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Things You Should Know Before Customizing WordPress

By
on Web Design & WordPress

WordPress is known for its incredible versatility. The content management system (CMS) provides developers with many ways to customize both the front and back ends.

This opens a whole world of possibilities when it comes to form and function. The ability to create fully-custom themes and plugins offers a path to building virtually any type of website. But it doesn’t end there.

Features like custom post types and taxonomies, along with custom fields allow for highly-specialized content. It can be organized in a way that fits your needs like a glove.

In addition, there are an endless array of smaller customizations. Code snippets targeting hooks and filters let you tweak existing functionality even further. And we’re only scratching the surface of what’s possible.

However, with all of this power comes some responsibility. Customizing WordPress requires some planning. And there are several important factors to consider. So, before you fire up that code editor, here are some things you should know about the process.

A Staging Site is a Must-Have Feature for Testing

Creating some custom functionality for your WordPress website? Avoid building it directly on your production site if at all possible. There are simply too many things that can go wrong.

One false move can lead to usability/performance problems or even downtime. Perhaps it’s not as big of a deal on a small site with few visitors. But a busy eCommerce or membership website? That could cost you both sales and customer loyalty.

This underscores the importance of having a staging site. It provides a playground of sorts where customizations can be tested before being made public. The idea is to hopefully catch and repair any issues before they impact users.

What’s more, there are a number of ways to set up a staging environment. Some web hosts offer them as part of their services. But you can also create your own either online or on your local machine.

Testing this way is very much worth the extra effort.

A website displayed on a laptop computer.

The Method for Implementing Customizations Matters

Part of the beauty of WordPress is that you can implement custom code in a number of ways. But it also has the potential to become problematic.

For example, a custom code snippet can easily be placed into your theme’s functions.php file. That is fine for the short term. But what happens when you change themes down the road?

Launching a redesign with a new theme will result in a loss of those customizations. And while moving any snippets to the new theme is possible, they could well get lost in the shuffle. Depending on the nature of the custom code, some key functionality may end up missing. In this type of situation, creating a custom plugin would be the more future-friendly solution.

When it comes to making changes to a third-party theme, there are similar considerations. Adding or editing code directly within the theme means potentially overwriting changes during an update. The best way around that issue is by utilizing a child theme.

The universal point is that, regardless of what you’re trying to achieve, it’s important to implement customizations in a way that will stand the test of time. Keeping things well-organized is also recommended so that you won’t have to search around in several different places to find what you need.

Website source code displayed on a screen.

There Will Be Future Maintenance Requirements

Neither WordPress nor its ecosystem of themes and plugins remain static. They evolve with the times. That means the code we write today will likely need to be maintained on a regular basis.

This follows the evolution of WordPress itself, but also of the variety of languages and libraries it depends on. PHP, JavaScript libraries such as jQuery and React, and CSS are prime examples. A change to these dependencies can impact performance and whether or not a particular feature still works.

Not only that, but plugins and themes also have their own agendas to implement. New features are added at a breakneck speed in this competitive environment. The ever-shifting Gutenberg block editor is also a moving target. This can lead to more compatibility issues as new versions continually roll out.

Therefore, you’ll want to pay close attention to what’s happening in these areas. Changes to WordPress core, themes, plugins, or dependencies could directly impact your existing customizations.

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Customizing WordPress Is Serious Business

The mere act of customizing WordPress is one thing. But going about it the right way is another. It’s not something to dive into without some serious thought.

It’s important to consider what you want to accomplish, how it will be implemented, and how to keep it running smoothly into the future. The answers often come down to planning ahead and following best practices.

If you’re extending the functionality of WordPress itself or a plugin, read up on the documentation. There are likely some established methods built-in for getting the results you need.

The other side of the coin involves staying within coding standards. For example, eschewing any deprecated PHP or JavaScript and opting for the latest stable techniques. This will keep your code compliant and hopefully easier to maintain over time.

Keeping these things in mind will lead to more complete and sustainable results. That’s something that will benefit every WordPress developer.