You’ve probably heard the horror stories. (Or maybe you haven’t.) Your WordPress website auto-updates to a new version, and the whole site goes down in a fiery ball of critical errors.
Or you update all your plugins, and your WordPress Admin area turns into the dreaded white screen of death.
So does this mean you should never update your WordPress website for fear of breaking it? Absolutely not!
Website maintenance is essential, but it does carry some risk. Each time you update a component of your site, you are changing the code or modifying the database, and things can and do break.
There can be a lot of moving parts to a WordPress website, especially if you’ve opted to use a lot of plugins.
It’s essential that you update regularly BUT it’s also essential that you do it safely. Let me show you how.
What sort of website maintenance are we talking about here?
For a full-featured WordPress website, there can be a lot of items to regularly maintain. But here I am going to focus on the big three: WordPress core, your theme, and plugins.
- WordPress Core: WordPress regularly releases updates to its core software. These updates may include security patches, bug fixes, performance improvements, and new features. You can update the WordPress core from the “Dashboard” -> “Updates” section in your WordPress admin area.
- Themes: Almost every modern WordPress site uses a theme that applies styles and usually some additional functionality. It’s essential to keep your theme updated. Theme updates often include bug fixes, security patches, and compatibility improvements. Some themes may also introduce new features. You can update your theme from the “Appearance” -> “Themes” section in the WordPress admin area.
- Plugins: Plugins add functionality to your WordPress site, and it’s crucial to keep them updated so your site can remain secure and performing correctly. You can update plugins from the “Plugins” section in the WordPress admin area.
Why do we perform website maintenance?
There are a few main reasons that updating your WordPress site is essential. I’ll list them out here and then go into more detail about the specific steps you should take at regular intervals to get the job done.
- Security: Regular maintenance helps keep your WordPress site secure. Outdated software can be vulnerable to security breaches, so staying up to date is crucial.
- Performance: Maintenance tasks like optimizing the database, cleaning up unused data, and optimizing images can improve your website’s performance. A faster-loading site enhances user experience, reduces bounce rates, and improves search engine rankings.
- Compatibility: WordPress frequently releases updates to ensure compatibility with new technologies, web browsers, and PHP versions. By keeping your WordPress installation and plugins up to date, you ensure compatibility with the latest web standards and prevent any issues that may arise from outdated software.
- Bug Fixes: Updates often include bug fixes for both WordPress core and plugins. These fixes address issues reported by users and developers, improving the stability and functionality of your website.
- New Features: Updates often introduce new features and improvements to WordPress core and plugins. By performing regular maintenance, you can take advantage of these enhancements and offer a better user experience on your website.
- Backup and Disaster Recovery: Regular maintenance includes backing up your WordPress website and its associated data. In the event of data loss, hacking attempts, or server failures, having up-to-date backups ensures you can restore your site quickly and minimize downtime.
- SEO Benefits: Search engines favor websites that are regularly updated and properly maintained. By performing maintenance tasks like optimizing content, fixing broken links, and ensuring proper indexing, you can improve your site’s visibility in search engine rankings.
- User Experience: A well-maintained website provides a positive user experience. By regularly checking for broken links, ensuring navigation is smooth, and fixing any usability issues, you can keep visitors engaged, encourage return visits, and enhance overall satisfaction.
Do this every week
- Back up your site: You never know when or how your site might break. Please, don’t get caught without a recent backup, from which you can restore it. For most small business websites that don’t change a lot over time, a weekly backup should suffice. I like the easy-to-use Updraft Plus plugin, and I set it up to automatically back up the files and databases of my WordPress sites to my Google Drive account every week, keeping two weeks of backup files before overwriting them with the latest version.
Do this every month
- First, copy your live site over to staging: For all but the most minor content updates, it’s never good practice to mess with your live site. It’s far safer to create a staging environment, where you can test out updates before pushing them live. A staging site is just a copy of your live site that nobody but you can see. Once you’re satisfied with the changes you make to your staging site, you push that version to live, and then the world can see the new version. Most good website hosting service providers have built-in staging tools. Important note: before you start working on your staged site, you need to copy the latest version of your live site over to staging.
- Update WordPress core with caution: Check the Updates section of your WordPress admin section. If there is a new version of WordPress core available, consider updating to it. But first check the documentation of your theme and plugins to make there are no known compatibility issues. Developers often release updates to ensure compatibility with the latest WordPress release, but sometimes there may be delays or compatibility issues. If the latest WordPress release just came out in the last week or so, you may want to wait to update. I also recommend against setting WordPress to update to the latest version automatically.
- Update your theme: It’s usually a good idea to update to the latest version of your theme because theme developers try to keep the theme up to date with the latest WordPress core version. However, you should still check your theme’s documentation to make sure that there are no known issues with any plugins you use.
- Update your plugins: The same goes for plugins. Developers are trying to keep their plugins working with the latest version of WordPress and popular themes, as well as fixing bugs, patching security issues, and adding functionality. Update your plugins one by one in your staging environment and quickly test the results.
- Test and push your site to live: Once you have made your updates, do a thorough test of your staged site. Pay special attention to plugin-based functionality that could have broken with your updates. Also keep an eye out for broken styling. If everything looks as it should, you can push your staged site to live.
Do this every quarter
- Optimize for performance: Go to your web host (or use a plugin) to perform some basic database cleanup to keep your website running fast. Clearing out the clutter and unused files can also help you save on hosting costs.
- Optimize for SEO: Perform an on-page SEO site audit using a plugin such as RankMath SEO or a simple web-based website audit report generator. At the very least, make sure your meta tags (such as your title and description tags) are present and correct.
- Check for broken links: Using an online tool or plugin, scan your site for broken links (links that lead nowhere) and update them.
- Do a security scan: It might make sense to install a security plugin and perform a scan. A good plugin will identify weak points, such as outdated plugins, misconfigured permissions, or weak passwords, and take immediate actions to mitigate risks. This is especially relevant for high-profile websites or those handling sensitive user data. However, any site can get hacked, so at least take this opportunity to reset your password and review your users and their permissions. While you’re at it, make sure your SSL certificate is valid and renew it if necessary. (Better yet, set it to renew automatically.)
Do this every year
- Do a thorough content review: Visit every page on your website, and look for outdated information, dated content, and anything that is no longer relevant. Also look for opportunities to add new internal links, such as from old blog posts to new ones. If possible, you should be posting regularly to your blog.
- Test your forms: Submit test entries to ensure that data is correctly captured and processed. Validate that error messages are displayed appropriately for invalid inputs. Testing forms and other interactive features helps to maintain a smooth user experience and ensures that critical functionalities are working as intended. It also ensures that you don’t lose leads.
- Test responsiveness: When adding new pages or content, you should always test to make sure that it looks good on any screen size. However, mistakes can slip through the cracks. While doing your content review, check each page to make sure it is mobile responsive and fix any issues.
Website maintenance services
Many small business owners choose not to carry out all of these website maintenance tasks themselves and opt instead for a professional website maintenance plan. While each task is not extremely technical in nature, you do have to know your way around the WordPress admin dashboard and the tools of your hosting provider. You also need to have an understanding of plugins and online tools available and how to use them. Perhaps more importantly, doing all these site maintenance tasks takes time. For these reasons, business owners usually choose a website maintenance service provider to keep track of it all. Usually a website maintenance package is combined with web hosting.
If you perform your own website maintenance and don’t rely on any advanced tools, you can keep the website maintenance cost costs fairly low, usually under $50 per month, including hosting. However, sometimes it ends up being more cost-effective to simply pay someone for managed hosting and maintenance services. Maintenance costs with hosting by a professional usually start around $100 per month. Most professional website maintenance services are based on spreading the costs of specialized tools over many clients, which can help keep the costs down.
Here’s how a DIY approach to hosting and website maintenance can add up. Consider some of the potential monthly costs you might encounter:
- Modern, well-supported theme: I currently recommend Divi for most people operating their own WordPress site. $7.50/month.
- Good hosting with staging environment: I recommend Cloudways. $28/month.
- On-page SEO tool: I recommend Rankmath Pro. $4.92/month.
- Online storage space for backups: I use Google Workspace. $6/month.
That adds up to almost $50 per month and does not include any advanced optimization or SEO tools that a professional may incorporate into a website hosting or ongoing maintenance plan.
Choose a website maintenance package from Electromagnetic
With proper maintenance, your website will thrive, and your business will prosper. If you don’t want to face the hassle of regular website maintenance yourself, we offer full website maintenance packages and search engine optimization services starting at $100 per month. We even offer the first year of hosting for free for sites that we design and build. Our packages help keep your maintenance services cost under control, while giving you (and your website) personalized attention. Feel free to contact us for more information or a maintenance cost quote.