When we think about websites, the first things that come to mind are the ease of use, design and performance of the website. Most of us choose WordPress because it is easy to use and the ease with which you can add additional functionality using plugins. But, one thing that is easily overlooked is the site maintenance. Without regular website maintenance, the performance of the site suffers. So, it is very important to allocate some time/budget for site maintenance.

WordPress website maintenance is not very difficult either. You just need to make a checklist of things to do regularly.

What are the benefits of regular site maintenance?

Keeping your site updated regularly can help keep your site secure and improve site performance. Themes and plugins release regular updates. There are updates released for WordPress core. These updates not only give you new features, but also provide security updates. With an updated site, there is less risk of someone hacking into your site. Old sites which are not secure provide an easy way for hackers to enter.

Initially, while setting up our sites, we tend to install a bunch of plugins. After a few days, we might not be using all the plugins. So, we just deactivate them and let them be on the back end. This is not a good approach. It is advisable to remove un used plugins promptly. This will improve site performance and sometimes the speed of the site.

Keeping sites updated also improves user experience. No one likes to browse through a slow site or a site that has warnings or errors or broken pages.

What is involved in site maintenance?

Site maintenance includes:

  • Take a backup of the entire site including the database
    • Keeping backups of your site is very important. I usually recommend taking a backup every week. If you have a big site with content being added/modified daily, you should do a daily backup. There are lots of plugins you can use to automatically backup your site daily/weekly/monthly.  This backup should be stored in a place away from your site. Most common practice is to save the backups in the same server as the website. While you can access the backup via FTP even if you cannot login to your site, this approach should not be the only one. You should always have a copy of the site stored away from your hosting. This ensures that you can still access your site content even if you cannot access your hosting. It becomes a lot easier to restore your site. I use Dropbox to save all my client’s backups.
  • Update the WordPress core, themes and plugins
    • After you have a backup, you should go ahead and update WordPress, the plugins and themes to their latest versions.
  • Test the site to make sure that the updates did not break the site. If they did, you can use the backup to restore your site. In this case, you will have to tread carefully to make sure you update one plugin at a time to figure out which one is breaking your site. Sometimes, the plugins are not compatible with the latest version of WordPress or have a conflict with another plugin. If this happens, then you might want to wait to update the plugin until it is compatible and does not break your site. Using a staging site to perform updates and test might help in such situations.
    • If a plugin is not compatible with either the latest version of WP or has a conflict with other plugins, you can write to the plugin author or plugin support to check if they are planning on fixing the issue.
  • Test for any broken links
    • Testing for broken links is very important. Broken links on your site never look good. If you have a big site with lots of internal and external links, this step is very important. There are a number of plugins that you can use. One of my favorites is the Broken Link Checker.
  • Delete spam comments
  • Delete any un used plugins or themes

How often do we need to do the site maintenance?

I usually do it once a month for my clients and also for my own website. You can update your site daily, weekly or monthly. I choose to do it monthly as it is easier. Every month I set time aside to review the site, clean up and update my plugins and themes. When there are security updates released by either WordPress or any other plugins,  these updates need to be done as soon as they are released.

If you have comments enabled, you would want to spend some time everyday going through the comments and approving or deleting the comments. Deleting the spam comments on a weekly basis is a good idea. If you are getting a lot of spam, you should install a plugin like Akismet or other plugins that help prevent the spam.

Even though you are performing the updates monthly, it is still recommended to back up your site weekly or daily (if you have a big site with regular content changes). There are a number of backup plugins that you can use which let you schedule the backups.

Do I need to put the site in Maintenance Mode?

Sometimes it is easy to put the site in maintenance mode when you are performing the updates. There are a number of plugins that let you do this. You can set a custom background and a custom message that shows up on the front end while you are working on the updates. If your site has a lot of traffic, putting it in maintenance mode gives your visitors a clear message as to why the site is down. If you run into issues while updating, being in maintenance mode prevents any errors from showing up on the front end. You can resolve all the errors and then open the site again. This gives the users a good experience.

If you have a small site or do not have many visitors, then this step might not be necessary.

These are a few basic steps for site maintenance for every website. There are many other things that could be part of your site maintenance like looking at your Google analytics data and improving your content, fixing SEO issues and other things.

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