I recently had the pleasure of catching up with WordPress aficionado and WooThemes community member, Brian Krogsgard, for a quick chat and to discuss a few important topics around maintaining WordPress-powered websites for customers.
For those on non-video enabled devices (or internet connections that don’t carry video too well), below is the cliff notes version of the question and answer portion of our chat.
Matty Cohen: Tell us a bit about Brian. The man, the story, the legacy.
Brian Krogsgard: I’m the Lead WordPress Developer for Infomedia, a web design agency in Birmingham, Alabama. I am also the Editor of Post Status, a WordPress news and curated link resource. And I’m the organizer of the Birmingham WordPress meetup and a co-organizer of WordCamp Birmingham, which we affectionally label #WPYall. When I’m not doing consulting or blogging or networking with like-minded folks, I love to hang out with my wife, Erica, and our blue Great Dane, Lucy May.
How did you get started in WordPress?
WordPress started as a hobby for me. Like most people, I just wanted a website and figured I could do it myself. By around 2008, I stumbled upon WordPress and built a site or two. But in 2010, I really started to get into it, and I began to blog about WordPress and I realised I was so passionate about the platform that I wanted to make a career change to try and do it full time. After a couple of years of consistent self-learning, I accepted a full time job in mid-2010 at Infomedia, and the rest is history.
What WordPress-related tasks do you spend most of your day on?
I’ve done quite a bit of “new production” at Infomedia, meaning that I build websites from a PSD or designed-in-browser comp into the finished product. But I’m usually involved much sooner than receiving a design. We pride ourselves in the level of consulting and research we do with our clients. Our team of project manager, designer, and developer spend time with the client and brainstorm independently about how to best solve their problems. I’ve also been historically responsible for setting our technical direction from a WordPress perspective. Meaning, I built a base framework for development, maintain a default WordPress install with our standard plugins always up-to-date, and I choose which third party products we use and extend. And that’s how I found WooThemes and WooCommerce. We do a lot of eCommerce work, and I’ve tracked WooCommerce since before it existed as WooCommerce. I quickly convinced our higher-ups that this was the product that was going to help us move past our 10+ year old proprietary eCommerce system.
In terms of maintaining your customers’ websites, how many WordPress-powered websites are you maintaining at the moment?
We have close to two hundred WordPress websites, which is still probably only half of our total clients. Some of these are older blog add-ons to our old CMS, but we have over a hundred fully-fledged WordPress as a CMS websites.
How do you go about keeping all the websites up to date with the latest versions of the themes/plugins/core used?
There are multiple ways, but the key is to monitor. Tools like WP Remote, ManageWP, and InfiniteWP are great for this. We’ve used two of these three at times, as well as our own method. The key is to find which works for you. Only InfiniteWP is self hosted, the other two are hosted. And of all methods I’ve tried, I think WP Remote is the easiest to use for monitoring. We have an added benefit of two full time support staff. So, with a monitoring system in place, we can either update in bulk or go site-by-site (we prefer site-by-site) and update our sites. It’s important to use and view the website after you update though, because even when we really know what we have installed, something could happen that’s unexpected.
If an extensive update to a plugin or theme comes out, how do you handle the update process, to make sure everything runs smoothly?
First, we make sure we get the message out internally. For instance, when WooCommerce 2.0 came out, I made sure all parties at Infomedia that interface with WordPress knew that it required a special update process. And in that instance, I simply wrote a document for what to do, which you guys actually put on your wiki. These updates go much smoother when I’m familiar with the plugin and follow its development. I knew WooCommerce 2.0 was coming for a long time, and I’ve developed relationships with the developers as well. This made it a relatively smooth process to update our eCommerce sites.
What are your favourite free WordPress plugins?
User Switching is fantastic for seeing the install from another user’s point of view, especially when they have a different role. Members, by Justin Tadlock, is also a must-install. WordPress SEO by Yoast is of course standard procedure on our sites. Regenerate Thumbnails is a must-have utility plugin. Mark Jaquith’s WP Help is perfect for documenting custom development inside the dashboard. For particular functionality, I like Modern Tribe’s The Events Calendar for events, and of course I love WooCommerce for eCommerce. I could say a lot more, but I’ll stop now
What are your favourite paid-for WordPress plugins?
We use a ton of WooCommerce extensions that are wonderful. Gravity Forms is a must. Crowd Favorite’s RAMP is a pretty good tool for deploying content, which we’re using a lot these days. And Modern Tribe has a Pro version of their events plugin, as well as a great tickets extension for WooCommerce.
How many plugins is too many plugins? Is there such a thing?
No, there is no such thing as too many plugins. Last year at WordCamp San Francisco, I caught a speaker mention that WordPress.com loads over 200 plugins on every page load. I tweeted it and got hundreds of reactions and retweets. There is nothing inherently wrong with plugins. There is something wrong with bad code. Whether that code is in a plugin or a theme or in a tutorial, it’s not good. Good, performant code will be good and performant anywhere, but I can bet that 90% of the time it should be in the plugin and not in a theme. So many people put functionality code in a theme to avoid “too many plugins” and they do themselves a disservice long term when they can’t carry that functionality from their current theme to their future theme.
What are your top tips for anyone starting or running a business using premium WordPress products?
I love products that meet the following criteria:
- Have good documentation, both inline and in a document hub
- Have developers that care about the quality of the code, and not just the number of sales
- Are extensible for other developers to build on top of
- Are well supported
- Can reasonably be assured they will be around for a long time (5 years or more, preferably)
As far as tips, I’d say to market yourself wisely. Introduce yourself to influential developers and other plugin developers. Get their feedback. Go to events like WordCamps and meet people. Blog about your product and your experience building it. And brand yourself logically, so people know who you are, that you are professional, and they know what your product does (roughly) based on its name and short description.
Thanks, again, to Brian for taking time out of his day to chat with us and for his insights into the day-to-day of maintaining WordPress-powered websites for clients.
We hope everyone gained as much knowledge (and more) from this interview as we did, and look forward to catching up with Brian again in the future.
Do you have any questions for Brian? Post them in the comments section below.