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Even starting to think about maintenance might give you a headache, imagine how hard it is when you actually start doing the work?!
Well, that’s not exactly true. There are some tricks that you can use, the best is to have a checklist and a schedule. When it comes to maintenance you want to perform it regularly and to ensure the same quality, that is where the checklist helps.
Why is WordPress maintenance important?
Your website is part of the business you’re running or it might be the entire business as it often happens today. There are little to no businesses that exist without any kind of online presence.
A WordPress website, like any other website, needs attention from time to time. You can’t just place it on a server and forget about it.
Even if you don’t touch it in any way, shape, or form, it might stop working properly or go down.
Here are some examples of actions that can break your site and are out of your control:
- Hosting updates WordPress versions automatically
- Hosting upgrades PHP version
- 3rd-party library assets are broken or don’t exist anymore
- Plugins might perform auto-updates if enabled
- The site gets infected with malware that runs ads or makes it inaccessible.
And the list can go on. In that list, we have only the “emergency” items, that actually break your site completely.
But there is more that relates to maintenance, not just making sure that the site is working properly. Maintenance is a big part of improving your website and making it perform better. While performing maintenance, you get to observe the website on regular basis and gather the information that can help improve it.
WordPress maintenance steps
Everything starts with a list and when in doubt write it down.
Here are some items that you can use as your checklist when performing maintenance on your WordPress site. All the services and plugins that I’m going to mention are free to use.
- Visit your site
- Backup schedule
- Monitor website
- Security settings
- Broken links
- Optimize images
- Optimize database
- Check performance
- Update WordPress and plugins
Visit your site
As dumb as this sounds, you might miss the issues just because you don’t navigate your website enough.
Browse your website in incognito mode on your desktop and phone. Check the menu, click all the items that should link somewhere, see if the videos are playing, is the form validating when you want to submit it, is the search working, does the header behave correctly on scroll, and so on.
Spend 10-15 minutes browsing the website, even try to read some of the content, maybe a typo was made, or maybe there is a better way to phrase something.
There is no room for excuses for a missing backup system. Today it’s easy and cheap (free in some cases) to have a backup system that runs on schedule.
You might have a backup included on your hosting plan, and that is great, but you can set up your own. The hosting backup usually is limited to daily for a period of 7 days, so you can’t recover things from earlier.
This should be enough if you get noticed that your is down and you need the most recent version that was working so you can restore it. But then we’re getting into the details: is the backup available to you directly, do you need to contact support in order to get it, do they need to restore it for you, is there a one-time fee when you do that, and so on.
Using UpDraft Backup you can create a backup schedule and have it deliver the files on the same server, a different server via FTP, to a Dropbox account, or even to Amazon S3.
How frequently should you run backups?
I would go with daily if you have a busy website and weekly if it’s a smaller one. Keep records for 30 days if is daily backup, 4 weeks for the weekly.
Sign-up for an up-time monitor.
There are a lot of free versions that can be used and they are pretty reliable. UptimeRobot comes to mind. You get notified the moment your website is not reachable so you can start investigating.
The free versions uses email notifications, if you choose a premium version there will be notifications via SMS as well as a more advanced monitor type that can look after certain things on the website. If that element is missing you can get notified.
A basic up-time monitor will do just fine to start with.
The easiest way to take care of this is using a combination of Cloudflare with Wordfence. They are both free options and they will keep away most of the problems that appear.
Cloudflare will be able to protect you from any spam or brute force attacks, while Wordfence can do more in-depth work at the site level.
You can read more about Wordfence on the Best Wordfence settings to keep your site secure.
You don’t want your site to look unprofessional. Having broken links it’s one of those things that screams “we don’t care about our product, we didn’t even bother to check if the links are working”.
First, your own website links should work, if it’s present in navigation, footer, or on a page, it should end up opening a working page not a 404 or something broken. If you have this issue, fix it!
Second, if you use references to external websites and those end-up with broken links, fix them as well.
You can check for broken links using external services like Google Search Console, SEMRush, and Ahrefs.
Or use a plugin like Broken Link Checker.
Images can quickly get out of hand when you have an active website. New blog posts are created daily or on weekly basis, pages get updated, and new pages are created, the home page needed a fresh look so you added a bunch of new images to showcase the products better, etc.
Good thing that image optimization can be achieved pretty easily using free plugins. Here are 3 plugins that work really well: reSmush.it, Smush, EWWW Image Optimizer.
Cleaning up the database can increase performance in WordPress. What happens is that as you install, uninstall, and deactivate plugins/themes there is data left behind. Not all plugins clear after them once they are removed.
Keeping a clean database will make a difference and from my experience is mostly visible on the Dashboard side of WordPress. Same with the page/post revisions, you might want to clean those after some time because it’s a dead weight being carried around and accessed each time you try to edit a page/post.
You can use WP-Optimize to clean the database.
Run a Google PageSpeed Insight test on your home page and a few other popular pages and save the results for desktop and mobile. Just do some full-page screenshots, and use those to compare with future test results that you’re going to perform in the next maintenance cycle.
They will point out what needs to be fixed in terms of loading time and performance, but they will also provide you with a better timeline on how your site was affected by certain changes.
Update WordPress and plugins
Before updating check if the plugins and theme are compatible with the version of WordPress you want to install.
If some of the plugins are not officially marked as safe for the new WordPress version, keep an eye on them and test them after you updated the WordPress version.
Always make a backup on the spot before performing updates!
How often should maintenance be performed?
This depends on the website size, traffic, how much development is actively performed on it, and so on.
My advice is to do it weekly if you have a website that is fairly active (blog, shop, community, company with product presentations).
You can perform maintenance on a monthly basis if there is less traffic and moving parts (presentation site, portfolio website, small blog).
Don’t underestimate website maintenance.
It can seem like one of those things that agencies are selling you on top of their services to charge more, until one day you end up with a website that is down with no backup available or one that is from 2 years ago when the design was last updated.
The good thing is that a lot of tools exist and can help you perform the maintenance yourself for free or at a minimal cost. You don’t always need a team to take care of your site.
Two things you need to make your life easier when doing maintenance:
- A consistent schedule
- A checklist to follow
If your business is growing and you realize that you need professional help, don’t hesitate to look for WordPress maintenance services that can help you take better care of your website.
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