DIY GUIDE: 8 Tips To Know Before You Make Changes To Your WordPress Website

March 29, 2018 |

If you’ve had your website for any length of time, or you’re making your first DIY WordPress website, you’re probably tempted to start tinkering with the code to make changes. Does the phrase sound familiar to you? “I can just copy and paste code! I don’t need to hire a web designer!” Yeah, it’s a phrase we hear a lot around the Internet! While we love good ol’ DIY web design, as professional web designers and developers we know the dangers of Googling code.
(HINT: Stuff breaks.)
Whether you’ve completely DIY’d your website or you’ve got a web designer who can’t keep up with you – it’s normal to want to dive deeper into code. Before you do that, here are the 8 must-know tips before you copy and paste your way through WordPress code.

Before You Design A Website: Have A Backup Of Your Website

Any good code-lovin’ fool will tell you that it’s important to have a backup of the site before you make any changes to a site. Website backups are like your homeowner’s insurance. It may be an annoying step to take if you never have an issue, but you’ll thank yourself later when you do need it.

Not sure how to backup your website? No problem! Most hosting providers will backup your site when requested. You can also request automatic, regularly occurring backups of your site even if you’re not modifying the code. It’s just a great extra precaution to take.

 Have FTP Access Before You Have An Error

I can’t stress this tip enough. If there’s an error in the code you’re using, there is a very real chance of causing harm to your site. When you take your site down, you’ll need a way to get back in to revert the changes you make (aka, delete that code!). But if you’ve taken your site down, you can’t get back into the WordPress Editor to revert the changes.

So how do you get in? That’s where having FTP access comes in. Since you’ve already made a backup of your website, you can use FTP access to put up that backup and fix your site.

Dear DIY Web Designers: Please Stick To Safe Languages

Not all programming languages are created equal. Some languages like HTML and CSS, are easy to learn. As an added bonus, when you make a mistake you’re less likely to take the whole site down. That’s why we put these languages on a “probably safe” list. (Heck, JavaScript is usually pretty safe too, so let’s throw it in the list.)

It’s no coincidence that these languages are used so heavily in website builders like Squarespace and Wix. They tend to require less time and experience to manipulate. And before you turn keyboard warrior on us – we said that in the nicest way possible! We also started coding on HTML and CSS back when flash was still cool. They’re THE intro languages.

 

Don’t be fooled by where you’re touching the code. Making changes in the WordPress dashboard vs off your WordPress website puts you at more risk. When you work directly in the WordPress Editor or Customize section, the changes go live immediately. That’s why WordPress added that pesky popup to warn you before you use the Editor.

Install Your WordPress Child Theme

If you’re familiar with WordPress, you may recognize the terms child-theme and parent-theme. For those of you who aren’t aware, a WordPress theme is typically downloaded as a zip file. Inside the zip file are a parent-theme and a child-theme. You’ll install both on your website but only activate the child-theme.

Why? The parent holds all your WordPress theme’s important information. Occasionally theme creators update their themes and let you know it’s time to update yours. The child-theme will inherit all the functionality of the parent-theme, while protecting your changes when it comes time to update the theme. If you made edits to the parent theme, then updated that theme, all those changes would get overwritten. Nothing sucks more than putting in the time to customize your theme and watching seeing all that work completely erased.

Validate The Code Source Before You Copy/Paste

I’ll be the first to say it – some people suck at their jobs and others had a bad sense of humor. Keep that in mind when you’re looking for code to copy and paste. Before you CTRL + V, make sure you look at the source and ask yourself:

  • Is it a source you consider trustworthy?
    Some people just want to cause havoc! If the code is from W3School, WordPress, or a page builder like Visual Composer or DIVI – it’s probably safe. If it’s from Carl’s Code Blog – beware.
  • Is it relatively new?
    While WordPress does try to make code compatible for an extended period of time, if you’re copying code from 10 years ago it might not work. We coders like to evolve every decade or so.
  • Is this code going to cause a security issue?
    The good news is that 9.9/10 times it won’t! If the code is going to be modifying something with login credentials, payment gateways, payment processors, or other confidential information then verify it and research the outcome before you use it. You don’t want some pimply teen his parent’s basement to get your customer’s information and credit card numbers. (He’ll probably sell it to his crush for a date to prom.)

If the code meets these qualifications, then it’s probably safe to use. If you’re not sure, do a little more research before you put it inside your site.

Be Careful Using PHP If  You’re Not A Web Developer

This is not a diss to your coding or Googling skills – this is a warning made straight from our *experienced* hearts. Remember when we said all languages are not created equal? PHP is one of those languages that’s a little more advanced. Add the wrong line of PHP and you will take your site down.

Not sure what’s what? A good indicator to look out for is anything in your line of code that says “<?php”. There’s a few other things you need to look out for, but we don’t want to bore you! We packaged some of the most common PHP mistakes that will break your site in a short, free download. Grab it by clicking below.

Check Out The Most Common PHP Scripts To Watch Out For

What To Do If You Breaks Your Site – DON’T PANIC!

This is an actual must-know tip before you DIY web design. If you’re DIYing, chances are you WILL break your site at some point. Don’t worry, even the pros have broken a website at some point.

When this happens to you, if you don’t have a web developer or FTP access, the first thing you need to do is contact your hosting provider and let them know your site’s down. They won’t judge you for it! They’re used to hearing it. While you have them on the phone, calmly tell them what theme and what file you edited. They should be able to get you squared away. If not, contact a web developer you trust.

Ask Our WordPress Developer Community

Ok, maybe it’s not ours per se but we’re in there! The WordPress developer community is very helpful, partially because WordPress is an open-source CMS. And like we said before, we’re all used to screwing up when we first learn code. So we don’t mind helping other people that may just be starting out.

If you only walk away from this article with one actual tip – let it be that when in doubt – stop, verify, and ask someone else before you copy and paste a line of code on your site. The extra steps may be more work for you now but they’ll save you from definitely having to hire a web developer to fix your site later.

More Knowledge. More Power.

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