How I simplified a complicated WordPress website build

by | Dec 7, 2020 | Case studies, WordPress

Problem: An slow & overly complicated WordPress website build was causing overwhelm and confusion

A client came to me recently wanting to speed up and simplify her website.

She was feeling very overwhelmed when she logged into her website, she saw lots of update notifications and lots of plugins.

Step 1: Plugin spring clean & audit

The first thing I noticed when I looked at the backend of her site was the sheer number of plugins she needed! Her site was a very simple, 7 page business website.

No E-commerce or special features. Just a standard, straight-forward website.

There were 24 plugins. Some made sense to include, others didn’t.

The first step in speeding up a website is a plugin audit & spring clean.

Some plugins can be very problematic for your site (read my short guide to WordPress plugins for business owners to understand some of the problems they can cause). Reducing the number is always a number one priority for me.

Now, some people will argue that you can have lots of plugins on your site and they shouldn’t slow it down. And this is true, but only to a certain extent.

Some plugins are little terrors and during my plugin audit I identify if any terrors exist.

So, I look for plugins that:

  • Slow a site down by calling lots of other files
  • Out of date plugins that are either obsolete or will soon be obsolete
  • Plugins that are not being used at all
  • Plugins that are not necessary
  • Plugins that are duplicating functionality

I identified several plugins that could be safely removed.

Step 2: Remove plugins

I removed the plugins I identified in step 1.

These were:

Really Simple SSL

Any one building websites should know how to set up SSL. It is a five minute job. When I see this plugin I ALWAYS remove it and set up the SSL certificate manually to avoid relying on ‘yet another’ plugin.

Askimet Anti Spam

This plugin needs an active and paid account to work. My client didn’t have an account, nor did she need one. Her blog was brand new and had about 5 pages. At this phase in her online journey, spam was definitely NOT a problem. You can read my advice on how to combat spam here.

Customize Login Page

This plugin added my clients logo to the login page. This serves no purpose except to add more workload when it comes to maintaining the website. My client was happy for me to remove it. It’s one of those things, you know, it looks pretty but it is useless…

Page Scroll To ID

This plugin provides some smooth scrolling technique for links that enable you to jump to sections lower down on a page. They add JS files that slow the site down (slightly) but there is hardly any noticeable difference when the plugin is removed and you just add a bit of text to scroll to instead. (Won’t go in to the technicalities of that but it’s not difficult).

Change contact form sender email

This plugin changed the sender email from WordPress to the clients business name.  Not really necessary if you only have one website, you will know the contact form is from your website.

Step 3: Updating the ‘theme’ plugins and the problem with Envato themes

Unfortunately for my client there were 13 plugins essential to the functioning of the theme alone. Some of these plugins were out of date.  The theme was bought on Envato. Unfortunately the person who built the website didn’t give a licence to my client. This meant that if she wanted the theme updated, she had to buy the theme.

My client bought the theme and I updated it. There were two choices when it came to updating the theme from Envato.

  1. Perform a manual update. This means downloading the files. Deleting the current theme and reinstalling the files.
  2. Download the envato updater plugin which links to the Envato account and enables you to update the theme.

Either way is a bit of a faff and if you are going to manage your own WordPress website you are not going to like manual updates since they are time consuming. Updating through the plugin was the choice I made but this ended up being a very buggy procedure where I was kept being told to update the theme, even though I did.

So, after updating the theme, several of the plugins were still not updated. After further investigation I found out that if you buy a theme from Envato that has plugins bundled into it, you do not own a licence for that plugin.

What that means is:

  • You cannot update the plugin ‘normally’, i.e when a plugin update is released
  • You must must wait for the theme developer to release the plugins when they have been updated when they release a theme update

This was a shocking revelation.

Do you know what that meant?

If a plugin is updated to improve security and fix bugs, you can only update your version when the theme developer updates their theme.

This means you won’t always have the latest version of the plugin, which is a big no no if you are serious about keeping your WordPress website secure and error free.

In a ‘normal world’, you buy a plugin licence and update it when a new release comes out. It’s not a complicated process.

In the ‘Envato theme’ world, you can’t update your plugins unless the theme developer decides to release an updated theme.

That is not good.

So, I delivered this new to my client. If she wanted to use the plugins she needed to buy the licenses.

They were for:

  • WP Bakery – a page builder.
  • Mega menu – to make the menu do fancy things. She didn’t even have a fancy menu but the website wouldn’t work without it.
  • A slider plugin

It came so a few hundred dollars in all.

Step 4: Other ‘features’ plugins

There were a handful of other plugins adding some nice fancy features to the website but the web designer, again, failed to supply the licences so my client was faced with the decision to buy them, they were:

  • Instagram plugin to show an instagram feed.
  • Pricing tables
  • Essential grid to give a fancy header effect by loading several images at once in the header. Can you imagine what that did to the page load speed…

So, another cost, right there.

 

Step 5: Optimising plugins

Then there were a bunch of speed optimising plugins.

It was good to see some thought had gone into the loading speed of the site but bad to see that some were due to poor hosting. such as;

Far future expiry – this adds expired headers. Good hosting companies manage this for you.

Autoptomize and an autoptimize clear plugin. This is an ok plugin but using it without understand site speed just covers a multitude of sins. It works best in conjunction with some other basic speed optimising process [blog post coming soon].

Step 6: Replace the theme

It was very clear that I could replace the majority of these plugins with one single theme, the Divi theme. I gave my client the choice. Continue with the 23+ plugins and pay hundreds in licence fees or rebuild with far less plugins.  She decided on a rebuild.

I rebuilt the site and removed the all but two of the plugins with the Divi theme since a lot of functionality is already in the theme. Some people claim the theme is slow and bloated but that’s not my experience at all.

When I see websites built using other themes there is a bigger reliance on plugins, which means more work to maintain and a higher risk of errors.

So the plugins I removed were;

  • Contact form (2 plugins)
  • Mega menu
  • WP Bakery
  • Pricing tables
  • Essential grid
  • Testimonials (I forgot to add the theme developer bundled it in and it was actually obsolete so couldn’t be updated – it stopped working on the clients site)
  • The bunch of plugins that the theme needed to work such as a helper plugin, a templates library and some others…

I also recommended moving to SiteGround hosting so we could remove some of the optimising plugins and use some better ones.

Conclusion

After the rebuild, the clients site now has the following plugins (excluding speed optimisation plugins):

  • Instagram feed
  • Slider (she wanted something fancier that the inbuilt slider of Divi)

That’s just two plugins! Her site only needs the theme and two plugins to function fully!

Now many of my clients don’t have an Instagram feed and they don’t have sliders so it is possible to have your website rely only on the theme and NO plugins! How fantastic is that!

Now, she does have some other plugins on the site but if they failed, her site would still work.

They are my essential plugins:

  • A backup plugin
  • A security plugin
  • RankMath (an SEO plugin)
  • A cookie notice plugin

She also wants to do some Facebook ads so she has a pixel plugin.

Then there are some optimising plugins to help with the delivery of Google fonts, Google analytics and images.

Finally there is a plugin to rearrange the order the code is loaded and to compress files.

Conclusion

I’d like to say again that the site went from 25 plugins to 11. Not forgetting that the site only needs 2 to work where before it needed 10!

What I removed;

  1. Contact form 7    (Free, needed for website to function)
  2. Essential grid      (Premium, needed for website to function)
  3. Simple local avatar (Free, activated but not needed)
  4. Mega main menu (Premium, needed for website function)
  5. Redux framework – (Needed included with theme, no licence needed)
  6. Roadthemes helper – (Needed included with theme, no licence needed)
  7. Shortcodes ultimate – (Free, activated but not needed)
  8. Templetara – (Needed included with theme, no licence needed)
  9. Testimonials – (Free, needed for website to function but obsolete)
  10. WPBakery Page builder – (Premium, needed for website to function)
  11. Widget importer / exporter – (Free – Developer may have used it, left it activated, not needed)
  12. Simple SSL – (Free, needed for website to function but easily replaced with manual SSL setup)
  13. Far future expiration – (Free, optimisation plugin, replaced with good hosting)
  14. Autoptomize – (Free, optimisation plugin, replaced with single plugin)
  15. Autoclear – (Free, optimisation plugin, replaced with single plugin)
  16. Askimet anti spam (Free plugin but needed a paid subscription)
  17. Yoast – (Free, SEO plugin, replaced with RankMath)
  18. Changing the sender name on contact form (Free, not needed)
  19. Changing the image on the login page (Free, not needed)
  20. Page scroll to ID (Free, not needed)

What I kept:

  • Cookie notice – (Free, recommended to keep)
  • Backup
  • Facebook pixel (Free, needed to run FB ads)
  • Revoluton slider – Premium, needed for website to function)
  • Instagram feed – (Premium, needed for website to function)

What I added:

  • RankMath
  • 4 optimisation plugins
  • Security plugin

The result.

My client now has a website that is easy to maintain and has no ongoing licence costs. She isn’t overwhelmed anymore and can easily update the content now.

This is the vision I have for all my clients websites. I want them as low-tech as possible so my clients can maintain them themselves if they want to.

The main problem with this site build was a company who used lots of premium plugins without giving the licences to the client. They were told that if they wanted the plugins updated they should pay for ongoing maintenance services.

I think this is terrible practice and licences should always be provided.

They also used a theme that relied heavily on plugins, free and premium to work.

Are you happy with the way your website has been built?

Would you prefer it to be simplified?

 

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