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Tips, tricks and fixes for common WordPress problems

Thursday, January 19, 2023

Graphic showing the WordPress logo broken in half

After a dozen or so years working with WordPress, I've come across quite a lot of problems. Some of them are down to how it was originally installed or currently used, others because WordPress itself isn't as good as it thinks it is.

I've set out some of the common issues I've come across over the years, from slow sites to poor image quality and SEO problems. This is by no means an exhaustive list of everything that could go wrong or how to fix it. Instead think of it as a good place to get some quick wins while you rethink your site.

WordPress is slow. How can I make it faster?

Making WordPress "go faster" is a long and technical topic. It could be anything from the server your site is hosted on, to the design of your theme. These are the most common fixes I've found that have been in my control...

Update WordPress, themes and plugins - carefully. If you haven't updated the site in a while approach with extreme caution as you might accidentally break something.

Remove any plugins and themes you're not using. Don't just deactivate them, delete them entirely.

Check the plugins and themes you are using for duplicate functionality. If two or more are doing the same thing, pick one and get rid of the other(s). SEO and web forms seem to be common duplicates.

Enable debugging on WordPress, visit a load of pages on your site, then check the logs. Bugs in themes and plugins can slow sites down considerably. This will help surface them.

Run your site through PageSpeed Insights. This will direct you to issues with the underlying site design. Common ones are loading endless javascript files, 4 or 5 different Google Fonts and super large images. Fixing these problems does mean digging into the code. If you're going to do that you might find it easier to rebuild the site theme and review which plugins you're using and why.

I prefer to look at these before I start thinking about caching strategies and content delivery networks. Implementing these on a poorly set up site just puts a plaster on a gaping wound.

My images are lower quality than I expected

When you upload images to the Media Library, WordPress processes them to create the different sizes it needs. Your original will always be there, but WordPress will create lots of versions for different screen sizes and uses. If your image is too big, even the full sized version could be shrunk.

When this happens, the quality is also changed. So while you might save your image at the oft-recommended 70% quality, WordPress will reduce that quality further. The default used to be 82%, so your final image will be presented to the user at something closer to 60% of its original quality. This is because quality reductions are compounded - each reduction in quality is applied to the lower quality version that went before it.

Options are to save your images with a higher quality (I use 90%), or to change the quality setting WordPress uses.

You could decide to use the "full size" version of your images in content, although I'd steer away from this. WordPress doesn't present smaller, mobile friendly versions of your images, which could make your site unusable for people on their phones, and harm your SEO.

I changed my theme and now [feature x] doesn't work

Fixing this usually requires a bit of digging to find out what's happening where.

Your old theme may have introduced the feature by adding it directly into its own code base (usually in the function.php file, though not always).

Your new theme might not be compatible with a plugin you love because of how one or the other is written.

I suggest going back to basics, understanding what the feature is supposed to be doing and whether it's still needed. You'll save a lot of time and heartache rather than diving straight in to code.

How do I get support?

There isn't a number you can call for WordPress Technical Support. Your instance of WordPress is supported by whomever installed it, or you pay to support it. Not paying someone? Then get used to hunting around on forums and StackOverflow.

There's an extra layer of complexity. If you install an app on your iPhone or Android device, you'll need to talk to the app developer if there's a problem. The same principle applies with WordPress. When you install themes and plugins, it's their developers you go to for help, not WordPress. Support can be a bit variable, from non-existent, post on a forum and hope for a reply, to pay-to-play.

If you decide to pull everything in-house (not unreasonable as WordPress isn't that hard), keep all your documentation together. When the geek looking after it moves on, it makes it a lot easier to bring someone else up to speed. Trust me on this. I had to pick up a site that hadn't been touched in more than two years, and the former developer was nowhere to be found.

I want a headless content management system.

I worked for a company that invested six figure sums in replacing their WordPress platform with something way less flexible and easy to use because a couple of marketers got fixated on having a "Headless Content Management System."

WordPress supports headless, so if you want to share the same content through web, a couple of apps and so on, you're good to go.

My ranking on search engines is pants, and it's all WordPress's fault.

Lots to unpack here as search engine optimization is a big topic. Really big. You just won't believe how vastly hugely mind-bogglingly big it is.

Out of the box, WordPress is OK, but nothing to write home about. It has a simple site map and you can structure content with all the header tags and alt text you need for the basics. Given a lot of SEO starts and ends with how the words and pictures on a page are put together, I'd say it has you covered.

To get the meta tags and other bits of HTML search engines and social media sites like, either they have to be coded into the site theme, or you'll need a plugin to add them.

If you want WordPress to help you write your SEO friendly content, you'll need a plugin. Personal opinion, but if you're waiting until you copy/paste your latest missive into the WordPress Gutenberg editor to do the SEO stuff, you've probably left it too late.

The sitemap shares stuff it shouldn't

WordPress introduced a default sitemap that exposes every page and user name. The former means pages you don't want to be exposed are (such as "thanks for contacting us" pages on contact forms). The latter is a security issue as the WordPress username - not the nickname - is exposed.

I wrote a rough guide to tailoring the sitemap not long after it came out. However, that stopped working. If you do want to take more control of the default sitemap, I suggest looking at the following hooks in the codex:

When I share links on social media I don't get pretty pictures and descriptions showing up

A lot of social media sites use something called "Open Graph" or "OG" to show images, titles and descriptions with shared links. These "OG Tags" have to be coded into the header of each web page, which is dependent on your theme.

It's relatively simple to add these to a theme, either by coding it onto single.php (which is naughty), adding a function into your theme's function.php (OK, but inflexible) or a site specific plugin (most flexible). Alternatively, you could use an SEO plugin as these often include OG tags as part of their functionality.

My old galleries are broken

If your site's been around a while and you have image galleries, there's a possibility Gutenberg broke them. In February 2022, a WordPress update fundamentally changed the HTML structure of image galleries, which caused older templates to break. This problem has surfaced more frequently as themes have been updated, new developers moved in and the memory of what happened fades.

Although you could include code to protect old content, I think the better long term bet is to revisit your old galleries and reconstruct them. That will make it easier to maintain your site over the longer term than constantly having to remember to include some legacy code each update.

My site looks rubbish (and it's all WordPress's fault)

When I hear this, the site's usually not been touched for a few years, was never set up properly in the first place, or a new manager is in place who has different ideas to their predecessor.

Either way, a rewrite isn't a bad idea to take advantage of developments in browser technology or design trends. If you are going to do it treat it like a project rather than a bit of garden shed tinkering. WordPress is so easy to use I sometimes think we underestimate our ability to really screw things up.

WordPress doesn't work that well on the iPad

There are numerous issues with the way the WordPress Gutenberg editor works on the iPad. I reached the point where it was almost unusable for anything beyond basic copy/paste style editing. If you do make changes to your text in the editor, getting those back into your source document is also a pain.

I don't have a solution for this, unfortunately. If you are using an iPad to manage your site, I'd suggest scaling back your expectations, or using something else.

Are you dropping WordPress?

Yes, at least for now. WordPress has evolved beyond being a useful, simple tool to manage websites. It's become a monster that, with every auto-installed update, adds more complexity and problems. For now my site is being generated as static HTML pages using a Python app built to run on my iPad.

My name is Ross Hori

I'm a freelance writer, designer and photographer. By day I create articles, features and reports. At night I take photos and write fiction.

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