Before the 2000’s, websites were a “set-it-and-forget-it” proposition. Built using HTML and CSS, they had content added and then they were broadcast it to the world. Websites were much simpler. They were used as online brochures – a replacement for the print.
Once launched – it would sit there and be visible. Most website owners weren’t worried about security or loading times.
Today, websites are much more complex and if used well, they can be excellent marketing machines that attract new leads and customers. But because they are more complex, they take much more work to maintain and keep them trim.
WordPress does make a lot of this maintenance very much more accessible and I will outline here the most necessary ones and why:
- Back up your website
- Regularly update WordPress Core, the theme and your plugins
- Optimise your database
- Protect your website with a security plugin
- Search engine maintenance work
Back up your website
This is the most important piece of website maintenance you can do. I use Updraft to back up my client’s website data, files, images, plugins, themes and database. This is initially a back up to the hosting server webspace – but the ideal solution would be to do an off-site backup, to Dropbox or Google drive.
Regularly update WordPress Core, your theme and your plugins
The common misconception among website owners is that once your website is built, you can set it and forget it.
Why do I have to do updates?
WordPress is under constant development. New features are being added. Bugs are being fixed. Security holes are being plugged.
This means that the code upon which WordPress is built is constantly being updated. Therefore, when WordPress is being updated, all of its component parts, including themes and plugins, need to be updated too.
Updating Core, Themes, and Plugins
Whenever there is an update available for core, a theme, or plugin that you’re using, you should make that update.
If there is a security update, then you should do it sooner rather than later. Security updates plug holes that are discovered and make your website less vulnerable to hackers.
If you have a bunch of components to update at the same time, then do the updates in this order:
- First plugins (your smallest component)
- Then your theme (your medium-sized component)
- Then core (your largest component)
But wait, before you make those updates
If you simply update these components, there could be trouble. Sometimes plugins conflict with each other and cause your website to break. Sometimes developers ship updates with bugs in them, only to discover them later.
That’s why, before you make any updates, back up your website. See the earlier section above.
If something goes wrong, then you can simply restore the backed up version of your website and then investigate what the problem could’ve been.
Optimise Your Database
Or more simply : keep your WordPress database clean of extra junk.
WordPress is a database-driven website content management system. That means that all of the content of your site, including the content of your blog posts, pages, and even the name of your website, are all stored in a database.
Over time, your database can become bloated and full of extra junk, i.e…
- Post revisions: if you hit “Save Draft”, “Publish” or “Update” multiple times over the life of your site, a new revision is saved to the database. This adds up over time.
- Deleted posts
- Unapproved or spam comments
- Unused categories and tags
The longer the database doesn’t get cleaned up, the more junk accumulates, and the more your website will slow down.
Proactively cleaning the junk out of your database will help keep your website healthy and fast.
Try WP-Sweep. This plugin does make optimising your database real easy!
It shows you exactly what extras you have in your database and what can be cleaned up, including revisions, auto-drafts, deleted comments, and unused terms (categories, tags, etc.). It also warns you not to clean out your unused terms if you have any draft posts, since those terms may apply to your drafts.
Protect your website with a security plugin
These days, no website is too small to be hacked. It’s not necessarily about disrupting your services because hackers have something against you. Sometimes hackers just need a vehicle to carry out whatever they’re trying to do. If your website is vulnerable, and they can get in it and use it as that vehicle, then they will.
Wordfence has a somewhat simple interface but gives basic overall protection and provides a free Web Application Firewall (WAF). The WAF is a layer of protection for your server to prevent malicious things from happening. It can be a bit tricky to install if you’re not extremely tech-savvy. However, if you can get it work, it’s well worthwhile.
Search engine maintenance work
One of the best long-term methods of having people find your website is through search engines like Google and Bing.
Paying for ads on search engines and social media are good short-term ways to acquire lots of site visitors at once. However, people finding you through organic (as in not paid for) search results is a good long-term method of acquiring new visitors.
However it requires proactive work – it isn’t just a matter of people finding you in the search results and then coming to your website.
Note: Any SEO plugin will not help you with keyword research and other more complex strategies that take time to come to fruition – but they do lay down some very good foundations so you can manage page titles, keyword declarations and also integrate social, tracking and webmaster tool tags.
Google Search Console (Webmaster Tools)
The greatest SEO tool you can use is not even a WordPress plugin. It is Google Search Console (aka Webmaster Tools). You can hook this up into either of the two big SEO plugins (above)
Google Search Console allows you to submit your website to Google so that it gets crawled, indexed, and then displayed in Google’s search results. Google would likely have found your website anyway without much work on your part. However, the Search Console allows you some more advanced features as well as the ability to proactively submit your website and have Google crawl it.
Once you have traffic you will want to track and analyse where they come from and where they go. Again the king of this is Google Analytics. You can set up an Analytics account within your Google account and then drop the tracking ID into either of the two SEO plugins.