Almost everything you own requires maintenance. Your car, your home, your computer — even yourself. Not surprisingly, your WordPress website is no different. Of course, you could choose to forego maintenance on any one of those items, but doing so comes with a risk.
Take for example your WordPress website. When it’s first set up and installed, everything runs smoothly, like a well-oiled machine. You go about running your business, and for months, your website runs as well as it did the day you launched. But over time, it begins to show signs of age. What was once new and fast, becomes old, clunky and poorly maintained. Worst case scenario: Your website goes down or is hacked due to poor maintenance.
WordPress is an amazing platform on which to run your business. It’s easy to use, flexible, affordable and highly extensible. However with all those benefits comes the fact that your website requires ongoing maintenance. It can be tough to remember when you have a million other things to do but that doesn’t make it any less necessary.
The good news when it comes to WordPress maintenance it that it only takes a small amount of time. If you can spare just a few minutes each week, I’m going to outline some simple maintenance tasks that will help to keep your WordPress site in tip-top shape and running full-speed.
Review Your Backups
Despite what seems like friendly reminders around every corner, many WordPress websites are still not backed up on a regular basis. If you only perform one maintenance task on your website, this should be it.
All of the other maintenance tasks that we’ll cover shortly will prove useless in the event that your site goes down and you don’t have a recent backup to rely on.
There are all kind of tools available to keep your site backed up and most of them only require a one-time setup — BackupBuddy, BlogVault and VaultPress to name a few. Alternatively, you could choose to use a managed hosting company like FlyWheel or WP Engine who include backups as part of their hosting plans.
The bottom line here is that backups are the number one most important maintenance task you can perform.
Keep Your Plugins, Themes, and Core Files Up to Date
Despite what you might think, WordPress is an inherently secure piece of software. With so many of the world’s top websites relying on the platform, security is taken quite seriously. There are approximately 25 experts on the WordPress team that manages security and that doesn’t include additional researchers or hosting companies that they collaborate with.
Despite a strong security posture, WordPress is still vulnerable to attack. One of the best ways to remain proactive is by keeping all of your files up to date. Having your website hacked because of outdated files is a sure way to experience some downtime.
Even the minor WordPress updates are important to pay attention to. For example, you might see an update from 4.1 to 4.1.2 and think it’s unimportant. In fact, these minor updates are must-do items since they’re reserved for critical bugs and patching security vulnerabilities.
Don’t overlook these small updates — they only take a few seconds to process and can even be automated.
As soon as you finish making sure your core files are up to date, head over to your list of plugins and make sure they’re all up to date as well. Plugins can be a significant source of potential vulnerabilities, especially if they are poorly maintained. They often don’t undergo the same level of scrutiny that WordPress itself does, despite the fact that the WordPress security team will often notify and work with Plugin developers to resolve known vulnerabilities.
If you’re using a 3rd Party theme, again, it’s critical to keep the files up to date. Themes (along with plugins) present a far greater security risk than WordPress itself. Anytime your theme has an update available, it’s a good idea to process it as soon as possible.
Delete Unused Plugins & Themes
If you’re like most people, you’ve probably experimented with a few different WordPress themes and tried a variety of plugins on your website. Eventually, you decide on the ideal combination and get on with business — forgetting about all of the themes and plugins that are now sitting unused.
There are a few problems with this:
- Active and unused plugins can cause conflicts or make if difficult to diagnose the source of conflicts
- Every theme and plugin on your site increases the potential attack surface for hackers. Fewer themes and few plugins mean fewer potential vulnerabilities.
- The messier and more unorganized you WordPress installation is the easier it is to overlook something important.
At least a few times per year, you should go through your WordPress installation and make sure you’ve deleted anything that isn’t being used.
Clean Up Your Database
Think of you database as a virtual kitchen. Do you remember when you first started using your kitchen? You probably had each drawer and each cupboard nicely organized — everything had a place and the counters were void of clutter.
That’s kind of like your WordPress database when you first set it up. But over time, it slowly becomes less organized. Each day you add just a little to the clutter and before you know it, things aren’t running as smoothly as they once were.
Well, with just a little bit of maintenance, you can clean up that clutter and speed up your website in the process. The primary areas to focus on include:
- Spam Comments – Ahh yes, the never ending flood of spam comments. Every WordPress admin loves them and even though they’re automatically discarded after 30 days, you might not want to wait that long. Some websites receive so many spam comments that they’re better off deleting them at the end of each week.
- Post Revisions – If you compose your posts within the WordPress editor, it’s important to know that WordPress will automatically save each post revision in your database. Depending on how many small edits you make for each page and post, this can add up quickly. What sense does it make for your site to have 200 posts and 800 revisions? None.
- Table Overhead – Every time you remove something from your WordPress installation, for example, a plugin, you are usually deleting rows of information from your database. However, your database retains the space that those rows occupied for future use. This used but unoccupied space is called table overhead. On a small scale it’s not a problem but as your database grows, so does your overhead. Too much overhead can slow down your website.
The image below will show you what can happen on an a moderately busy site in a little over 30 days. To resolve this problem, once per month you can perform a quick cleanup and optimization. This can be done manually through phpMyAdmin (which we won’t cover here) but an even easier way is to use a popular plugin like WP Clean Up or WPSweep.
Clean Up Your Internal Link Structure
Nothing keeps Googlebot happier than a website that’s easy to crawl. For a small WordPress website, this isn’t really a huge issue. With only a few internal links, it’s easy to check things manually. But as your website grows, you should stop wasting your valuable time testing each individual link. There are two easy-to-use options that will save you a ton of time and keep your internal linking structure well-maintained and in perfect running order.
Google Search Console
The first place to look is in your Google Search Console. Although Googlebot won’t catch every error, this is a great place to start. Simply head to you GSC and in your left navigation head to Crawl>>Crawl Errors. Here you find a list of all errors detected by Google. You can fix each one and mark them as resolved in the console.
You’ll see in the image below that Googlebot detected quite a few 404 errors. It’s important to fix each one of these. Not only do 404s leave Googlebot hanging, more importantly, they present a poor user experience. Plus, what if some of those 404 are supposed to be linking to an important landing or sales page?
Screaming Frog has an awesome free (and paid) SEO spider tool that you can download from their website. Once it’s installed on your desktop, simply enter the URL you want to crawl and let the spider do its work. In a very short period of time, you’ll have a list of potential problems. You can sort your data by response code and go about fixing any issues.
The Importance of WordPress Maintenance
As you can see from the items covered in this post, WordPress maintenance doesn’t need to be time intensive or difficult. Each of the items can be completed in just a few short minutes and with an absolute minimum of technical knowledge.
The real secret to maintaining your WordPress website is to set up a schedule so that each task is completed on a regular basis. The frequency of which can be adjusted based upon the size of your website and how often you’re adding new content. If you stay on top of these simple maintenance tasks, you have a website that is faster, more efficient and user-friendly.
We hope you learned some new about running and maintaining a WordPress site. You may also want to see our comparison of 8 WordPress Support And Maintenance Services.
Do you follow a regular maintenance schedule for your WordPress website? I so what maintenance tasks do you focus on each week?