WordPress Maintenance – A Free Guide

Why WordPress Maintenance

Not so many years ago, nobody worried much about website maintenance. Websites were very simple, written in plain HTML with a few pictures and maybe a contact form.  They were built to be viewed on a standard size desktop monitor. Once the website was built and working, you could pretty much forget about it until you were ready to change text or pictures.

But today, things have changed. Today’s websites are much more complicated than the old sites we were used to.  Modern websites must be responsive to mobile phones, tablets, laptops and desktops, looking good on all of them.

In addition, modern websites separate form from content. They use databases to store all the content and create the actual pages on the fly as the visitor navigates to the page.

Most websites these days are built using the WordPress framework. The reason being that development is much faster than writing HTML by hand and WordPress allows website designers and developers to built any kind of website you can imagine, including e-commerce and membership sites.

Every WordPress website includes a theme along with additional software addons called plugins that extend the functionality of WordPress. There are plugins for almost anything, including forms, slideshows, charts, live chat and much more. The average WordPress website will have a theme and ten to fifteen plugins, all of which must be maintained and updated regularly. 

How to maintain your WordPress Website

It’s important that you have a regular WordPress maintenance schedule and adhere to it. Just as important is having the right tools to get the job done. Let’s start with the basics.

1. Make a backup of your WordPress website

Your web host may offer a way to do this using cPanel, but this requires that you do it manually, and let’s face it, if you have to do it manually you will forget sometimes or just get too busy running your business and your life that it won’t always get done. We want to automate this procedure so it doesn’t depend on us. The solution is to use a WordPress plugin. I recommend Updraft Plus:

Updraft Plus

Updraft Plus is easy to set up, reliable and can be configured to backup your WordPress website on a regular schedule. The free version also lets you store your backups to DropBox, Google Drive, Amazon S3 and more. Storing your backups off-site is highly recommended because if your server goes down or you are unable to access your website, your backups are still safe and secure. Restoring your site to a backup is a one-click procedure.

2. Optimize your WordPress database

Your WordPress database is the brains of your website. It controls everything you see on the visitor-facing side by storing all the data needed for your website to function. Over time, it collects a lot of information that is no longer needed, like data for plugins you deleted long ago. Optimizing your database will remove orphan data and recover lost space in your database that slows down your website.  It’s a good idea to optimize and clean your WordPress database monthly. I like to use another great plugin by the folks at UpDraft, called WP Optimize.

WP Optimize
3. Keep your website secure

Unless you use a managed WordPress hosting company, keeping your website safe from hackers and malware is your responsibility. You might think nobody is going to care about my little website enough to hack it or inject malware into it. You would be wrong. You may not be a target in the way a government or Fortune 500 company would be, but you are a target nonetheless. Hackers have programs that scour the Internet for vulnerabilities in websites that they can exploit to send spam or computer viruses through the Internet. Your site could be compromised without you even knowing it. There are a number of good security plugins available, but I have had great results with WordFence:

Wordfence
4. Keep WordPress up to date

WordPress releases updates to the core framework every couple of months. These updates contain security and bug patches as well as new capabilities. It’s critical to keep WordPress current. When an update is released, you will see a notification in your WordPress dashboard. Make sure you have a current backup before updating WordPress.

5. Update themes and plugins

Your theme developer will release updates periodically and plugins updates are released almost every month. You will see notifications in your WordPress dashboard when updates are available to install just like with themes. Again, make sure you have a current backup before installing any theme or plugin updates. 

6. Test your forms

You probably have at least a contact form on your website and maybe a few others. If a visitor fills out a form and submits it, you need to be absolutely sure you get the email. I have found many hosting companies fall short in this area, especially the cheap ones. Hosting companies use relay servers to send form submission emails. Sometimes they work just fine, but when their servers get busy it may take hours or even days before you receive the email. Sometimes, they are dropped completely so you never get it at all.

I recommend you not rely on your hosting company for these emails. There are better ways to do it. I use an SMTP plugin that bypasses your web host’s relay servers and sends form submission emails directly from your email provider. That way, you will get 100% deliverability and get the messages within a few seconds depending on your email provider. These plugins work with Gmail, Microsoft 365 and most every email provider.

WP SMTP

7. Check your website’s uptime

Websites can go offline for a number of reasons. Servers need regular maintenance and they may be offline periodically. Nothing you can do about that, but fortunately, most web hosts do maintenance in the middle of the night and servers are not down for long. Cheap hosting providers put far too many websites on each server which can cause downtime issues if one or more sites on the server your site is on get very busy. Malware on your site can also bring down your website.

Uptime Robot has a free and paid service that monitors your website and lets you know if it goes down for any reason.

Uptime Robot

8. Moderate your comments

This only applies if you have enabled comments on your website, otherwise, you can ignore this section. Comments to your posts from interested readers give you an opportunity to interact with your visitors.

If a visitor takes the time to comment on a post you have written, you will want to send a reply in a timely manner. This builds trust which is not always easy to do on the Internet.

However, unless you don’t mind receiving hundreds of spam comments, make sure you install the Akismet plugin.

Akismet

9. Remove unnecessary plugins

Keeping deactivated plugins or ones you don’t need adds bloat to your website and could slow it down. It also gives hackers one more avenue to get into your site, especially if these plugins haven’t been updated in a while.

10. Check for broken links

Broken links on your website cause two problems you don’t want.

  • They cause a bad user experience – when a visitor clicks on a link they see on your website and instead of getting the page or post they were expecting, they see a page not found 404 error, which causes frustration. They may leave your website and never return.
  • They hurt your search engine optimization (SEO) efforts – You work hard to build up link equity on your site. Broken links set you back.

There are plugins for this, but they put tremendous strain on your server, so I don’t recommend them. A better alternative is Dead link checker. It allows you to check your site for broken links for free, but you need to go to the site on a regular basis and enter your website URL. They have a paid version that will do it automatically for $9.95 per month.

Wrapping it Up!

If your business depends in part on your website working 24/7/365, WordPress website maintenance is vital. Take care of your website and it will take care of you.

If all of this feels like a daunting task, or you feel you just don’t have the time to do it regularly, check out our Web Care Plans. We take care of all WordPress maintenance tasks for you, including hosting your website for a small monthly fee. We’ll even send a report to you every month detailing all that we did for you.

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