15 Seriously Simple Hacks for Customizing WordPress for Clients

15 Seriously Simple Hacks for Customizing WordPress for Clients

WordPress has become synonymous with ease of use and flexibility. With an intuitive interface, plugins, themes, and other tools to help users build websites, WordPress has quickly become the content management system of choice.

The subject of website customization is nothing new. Articles and guides are created all the time with the purpose of educating developers and others working in WordPress on the best practices around creating effective designs, tips for improving user experience, and lists of WordPress-compatible tools to help.

What some of these articles miss though are the lesser known tips and tricks. WordPress developers can enhance the experience for everyone involved in a website—developer, client, and website visitor—just by making a few simple updates behind the scenes.

Here are our top picks for WordPress hacks you might not be aware of–but definitely need to know–for better site customization.

Customizations for You and Your Clients

The backend of WordPress can greatly benefit from customization. As a developer, you know all the great plugins and themes that are needed to design the perfect website for your clients. But what about all the plugins and themes that can improve the WordPress experience for clients as they move forward with managing and maintaining their own websites?

WordPress isn’t a difficult platform to use, though it can be intimidating for those who aren’t technologically savvy. While WordPress’s platform is designed for a streamlined and simplified user experience, it’s not really meant to guide the user to any one spot in particular (as a website design would do).

For the most part, your clients are going to be completely inexperienced users when it comes to website development or even WordPress itself. Anything you can do within the backend to simplify the experience would be a big help to your clients—and a big boost to the perceived value you provide to them.

Hack #1: Create WordPress Documentation

You’ve spent a lot of time developing a website and it would be a shame to see it go to waste simply because your users don’t understand the platform upon which it was built. The first thing you can do to help alleviate any confusion or frustration with WordPress is to create a set of documentation for your clients.

By creating a step-by-step guide of resources for your clients within WordPress, you’re providing them with an extremely valuable asset they can reference whenever questions or issues arise. And since most WordPress users are looking to make the same changes (create blog posts, insert images, update text, etc.) to their websites, you can create one master set of documentation that addresses all the major points of owning and managing a WordPress website. Then you can include it with every new website build and have it become an automatic part of the deliverables you provide to each client.

Suggested Tool: WP Help plugin

Hack #2: White Label the Dashboard

With Ultimate Branding you can add, remove or change WordPress branding on your site or across an entire Multisite network.
With Ultimate Branding you can add, remove or change WordPress branding on your site or across an entire Multisite network.

The WordPress dashboard has a very generic look: generic colors, generic WordPress branding, and sometimes it goes overboard in messaging. To developers like yourself (and perhaps some of your clients), that doesn’t matter much so long as the platform gets the job done. Which it does. However, if you’re aiming to provide a more streamlined experience for your clients and would like to add your brand’s personal touch, then some white label customizations are in order.

We’ve previously discussed a number of ways this can be achieved. Here is where we’d suggest you start:

  • Add your logo to the login screen
  • Update the header and footer
  • Clean up the dashboard widgets so your client will only see the ones they need
  • Clean up the admin menu sidebar so your client will only see the menu items they need (or should have access to)

Suggested Tools: Ultimate Branding

Hack #3: Skin the CMS

Based loosely on Google’s material design guidelines, Material WP gives you a genuinely different-looking backend for either your own or clients’ sites, and makes customization a breeze.
Based loosely on Google’s material design guidelines, Material WP gives you a genuinely different-looking backend for either your own or clients’ sites, and makes customization a breeze.

Who says the website is the only thing in need of a designer’s touch? Designers are now creating themes to skin WordPress login screens and dashboards. There are many themes to choose from—free as well as paid. If you’re willing to pay for the more premium theme options, many of them come with white labeling customizations too (as mentioned in hack #2 above).

If you want to encourage your clients to regularly work on their websites, give them a more vibrant and welcoming environment to work within.

Suggested Tools: Any of the ones listed in our collection of 11 Brilliant Admin Themes to Freshen Up Your Dashboard.

Hack #4: Clean Up and Compress Images

Have you ever heard the old adage “clean as you go”? It applies just as well in WordPress as it does in kitchens. While this hack may not be of much use to your clients, this one will definitely help you in keeping WordPress in tip-top shape before you hand it over to them.

Image galleries can get bogged down with a lot of unused media: images from previous design iterations, original images before resizing, poorly cropped and now unusable images, etc. Rather than leave them to occupy space in your media gallery, find a plugin that will help you easily clean up the excess. Some of these tools will also help you identify media that’s missing important metadata, so you can make sure that what does remain on your website is fully optimized.

Image compression is also an important factor in keeping site speed fast. After all, if your pages are filled with large, unwieldy images, they will take a really long time to load – and nobody likes a slow website.

WP Smush Pro strips hidden, bulky information from your images, reducing the file size without losing quality. It’s by far the most popular image compression plugin for WordPress, with more than 500,000 active installs using our dedicated Smush servers.

Suggested Tools: Image Cleanup plugin and WP Smush Pro

Hack #5: Add a Calendar

CoSchedule is an editorial calendar for your content marketing and social scheduling.
CoSchedule is an editorial calendar for your content marketing and social scheduling.

One of the easiest ways a company can improve its search rankings is by regularly increasing the size of its website through original and relevant blog post content. If your client already blogs regularly or is planning to do this once the new website is developed, then they should have a calendar to help keep them organized.

Rather than leave it up to them to find a tool to manage their editorial schedule, include a plugin with their website so they’ll have it right where they need it, when they’re ready.

Suggested Tools: Editorial Calendar or CoSchedule for full social media and content marketing schedule management

Hack #6: Insert Featured Image Column

Before your client starts sharing their content on social media, a featured image should be associated with each post. Without that automatic image attachment, they may end up with plain text posts that receive much less attention than ones that include an image.

The responsibility of attaching a featured image to their posts is something they’ll have to manage on their own, but you can give them a tool that’ll remind them when they’ve forgotten to take care of it. Featured image plugins will display the associated image right within the Posts dashboard, so your client won’t have to dig to find a post that’s optimized and ready for sharing.

Suggested Tool: Post List Featured Image

Customizations for Your Audience

Much like how you want to make use of the hacks above to provide a better WordPress experience for your clients and increase your value to them, your clients want the same with their own customers. Your client’s WordPress website is most likely going to be their first touchpoint with potential customers, so it’s important that it helps them make a great first impression.

While you can’t do the actual work of selling their business or services for them, you can employ a number of easy WordPress hacks to give them a leg up on the competition. The hacks below will cover some tips that will ultimately benefit your client’s website visitors and, hopefully, their new customers.

Hack #7: Add Variety to Sidebars

Custom Sidebars plugin

As a developer, you take pride in the websites you create and, consequently, the product you’ve developed for your client. Sidebars may seem like an inconsequential piece of a website, but they provide a great opportunity to create a more customized experience for both your client and their site visitors.

A single sidebar design across a website isn’t really ideal. Each page serves a different purpose and perhaps even targets a different audience. By designing the sidebar element to reflect that purpose, you’re giving the website a much more professional look and your clients a chance to convert more leads by serving more customized sidebar elements to their audience. Custom sidebar plugins can help you and your clients more easily set these up.

Suggested Tool: Custom Sidebars

Hack #8: Categorize Categories

There is a lot to remember when creating blog posts in WordPress:

  • Writing SEO-optimized copy
  • Creating an engaging title
  • Updating the slug
  • Selecting a focus keyword and writing a unique meta description to go with it
  • Attaching a featured image
  • Associating tags and categories to the post
  • Scheduling for the “perfect” date/time

For anyone just starting out in WordPress or who doesn’t have the time to customize every single one of the pieces above, the Uncategorized category can get lost in the shuffle. It’s the default setting for post categories and can result in missed opportunities for the blogger/website owner.

These categories help site visitors find other posts on similar topics. If posts are left with the Uncategorized setting, it’ll be a clear indication to visitors that: 1) the blogger doesn’t know how to use WordPress or 2) the blogger doesn’t care about guiding visitors to the content they want to read. By switching this to something more generic and related to their business (like “Cloud” for a SaaS company or “Shopping” for a clothing retailer), you can better set your client up for success.

Suggested Tool: No tool needed other than WordPress

Hack #9: Control Post Excerpt Content

Easy Custom Auto Excerpt plugin

Blog posts can run anywhere from a couple hundred words to thousands of words. Rather than allow a blog post to sit on your blog’s main page in its full entirety, short excerpts of the post will be featured alongside an image. Excerpts are also useful for when a blogger wants to include a preview of their content on other pages of the site or in search.

In order to make those snippets worth reading and to make sure they maintain the professionalism of the rest of the copy and images on the site, a tool is often needed to rein them in. Custom post excerpt plugins allow users to set preordained rules and guidelines for excerpts: how long they can be, which punctuation or word they should end at, what the Read More link should say, etc.

By bringing more control to how post excerpts are produced, your clients can ensure even the smallest details on the site impress their visitors.

Suggested Tool: Easy Custom Auto Excerpt

Hack #10: Call Out Tweetable Quotes

Minimalism is all the rage right now. With a focus on bold colors, high resolution imagery, and well-composed copy, minimalistic design draws website visitors’ attention to what’s most important: the content.

When it comes to blogging, the purpose of that content is to educate, intrigue, and/or entertain. The people who create that content don’t just want their posts to be read—they want readers to take action. One way to actively urge readers to do this is by including tweetable quotes within the posts. By calling out shareable information, your clients can bring extra attention to what’s important, provide visitors with copy worthy of being shared, and give them a means to easily do so via Twitter.

Suggested Tool: Better Click to Tweet

Hack #11: Enable Related Post Promotions

A blog post on its own is a valuable marketing tool. It establishes the author as a thought leader and also provides the audience with helpful information. Some websites are set up to highlight all of the wonderful blog content a company has created while others aren’t.

Related post promotions are always a great way of keeping website visitors engaged, but it can take time to find the right ones, manually hyperlink to those posts, or custom-code pages to include excerpts of them. Rather than leave your clients to manage that process, give them a plugin that will automatically pull in related posts at the end of each blog post.

Suggested Tool: Any of the ones mentioned in our post The Best Related Posts Plugins for WordPress

Hack #12: Increase Social Proof

Strong Testimonials plugin

For companies that have a large or just a very happy customer base, it’s important to collect testimonials as a way of providing social proof to prospective clients. People are more likely to sign on with a brand or a product if the reviews of their business are favorable, so this is a piece of marketing that cannot be ignored.

While there are many plugins available that help users set up testimonials and even collect them from the website, each offers a different type of functionality and ease of use. Make sure you are familiar with your client’s WordPress comfort level as well as how they want to use their arsenal of testimonials before selecting a tool.

Suggested Tools: Strong Testimonials

Hack #13: Call Visitors to Action

Visitors expect a well-designed website to help them traverse the pages of a company’s site. Page load speed, images selected, and language used can all affect the visitors’ experience. If all of those are well accounted for, the rest then relies on the effectiveness of the calls-to-action. Color, copy, position, and density of CTAs in a given area can all influence how a visitor—and potential customer—reacts to the requested action, so it’s important to get those right.

Make sure your clients have the ability to add and adjust as they see fit going forward. There are two types of tools that can help with this: plugins and on-page shortcode editing tools. Just make sure you include the kind of tool your client will be the most adept at using.

Suggested Tool: WordPress Calls to Action plugin

Hack #14: Fix Broken Links

Redirector plugin

Broken links can be a big problem for websites, not just because of the negative reaction when a visitor tries to find out more information and is instead brought to a 404 error page, but also for SEO purposes. In order to help keep your clients paying attention to this, there are a number of tools you should equip their site with:

  1. Broken Link Checker: This is a plugin for users who simply want to know when a broken link shows up on their website. They can take action to remove the link, but that’s about it.
  2. 404 Page Setup: This is a plugin for users who want to direct visitors who hit a broken link to a custom-made page that matches the rest of the website.
  3. 301 Redirector: This is a plugin for users who want to actively monitor 404 error links and manage 301 link redirections, so visitors aren’t just shuttled to a random 404 page.

You may want to set up your client’s website with all three types of tools or just one, depending on what you think they will actually use. Ideally, you’ll have a 404 page set up for each website you make in order to mitigate for any visitors who do stumble across a bad link and end up on a random error page.

Suggested Tools: Broken Link Checker, 404page, Redirection

Hack #15: Design a Special Thank You

Contact Form 7 plugin

When it comes to the website visitor’s experience, you can never be too nitpicky. Even the smallest details on a website can re-shape their opinion of a business.

Thank You message

Most calls-to-action on a website drive visitors to fill out a form. This plays into many people’s preference to skip person-to-person interactions and it also helps your clients gather leads. So rather than leave website visitors with the automatic and very impersonal default message, set up a custom Thank You page they can be redirected to after filling out a form.

Suggested Tools: Contact Form 7 – Success Page Redirects plugin

Standing Out from the Crowd

So why are these additional customizations needed?

Once all is said and done, WordPress websites are fantastic marketing and sales tools. Your client has a great looking website that drives interest in their services and converts leads. Your client’s audience has a great looking website that is easy to navigate and gives them everything they want and more. And you now have a great looking website that showcases your talent and helps you get more business.

If you’re on the fence as to whether these 15 WordPress hacks are necessary, here are some reasons to incorporate these into your website development process:

  1. Take another opportunity to slap your personal branding on your product, keeping you top-of-mind with clients.
  2. Spend more time focusing on newer clients by empowering former clients to take more control of their completed website with an easier and nicer looking WordPress platform.
  3. Provide an impressive website experience for the end user that will trickle down and lead to more testimonials and referrals from your satisfied customers.
  4. Increase the level of professionalism in how you develop and deliver a completed website project and help contribute to your reputation as a trusted expert.
  5. Automate as much of the website management process as possible for clients so they’re inspired to take the time to do more with it, and not let the website go to waste.

Website customizations do not need to be time and labor intensive for you as a developer. By providing your clients with these helpful and easy-to-implement WordPress tools, you’ll be helping them—as well as yourself—to stand above the competition.

What have you done to "hack" your WordPress site's customization either for yourself or your clients? What's an essential modification, in your opinion?
Brenda Barron
Brenda Barron Brenda Barron is a freelance writer from Southern California. She specializes in WordPress, tech, business and founded WP Theme Roundups. When not writing all the things, she's spending time with her family.