Long gone are days when you could just publish your website to the internet and forget about it. The dynamic nature of the modern internet requires constant modifications and updates in order to keep your website user friendly and functioning. Be prepared to plan and perform a regular maintenance of your WordPress website, and it will stay healthy and stable. Good news is that there are plugins and tools for almost all of the required tasks, and they will make your life easier and save you a ton of time.
The consequences of neglecting your website might be dire: decreased website load speed, which in turn might affect your SEO rankings; lowered security that might bring your entire website down if it gets hacked; and bad user experience that might cost you precious customers. To most, it will seem like a hassle, but it’s as necessary as cleaning your fridge every once in a while. You don’t want to be stuck with few pounds of rotting produce, nor should you want to have broken, chaotic and cluttered website.
We created a list of basic tasks related to technical side of maintenance to help you plan your maintenance schedule. We recommend performing all of them in regular intervals, along with following your marketing plan and SEO optimization practices.
1. Regular backups
The core of your maintenance routine should be a regular backup of your entire website. In case anything else goes wrong, you will be able to access and restore the last working version of your website in no time. Good news is you don’t really need to be tech savvy to back up your WordPress website. There are many free and premium plugins that will let you do this (and even automate it). You can back up your site to the server where your website resides, or use an external platform such as Google Drive or Dropbox for storing off-site backups. We recommend using both – worst case scenario, your hosting platform may lose your backup, but then you’re covered by your external copy. Depending on your situation, choose a plugin (or service) that will suit your personal needs best. Some websites should be backed up every week, but some of them will require multiple backups throughout the day. Two plugins worth considering for your backup automation:
2. Update WordPress core, plugins and themes
The thing about WordPress is that it’s a living organism in the internet universe. It’s constantly changing and adjusting, and so will your website with it. Very quickly you will start receiving notifications in your dashboard about available updates for your plugins, themes and WordPress core itself. One of the major reasons for new releases is improving security. Most Wordpress websites are hacked because of a vulnerability in an outdated plugin or using an old version of WordPress. By keeping your website components up to date, you are significantly reducing the risk of your website being taken down or broken into.
The main rule for updating WordPress is to always back the website up before updating any components. If you discover that after installing new version of that accordion plugin, your website suddenly stopped working, you can easily restore it to it’s last functional state. For that reason, test your website after updates on 1 by 1 basis, if you have multiple updates available.
As a part of the general website hygiene, when you’re done using or testing a plugin or theme, delete it from your Dashboard. Keep things organized and remove unnecessary clutter, as it slows down your website and affects its performance.
Even though plugins exist that can automatically install the updates for you, we recommend not using them and updating everything manually when necessary. If you opt in for automated installation, you might not notice when one of the updates breaks something on your website, and finding out what the issue is can be a very painful, time consuming process.
Change your WP passwords on a regular basis. Strong Password Generator has some good advice on password hygiene and let’s you easily generate a new, hard to break password. Change administrator name to something else than ‘admin’ (the most vulnerable one), and you can even create a custom URL to login to your WordPress dashboard with WPS Hide login.
Make sure you’re protecting your website from malware infection, hackers exploiting backdoors, and malicious codes with one of the recommended security plugins:
Wordfence includes an endpoint firewall and malware scanner that were built from the ground up to protect WordPress. With over 2 million active installations and 5 star rating it’s one of the most popular security plugins.
Takes care of the security on multiple ends, and has many additional features. One of the most popular free security plugins with firewall.
4. Check and delete spam comments
Spam is present everywhere, and your website will be no exception. Fortunately, the work of cleaning up your comments section can be done for you by a plugin, that will automatically recognize and move the spam to trash. Before you remove them permanently, make sure to scan the comments in your trash to make sure some of the genuine comments weren’t filtered along with the spam. No technology is perfect. Word of advice – try not to put this off for longer than a month, you’d be surprised how many spam comments you will get and sorting through a large batch of them will be painful to deal with.
If you enabled commenting on your website by accident and only found out about it when it was too late for any moderation effort to succeed, you can simply delete all comments using a plugin.
5. Check if all forms work.
Due to misconfiguration on your e-mail service provider or WordPress hosting, your forms might suddenly stop sending e-mails. This can be frustrating for both your users (who either cannot send the message or never hear back from you) and you (lost business).
Test your forms on a regular basis, and you’ll be able to detect any malfunction in a timely manner. Simply send yourself a nice message wishing good day and eternal happiness through your website, and see if you got it!
6. Optimize your WordPress database
To put it short, cleaning your database from all the extra junk will speed up your site. Did you know that every revision you make to a website creates a new record in your database and it’s being saved automatically? By deleting old revision files, you will free up space and improve website’s speed and efficiency. Some plugins will let you can set up automatic, regular clean-up schedule, and focus on other tasks while your website junk is being taken care of.
Here are some popular plugins you can install to take care of your database:
If you’re curious how your website is performing, you can test your website speed on Pingdom or GTMetrix (it can also optimize your images, more on that later). It’s necessary to run the tests after any major modifications, as they may affect the performance of the website.
7. Find and fix missing pages and broken links
Dead links are hyperlinks either on your site, coming to your site or pointing to another website whose destination no longer exists. This can be because a resource has moved, the URL has a typo, the permalink structure has changed or simply because a page doesn’t exist anymore. Broken links damage your website’s rankings and usability, and are usually frustrating for users.
8. Examine the front end of your website
Ideally, you would do it no less than once a week. In online world, your website is equivalent to a brick and mortar store or office. As you would vacuum and dust the shelves in the real room, the website also needs a quick sweep to ensure your visitors come to a place that is tidy, organized and well taken care of. First impressions are very important in building a relationship with the customer. Make sure they are getting the best experience possible. Try to put yourself in your visitor’s shoes, and examine your website in a way they would do. Use different browsers and devices to see if your website is performing well everywhere. If you have a very short supply of time, focus on your most visited pages, as they are the most critical. Fix all of the design issues in a timely manner, and stay looking sharp.
9. Optimize images
Non designers often overlook the size of the images uploaded to WordPress. Yet, accumulating heavy, high resolution images on your website slows it down significantly, and these days we’re all about the loading speed. If your website takes too long to load, people will not wait for it and simply move on to their next internet adventure. If you never compressed the images for the web, we have some good news – there’s a plugin that can do it for you (of course)!
After activating the plugin, every new image you upload to your Media Library will be automatically optimized and resized according to your settings. TinyPNG gives you an option to go back and optimize old images as well.
Alternatively, you can identify which images need to be optimized on GTMetrix. The website also compresses all of them automatically, and you can download those optimized files. Swap them with the current large images on your website and test it’s new speed!
It’s a good practice to delete the images that you don’t use anymore on a daily basis. You can find them in the Media Library under ‘unattached’ category. Be careful though, as some files that the plugins are using might appear here due to the fact that they are not being used directly on any page or post. Keep your eyes open.
How often should you perform maintenance tasks? Well, it depends. If your website is getting a lot of traffic, ideally you will set aside some time every week to check some aspects of it’s performance. In case your website is more of a static brochure, maintenance audit could be completed every 6 months to ensure everything is working properly. If you’re using a lot of plugins, you should make sure they’re updated and compatible with the main core of the website every month. You can perform some tasks more often than others – again, it all depends on your individual situation. If you have the resources, you might consider hiring an external company to do it for you (there are plenty of choices online). You can also check what services your hosting provider offers – you might have some tasks included in your hosting plan. Either way, don’t forget about your website – it’s best to prevent the errors before they happen!