Think of your WordPress site as a machine, which just like every other machine, needs regular maintenance to ensure that it runs optimally. Without adequate maintenance your site may be vulnerable to security issues such as malware attacks; spam; slow page loading speeds; and the risk of long term unreliability. Regular maintenance also enables you to spot problems early before they develop into something more complex and unfixable; and to avoid common system mishaps and failures.
This article will highlight different ways to ensure that your site is well maintained so it keeps performing optimally.
Note: You must, at the very least, have admin access to your dashboard in order to install the necessary plugins and make the required changes to properly maintain your site.
Items that we will cover include:
- Backing up your site
- Putting your site in maintenance mode
- WordPress core, theme and plugin updates
- Database maintenance
- Monitoring site performance
- Eliminating comment spam
- Staying updated
Let’s get going.
Creating Backups of Your Site
Before making any changes to your site, you need to ensure that all of your data is backed up securely. Backing up data is often overlooked but nonetheless a necessary precaution to avoid common misfortunes. Think of this as a safety net to protect all of the hard work and money you invested in your site. Whilst it may seem burdensome at the time, you will thank yourself later for having taken the time to do it properly.
There are a number of ways in which you can securely back up your data. One of the easiest ways is to use one of the many quality backup plugins (free and paid) available in the WordPress Plugin Directory. BackWPup and VaultPress are both popular and reliable plugins, but our preference goes to BackupBuddy from our friends over at iThemes.
The best way to ensure that your data is safely stored is to have automated (scheduled) backups in place. You can automate backups with any of the aforementioned plugins. Yet even with automated backups, you should perform regular testing to ensure that your data is actually being backed up properly.
In addition to multiple backups, keep your backup files in different places. There are a range of offsite storage destinations that you can use for free, for example Google Drive, or you can use your own VPS or private server for storage.
Always remember that a full backup is what actually matters. So what constitutes a full backup?
(1) Your MySQL database (blog posts, pages, comments and your admin preferences)
(2) Your files (themes, plugins, media, scripts and anything else that adds functionality and structure to your site). That means that in the event you lose your site – knock on wood – you can restore the full backup and you’ll be good to go.
Backing up data is an essential step in the entire maintenance process, so do make sure that you take it seriously.
Enabling Maintenance Mode
We strongly advise you to take your website offline during maintenance. Taking it offline will prevent poor user experience (which is vital to SEO, among other factors).
WP maintenance mode is a straightforward, free plugin that notifies site visitors when your site is temporarily offline due to maintenance. There are a variety of other plugins that may give you more flexibility in terms of customization. Simply type in “Coming Soon” or “Maintenance Mode” in the search box of the plugin directory and you will see a range of other options that allow you to customize the look of your site in offline mode.
You could also clone your site to create a test site or local site, allowing you to test updates and changes while your live site is still accessible to users & customers.
Updating Your WordPress Site
It’s strongly advised that you keep up to date with the latest version of WordPress, all plugins and themes installed on your site to avoid problems such as bugs and security vulnerabilities. To make your life easier, WordPress issues regular updates to increase its functionality, fix bugs and deal with security concerns.
Most plugin developers such as ourselves at Semperplugins.com also issue regular updates for our plugins. We recommend you install these updates as soon as they become available.
Always start by updating WordPress itself, then your themes, and then your plugins. You should do so in order to minimize the risk of any conflicts that may affect the performance of your website, particularly if your site is large and complex. In fact, apply your updates one at a time so you can quickly trace the source of any problem, if one should occur.
You need to check that your website is functioning correctly after every update. Always double check your site’s functionality and speed across all devices and browsers. In particular, all the links and navigational tools on your website should work and direct all users (regardless of device and browser) to the right places. This is especially important for SEO, as crawlers need to be able to access all content on your website.
Your database needs to be cleaned out every few months in order for it to keep running quickly and efficiently. The more content, plugins, themes and comments are added to your site, the more complex and heavy your database will be. This could eventually cause it to slow down; and over time, you may find that it takes way longer to retrieve data within your database.
There are various plugins that can help keep your database clean. A good one is WP-Sweep, which keeps your information in an ordered format and reduces the clutter. There are various other plugins available, like WP-DBManager and WP-Optimize. Choose one that best suits your needs and is easy for you to use.
Google Analytics & Webmaster Tools
Use these tools to keep an eye on your site’s downtime; to monitor which pages are loading more slowly; and to see which links may be broken. Those are all common problems that can later become major issues.
We’ve all been a victim of comment spam. We’re referring to those comments that contain live links – links that are intended to boost the SEO or sales of the users that post them. The good news is that you can prevent such spam by either using anti-spam techniques or turning off commenting altogether.
If you have already been hit by comment spam, you can counteract it by using plugins that delete all comments. Such plugins can also be useful if your site has a large number of posts and you would rather remove the comments all at once, rather than having to filter by post. Delete All Comments is a good reliable plugin for that purpose.
Alternatively, you also have the option of disabling comments altogether with the Disable Comments plugin. However, experiments in the past have proven that quality comments show search engines that your site has built an active community around it, and provides users with valuable information, which increases the ranking of your site. If you don’t want to miss out on all those tiny bits of precious SEO juice, you should invest some time to regularly approve and delete comments on a regular basis.
It cannot be stated enough how important it is to take the security of your site seriously, and to have the necessary precautions in place. And don’t worry, monitoring the security of your site does not have to be a long and drawn out process, but can be done in a matter of minutes.
You can utilize platforms like Twitter, blogs, Facebook, Google+, and forums to keep abreast of the latest updates and security information of all your favorite developers.
An easy way to stay on top of your site’s health is to use tools like Sucuri and Google:
(1) When you get to Sucuri, just type in the URL of your site and you’ll receive a free malware scan. You can then take a visual look of your site to spot anything suspicious in your texts or links.
(2) With Google, simply enter your URL into the Google search box in the following format: “site:yourdomain.com”. Hit enter to get a list of your indexed pages. Take a close look to ensure that all is looking as it should. These processes, whilst not completely fail proof, will definitely help you to better monitor your site’s security.
If all of this seems a little arduous, remember that you also have the option of installing a security plugin like iThemes Security.
Try to set aside at least an hour every week to stay up-to-date using the above techniques.
An Important Note About Plugins
Here are a few things to note when selecting, updating and adding plugins to your site:
- When selecting plugins, always check the reputability of the source, whether it will work with your version of WordPress, and whether support is available to you in the event that issues arise.
- Keep your current plugins up to date, and delete any which are not in use, as this will maximize how you use your active plugins.
- When adding a plugin, keep in mind that it may lower your page speed, so be sure to monitor any changes in page speed before and after you install one.
While all of this may seem overwhelming at first, maintenance is a crucial component to the smooth operation of your WordPress site. Proper site maintenance is something that even beginners can, and should try to, come to grips with. It will pay off in the long term by preventing slow load speeds and by enhancing the overall user experience. It will also pay off by protecting your site from security issues and unwanted interference.
The best and most convenient way to stay on top of your site maintenance is to create a routine. A routine guarantees you enough time to perform these vital tasks, and the process consequently becomes easier in the long term.
How do you maintain your WordPress site? Please share with us in the comments!