Building a maintainable website, or how to destroy the heart of WordPress

I was asked to look at an existing WP website this week (I won’t say which one) with a view to bringing it up to date and improving its SEO.

On the face of it, it actually didn’t need much doing to it – one or two tweaks with internal links, maybe add a few keywords here and there, remove superfluous comments boxes – but for some reason there was a little voice screaming at me in the back of my head that something wasn’t quite right somewhere.

So I asked the customer if she would be so kind as to give me a WP logon so that I could take a closer look before giving her a detailed estimate, and I have never been so pleased that I listened to that voice in my head.

It turns out that the person who’d built the site for her had decided to write a bespoke theme just for her. What’s wrong with that, I hear you cry?  Nothing in itself, apart from the fact that he’d hard-coded (in php) every single page.  Even the content – the welcome text, all of the testimonials, everything.  Even the comments boxes.

Not only that, but the WordPress version is out of date, all of the plugins are out of date, there is no backup running that I could see.  I have no way of knowing whether his theme is compatible with the newer versions, so without a recent backup I’m not even going to try updating, no way Jose.

This so-called WordPress ‘developer’ had managed to change the heart of WordPress, from an excellent content management system into an almost unmaintainable site.

What I thought would be a few quick tweaks had changed into a re-coding job at best, a rebuild at worst, and would therefore be considerably more expensive for the customer who, like many these days, is on a very tight budget.

My heart goes out to her. And my fury goes out to him.