1 Hidden Reason Well-Maintained WordPress Websites Break

I have a couple of business colleagues whose very-well maintained WordPress websites have been breaking over the last year. Not their whole websites, just miscellaneous pieces like sidebar call-out areas that start to overlap each other, incorrect fonts displaying, text displaying in areas where there never was text before, and images suddenly not displaying or moving out of bounds.

What do they have in common?

  • The websites are built on the WordPress platform.
  • WordPress is upgraded shortly after each new release is announced.
  • Only popular plugins of proven quality are included in their websites.
  • The plugins are updated after each new release is announced.
  • They conservatively re-size images before uploading them into posts and pages.
  • Their websites have been serving them well for 4 – 5 years.

They are doing everything right, so, why are their WordPress websites breaking?

The short answer because WordPress has changed with technology and the underlying definitions of their WordPress websites (their themes) have not.

What? WordPress gets out of Synch?

Yes — and — No. The WordPress core is still fabulous. It is the custom theme area that frequently does not get updated.

Websites Most at Risk
Websites developed on 100% custom-defined themes.
Websites Least at Risk
Websites developed on premium WordPress themes.

Exception: If a website is based on a “Premium” theme like Genesis, Canvas, or Thesis, chances are the website will not display poor communication between the core and the customized theme. This is because Premium Themes cost money, and the developers work hard to keep the theme in synch with the latest release of the WordPress core.

Visualizing the Problem

When WordPress is installed, it creates folders and files that run the WordPress ‘modules’. (Together, the modules are referred to as the ‘core’.)  It also creates folders and files that are reserved for each business to customize as they want.

So, for example, from the top level of a website hosting account, you’ll see 3 folders and lots of files.

WordPress installed folders and files

Fig. 1

The top folder, bottom folder and the files in this folder make up the WordPress ‘core’. The wp-content folder is the one that is reserved for businesses to customize as they like.

A peek inside the wp-content folder reveals more folders and a file.

wp-content folder in WordPress

Fig. 2

The most important folder in Fig. 2 (for today’s topic) is the themes folder. That is where all the files that have been customized or custom-written from scratch to make your website look like your website live.

An example of what the inside of a themes folder looks like is:

custom theme folder in WordPress

Fig. 3

So, this isn’t a lesson in WordPress folder contents. This is to give you a visual on what is happening. You see that there are a good number of files in your custom theme folder. When WordPress was initially installed, these files were 100% in sync with all the other files that were created at that time.

The Problem

These ‘theme’ files never get updated. In the meantime, all other folders and files surrounding these (see Fig. 1) are updated at least once per quarter.

Eventually, an imbalance occurs. It’s like the files that haven’t been updated speak an ol’ dialect that was abandoned years ago, while the files that are getting updated speak the contemporary language with street slang and all. When this occurs, your website looks like it is misbehaving and conditions similar to those mentioned in the first paragraph manifest.

The Solution

You need to reset the files so that they speak the same language. How do you do that? By rebuilding your website using themes that are made for the most recent version of WordPress.

Yep. A lot of work. You know from my recent post, “Why Website Redesigns Cost More than you Expect“, that rebuilding a website is nearly the same as building a new one from scratch, so, while you have to do that, freshen the design and add components that demonstrate you know what is going on in the Internet world. Remove components that make you look like you are hugging the trees. And, finally, add a line item in your yearly marketing plan to discuss the ‘aging’ of your customized WordPress theme with your WordPress developer, and make a plan.

Don’t let your aging, custom WordPress theme be the hidden minion that causes mayhem with your website and negatively impacts the perception of how you do business!

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