The Ultimate Guide to WordPress Maintenance
A good website is like a machine with plenty of moving parts that never stop working. Once in a while, you should give those parts a closer look, check for wear, and clean up any grime that’s gathered. That’s pretty much what you’re doing during a regular WordPress maintenance.
In this article, you’ll read about:
The very fact that you’re here implies that you have some level of appreciation for the work that’s necessary for maintaining a website in a good state. At the very least, you understand that maintenance work is something that needs to be done. But then again, it’s also easy to think that a website is something that’s just there once you put it online — if the host keeps it up, it will be online and working indefinitely.
But even if that were the case, the world in which your website exists might change enough to make your site very much out-of-date. We’re not talking about the design, even though it too needs to be updated once in a while. Links will become broken. Plugins will go out of date. People will find ways to compromise the security of your website.
The fundamental reasons why regular maintenance is essential for your WordPress website can be summed up with one acronym – B.U.S. It stands for:
Backup, as a way of ensuring you don’t lose any content or data from your website.
Update, which applies to the WordPress core, plugins, but also content and links.
Secure, to make sure that your website, its visitors, and their data, are safe and sound.
A lot of the things you’ll be doing during WordPress maintenance will, in one way or another, contribute to one of these three. That doesn’t mean that you can’t do some work that might only be good for improving your website’s performance. You can, but you must remember what it’s all about and always take care of these fundamentals.
When you first start putting down on paper everything you need to check and tweak and look into during maintenance, you can easily be overwhelmed by the number of things that found their way on your checklist. Some of them can even take a large toll on your spare time, too. And that’s without mentioning that some tasks might be well above your skill level.
Website maintenance can be all of that, but it can also be a part of your routine. The best way to tackle your website’s maintenance requirements would be to divide them by how frequently you need to perform them. Some activities require that you do them daily. But there are also those you should perform weekly, monthly, or even once per year. Finding out what it is that you need to do, and how often you should do it is the first step towards creating a proper maintenance schedule.
The second step involves finding ways to make the maintenance less demanding both in terms of time and skill. And if the first step was all about dividing the tasks so you can conquer them more quickly, this is about arming yourself with the right tools for the job. That means finding the right plugins to help you perform the maintenance tasks.
Finally, you should know that some of the more significant maintenance work might require you to make your website temporarily unavailable to visitors. The way you stop them from visiting your website is by putting it in maintenance mode. WordPress has this feature built-in, and it’s activated automatically for every core update. However, if you’re doing any other type of work besides updating your version of WordPress, you’ll need to bring it up with a plugin. With all of this in mind, let’s see the different maintenance tasks you might perform at regular frequencies and what tools you can use for them.
The bulk of your regular maintenance work doesn’t happen on this level. Still, your daily tasks cover some of the crucial aspects of running a website. If you’re running a site that doesn’t have a busy content publishing schedule and doesn’t see much user engagement, you might even be able to perform some of these tasks weekly instead of daily.
Check Your Website’s Uptime
Some reasons why websites go offline are entirely benign. Servers need to go offline for maintenance, too, and they will take your site with them. Other reasons point to shoddy server service, issues with the coding on your website, and even compromised website security.
Websites are assets that should always be available, remember. Checking whether something derailed the plan and put your site offline is one of those necessary daily maintenance tasks. You need to know if your website was down so that you can jump into action and find out what’s behind the downtime.
How do you check your website’s uptime? With the help of plugins, of course. In this case, the plugins worth trying would include:
UptimeRobot, a great plugin that comes with a free and a paid plan and can monitor your website via 5-minute checks — 1-minute for the Pro plan — and save all your data to a log.
ManageWP, a plugin that can easily fit in many of the plugin lists in this article, offers uptime monitoring as a premium service, among many other features and services.
Pingdom, a service for monitoring end-user experience that encompasses page speed analysis, transaction monitoring, and — uptime monitoring.
Check Any Security Events
No matter how much you love the internet, you can’t say that it’s a safe place to be. The bad actors that make the internet an unsafe place target both people and online assets. As an owner or administrator of a website, it’s your job to keep it, and the people who visit it, safe.
You’re bound to have a security service or plugin protecting your website. As part of your daily maintenance routine, you should check in with whatever you’re using for security and review any suspicious events that happened in the last 24 hours. If the service allows it, you should also set up notifications on some events.
Among the many awesome security plugins for WordPress you could be using, these are some that stand out:
Sucuri, one of the most widely used security plugins for WordPress that will, with its free version, monitor file integrity, audit security activities, provide alerts, and do much more.
WordFence, a plugin that you’ll start using for firewall and malware blocking but will fall in love with thanks to the two-factor authentication and traffic trends monitoring.
W.P. Activity Log, a plugin that logs all kinds of activities on your website, helping you notice activities that are suspicious and potentially damaging to your site.
Create a Backup of Your Website
Creating a backup of your website is one of those things that you might be able to move over to the weekly maintenance task list. If changes to your site don’t happen every day — if you don’t post a lot of content, or you don’t get lots of comments — you can easily backup your website once a week, plus every time you make a change to the core files and plugins.
Your hosting provider might offer regular website backups. Depending on your plan, they can occur monthly, weekly, or daily. Whatever they are, you shouldn’t rely on them entirely and should always perform your backups as well.
While you’re more than welcome to try creating a backup manually, you’ll probably have an easier time using a plugin for it. You might find these helpful:
BackWPup, an excellent alternative for UpdraftPlus and a plugin that lets you optimize, check, and backup your database, as well as your files and plugins.
BlogVault, a plugin that lets you create incremental backups with free offsite storage and access to a 90-days archive for easy recovery.
Moderate the Comments
If you haven’t enabled the comments on your website, you can easily skip this option. Comments, even though they are great for letting people engage with your content, can be a breeding ground for spam. The people who can’t see a direct benefit from comments might find it easier to disable them.
If you’re not one of them, moderating comments is something you should be doing. Lots of content will require daily moderation. A couple of comments a week will warrant a weekly check. Either way, it’s a good idea to go in and weed out any undesired content from the comments.
Your experience with moderating comments will depend mainly on the comment plugin you’re using. The popular options include:
Native WordPress comments, the comments system that comes with WordPress, is excellent because you don’t have to install them, even though they attract lots of spam.
Facebook comments, with their powerful comment analytics and an increased reach on the most significant social network.
Disqus, the most feature-rich WordPress commenting system of the three that syncs with WordPress comments for seamless backing up.
Update the Core Files and Plugins
Keeping the core WordPress files and your plugins up to date helps your website in several ways. For one, a site that’s entirely up to date, with all the latest patches installed, is more likely to run better. These updates usually have bug fixes that might measurably improve your website’s performance.
There’s also the question of security. The longer you wait to update the core files and the plugins, the more likely it is that someone will find a way to use that against you. Updates also come with security patches that fix vulnerabilities in the core files and plugins alike. So it’s vital to set aside the time to check for updates and perform them.
WordPress does a pretty good job informing you about pending updates and handling their installation, so you don’t need a plugin to handle that for you. Just make sure that you back up the website before you start updating its core files and plugins — it’s good to have a previous version to roll back to if something goes awry.
Perform a Malware Scan
If you hadn’t performed it when you were checking for sketchy events that might compromise your website’s security, now’s the time to do it. Malware can compromise the security of your website and the people who use it, so you must detect any malware and remove it.
Keeping in theme with only installing the necessary plugins, it would be a good idea to use a single tool for checking security events and doing the malware scan. Two of the three plugins we’ve listed for checking security events, Sucuri and WordFence, will be able to help you with that.
Run Performance Tests
Loading speed might not be the only metric that matters, but it’s important enough to be the object of lots and lots of optimization efforts. People who’ve done work optimizing websites for speed know just how important it is to shave that single second from a landing page’s loading time, and how much work can sometimes go into it.
But you cannot afford to rest on your laurels when it comes to loading speeds. If for some reason, your website starts slowing down, you want to be aware of it as early as possible. That’s why performance tests for loading speeds are a weekly occurrence.
If you’re using Pingdom to monitor your website’s uptime, you can also use it to test how well your website performs. But you can also try using the following services:
GTmetrix, a plugin that will show you how fast the pages on your website load and pinpoint the areas where you can make improvements that will count.
Google’s PageSpeed Insights, a great free web app that can help you determine how well your website performs on different devices, among other things.
WebPageTest, a web app that works similarly to the previous two but packs a twist — it lets you run tests as if your website was accessed from different countries.
Do a Visual Check
As a website admin, you might get too used to viewing the website from the backend. The way visitors experience your website is entirely different. Even the generous use of the “preview” features from the backend would not give you the complete picture of the regular visitors’ experience.
But what can give you that experience is merely visiting the website as a regular user. Log out. Visit it from your browser’s private mode. Use a couple of different browsers to visit it, maybe even a couple of devices with different operating systems. Do some cross-platform testing while you’re at it.
Poke and prod the website and look for anything that would turn off a regular visitor. If you don’t want to do it weekly, at least do it once a month. You don’t need a plugin for it.
In this section, we are going to discuss the maintenance activities you should perform monthly or once every couple of months. Because it’s a larger timeframe you’re working with, you can expect there to be a bit more activities, but don’t let that worry you. There will be plenty of helpful tools to get you through them.
Clean Up and Optimize the Database
No one could blame you for not wanting to poke around the place where all the data for your website is stored. Your website’s database is a precious place, and you could be forgiven for having misgivings when it comes to messing with it.
Still, you should do it. Just like any other container that serves to store stuff, databases are prone to accumulating clutter and all kinds of unwanted things that will only slow your website down. Databases need the occasional good cleaning, and you’re just the right person for the job — even if you don’t know it.
Just in case, before you get started, you should create a backup of your database. Then, use one of the following plugins:
WP-Optimize, the plugin that will help you by cleaning your website’s database, compressing it, and then caching it for a full clean up and optimization experience.
Advanced Database Cleaner, a plugin that will rid your database of orphaned content repeatedly with minimum input from you, as you can schedule it and let it do its work.
WP-DBManager, a perfect solution if you’re looking for a simple tool that doesn’t skimp on the features and is capable of all the major operations with the database.
Remove Unnecessary Plugins
Every tool you don’t need any more adds to the clutter until you’ve removed it from your website. Removing the unneeded plugins is a regular maintenance step. So if there’s a plugin that you haven’t used in a month or two and you have no plans of using it soon, you might as well go ahead and uninstall it.
There’s no need for you to use a plugin to uninstall other plugins. You can use the old-fashioned way as provided by WordPress, but you can also follow a whole uninstallation procedure to ensure that no traces of your plugin are left on the server.
Update the Theme
Your WordPress theme might not have new updates as frequently as your plugins will, but that doesn’t mean that theme updates aren’t necessary. Using an out-of-date theme will create the same risks as using any other out-of-date bundle of code on your website.
Keep in mind, however, that updating a theme can overwrite any custom modification you’ve made to it since the last update. That’s why it’s always best to create a child theme and use it to avoid losing your website customization with every theme update.
Check for Broken Links
Links that lead to pages that don’t exist anymore are a perfect example of how the changing landscape can hurt your website without it being your fault at all. When the pages your links point to stop existing, search engines will notice that, and they won’t like it. And it won’t matter to them that it’s not your fault those pages stopped existing.
Broken and dead links are a clear signal of an unkempt website. It’s that simple. If your site is small enough and doesn’t use a lot of outbound links, you can easily check them manually. But for a bigger and more complex website, a broken link audit is due once every couple of months.
You might look for crawl errors in your Google Search Console, but you can also try one of these tools:
Broken Link Checker, a plugin that will methodically identify all the links on your website and then check them for error messages, displaying the results in the backend or via email.
Dead Link Checker, a web app that will check your whole website or specific pages and quickly show you the results in a simple interface.
Ahrefs, one of the most popular SEO tools that come at a hefty monthly fee, also has a check for broken links among its features.
Check in With Google
Over time, Google has developed some neat tools that can help you tell how well your website is doing. The Google Search Console, for example, can notify you about issues, get your content in front of Google users, and maybe even help you make the content better.
Google Analytics, on the other hand, will deliver all the info you will ever need about your audience. You’ll then be able to use that wealth of information to fine-tune your website and its content to attract an even bigger audience and deliver more relevant content.
And if you’re wondering how well you’re doing with search engine ranking on Google, you might consider investing in Ahrefs and solve a couple of other problems while you’re at it.
Perform a Content Audit
It would be great if every piece of content you create for your website could be a timeless, evergreen piece that’s capable of staying relevant and attracting views year after year. And while some content might walk that line perfectly well, it’s unlikely that you’ll only churn out pieces that are like that. And for those imperfect but lovable pieces of content, an occasional lift can do wonders.
You might want to work in content checks in your maintenance schedule. Some of the things to be on the lookout for are outdated statistics, words, numbers, and phrases that date the content, and even broken links. Do this now and again, and you’ll increase the shelf life of your content significantly. It’s slow and methodical work, but you only need to perform it twice a year, at most.
The yearly WordPress maintenance task list is little more than a bunch of reviews. You’re doing most of the important work during the year. When the year ends, you should look back at it and try to figure out what worked for you, what didn’t, and what needs to change.
Review Your Web Host
It might be easy to forget it because you think of it as something that’s there, but your website’s hosting should be on the performance review list as a prominent item. A notable item you only need to check once a year, that is.
Migrating a website can be significant pain, and looking for errors in your web host could seem like you’re just looking for trouble. But your website’s hosting will affect its performance significantly. Turning a blind eye to a host that’s overcharging you or underdelivering on its contract isn’t worth it.
Review the Theme
How was your WordPress theme treating you during the last twelve months? Did it cause you too many issues? Were you able to use it to create the website that you wanted, or did you have to settle? Is there another theme that caught your eye?
Changing a theme is a great way to freshen up the look of your website. Keep in mind, however, that switching a theme can have significant consequences on the visual identity of your website. Change the theme only where you’re ready to give your website a makeover.
Review the Plugins and Third-Party Services
You shouldn’t keep the plugins you don’t plan to use, that’s true. But you also shouldn’t stick to the plugins you plan to use at the expense of getting better, cheaper, or newer ones.
Schedule a periodic plugin check. During that check, you’ll be giving your plugins a closer look not only when it comes to performance, but also how up to date they are, and how well the community rates them. Finally, occasionally, you should search for alternatives to the plugins you have installed, even if you’re happy with them. Always be on the lookout for something better.
Let’s Wrap It Up!
Owning a website can be an incredibly rewarding experience in many different ways. It can bring you joy, money, business opportunity, even a sense of community. But to get your website to the point when it starts being all of that to you, you need to make sure it’s running smoothly, without a hitch.
That’s what WordPress website maintenance is for. A long list of tasks that might look like too much to those who are not in the know, a maintenance schedule will map out when you need to perform which action to keep your website up and running for years to come. So make sure you have a good list and the right tools to do the job. Your website will be thankful for it.