How to Maintain a WordPress Website

Why is Maintaining My Website Important?

WordPress is hugely popular these days, making up about 40% of the web and more than 60% of all CMS-based websites across the Internet.  The odds are pretty good that if you have a website built in the past decade, it’s built on WordPress, and for good reason.  WordPress is very powerful and has a huge ecosystem of developers working on the product itself, along with themes and plugins to make it even more powerful.

The power of WordPress can, at times, be a two-edged sword, as it does require a little more upkeep than a website that was hand-coded, using just HTML, CSS, and JavaScript.  If you have a WordPress site, you may want to have a web professional do regular maintenance on the site, or else you may want to do it yourself.  Perhaps you’re wondering what tasks you need to do regularly in order to keep your site running well.  In this post, I will attempt to outline general tasks that can be done regularly in order to keep things running smoothly.

WordPress Core, Theme, and Plugin updates

One of the simplest and yet oft-overlooked things you can do in terms of upkeep is to run your system updates.  WordPress itself gets regular updates which add features, fix bugs, and harden security vulnerabilities.  The software is open-source, and so updates are free, but there is one potential pitfall: themes and plugins.

Theme’s and plugins may have free updates for the life of the product, or may require a current subscription, so if your subscription lapses, or development on the theme/plugin is abandoned, you may eventually run into compatibility issues, which brings us to our next item: Plugin audit.

Plugin Audit

There are plugins that can do just about anything in WordPress.  There is a repository with literally thousands of plugins available to do tasks ranging from optimizing images to third-party service integrations and much more.  As websites age, they may tend to accumulate plugins.  Some of them are mission-critical, but some may not be.  It helps to occasionally look and see if you can identify plugins that fall into one of the categories below

Redundant

You may find, especially when the operations of your site have been handed from one party to another that there are multiple plugins designed to accomplish the same task.  Most developers have a stack of plugins that they may use, depending on needed features.  Perhaps I like to use Yoast SEO (a very popular SEO plugin) but someone else who has been working on your site prefers RankMath SEO.  Either plugin will do the job, but there is no reason for them both to be there. 

Unnecessary

Over time, the tasks you perform on your site may change.  Perhaps you had a small eCommerce shop at one point, but you no longer sell products directly on the site.  Maybe you used to have clients upload files directly to your Dropbox via the site, but now you use another file transfer method.  Either way, you have plugins on your site which may be consuming system resources which you don’t need.  Don’t be afraid to deactivate them, or remove them altogether.

Abandoned

A developer is under no obligation to support and maintain a plugin for perpetuity.  Sometimes a developer may move on or just abandon a plugin, and it may cease to be compatible with newer versions of WordPress or PHP (PHP is software running on your web server).  If that is the case, you may need to find a replacement which is still being developed or supported.  Abandoned plugins may not only cause your site to break but can also become an easy vector for exploitation by cyber-criminals.

Performance Issues

The next thing you will need to do in order to maintain your website is to keep an eye out for critical slowdowns.  Your site’s speed may be getting bogged down.   A website like GTMetrix can be very helpful in testing and diagnosing performance issues.  There are lots of different things which may impact performance, but two things are most often to blame and are often pretty easy to fix.

Image bloat

People unfamiliar with image optimization may add images to a website without any thought to the image format or dimensions.  I often see PNG images used as photographs.  PNG is great for graphics or used sparingly for photos when transparency is needed (you have an object appearing over a coloured background), but they are much larger files for the same size image as a simple JPG.

Images can also be bloated because there were not resized.  An image that has been taken right off a digital camera or even your phone may have many times the number of pixels you need.  If you take a 12-megapixel image and load it as a thumbnail for a blog post, that one file may more than double the overall amount of data being loaded on that page.

Missing Resources

Your site may also call resources from elsewhere on the web.  Perhaps there is a script, library, or web font being loaded from a content delivery network.  Maybe you’re calling an image from somewhere else, and that image has been moved or deleted.  The web browser will try to load that resource for a while before it times out.  The server is wasting time and resources looking for something it will never find.  You need to identify and replace the resource or remove anything linking to it.

Test Contact Forms

Many business websites live or die by leads generated by their contact forms.  Those leads are usually forwarded to you via email.  If those email notifications break or start routing to your junk mail, you may be flushing valuable leads down the proverbial toilet.  It is important to regularly test your forms to make sure that they are, in fact, working as intended.

Broken Links Check

Content on your website may get moved or deleted from time to time.  Users may find it frustrating when they click on a link only to end up getting a 404 error.  You may also have links in your content to other websites, and their content may be moved or deleted.  It is a good idea to use a broken links tester from time to time to comb through all your content, looking for links that go nowhere, so they can be removed or relinked.

System Backups

Servers can fail, and websites can get hacked.  We do our best to mitigate the risks, but it is always possible.  Keeping regular backups can be the difference between a minor inconvenience and a catastrophic failure.  If your website is largely static, getting a weekly or monthly backup may be fine, but if you generate a lot of content, sales, leads, etc., you may need to have regular backups and even back up to multiple different places.

Analytics

Your website may be running analytics to keep track of website traffic and performance.  Monitoring your analytics data for unexpected changes can help identify problems or opportunities.  Perhaps the traffic for a page fell off a cliff. You may need to investigate why that happened.  Perhaps a certain blog post is getting a huge amount of traffic; you may want to write more on the subject.  Maybe a landing page for a campaign has a high bounce rate, and you may need to tweak the messaging or user experience in order to increase your conversions.  The more you know about your website traffic, the more you can optimize your site for success.

Conclusion

There are, of course, other things you may want to do on a regular basis to keep your website running smoothly and meeting your business objectives, but this list may give you an idea of what you can do, and perhaps you want to find a third-party to manage these things for you.  Hopefully, this will help you ask intelligent questions of any potential website maintenance partner, so you can make sure that the service you’re paying for is commensurate with the price you pay.

Mission Bell offers website maintenance packages at competitive prices.  You can check our pricing plans here.