What To Do When You Don’t Know What You’re Doing With WordPress

What To Do When You Don’t Know What You’re Doing With WordPress

No matter what level of WordPress user you are, from WordPress newbie to official Level 7 Rock Star Ninja Developer, you are going to get stuck from time to time.

This happens to everyone. You should never be ashamed to admit when you need a little help. In fact, it’s a great opportunity to get more involved in the WordPress community.

The internet is filled with helpful places to get support with whatever WordPress issue is plaguing you. That said, one of the problems is there are so many places to got to, and each with their own set of house rules. Knowing the best place to ask your questions and how to go about asking can be a problem in itself.

Whether your problem is a coding problem, a question about marketing strategy or SEO-related, you can get connected with someone happy to answer your question.

I learned everything I know about WordPress, PHP, CSS and jQuery by Googling the answer or asking a question about my problem in various places. In this post I’ll share what I’ve learned and hopefully help you find solutions to questions that can’t easily be solved by a simple Google search.

Man engaging in a double faceplam

Avoiding XY Problems

Before asking any questions, it’s important to consider whether you are actually asking the right question. Often before asking for help, you try to solve the problem yourself and fail. That’s okay, but it leads to asking about how to make your solution work, instead of asking about your original problem.

But what if the solution you tried to implement, and are now focusing on, wasn’t the right solution? In addition to your original issue you might have developed what’s called a “XY problem”.

Instead of asking about how to solve problem X, you ask how to make solution Y work, making it likely that you will only get responses related to solution Y and not X, your actual problem.

So how do you avoid creating XY problems?

When asking your question, be sure to explain why you were doing whatever it was you couldn’t get to work. Put the problem into context and keep things broad.

Don’t ask why get_post_meta() didn’t solve your problem. Instead, explain what information you were trying to return, why you chose get_post_meta(), how you used it and any error or non-useful information that was returned. This allows people reading your question to consider answers that don’t involve using get_post_meta() at all, which is awesome if get_post_meta() can’t actually do what you are trying to make it do.

Where To Ask Questions

Stack Overflow and The WordPress Stack Exchange

Help crowdsource a massive WordPress FAQ by asking or answering a question on the WordPress Stack Exchange.
Help crowdsource a massive WordPress FAQ by asking or answering a question on the WordPress Stack Exchange.

Stack Overflow is one of the best question and answer sites for computer programmers on the internet. StackOverflow is part of the Stack Exchange network, which focuses on dozens of different topics from startups to science-fiction and of course there is a highly active WordPress Stack Exchange, which is a great place to ask questions about WordPress development.

When posting on the WordPress Stack Exchange or Stack Overflow, it is important to focus your question properly, which begins with the right title. Most importantly, you must be asking a question.

It’s best not to title your post “I can’t get wp_list_pages() to work!” You should also avoid making the question specific to your site with a title like, “Why doesn’t wp_list_pages() work on my site?”

It’s better to make the problem general so others can benefit from reading your question later. For example, “How to use wp_list_pages() to show pages in reverse order of publication date?” should prompt the most useful answer because it states your goal, which opens up the possibility of receiving an answer that suggests a strategy other than using wp_list_pages(). It is also more broadly applicable, which will make your question more attractive to other users who might have an answer.

Remember, Stack Exchange isn’t just there to answer your questions, but to crowd source knowledge about a subject in FAQ form. No matter what you do, before posting a question it’s a good idea to search the site.

Choosing where to post a coding related question can be a little tricky. While Stack Overflow does have a WordPress tag, most WordPress questions are better suited for the WordPress Stack Exchange. That said, questions about PHP, CSS and jQuery with WordPress, are sometimes better suited for StackOverflow. Figuring out whether to post on StackOverflow or the WordPress Stack Exchange can be tricky. For the most part, if your question has to do with a specific WordPress function, not the mechanics of PHP, it belongs on WordPress Stack Exchange not Stack Overflow.

One other thing – don’t ask for a plugin recommendation on the WordPress Stack Exchange. Some people find this restriction annoying, but keep in mind that a plugin recommendation may still be a valid answer. By limiting your options to a plugin recommendation you may be missing simpler, cheaper and more efficient solutions to your problems.

Facebook Groups

The Advanced WordPress Facebook group is a great place to get answers to technical and non-technical WordPress questions.
The Advanced WordPress Facebook group is a great place to get answers to technical and non-technical WordPress questions.

There are many Facebook groups dedicated to WordPress, but in my humble opinion the best one is Advanced WordPress. The group is full of smart people from across the WordPress world who are willing to answer questions from a diverse range of topics.

While the name of the group says advanced, I think it’s safe to think of the group as intermediate and above. Don’t be afraid to ask for plugin recommendations or some other simpler question that can’t be quickly answered with a quick Google search. Advanced WordPress is not just for development questions, but also for discussing the state of WordPress, blogging, SEO and all other aspects of the WordPress ecosystem.

For more basic questions you may want to check out WordPress Help and Share or WordPress for the Non-Technical. Both are good places to ask for any type of new user help. Facebook – as well as Google+ – have many specific WordPress groups, including ones aimed at business,  SEO and startups, as well as many regional groups.

Reddit

WordPress on Reddit

I know a lot of people don’t get Reddit, but I promise you it is simple to use and you will “get it” pretty quickly.

The WordPress Subredit, is one of my favorite places to get help. It’s a subreddit with the perfect amount of traffic – not so little that no one bothers to pay attention, but small enough that when there are a few challenging questions people will jump all over a decent topics.

Questions in /r/WordPress range from development, to content marketing, to WordPress.com, and it is generally a safe place for total beginners to ask questions before getting started.

Reddit is also home to /r/phphelp, which is a good place to get answers to tricky PHP problems. Also, you might want to consider seeking help in /r/SEO, /r/jQuery, /r/css and /r/web_design, all of which can be helpful resources in the right situation.

When To Seek Professional Help

One of the most amazing things about WordPress is that pretty much anything is possible if you have the time to figure it out. The last part of that sentence is important – before putting too much time into trying to solve a problem yourself, you need to ask yourself if the time involved is worth it.

An epic quest to solve a difficult issue may be a great learning experience. The knowledge you gain during your quest with may be something useful in the future or you may never use it again.

That’s why it’s important to ask yourself – if you’re a writer, marketer, business owner or some other non-technical WordPress user – do you really need to learn how to do everything with WordPress yourself? Conversely, if you are an expert developer but not great with the non-coding side of things, maybe you should leave that to someone else.

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The resources outlined in this post should point you in the right direction when seeking help, but you will still need to do the work to implement any answers you get. There is also only so much you can ask of someone helping you for free. Sometimes the solution is to ask someone you are paying. You may want to hire a site manager who can deal with all of the little issues that pop up on your site or join a WordPress support service, such as WPMU DEV. WPMU DEV membership offers support forums, regular chats for different types of WordPress support and access to the WPMU DEV job board, along with helpful plugins that solve many of the challenges that come with running a successful and profitable WordPress site.

Sometimes it’s more efficient and profitable in the long run to hire someone and spend the time you save doing what you do best, whatever that may be. The more you do with WordPress, the more likely it is that you will need to find a good developer, graphic designer, content editor, SEO-expert, etc. to compliment your skills. Finding the right person can be tricky and is one of the reasons you really should get involved in the discussion in some of the sites I’ve listed above.

Asking questions is about more than just getting answers. It’s about getting involved in the conversation and learning and finding out who knows what they are talking about and who doesn’t.

A Beautiful Thing

Asking for help, as well as answering other people’s requests for help can be an amazing thing. There is something beautiful about how the internet can connect us to people all over the world with similar needs and dreams. More than that, when we know where to look for help, it allows us to do things well beyond our own capabilities, and that is truly awesome.

What are your go-to sites when you’ve got a WordPress problem you just can’t figure out? Tell us in the comments below.

Image credit, for first image: Zach Klien, CC Attribution 2.0 Generic.