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What To Do When Inheriting A WordPress Site

WordPress allows for a multitude of customization options. Although this is one of its more attractive features, it can make it extremely challenging to find your way around an inherited site. That’s true whether you’re a newbie or a more experienced user.

Fortunately, making sense of your new site doesn’t have to be intimidating. By following a few simple steps, you’ll get an overview of your inherited site and everything it comes with. This means you’ll be able to start using it in no time.

In this article, we’ll discuss the most important steps to take when you’ve inherited a new WordPress site. Let’s get started!

How to Start Over With a WordPress Site (In 10 Steps)

You may be a business owner who’s just acquired an existing website, or you could be taking over from the previous administrator at a new job. Whatever your situation might be, here are some actionable steps for making an inherited WordPress site fully yours.

1. Assess the Site and Understand What Exists

The first thing you’ll want to do is deeply explore the site. It’s important to understand what currently exists. This might require some knowledge of WordPress, so you may want to do some preliminary research on the platform.

Next, log in to your WordPress dashboard and check to see what plugins and themes are currently active. Find out what features and functionality they’re providing for the site, and decide if you’d like to retain or change them.

You’ll also need to check and see if the active theme is a child theme, as this information will come in handy if you need to perform any debugging. To check this, navigate to Appearance > Themes. Then hover over the current theme and hit the Theme Details button:

Themes section of WP Admin

Here, you can see whether or not your theme is a child theme, and what parent theme it belongs to if relevant:

Theme details in WP Admin

Next, you’ll want to find out what, if anything, needs to be updated. This includes the WordPress core, theme, and plugins. You may also want to check for any custom post types that are being used, and confirm whether they’re from a plugin or are a custom addition to the site.

2. Manage All Passwords

Next, you’ll want to ensure that only authorized persons can access your site and all related resources. To do that, you can start by collecting all of the usernames and passwords used to manage your site. This includes your WordPress login, hosting, FTP, Content Delivery Network (CDN), and third-party solution credentials.

Once you have a complete list, you’ll want to change each password, to avoid issues such as stolen credentials if the former owners were lax about security. You’ll also want to avoid leaving access open to the site’s previous owner or developer.

To modify login details and contact information for each user on your site, navigate to Users > All Users:

All Users section of WP Admin

To change the site administrator’s email address, navigate to Settings > General:

General Settings in WP Admin

Finally, you’ll want to store all of your passwords in a password manager such as LastPass. Don’t forget to use strong – but still easily-accessible – passwords.

3. Update User Roles and Permissions

In addition to changing login access details, you’ll want to ensure that proper roles and permissions are set. For example, the admin role should be limited to users who need to perform administrative duties, such as installing themes and plugins or adding new users.

You may also want to delegate duties to certain users, or even create more of them. If there are existing users you no longer need, on the other hand, you might want to disable or delete them.

4. Review functions.php and Other Theme Files

Theme files in WP Admin

A recommended practice for WordPress developers is to separate design and functionality. This means that everything design-related should go into your theme, and functionality should be handled by your plugins. However, that’s not always the case.

This is one reason to investigate your theme files. You can begin by comparing the template files with the WordPress Template Hierarchy. You’ll want to ensure that all files are using up-to-date code. The Theme Check plugin can help you learn about any potential issues with deprecated code.

Another thing to do is make note of any custom fields that are being used. For example, an eCommerce store might have additional fields for each product such as price, average rating, and more. This will be useful to know if you do decide to switch themes.

It’s also worth noting that investigating your theme files is helpful beyond just learning about deprecated code or customizations. The functions.php file, for example, will often contain links to any external styles and scripts that are in use.

5. Check Site Analytics and Tracking

The next step to take is to find out what tools (if any) are being used for tracking analytics. This is something to watch out for when you investigate your theme’s files. For example, the code for Google Analytics might have been included in the active theme. However, this isn’t recommended, since a theme change will make that code disappear.

Therefore, you’ll want to start by ensuring that tracking tools are installed properly, using plugins such as OptinMonster or MonsterInsights. Alternatively, you can add any necessary analytics code manually, outside of your WordPress theme.

Next, it’s smart to ensure that sitemaps have been submitted to Google Search Console. If this is not the case, you can use the Yoast SEO plugin to generate a sitemap. In addition, you’ll want to check out the Index Coverage report in Search Console to fix any existing indexing errors. 

6. Check Site Performance

It’s vital to know how well your new site performs. You can start by simply visiting your site in a web browser to see how fast it loads. You can also try a service such as Pingdom or a plugin like IsItWP to gauge the performance of your website.

If speeds are too slow, you may need to optimize your site or remove certain pages. You can even restart the site entirely if the domain is performing poorly. Slow loading times may mean that you need to switch to a hosting provider with decent CDN and caching support.

7. Review Installed Plugins

As mentioned earlier, you’ll want to investigate what plugins are installed on your inherited site. These tools add extra functionality to the WordPress core, and you’ll need to know what they are and decide whether or not to keep them:

Plugins section of WP Admin

You’ll also want to make sure all your plugins are updated, as outdated ones could cause compatibility issues. Plus, don’t forget to ensure that no plugins are using old contact details. For example, a contact form plugin may still be sending notifications to the email addresses of the former owners.

8. Set Up a Local Environment

With any new site, it’s important to set up a staging environment. This gives you a testing ground for plugin installations, theme changes, and bug fixes, so you can make sure everything is working perfectly before your changes go live.

You can do this easily using a tool such as Local. It provides easy WordPress installs, automatic Secure Sockets Layers (SSL) support, your choice of PHP environments, fast deployments, and speed-optimized websites.

You may also want to set up version control for your site, using GitHub or any other platform of your choice. Fortunately, here at WP Engine we also offer version control integration.

9. Perform Security Scans

Your website’s security should be one of your top considerations. Therefore, you’ll want to prioritize it from the very start. Unsecured websites can lead to stolen email addresses, passwords, and other sensitive details.

You can run security scans to detect security threats or vulnerabilities, and ensure that there is no malware or compromised files on your inherited site. Plugins such as Wordfence and services like Sucuri come in handy for doing this. Wordfence in particular can perform regular scans, and email you whenever there’s a new security risk.

10. Update Web Hosting

Last but not least, you’ll want to ensure that your new website’s hosting provider is suitable and satisfies your needs. It should be able to tolerate any new changes you need to make to the site. Your provider and plan should also be fast, have excellent uptime rates, and scale well as your site grows.

You may need to carry out extra performance and stress tests to find out if your current hosting is up to the task. If you decide you need to move to a new web host, make sure to choose your plan carefully.

Take Control of Your Website With WP Engine

No matter what your reason may be for taking over a WordPress website, it’s vital to ensure that you’re familiar with its existing functionality and setup. This is important for carrying out effective maintenance, and will help to quickly narrow down the cause of any issues that come up.

Although maintaining your website can be challenging, with the right hosting service and access to quality resources, you can create enjoyable digital experiences with ease!

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