I love working with clients who have never had a website before. I find a blank canvas inspiring and from a technical standpoint, I am able to use many of the tools that have been successful in previous projects. The disconnect often between clients and a web re-design project is it feels like it should be simple because “a lot of the work” has already been done.
The reality is, if you are inheriting a site, there are a few things to look for which could throw unexpected hurdles in your direction through the web design project. I want to bring up a few points because these can become time sink holes, which can make a project much more time consuming (ie less profitable ) than you may have anticipated.
Hosting. I have said it before: ask 10 web designers about hosting and you will get 412 different answers. It’s fairly unrealistic that you will know the finer points of all the different hosting options out there, so while evaluating a project (before you send a contract) ask some questions about their hosting:
- Do they like their host, are they attached for any reason, and do you know the company.
- If you will need to move them and if you don’t know about hosting /migrating you may need to outsource this part of the project, budget accordingly.
- Do they have access to the hosting? Be very clear here. Do they know the logins, do they own their domain name, how is email configured, if you move their host will it have an effect on their email delivery. I have seen a million different scenarios in this area and most of them are time-consuming: my husband hosts the site (and doesn’t want to give you access), we are using a wind farm for hosting, a member of our volunteer is hosting (and doesn’t want to give us access). Get this sorted sooner rather than later. You don’t want to be ready to launch and then trying to figure out the hosting.
If you need help finding who owns a domain use this site: https://whois.icann.org
Plugins. Now this is huge. I am not going to lie, I myself have installed plugins, tested, not sure if something else would work better, installed something similar, tested that one, moved on to something else, then forgotten which one I actually decided to use. When you inherit a new site, some plugins are totally obvious, Akismet, Wordfence, All in One SEO, etc. But others, can feel totally random (to me). How do you evaluate what you need and what you don’t? There isn’t a plugin that tells you if you are actually using a plugin or not. So here’s what I do, and of course, I am wide open for feedback, because I don’t claim to have all the answers. . . . which you may recall is why I started a Facebook Group, that now has nearly 25K members. . . I wanted to ask people for help. So back to managing plugins if you inherit a website.
Before you begin, I suggest you take a screen shot of all the plugins and just store it within your clients folder or in Evernote or however you organize yourself. This can be helpful in case you need to figure out why something isn’t functioning as it was before, or I have heard of designers who have had clients say you put in plugins that broke my site, you can say actually, that plugin was before my time.
- Step one: quick review. If there are plugins installed are not active, and you don’t recognize them as something you know would be useful, just delete. Even plugins that are not active need to be updated and can make your site vulnerable to the bad guys.
- Step two: dig deeper. Are there plugins that are redundant or will be redundant after you build your updated version of the site. Example: you are redoing the website with Divi and using the Elegant Themes plugin Monarach for your social sharing of blog posts – you can delete Share This, or whatever social sharing plugin they have active. You will no longer need a plugin that adds a favicon, and maybe Bloom will replace the MailChimp sign up forms.
- Step 3: CSI – hopefully at this point you will only have a few plugins that you really need to unravel. Because I am a simple girl, I suggest you just deactivate these and see if anything obvious happens. If you have a close relationship with your client you can even do this while you are on a Zoom call or in a Google hangout sharing screens. Just roll through the pages and see if anything is suddenly missing or not functioning properly. The reason having the client with you on this step is that you may not recognize a difference in the site and they can help you here. If yes, evaluate if you needed that “thing” and delete / reactivate accordingly. If no, bye bye.
- Step 4: If you have plugins left at this point that you don’t know what they are, you need to go do a little (or a lot) research to see what the functionality is that the plugin brings to the site. Use your skills to determine if the plugin should remain or not. This is where you need some critical thinking: has the plugin been maintained and is it compatible with the version of WordPress you are using? If not, but you want that functionality, you may need to look for a new plugin.
Sometimes its good to know what performance you are getting from things like plugins, this resource gives you a list of plugins that can help you analyze and detect any issues that may be slowing your (new to you) site down.
Does all of this sound time consuming? Well, it CAN be! This is why a re-do is not always less work than a brand new project.
One last heads up I want to give you when inheriting a website is client related. Why are they not using the person who designed the site in the first place? I always ask this question when I am asked to pitch a new project. There are a few reasons that should give you a heads up that the client may fall into the “challenging” part of the ven diagram. Now what’s challenging to you, may not be challenging to me. But things like, my old person was really expensive, or they didn’t do what I wanted, or we couldn’t agree, or they wanted me to sign a contract, could be all be red flags. If you don’t get good vibes, then pass. There are loads of clients out there, life is short and you are awesome, so choose wisely.
What do you look for when you are looking under the hood of a new site? How do you handle the plugins or make sure you are not traveling down an endless path when you get a new to you web design project?