When a friend of mine asked for suggestions on what he should use to create a new site, I suggested WordPress. It is well supported, has an amazing community, and a ton of free themes and plugins to choose from. After getting WordPress installed on a new web hosting account, I left him be to see what issues he would run into and how he would configure the site.
After noticing the site was loading slowly three weeks later, I obtained admin access to try to determine what the problem was. The first thing I did was check which plugins he installed. One of the plugins added the ability to embed YouTube videos on the site using shortcodes. My friend was unaware that WordPress has oEmbed support which allows users to easily embed videos by pasting the URL into the editor.
He also installed a couple of other plugins that mimicked core functionality. He was unaware that WordPress does most of the things he wants without the need for plugins.
Page Builder Shenanigans
After activating a theme that was compatible with the SportsPress plugin, he installed the MotoPress Content Editor. MotoPress Content Editor is a front-end page builder that enables users to visually construct pages. The front page of the site was a long vertical column filled with information that mimicked blog posts.
Because he didn’t understand how WordPress works, he forgot to configure the site to display the latest posts instead of using a front page. What he ended up doing is recreating the blog post layout on the static front page using the MotoPress Content Editor. He also added a lot of page builder elements such as YouTube videos to the page which was a contributing factor to the site’s poor loading times.
Page builders are a tool that can make building sites and pages more convenient, but in the wrong hands, they can help users ruin their sites. I replaced the video elements with a text widget that displays the latest video from a YouTube channel. Since he was mimicking the blog post layout on a static page, I configured the site to display the latest blog posts first.
Once I fixed these issues, I removed the page builder and explained to my friend why it was unnecessary. He was recreating WordPress functionality and doing unnecessary work without realising it.
This experience makes me wonder how many other newer WordPress users end up in a similar situation. They don’t know what WordPress is capable of out-of-the-box and they end up installing a myriad of plugins with descriptions that sound similar to the features they want. I spent about a week undoing all of the work my friend did in three. Had I not stepped in, the site would likely not scale and its performance would decrease further.
Getting New Users Started on the Right Track
In early 2015, a community initiative dubbed NUX Working Group was created to brainstorm ideas on how to improve the new user experiences throughout the WordPress admin. While the group initially had a head of steam, it lost a lot of momentum last year. I’d like to see it re-emerge and work in concert with the focus-based approach to developing WordPress this year.
How can WordPress explain to new users what it’s capable of without drowning them in technical information? Is it feasible to create something that caters to the majority without explaining every feature in detail? Admin Pointers were introduced in WordPress 3.3 and while they’re typically used to introduce new features in a release, they don’t act as a guided tour to what WordPress can do.
Education is likely a key component to improving the new user experience. WordPress.com has a 12-step beginner’s guide that walks people through the process of configuring and customising their sites. For self-hosted WordPress users, there’s a New to WordPress – Where to Start guide that covers what WordPress is, choosing a host, and considerations to keep in mind. However, much of the information is technical in nature.
If you’re a consultant or coach who works with people new to WordPress, how do you handle the educational part of your projects? What are the most common roadblocks that they encounter? Do you have a custom-made getting started guide or do you forward them to a site with video tutorials like WordPress.TV or WP101?