for any block plugins you’re considering removing from your installation. These changes may have unintended consequences.
Layouts built with Elementor or other page builder plugins should also continue to work – provided you keep the plugin. If you want to switch to the block editor, there will be some additional work involved.
Finally, layouts that rely on custom templates and/or custom fields must also be accounted for. Custom field data often needs to be part of a theme template. In that case, you will need to move the necessary code to the new theme or use the fields within a custom block.
Keeping Track of Content Changes and Additions
Websites that are constantly being updated are a particular challenge. If your redesign work is running on a separate WordPress installation, there may be an inconsistency with the content on the production site.
The risk here is that new or recently edited content will be lost on the redesigned site. This can lead to a lot of extra work after the site’s launch – when you realize what’s missing.
It’s something to keep in mind when working on a content heavy site. Fortunately, there are many ways to manage content synchronization between environments. Database exports, plugins, and version control systems like Git come to mind.
Those Scattered Bits of Data
For better or worse, many WordPress themes contain theme-specific data. And while they add some convenience to non-technical users, they are not very portable. This makes them easy to miss when redesigning your website.
Themes that use the WordPress Customizer or have a custom settings panel are excellent examples. Note any items you want to replicate or data you will need to access. From there, create a plan to move it to the new location.
This also applies to any custom code snippets associated with your old theme
functions.php file. Some critical functionality could be buried inside. While it’s easy enough to copy and paste it into the new theme, adding this code to a custom plugin is a better solution for the future.
When building custom themes, it’s common practice to add CSS to the theme’s stylesheet. For example, you might create styles that match a calendar plugin with your branding. They must be replicated within your new theme if you wish to continue using them.
Redesign Your WordPress Website Without the Drama
There are many components to a WordPress website – and not all of them are easily visible. So it’s easy to miss a thing or two during a redesign. But almost any of these potential pitfalls can be avoided.
The path to a drama-free redesign starts with a detailed look at the current website. Browse through plugins, templates, and site settings. Look for theme-specific details and code snippets that you need to keep.
Study the current structure of the subject and consider how it might change. Finally, create a plan to ensure you don’t lose any new or edited content in the process.
I hope the steps above help take some of the stress out of your redesign project. That way, you can focus on building the best possible website.