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Inherited Website: Taking Back Control

It’s always a great day when I partner with new clients and make WordPress sites great again. Getting an inherited website usually means that the last partnership did not work with the client. And so, to start the relationship right, we need to set expectations so neither of us feels like we’re the last to the party and all the fun has happened.

Inheriting a WordPress website can be stressful and put some pressure on me to make sure you feel like a kid in a candy store with the decision you’ve made to work with me.

I remember when I build my very first campfire without the aid of cheaters like kerosene or a road flare. There were a lot of steps to getting it right. Start with the kindling, the right amount of air, the correct amount of paper, and of course, flame. I knew it could be done, but it took patience and wherewithal.

Like building a campfire before I begin with any website, I ensure I have everything to get started and keep going. And that’s the same approach I take to inherit WordPress websites from previous designers.

Before taking on an inherited website, I take these three steps:

  1. Assess the site in its current state and where to go from here
  2. Review the needs of the client to make sure they are realistic and we are on the same page
  3. Decide the best way to move forward in the relationship

Being prepared is less stressful on you, the client and keeps things moving along so your site gets the love it needs.

Step 1: The Details

This first step is all about client onboarding so that all the expectations are laid out and a game plan put into action that will make it easy for all involved. I’ll need to know the following:

  • How old is the current site?
  • What is the purpose of the site?
  • Who is it intended to attract?
  • What are the future goals of your business?
  • What is and isn’t working for you?

The details stage becomes the perfect time to put my project management system into play and set the goals for moving forward.

Granting access to an inherited website is a hard step for many, especially if you’ve been ghosted or burned by your last web person. But to move forward, this is a necessary step in the process.

Step 2: Gain Access to Everything

Granting access to an inherited website is a hard step for many, especially if you’ve been ghosted or burned by your last web person. But to move forward, this is a necessary step in the process.

You’ll need to grant access to the following:

  • WordPress as an Administrator
  • Web hosting control panel
  • FTP or SFTP access
  • Domain registrar
  • Email marketing provider
  • Google Analytics account

There may be more like your payment processor, licensed products, and social accounts but during onboarding, we talk all about those details.

You must also verify the login work and admin access is available. When sharing logins, you should use a service like LastPass or secure server email and not send credentials via email.

sftp access to your website

Step 3: Review the Hosting Plan and Domain Registration

Hopefully, you have full access to both, and the accounts are registered under your business name. Sometimes, developers set up hosting using their servers or resellers, which we’ll address if needed, but never should you let your developer register your domain name. And if that’s the case, we’ll discuss that too.

We recently had a client who had the developer register her domain, fortunately with an email they had access to. But the registrar went missing, so we had to super sleuth different ways to gain access.

After we know you have access to the domain registrar, we’ll review your hosting plan type looking for things like SSL certificates, firewall protection, CDN, and other important metrics for your website. And it doesn’t stop there; we review:

  • SFTP access account and remove any credd=entials that are unnecessary
  • Your domain records to be sure they reflect your information and business

Step 4: Confirm Google Tool Configuration

Having a Google Analytics account doesn’t mean that you have analytics installed on the inherited website. So that’s the next thing that gets checked. Then it’s time to test some other configurations like goals, filters, and spam traffic.

Google Analytics only tells half the story, so I’ll also check Google Webmaster Tools to be sure:

  • The website in the Search Console and Google Analytics are one and the same
  • The site contains the correct HTTP version
  • There are no security issues
  • There are no crawl or site errors
  • Sitemaps submitted to the search engines

Once we know the settings are correct and can see the data, I can dig deeper into any issues Google is reporting and get those fixed to gain back the Google love.

search console
search console is a bevy of data

Step 5: Create a Backup

We all know the importance of a backup, and no other work begins on an inherited website before a current full site is available. We wouldn’t want to alter anything on the site without assurance that we can be back in working order within minutes if something goes wrong.

Not only is the backup run but it’s moved off-site so that we have it for safe-keeping always.

You wouldn’t want to alter anything on the site without assurance that we can be back in working order within minutes if something goes wrong.

Step 6: Review User Access Accounts

Once the preliminaries are complete, it’s time to see who has access to your WordPress website. Reviewing these accounts is an essential part of keeping your site secure.

  • Create an author account and assign pages and posts to the account.
  • Delete any users no longer with the business or on the team and assign their content to the author account.
  • Review remaining accounts and see if roles and permissions need to be adjusted or reassigned.
  • Reset the passwords for the remaining accounts.
  • Review third-party applications (contact forms, pop-ups, integrations) and update the email addresses attached to them.

Step 7: Check for Available Upgrades

Running the upgrades is an easy step to complete. If the update can be safely done, then it will be run and taken off the list. All other updates will be noted so that the walk-through can begin.

While making sure WordPress, themes, and plugins are up to date, we also review any software that may be outdated or cause conflicts, remove disabled themes and plugins, and clean up the backend of the site.

wordpress updates
wordpress updates

Step 8: Do a Walk-Through

Now that the general steps have been taken care of, it’s time to do a full walk-through where we check all the other site elements, pages looked at, and performance review run. An extensive website audit is performed that will give me a comprehensive list of all areas of your website to see what areas need improvement, fixes for detected issues, and troubleshooting information.

On the backend of WordPress, the following will be done:

  • Review current theme files and check for child theme
  • Review the theme for responsiveness and clean code
  • Review existing plugins
  • Review of all settings

Step 9: Create a Staging Area

When making significant changes to your site or implementing changes that will affect the site’s usability, a staging site is essential. Having a staging area will allow for making adjustments and major tweaks without disturbing what is there now.

Some developers and maintenance providers create a staging area first before applying updates and such, and if the site inherited is old and uncared for, we make this exception too. But if your site needs some immediate care that we know will not cause issues, we bypass this step until now so we have a cleaner copy of the site.

There is no right or wrong way, and it’s dependent on the amount of work needed to get your site up to snuff.

You Should Always Have Control

It doesn’t matter where your site came from, who built it, and the state of affairs right now; what is essential is addressing problems, getting issues resolved, and, more importantly, that you are happy again with your digital space. This list of prep work is a one-time thing to ensure that we are addressing and anticipating any problems that may arise.

The most important takeaway of any inherited website is that you, the website, and the business owner have full control over your website and credentials. If you need help pulling your information together, give us a shout to help you create a website owner’s manual.