Updated: Apr 15
We love WordPress. As a website platform, WordPress makes it easy to create and customize a website for just about anything; e-commerce, blogging, portfolios, etc. Out of the box, it’s accessible, incredibly customizable, and has a myriad of other perks and positives that I won’t get into here.
As great as it is; however, WordPress is not a set-it-and-forget-it kind of thing –– and really, no website or Content Management System is (anyone telling you otherwise is selling something). All websites, regardless of the platform built on, will require some degree of regular attention once it’s live. As such, you’ll need to devote some attention and care to the maintenance of your website, so that it runs optimally and gives your users the best possible experience.
So what’s the big deal about maintenance?
Creating a website and maintaining it are two very different things. As your new website launches, you may find that the real work is only just beginning. Governance of a website can take some time –– it requires diligence, attention, and a little bit of know-how.
I’m not talking about promoting the site or marketing it once it’s up –– I’m referring to the mere notion of keeping your website running and in good working condition.
So why can’t a website just exist on its own on the web without any attention? Well, a website can be likened to a living, breathing thing –– it needs care. Like a car, a website is composed of many moving parts & mechanics that function in tandem with each other to create a working unit. And like a car, those parts degrade over time, and need a little ‘grease’ here and there to keep running. So, in order to keep a website running well, it requires some regular maintenance.
Website maintenance, much like car maintenance, is comprised of several recurring tasks performed at regular intervals. These tasks ensure that the site is always up and running for any potential customers or visits.
Poor or lacking maintenance can leave your site vulnerable in a number of ways. For example, a neglected site runs the risk of:
Poor security, leaving you vulnerable to hacks, attacks, and spammers
Lowered search engine rankings because of:
Increase in site speed/load times
Static content that offers nothing new or relevant to visitors
Bugs and broken links
Poor user experience
On the other side of that coin, maintaining your website well not only mitigates those factors above, but also comes with a lot of benefits that can be critical to the success of a business:
Ensures that your website is always up to date, so that your customers get an experience that is always reflective of the most current practices of your business.
Keeps your site safe from hackers who might exploit outdated components of your website by spamming, breaking, or even taking the site down altogether.
Keeps your data and web assets from being compromised or lost, should something ever go wrong.
Prevents disgruntled users who may become frustrated to the point of abandoning the site (and even the brand) altogether.
Keeps regular visitors (and search engines!) happy by giving them fresh, updated information.
There can be a lot involved with maintaining your WordPress site, and keeping it running optimally. You may be overwhelmed but fear not! Your marketing or web development company may likely offer regular maintenance retainers to handle these tasks on your behalf. If you’re wanting to try tackling it yourself, though, here are a few baseline tips and tricks to keep your site up to snuff.
So what should I be doing to maintain my WordPress website?
1. Keep your WordPress platform up to date.
Always make sure you are using the latest version of WordPress (5.2.4 as of this writing). WordPress makes frequent updates to their software that will unlock new features, code updates, and most importantly –– security measures & fixes.
According to an infographic on wptemplate.com, 41% of WordPress sites get hacked through vulnerabilities in their hosting platform. So, making sure your WordPress platform is always current can save a lot of headache, and work wonders as far as preventing hacks to your site.
2. Update your themes and plugins, too.
The WordPress software works together with your theme and plugins installed on your site to create a holistic, functional experience for users. Out of date plugins are a great exploit for hackers to gain access to your site. Plugin and theme authors will often release updates to their products, to be sure that what they’ve put out there is running optimally with the latest version of WordPress so that it will continue to be secure.
Because these updates to plugins involve updates to the code, it’s important to note that once you’ve made these updates, you should then test the front end of your website to ensure that the changes didn’t affect anything negatively. Sometimes features can break, or need reconfiguring when the code base gets updated, so whenever making theme or plugin updates to your site you should be prepared to test that it is still functioning as expected for your users.
While you are updating themes and plugins, it’s also a good rule of thumb to get rid of plugins that you are no longer in need of or using, to prevent the site from getting bogged down by needless extras.
3. Backup your site regularly.
If something should ever go wrong with your site, having a recent backup means it can be restored. You can usually do this through your hosting account. Your cadence for backups should depend on your traffic, engagement, and how frequently you update your site; for example if you are making frequent updates such as publishing a weekly blog then you’d want to back up that work more frequently than if you were only making edits to the site once or twice a year. If your site gets a decent amount of traffic and engagement, then it’s not a bad idea to backup nightly. Many hosting providers offer this as an add-on service.
You should also verify that your scheduled backups are working on a regular basis, and that the data is actually retrievable. Should your website go down for any reason, having these backups will help prevent you from losing important assets.
4. Update your content regularly.
Not only is keeping your content up to date a best practice for ensuring your website visitors have a good experience (and a reason to return to your site), but it’s important for search engine optimization as well. As long as you are updating your content regularly, such as through a blog, then the search engines will see that your site isn’t stagnating and will be more likely to serve you up in relevant search results. It’s only one of many factors in the search-engine algorithms but it is a pretty important one. Sites that offer new content are indexed more often, and increase your authority potential — which means that crawlers look at your site more frequently (giving you more opportunities to optimize and be found in search), and it means that the search engines will come to see you as an authority in your industry. Keeping your content fresh will also provide a better experience to your users. A site that isn’t updated regularly doesn’t give anyone the impetus to return, and may have a harder time attracting new customers. If a user sees that your site hasn’t been touched in a long time, it hurts your credibility as a brand, as well. They may wonder if the company still exists? Is the information current or correct?
5. Check for and fix bugs.
Do a regular sweep through your site on the front-end to look for problems and bugs like broken links or 404 ("page not found") pages. Click through your site thoroughly –– leave no path unchecked! In additional to looking for things that break, check that the experience makes sense from a user perspective, as well.
Some things you should look for:
All pages on the site are easy to use and understand
Buttons, form fields, shapes, are all clearly designated and convenient to use
Users can access the main menu from all pages within the site
Forms are functioning as expected, there is confirmation to the user once a form is successfully submitted, and that submitted forms are routing correctly to where they need to go.
It helps to do these tests from different browsers, different devices, and different screen sizes so you can get a sense of your site’s functionality from the perspective of a variety of user types.
6. Optimize your database.
WordPress hosts all of its data in a database. And, like WordPress itself, the mySQL database for your site accumulates unwanted data over time and should be cleaned up and optimized on a monthly basis. This helps keep site page load times down — the bigger your database the longer it takes for the system to find what it needs and thus your site speed is inhibited.
Database maintenance really is a beast all unto itself, and is probably one of the most neglected maintenance tasks. Removing unwanted and unneeded data will keep your site trim and prevent things from slowing down, and there are plugins that can help with database optimization — I caution folks who are new to WordPress and WP maintenance however — you should only touch the database if you are absolutely comfortable with what you are doing.
On a less-frequent basis, it’s a good idea to keep tabs on a few annual tasks as well…
Renew your SSL and domain/hosting accounts regularly and on time (otherwise you run the risk of Chrome users getting a security error message if you don’t have a valid SSL, or site outages)
Check disclaimers, notices, and copyright dates that they are up to date and reflective of the current year.
Remove any dead links (links that point to a website or page that no longer exists). Dead links can happen for a number of reasons; a resource has moved, the URL may have a typo, the permalink structure has changed, or even because the page simply doesn’t exist anymore. If you have a lot of links on your site, there are free tools out there to help you scan and identify dead links, such as Dead Link Checker.
Unlike a car, there is no “check engine” light for a website. Without caring for your website, it runs the risk of becoming slow, chaotic, and insecure. But with a little time and effort, you’ll enjoy the benefits of a well maintained site — rising ranks in search, quicker load times, and of course…happier customers.