How to maintain a WordPress website
If you're the proud owner of a WordPress website you may not be aware that with this ownership comes a responsibility to take care of it. Just like a car getting a regular service to make sure it is running in tip top condition, a little bit of time and effort is needed to give your investment some T.L.C. By the end of this article you'll know how to take care of your WordPress website.
But why does a WordPress website need upkeep?
Surely once the website is launched there is nothing more to do? (I hear you say). Wrong.
The core software and any 3rd party additional 'plugins' that your website runs on are constantly being updated to keep them secure, fix bugs and add new features and functionality. This means that as time goes on there will be differences between the versions installed on your website and the latest versions available.
Leave it long enough and the versions installed on your website will be so far behind that all sorts of issues may occur. A bit like if you still have a computer running Windows XP. Microsoft stopped supporting XP in 2014 so there are no more security updates to patch vulnerabilities that may be exploited by malware. It pays to keep up to date to avoid getting HACKED.
A hacked website can hurt your Google search listing, you can get dropped or blacklisted. Getting hacked can cause you to spend time troubleshooting issues (or cost you money to pay someone to fix it quick).
There are folks out there that have had WordPress websites for years without getting hacked, lucky them, but it is unwise to think it will never happen to you based on the past because one day it just might - it pays to be prepared.
Doesn't my website host company take care of my website for me?
Unless you are aware that you're paying for the updates specifically, the chances are that they are just providing you with the hosting account. As far as updating the software and testing all aspects of the website to ensure it is working, no and the support they provide is to do with the smooth running of the hosting account and not with your website as such.
If you're still reading this then I will assume that you already know that you have a WordPress website and that it needs upkeep. So let's dive in. The mantra here is little and often. As with a lot of things in life, if you neglect something for a long while it will be a bigger task to sort out eventually.
You'll need Administrator level access to your website in order to carry out the tasks. Log in and if you can't see Users in the left hand side menu you probably need to upgrade your access level. Speak to your web designer.
Before you do anything it is highly recommended that you make sure there is a back up of your website so that you can roll back to a previous version of the website if anything breaks and you don't know how to fix it.
If you've got a good web hosting account they'll provide a daily back up and easy restore function. Check this before proceeding.
If you don't have any back up at all you can either back up manually or install a back up plugin to take care of this. The latter is preferable as you can set it to regularly take a back up of your website files and database without you having to remember to do it. It's also a good idea to test that the back up is working.
Best practice is to back up to an off-site location such as Dropbox, Amazon S3 or Google Drive.
Go to Dashboard > Updates. This is where you are informed of all the items that need to be updated. WordPress, Plugins and Themes.
Example of the message displayed to update WordPress. Click the blue Update Now button.
Update any plugins that have new versions available.
Update your website Theme if appropriate.
Visual Check and Test Functionality
Once you've updated WordPress software, plugins and themes you should check your website from the customer facing side to see if there are any issues after updates.
Note: if your website uses a caching plugin make sure to purge all caches and clear your browser cache to enable you to see the latest versions of each web page.
Check the layout of each page and also check the functionality is working as it should. For example test that any contact forms are working correctly.
Sometimes updating the core software, plugins and themes creates conflicts causing your website to break! If anything looks wrong investigate and fix. You may need to use a back up to roll the website back to the version pre update.
It's important to carry out a security scan to test for malware and vulnerabilities. Your web hosting account might provide this for an additional fee so check this first.
Over the month your website database grows as pages and posts get saved either by you or automatically by WordPress, revisions, updates, drafts, spam comments and spam form submissions get stored in your database.
This growth of the database can slow down your website so cleaning this stuff out regularly helps.
Check the website for broken links
If your website has outbound links to other websites or you regularly add content what happens over time is links get broken as various web pages get updated. No one wants to click a link that leads to nowhere so ensure that any broken links are addressed.
Surprise surprise, there's a plugin for that! I use Broken Link Checker.
You can also check for any 404 errors. A 404 error is when a visitor lands on a page that cannot be found. You can look up this information using Google Search Console (if you have already registered your website on the console). Go to Crawl > Crawl Errors. There will be a list of URL Errors that you can use as a fix it list.
A good tip is to set a reminder on your calendar and block out some time to do these monthly tasks.
In short a cared for WordPress website is a stable, functioning website. It's just like insurance, no one really wants to spend on it but it is essential to protect your investment.
And if all of this seems overwhelming and way too much to take in, get in touch. We do this month in, month out and have Website Care Plans that cover all of this and more.