How to train your team to maintain your WordPress website

Training volunteers to use WordPress

For any non-profit organization, a website is one of the most important tools to share your message to both those in need and those ready to give.  It’s your lifeline to your community. Time and energy are needed from your team to maintain your website. Oftentimes, that team is a mixture of staff and volunteers, young and old with different levels of expertise and comfort with a computer.  How can you best set up your team for success when maintaining your website and the goals it supports for your organization?  Below are a few tips on training your team to maintain your WordPress website.

Before you train

Create a best practices guide 

One of the best investments you can make for your organization is a training manual for your website maintenance team.  This might seem like a daunting task, but your trainees will appreciate something to refer to.  Your guide can touch on the purpose, mission, and audience of your website. You can explain organizational goals and how the website supports them. Finally, you can touch on design best practices, do’s, and don’ts for page editing.  Keep in mind, your guide can be updated and changed as your website grows and changes.

Train from a staging site

If you can train your staff on a staging site, make that your first option.  Your hosting company might have a staging site built into your service.  If not, there are many cloning tools you can use to create a copy of your website just for your training session.  This is a great option if you plan to hold several training sessions over time.

One-click staging site plugin:

Training from a live site

If training from a staging site isn’t an option for you, make sure you have a solid backup process in place. This includes a daily backup with 90 days of archives. This isn’t just a practice you need before training others to work on your website.  It’s a rule to keep in place at all times. A big part of the best practices guide you create will be your backup policy.  Your website can be taken down with one tiny coding mistake, or a plugin update gone awry, or an over-confident volunteer that was sure they could fix something. Before you start adding new users to your website, make sure you have backs running daily and most importantly, that you know how to restore your website from that back up in a jiffy. Make a backup immediately before your training session and let all staff know that no other work on the site is to be done during your training event. 

Set up your staff members with the proper user roles

Assigning the proper user roles will help you protect your website.  A common mistake is to think that everyone working on the website needs full administrative privileges.  Quite the opposite is true.  Let’s review the various user roles available in WordPress:

  • Administrator – this level of access is to all the administration features within a single site. This person can edit, add, delete without limitations on the website.
  • Editor – this level of access allows publish and manage posts including the posts of other users.
  • Author – this level of access allows a user to publish and manage their own posts.
  • Contributor – this level of access allows a user to write and manage their own posts but cannot publish them.
  • Subscriber  – this level of access allows a user to only manage their profile.

Tips include limiting the number of administrators (admins should be your well-trained staff only), only giving one person the role of editor, and starting new people with little WordPress experience in the role of author.

Install an activity log

Adding a plugin to track user activity on your site (staging or live) can help you keep track of who is doing an update and when.  It can help you track down any issues that might occur and give you a good idea of who’s excelling at maintenance tasks, who might be struggling, and who is better suited for another task in your organization.

Invest in WordPress tutorials

There are many online tutorial options for WordPress.  Investing in one that is installed within your organization’s website dashboard will give your staff and volunteers quick access to training videos.  This can be the lifeline they need when they forget any part of their learning experience.  Many of these services include ways to upload custom videos you can make on your own as well.

When you train

Keep group training to 5 people or less

Like any classroom, the smaller the class size, the more attention the teacher can give to each individual student.  Training staff and volunteers to maintain your website requires the instructor to adapt to the different levels of web design experience in the room.  You may have people that have never used WordPress. You will have others that believe they are experts.  You might have a true talent in the room.

In-person training is very helpful.  You can instill a team atmosphere and encourage people to support each other in their training.

Train in short sessions

Your best bet is to keep each training to one and a half hours or less.  Too much too soon can be very discouraging to the new WordPress user.  If you have a one-day power session in mind, just make sure you are giving ample breaks and lots of practice time.

Make it hands-on

Resist the urge to train by only showing yourself doing the lesson on your own computer screen. Have each student bring a laptop to the class.  After an overview of your own machine of the website let the room know your goals for the session and any information to help your students understand what you hope to teach them. If you are training a person at their desk, sit behind them and walk them through the task. They will have a better recall of what they did if they are actually performing the task.  Allow them to stop and take notes as needed. 

Cover the basics

  • WordPress – briefly explain what the WordPress platform is. That it’s open-source and user-friendly.
  • Logging in and logging out – This basic piece of information may be a big hurdle to getting your training started so it’s the perfect place to start.  Make sure each person saves the login link to your website.  If it’s the staging site they are logging into, make sure they understand when they are allowed to update the actual site, the link and login credentials will change.
  • Resetting passwords – show each person how to reset their password.  This will save you from getting calls and emails for you to do it.
  • User profiles – show each person how to customize their user profile. 
  • User roles – explain what the user roles mean and why some people in the class might have more options visible in the dashboard.
  • Themes – show your students what theme is used on your site.  Trainees might not have access to the theme area but need to understand it.
  • Headers/Footers – explain the header and footer areas of your theme. Trainees might not have access to the theme area but need to understand it.
  • Posts – explain what a post is and what your website uses posts for.  It might use them for blog posts or a custom post type for events or portfolios.  
  • Categories and Tags – explain categories and tags and how they relate to posts on your website.
  • Pages – explain the role of pages for your websites.  Describe how you use posts and pages differently.
  • Editing posts and pages – demonstrate editing a post and a page and have each student edit their own.
  • Creating posts and pages –  demonstrate editing a post and a page and have each student edit their own.
  • Media – explain how to upload photos, pdfs, and videos to your website
  • Menu – show where menus live in the WordPress dashboard, how to add to an existing menu, and how to create a new one.
  • Plugins – show your students what plugins are and how they are used on your site.  Trainees might not have access to the plugin area but need to understand it.
  • Sidebars – if your website theme uses sidebars, walk them through where to find, add to and edit them.
  • Widgets – if your website theme uses widgets, walk them through where to find, add to and edit them.
  • Video Tutorials – show your students where all your video tutorials are within the dashboard for help when they need it.

Praise everyone for their efforts

Be supportive and encouraging, even when missteps are made.  Nothing can take the wind out of a volunteer’s sails like a rebuke of their efforts.  That backup you made and know how to restore will save the day and keep your volunteer from feeling awful for making a mistake.  We all make mistakes and need to learn from them.  Encourage the stronger students in the room to help those that might need more attention.  

Fostering a team atmosphere among your team by encouraging them to reach out to each other for help along with your administrators and editors will pay off over time.

In closing

Training your staff to effectively maintain your organization’s website will save you time and money, give your cause regular online exposure with the introduction of new content, and share your goals with your community. A bit of lesson planning and a positive, supportive approach to learning can empower your staff and volunteers in maintaining your WordPress website, and in turn, share your cause with the world.

Cami MacNamara

Owner/Designer at WebCami Site Design. Providing web design services in West Seattle since 2002. Facebook / Twitter / Instagram