I get asked all the time “what is the big issue with maintenance? My site is online. Why should updating or backing up the site matter?”
First websites are not build them and forget them like many people think they are. Too often when a site is built by someone else, they forget to tell the site owner that there are certain things that need to happen once they turn the site over to the user. This can end in bad news for the site owner later down the road. Maintenance can take just a few minutes each month and can save you a lifetime of headache in the long run.
Backups are essential!
I tell clients and new users all the time “nothing is every permanent if you have a backup.” This should be learned back in the high school paper writing times and then carried with you for the rest of your life. Remember staying up late writing a paper and then closing down your machine without saving to find out the next morning the paper was gone? Imagine that happening when you are working on your website. Any time you are adding a new plugin, editing any of the files, or changing any functionality of the site, it is crucial to make a backup first. This is for when things break, you always have a backup to revert to. Plugins like BackWPUp, BlogVault, Jetpack, and Backup Buddy can help you to setup automatic updates of your site. Just remember to have them sent to a place other than your server for safe keeping. Most plugins have a cloud option or you can have them sent to a Dropbox account or AWS S3 storage canister.
Updates are crucial!
A major line of defense from hackers is updates. Security experts preach often about the necessity of updating a site. They are not wrong.
Updates are made for three reasons.
- The Release of New Features
- To Fix A Bug/Outdated code
- To Fix A Security Vulnerability.
Updating the core, plugin, and theme files when they come through will keep known vulnerabilities at bay. It is always best to update your site on a staging environment to test before making the live changes. If you do not have the option for a staging site, always run a backup before updating for if you need to revert the site back due to conflicts.
Remove any unused plugins and themes
It goes along with the old saying, “if you are not going to use it, get rid of it.” If there are plugins that are sitting in “deactivated” mode, it is best to delete them and then re-add them when you need to use them again. The WordPress Plugin Repository has a fantastic feature where you can save your most liked plugins as “favorites” in your profile. That way you never have to search for the ones you like to use.
As for themes, it is best practice to only keep the theme in use and the most recent WordPress default theme to use for conflict checks if needed. All the other plugins should be removed from your site.
Inspect your site regularly
You know your site better than anyone else. Take the time to look at the front end of your site to ensure that everything is working properly. Definitely do this after running updates on your site. Look for any console and visual errors on your site. Doing this regularly can close the gap from any issues on your site being noticed by your visitors before you know they are there.
Change Your Password
With all passwords, you should be changing them every 6 months to a year. Your password is your first defense at keeping unwanted people out of your site. You can see more of what Can’t Speak Geek thinks about passwords by reading Preaching About Passwords. Also, make sure your passwords are unique and not easily remembered. The harder to remember, the harder it is for password crackers to guess.
Keep up with the commenting
Spam comments can fill up a database very quickly these days. Using something like Akismet can keep unwanted comments off your site and out of your database. It is still good measure to check on your comments often and approve them to share the conversation on your blog posts.
Check your forms
Your forms are what can connect a first time visitor of your site into becoming a customer. If your forms are not working, then your leads from your forms will stop as well. We recommend making a test submission to your forms monthly to ensure they are working properly.
Test your e-Commerce portals
Every so often, we recommend monthly, run a test purchase through your site. The last thing you want is to find out you have lost sales due to your checkout not working. If you are testing your checkout on a regularly basis, you will know before your customers do if something is wrong and can fix it before you lose any sales.
How is your site holding up? Make sure that it is not suddenly slowing down or performing horribly due to changes on your site. Google still looks at site speed as a very important piece of where you will be in their list. I suggest using Pingdom and GT Metrix for performance testing.
Put 404’s to rest along with Broken Links
If a user tries to go to a place on your site that does not exist, it will cause a 404 to happen. Now, 404 errors that happen because a reader accidentally mistyped an address are normal and nothing to be worried about, but when 404 errors happen due to a page that is no longer available can cause bad user experience and people to leave your site.
Broken links happen when you have links to outside sites that no longer work. We see this often when linking to other blog posts and/or YouTube videos.
It is a good measure to check on 404’s and broken links to ensure that all links work on your site. The plugin Broken Link Checker does. great job in taken care of both issues. If you need to make redirects for your site, I would recommend the plugin Redirection.
These basic maintenance steps are essential to keeping your site online and running properly. Site maintenance is key. In the event you would rather have someone else to take care of the maintenance of your site, there are companies that can help. Companies like WP Site Care, 13Core, and WP Buffs can help you with updates and backups so you don’t have to.