Let’s face it – you may not always inherit a gold mine! There’s a dark side to inheritance too – like the flu gene you inherited from your dad or the allergy to nuts your grandpa had! You know what we’re saying, right?
As a WordPress Developer too, you are definitely not a stranger to the not-so-cool side of inheritance. Especially, when you inherit a WordPress site! Hey, we aren’t saying it’s always going to be a difficult job managing it, but the reasons why you are inheriting it are usually unpleasant.
Inheriting a site might give you a headache:
For one, you aren’t sure about the condition in which the previous developer left the site! You may either have your job clearly cut out for you, or you may have to hack your way through miles of overgrowth a la Rambo to create some semblance of presentability!
It’s not right to always blame the developer though – it could be that the client tried to build the site themselves and failed. Or are simply planning to rebrand themselves, and want to change their site accordingly!
Fine… so, you’ve inherited one? Fret not!
Since you have no choice now but to slay the dragon, you’ve got to take one step at a time. What you need is a checklist of all the things you’ve got to do, once you inherit a website. Following these steps will simply make managing a site a lot easier! Not heeding them, though, could earn you a spot on the client’s hitlist.
13 things to check before taking over a site:
1. Assess what already exists:
Before you start exploring the website yourself, set up a call with the client or the previous developer. And get a more detailed understanding of what’s working, and what could be done away with.
This could save you a lot of trouble in the future! If you take stock of what you’ve got BEFORE you go about working your magic, the client cannot hold you responsible for the flaws that existed before you took their beloved baby in your care… 😉
Start by asking questions like:
- Why was it built and what kind of audience does it serve?
- How has it performed until today?
- What are the goals the site is expected to meet?
Once you get the gist of what has been done before and the state of the website in general, you are in a better position to know the extent of your involvement (and the damage). This will also be the stage where it is determined if you are expected to redesign the whole website or simply take care of parts of it! If the client is planning to a rebranding activity, the next step will be the most crucial!
2. Get all the brand materials… ALL OF THEM!
So, you’ve got a sense of things, and know what needs to be done (‘coz you’re smart like that). Make sure you communicate this to the client too! If you are going to be undertaking some serious damage control, or a complete redesign, you will need all their brand materials. Right from the original logo files, to the style guide, to font styles.
This can give you an incredible insight into the kind of client you are dealing with. If they grumble, and crib, and grumble some more about handing out their brand materials, you know you have to keep your ‘smarts quotient’ sharper than ever! The greater the delay in sending the stuff you need, the greater the resolve to avoid taking up the project at all.
If you’re lucky and the client is desperate, you’ll be happily on your way to the next step.
3. Anything that reads ‘username’ & ‘password – get ‘em!
Ask the client to give you access to everything that you will need in the scope of your work. This includes access to the WordPress site, Web Hosting Control Panel, Domain, Email hosting, and SFTP. Make sure the usernames and passwords are all valid. And you have admin access rights to everything! Right… so, now you are the master of everything you purvey… Time to crack those knuckles and take charge of the ship!
4. Mark your territory – update user roles & permissions!
Remember that saying ‘too many users with admin access break the WordPress site”? No?
Well, we just said it… Anybody could make changes on the site. And you’d have to channel your inner Sherlock Holmes to figure out who’s responsible for them, or at least keep going through the activity logs.
- Reset the email address and passwords for everything.
- Delete users who are no longer a part of the client’s company.
- Review every user’s role and associated permissions, and reassign if necessary.
- Make adjustments to the access rules for each role, as needed.
- If there are any third-party applications or plugins like contact forms, payment gateways, pop-ups, CRM integration, etc., they may have individual users’ email addresses attached to them. Update them as necessary.
If you’ve got the checklist pinned to your board, make sure you highlight this one in neon yellow (or pink, or whatever colour that’d draw your attention). Miss this step and you leave the site open to being manipulated by multiple users, without any authority over them. And you being held responsible for all of it!
5. Run a check on EVERYTHING!
While cleaning up the user access, you might want to take a look at the login process in general! Security is paramount – you don’t want intruders sneaking in and introducing chaos to your order. Make sure you check if the wp-admin page is secure, and security authentication is enabled.
Adding a security plugin (if it isn’t already in place) should be a priority! And, ensure that you receive all the alerts and notifications. Also, if it’s a premium add-on, that’s a whole other box of surprises you need to get out of your way – we’ll come to that in a while!
In fact, what would help is a sweeping check on all aspects such as performance, security, and SEO. Use a tool like WP Checkup, that gives you the lowdown on what’s working for the site, and what will need improvement. This will generate a lot of suggestions, which you can use to troubleshoot problem areas, at your own convenience!
MalCare’s WordPress Firewall is also a great way to defend your site against bots, hackers, and other malicious traffic.
6. Tune into ‘the plugins’!
What’s WordPress without its plugins? Sure, we could joke all we want about them, but they do make our lives easier! But going overboard might make your site an Elm Street nightmare – security breaches, site crashes, bad performance, slow loading speeds, and everything else that spells DISASTER!
Felt a chill run down your spine? Time to check on those plugins!
- Review the ones that are installed. Delete the ones that have been deactivated or aren’t in use.
- Understand what purpose each plugin serves – if there’s something that seems redundant, make a note of it.
- Check if the previous developer or the client relied a lot more on plugins than necessary. If the same features can be replicated with a code or a lighter weight plugin, recommend switching them out.
- Make sure the plugins that are critical for site performance exist – security plugins, performance plugins, and SEO plugins.
You will also need to make a list of the premium plugins, features, and figure out who has the licenses.
If the client owns them, then you can proceed to the next step. However, if the earlier developer owns them, and you cannot get in touch with them, you may need to think of a re-purchase plan and discuss this with the client. If you are working on multiple WordPress sites at the same time, and need help managing multiple themes and plugins, you might want to opt for management plugin!
Phew! Now that you’ve got the plugins sorted, you can go ahead and pay more attention to the theme… The client did say he was proud of the way it looks! But hey… there’s more to a site than just good looks now, isn’t there?
7. Does the theme reign supreme?
A theme may not be the best, just because it looks straight out of a fashion magazine! You will need to closely review it before moving ahead. Request the client to hand over all the original theme files, and check for the following:
- Check the reputation of the theme in the WordPress repository or whichever site it came from.
- Make sure the design is responsive and performs well.
- Check with the theme developer for additional support.
- Check to see if a child theme (used when you want to customize an existing WordPress theme without losing the ability to upgrade it) was created.
- Review the quality of the theme code, using a plugin called Theme Check.
It goes without saying, that you need to keep your client in the loop regarding your observations. You don’t want to spring a surprise on them when it comes to the theme… (trust us, you don’t!)
Now that the plugins and the theme have received due consideration, you can go ahead and just do a quick ‘upgrade’ check! Nothing fancy… just make sure everything (WordPress Core, themes, and plugins) is upgraded to the latest version. Don’t make any updates yet – just get a clue of where everything stands!
In addition to these steps, you might also want to get the following two steps out of your way, even if these may not directly feature in your scope of responsibilities.
8. Does ‘the host’ have the most?
You are well aware of how the choice of web hosting can influence the performance of the site. So, if you have doubts if the current hosting plan is reliable or not, review it as well. There are three aspects you will need to check on:
- Speed (also known as load time)
- Uptime (needs to be at least 99.94%)
- Customer Support (to help with all WordPress related questions)
9. Is it frugal on Google?
If the site has been built by a developer, you should be sure of finding Google Analytics (and a corresponding dashboard) installed on it. If not, make haste and let the client know that the site needs it! And if it is installed, review it to check if all the necessary features are enabled.
Another Google tool that should ideally be configured is Google Search Console or the erstwhile Webmaster Tools.
Here are some quick checkpoints for you:
- The website in the Search Console is the same as the one in Google Analytics.
- The site has an SSL certificate installed.
- Only you, the client, and some authorized users have access to the site.
- Submit an XML sitemap and index it.
- Google is crawling both the desktop and the mobile versions of the site.
10. Document it all – the good, the bad, and the ugly!
Before you head onto your ‘site transformation’ spree, make sure you record and document your observations and learning about the site. This would include snapshots, videos, written notes, basically anything that can stand testimony to what the site looked like before you came into the picture. You could talk about the design, the kind of bugs you encountered with the contact forms, CTAs or other interactive elements, the speed of the load times, readability, the differences in the desktop and mobile experiences, and so on…
Now, we aren’t just saying this to give you a headache… there are two very crucial reasons why you should do this:
Clients can be an exhaustingly annoying species! They might try to blame you for something that’s been present on the site long before you inherited it. If something like this transpires, BAM! You shove these notes and records and walk away unscathed.
A little bit of vanity never hurt anyone. Visual records of the site now make for a great “Before” shot, which you can later use as you build a case study around the work you’ve done to the site (and bedazzle potential clients with the ‘After’)!
Keep those notes handy, anytime you find the client suffering from some retrograde amnesia regarding stuff that didn’t work before you even came onboard! Now that you and the client are on the same page, we bet you are ready to put your alchemical skills to work… but, halt! One word of caution before you get into the groove…
11. Backup… then, backup your backup!
Does the site have a backup plugin? If not, install one! You don’t want to be left high and dry if you make some changes to the website which… err, you didn’t want in the first place! With a backup, you can always revert to the original site, and hyperventilate secretly on the close call!
A piece of advice here… if there’s a backup plugin already installed by the previous developer or the client, make sure you find out where the backup files go! It’s ideal to have them in a place that you can access easily and quickly!
If you are looking for zero-load, secure, and flexible WordPress backups, we would recommend taking BlogVault’s WordPress Backup Services for a spin!
12. Caution: work in progress!
Well, you’ve finally begun working on the site… which is in pretty bad shape, to be honest! You are going to be making some really drastic changes to it, and this might make the website look a tad unruly…
Now, you don’t want the client’s customers coming on to a broken website and getting put off by it… well, brokenness!
By putting the site into ‘maintenance mode’, you can prevent people from encountering the website while you are working on it, and save the client’s blushes, provided it isn’t gonna take forever… Now, if you know you will be taking long to redo the website or fix it enough for a decent user-experience and then keep improving it in the backend, keeping it in Maintenance mode is OK for a while. However, if your client’s business depends on it, you might want to work on an instance of the live site and let the original site be, in its current state, till you have a workable website redesigned for the users to interact with.
The redesign shouldn’t be an excuse for your client’s loss of business.
13. Test before you leap!
Another important step is to create a staging environment, especially if you are working for a big client. This is to ensure you can test stuff safely, before pushing things live.
You can try BlogVault Staging for one-click, integrated staging, with password protection.
There you go… that’s the long and short of it! Not so short, you say… well then, here’s a summary for you to go back to when you’re not in the mood to read…
One thing’s for sure – no matter who’s created the site, or the state it’s in, the inherited WordPress site is now your responsibility!
Not bad, eh?
All you need to do is take decisions cautiously, after evaluating what you’ve got on your plate. And hey… we hope this checklist proves to be of help to you! As a developer with multiple things to manage, you could always do with some help! You may want to check BlogVault for WordPress-related solutions – backup, staging, restoring, migration, and management! Or