Anyone that’s owned a car, a computer, or a house knows that your purchase is just the first step in a long chain of necessary actions and expenses required to protect your investment.
If you don’t change your car’s oil regularly, the engine could seize. If you don’t back up your hard drive, you run the risk of losing important files. If you opt out of regular appliance service, your stove could break down in the middle of your Thanksgiving preparations, leaving a 22-pound turkey half-cooked and ready for the garbage.
Mashed potatoes and cranberry sauce isn’t enough to feed fifteen hungry family members! If you don’t want them resorting to cannibalism, you’ll want to focus on maintenance to prevent problems before they happen.
The same is true for WordPress websites. There’s quite a bit that can go wrong if they aren’t properly maintained, and the longer they’re neglected, the worse the situation can get.
Over time, your website will slow down. Page loads will increase, and responsiveness will dip. Content may display incorrectly, links will break, and images could disappear. Security holes may appear, inviting hackers to have their way with your site. Eventually, it could break completely, removing your presence from the web.
But this is all avoidable with regular maintenance. The process isn’t complicated, and it doesn’t have to take long. You just have to commit to doing the work when it needs doing. It’s certainly preferable to having to pay a design firm to rescue your broken site down the road.
As they say, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Here’s what’s included in that ounce.
Keep WordPress Up-to-Date
Like most other software packages, WordPress gets regular updates from its developers. These add new functionality, fix bugs, and consistently modernize the package. It’s important to apply these updates when released to ensure your website runs the most current code and security patches available. Outdated WordPress installs are most often to blame for hacks and other security breaches.
Along with your WordPress install, you’ll need to keep your plugins and themes updated as well. Developers continually revise their offerings to keep them aligned with WordPress revisions. If you update WordPress but don’t attend to your plugins, they may start to misbehave. Always update WordPress first, and then update any themes or plugins that need it.
It’s recommended that you set WordPress to update automatically so that you always have the most up-to-date security fixes. You’ll still need to update your add-ons, but at least you’ll know your website is always running the most current version of WordPress.
Back Up Your Site
Performing regular site backups is critical. If something were to go wrong, you don’t want to risk losing all of your work.
Most hosting providers recognize the value of regular backups and provide them at no extra charge. However, they may not perform the task as frequently as you’d like. Daily backups are ideal. If your hosting provider only offers weekly or monthly backups, it’s worth supplementing an external backup service. You could also perform manual backups on your own.
Keep Up With Security Measures
Keeping your WordPress install and plugins up to date will go a long way toward protecting your site against attack, but there’s more to consider. You should uninstall old or outdated plugins, particularly if your site is no longer using them. Consider replacing outdated plugins you are using with better-maintained options that provide the same service.
Outdated themes and plugins, or plugins with dubious origins, can infect your website with malware and other problems. Prevent this, and wipe out any existing issues by purchasing and running a malware scanner every week.
It’s also a good idea to change your passwords on a quarterly or biannual basis. It’s unlikely that your passwords will be compromised, but, as with most security issues, it’s better safe than sorry.
Perform a Visual Inspection
Every month, scan your website for problems. Be sure to empty your cache or view the site in a private browser window to ensure you’re looking at the live site and not a cached version.
Check for formatting, font, image, color, and animation issues. Anything that’s displaying improperly or not working could be a sign of deeper problems. If you find something and can’t fix it yourself, you might want to consult with your designer.
Check for Dead Links
Dead links are hyperlinks to or from your website that no longer connect to a valid URL. It could be that the page was eliminated or moved, the site was decommissioned, or several other issues. Dead links are frustrating for users and can increase your bounce rate, which directly affects search rankings.
On a quarterly basis, run link checker plugins to verify the health of the links from your site to other pages and those from other pages to your site. These tools will find dead links and help your remedy them.
Clean Up Your Comments
The more content you add to your blog, the more likely you’ll get unwanted comments. Akismet is a free plugin that’s normally included with a WordPress install. It will automate removing the lion’s share of spammy comments, but you’ll still need to eliminate some manually.
If you’ve instead chosen to moderate comments, then you’ll periodically need to check for comments awaiting approval and either admit or delete them.
Work on Your SEO
Search engine optimization aims to improve your site’s performance in search rankings. It’s a massively complicated endeavor, but there are certain things anyone can do to fare better.
Adding content, like pages and blog articles gives search engines more grist with which to rank you. Try to cover every imaginable topic that’s associated with your industry. The more questions your site answers, the more likely Google will offer it up in response to a search query.
You should also concentrate on your H1, H2, H3 headings, meta-names and descriptions, permalinks, and code optimization. Internal and external links are useful for SEO as well.
Check your analytics monthly to see how your site’s doing and run performance tests to judge your site’s speed and responsiveness.
If you keep up with this and everything else we mentioned, your WordPress site should stay zippy and continue to display correctly for years to come.