Avoiding Common WordPress Image Issues

For artists and photographers, WordPress is an ideal platform for showcasing the beauty of your work to the rest of the world. The only problem is, if you don’t know what you’re doing, it’s easy to make mistakes that can leave visitors to your website less than impressed.

I’m talking about using the wrong themes and plugins, and neglecting to optimize your images.

So in this post we’re going to look at the three most common mistakes you’ll find on image-heavy sites and how to avoid them.

WordPress image issues.
Fix your WordPress image issues.

1. Feature-Packed Themes

How could a theme be bad when it has a ton of built-in features? Because it has a ton of built-in features.

A feature-packed theme might not seem like such a bad thing… until you try to switch themes. Only then will you discover your once functional site has been stripped of its content.

When features such as galleries and portfolios are hard-coded into a theme, it prevents big issues if you decide to switch themes. Let me explain.

Let’s say you buy and install a theme that has a beautiful gallery built in, along with sliders, carousels, and a ton more awesome features. Then after a time you decide to change your theme because you want to update its look and feel. So you buy a new theme and it looks fantastic. It’s just what you were looking for and you install and activate it. Then you check out the front page of your site… and everything’s a mess. All you see are shortcodes and, even worse, error codes. Where are all your pictures, galleries and sliders? They left with your old theme. Oops.

After deactivating a theme with built-in features, a bunch of excess code will be left on your page

Because those features were built into your theme, switching to another theme means those features will disappear because they are not likely part of your new theme.

Now you’re left with a big mess to clean up.

The Alternative

The best possible solution is to get your hands on a simple, clean theme and use plugins to add any functionality you need. This would allow you to easily switch themes, while your plugins would take care of your galleries, portfolios, sliders, and any other features on your site.

The Fix

Theme features
If you’ve ever visited ThemeForest, you’ll be familiar with themes that offer a gazillion features.

If you’ve switched from a feature-packed theme to a well, not-so-feature-packed theme, all of your content will still be saved in your database. Unless you want to do a lot of coding, and possibly replicate the features you had in your old theme in your new theme, it can be tricky to proceed. So before you do anything, back up your database and all your site’s files.

Once everything’s backed up, reactivate your old theme and simply removing the content that uses the features of your theme. Every theme is different, but you may find a button that will disable the added features, or you can otherwise remove them.

Sometimes this means going to each page and removing a shortcode or two. Other times this may require going to your widgets page and removing the widgets from your sidebar (if you use one).

Extra Tip: You can inform your visitors of the improvements you’re making, while also letting them know you’ll be back soon so they don’t lose interest during your refurbishing process. If you create a simple page with your logo, or site name, and a short message explaining that you’re refurbishing your space, you can add it as your static home page.

Go to Settings > Reading, and select the “a static page (select below)” under the first heading, “front page displays.” Now select the name of the page you just created under “front page” in the select box, then save your changes.

Now you can make all the changes you want and your visitors will only see your message instead of a broken site, know what’s going on, and will know they can return soon.

It might seem like a pain, but it’s a lot easier than deleting what could possibly be miles worth of coding, or shortcodes from every page and sidebar. You’ll have to filter through the codes to find the snippets of actual text, and that can take days.

If you remove those features straight away with a few clicks, it will eliminate hours of work later on.

2. Overly Complicated Plugins

Similar to feature-packed themes, bloated plugins can weigh down your site immensely. Sometimes badly-coded plugins can introduce a whole whack of new code rather than using WordPress best practice.

If you decide to delete the inefficient plugin and replace it with a better one, you may see a block of code leftover from the old plugin. Again, it’s annoying to have to edit out.

Sometimes there will be an option to remove and delete all the plugin’s content when you delete the plugin. If the options is available, simply remove the content manually while the plugin is still active. After the content is removed, you can disable and delete the plugin without issue. Don’t forget to back up your database and site files beforehand.

Beyond this, there’s an even more serious issue. Inefficient plugins may cause your site to operate incredibly slowly. And considering your website is probably image-heavy, the last thing you want to do is keep visitors to your site waiting while image load.

With both of these at play, your site can be incredibly backed up and slow as the dickens. It’s really not worth it, even if the features are amazing. What’s the point of them if your visitors can’t even load your website?

The Alternative

If you can find plugins that don’t re-invent the wheel, and use WordPress’s natural assets, all the better. For example, if you want to display a photo gallery on your site, it’s best to use plugins that make the most of the built-in WordPress gallery feature. A great plugin I would recommend is PhotoPress – Gallery.

The PhotoPress Gallery plugin for WordPress

3. Neglecting to Optimize Images

No doubt you want to put your best foot forward with captivating images. The only problem is, large files can really weight down your site, which is why it’s important to optimize your images and reduce their file size.

You may already have a plugin to optimize your images, and you might even think this point is, well, pointless. However, how well does your plugin really work?

There are a lot of plugins that promise to optimize your images, thus, saving some much-needed space on your server, but do they really do a good enough job? I’ve downloaded and installed many image optimizing plugins, only to delete them two minutes later.

It was incredibly frustrating to download these plugins (and sometimes buy them, too), only to discover my large images were “optimized” by reducing the file size by 1 kilobyte. Seriously! Only 1 measly kilobyte.

The Alternative

Luckily, I have found a plugin that’s hugely efficient and isn’t bulky. It’s our very own Smush.it. So many people have appreciated this plugin for a long time, even after it changed hands. We’ve worked on this plugin to make this plugin even better.

WP Smush.it
Smush your images with WP Smush.it or WP Smush Pro.

If you want even more “smushing” power, check out our new WP Smush Pro plugin. It allows you to smush images more than 1MB in size.

No matter which plugin you decide to use, be sure to take it for a test run before relying on it too heavily. Monitor your server while you optimize images when testing out your desired plugin.

You’ll be able to see how many resources the plugin is using and decide whether or not it’s efficient for your site. It’s also a good idea to compare the data you collect with other image optimizing plugins you test out. This way, you can find the absolute best one for you.

This may not always be possible since you’ll have to pay for a lot of them. Usually, there will be a free version of the paid plugin that you can test out. The free version will be a fairly good indicator of what you can expect from the paid version.

Summing Up

When you’re an artist first, putting together a website can be a big task. You will likely find resources that promise many great features specifically for you, but may end up causing you problems in the long run.

If you’re picking a theme or plugin with built-in features, you may run into problems if you decide not to use them anymore. Removing them can cause unexpected compatibility issues, as can keeping them if updates render them incompatible. They may even end up slowing down your site tremendously.

It’s best to search for clean, simple themes and customize them as much as you like to get your desired look and feel. This also includes finding light-weight plugins to offer the features you desire. Similarly, it’s important to find an efficient image optimizing plugin to help reduce the clutter.

Have you found any awesome, light-weight, and efficient plugins for your site that I haven’t mentioned? Share them in the comments below.

Image credit: William Murphy, and Peter Adams.