Setting up a website on WordPress is easy enough once you get the hang of it; the difficult part that crops up later is WordPress maintenance and optimization.
Maintaining your WordPress site is not just necessary, it is imperative!
This, of course, leads us to some obvious questions, like what exactly does WordPress maintenance involve? How often should it be done? Are there any third-party services that will maintain my site for me? Will maintaining my site on my own be more expensive?
To begin with, WordPress maintenance covers everything your site needs to keep functioning smoothly. This includes:
- Regular backups
- Core, plugin and theme updates
- Spam control
- Database management
- Security Monitoring and Fixing
- Documentation and information upkeep
- New plugin or theme testing
- Performance Tracking and Optimization
- Centralized management
- Analytics and Insights
And, to handle all of the above, there are three options you could consider:
- Opting for paid dedicated or Managed WordPress Hosting
- Maintaining your website yourself with the many plugins available on WordPress
- Or, investing in a WordPress Maintenance Service that takes care of these updates for you
While we have discussed Managed WordPress Hosting in an earlier post, we’ll focus on helping you maintain your WordPress website yourself.
Handling WordPress Maintenance
The cost of WordPress maintenance varies depending on the kind of plugins you use – whether they are paid, free or with freemium options. It’s more expensive than shared hosting, but the site upkeep in most shared hosts is so lousy that you might as well be better off maintaining the site on your own.
The way I see it, WordPress maintenance employs a two-fold approach:
- Backing up Data
- Executing all changes, updates, modifications, and deletions- basically handling the maintenance activity
WordPress Maintenance Stage 1: Backing up Data
Backups are the backbone of any website.
Whether you run a small blog or a multi-tier megastore, backups are essential to keep your irreplaceable information from being lost. These can be both, manual and automated. Also, backing up your site multiple times, and storing the data at different places is a good idea.
WordPress has several plugins that help you backup your data on cloud storage quickly and easily. Here are some of the best backup plugins for WordPress:
One of the best free backup plugins, BackWPup creates routine, automatic backups of your site. Some of its other features include:
- Complete data and database backup
- Backup list of all plugins used.
- Various storage options like Google Drive, Dropbox, FTP-Server, Amazon Glacier, and SugarSync.
- Notifications and log reports can be sent to email accounts.
- WordPress multisite support.
One of the most trusted backup and security plugins for WordPress, VaultPress offers real-time syncing of data in addition to scheduled backups. Created by Matt Mullenweg, the founder of WordPress, it has several features like:
- Daily security scans for malware checks.
- Automatic fixing of potential threats.
- Statistical analysis of the most productive site times.
- Strong support.
VaultPress is a subscription-based premium service, starting at $39/year.
WordPress Maintenance Stage 2: Handling Maintenance Activities
Now, performing WordPress maintenance activities while your website is still online can be very distracting for your viewers, and potentially damaging to your site’s popularity.
For example, if the plugin you just updated has not been optimized for the theme you are using, it could generate a horde of unwanted problems that your viewers witness. Extreme case – you will encounter the dreaded white screen of death, as will your viewers!
To avoid this fiasco, it is always a better idea to go off air for a while, work on all the changes you need to incorporate, optimize your site, and then go back live. This is working in Maintenance Mode.
Maintenance mode allows the developer to work behind-the-scenes while displaying a ‘Work in Progress’ message to the end-users. So, how does one activate the maintenance mode?
There are three ways to do this:
- Using plugins like WP Maintenance Mode: The WP Maintenance Mode plugin lets you keep selective feeds or posts accessible while the rest of the site is being overhauled. It is fully customizable, works with multisite installs, and allows you to add contact, notification or subscription forms for viewers.
- Modifying the .htaccess file in your server: Here’s some developer lingo for you! Instead of using a plugin, you could create a maintenance page, and upload it to the site’s root directory. Then use the .htaccess file and a 503 code to redirect viewers to your temporary maintenance page. To redirect visitors only from specific sub-directories, place the .htaccess file in the respective directory instead.
- Creating a .maintenance file: Creating a .maintenance file in the root directory of your server will cause the maintenance page to be displayed when you are updating your plugins or theme. It also allows you to set a predefined time and message as to when the site will go live again.
Once your site is in maintenance mode, you can begin with whatever changes you need to deal with.
WordPress Maintenance Stage 3: Performing Maintenance Activities
WordPress has a variety of plugins catering to different functionalities. There is no one-for-all solution for controlling your website, but here are some of the plugins that are the best in their respective fields and can optimize your site to the maximum level when used in conjunction with each other.
Handling WordPress Updates
The WordPress core itself needs to be updated regularly for which both manual and automatic updates can be configured. The only drawback is that all the modifications you might have made to your core files are lost.
This affects plugins and themes to an extent, since they may not always be compatible with the updated version of WordPress. However, if you proactively use child themes or site-specific plugins, loss of data can be avoided.
Spam, especially comment spam is the death knell for your website. To avoid this, it is essential to check posts regularly for spam. Some features that are a must for anti-spam plugins are trackback validation, bypassing spam queues, blocked comment checking and multilingual options for localization.
WordPress has some solid anti-spam plugins like:
Built by Automattic, Akismet is THE most popular anti-spam plugin with over a million downloads. Simple, yet powerful, it processes all your data in real-time and prevents your site from spam comments. A freemium plugin, it is free for non-commercial use but starts with a monthly subscription of $5 per month for business plans.
Moving a step ahead of conventional anti-spam plugins, WP-SpamShield catches and eliminates spam instead of merely labeling it to be deleted later by the user. Additional features integration with various platforms like MailChimp, BuddyPress, WooCommerce, and Gravity Forms.
If, despite all these measures your site gets spammed, delete all comments and begin over. WordPress has a multiple-apply option to this end which is very handy.
A good idea is to disable comments for old posts. This reduces the chances of spam comments being posted here.
One of the most important considerations in WordPress maintenance, site security needs to be taken very seriously. WordPress is a very popular target for hackers and hence making your site hack-proof is imperative. This is one of the things that is, fortunately, looked after by the web-hosts, but you can reinforce this by installing and using your own plugins like:
Sucuri Security ensures all-round protection of your website. Some key features of this free plugin for WordPress are File Integrity Monitoring, Website Blacklist Managing, Malware Scanning, and Security Hardening.
It employs top level blacklist engines like Sucuri Labs, Google Safe Browsing, Norton, and AVG.
The best feature of WordFence is the Live Traffic View which gives you a real-time view of the people visiting or trying to hack your website.
It is a completely free and open source plugin and can now be used for multi-sites too.
Formerly known as Better WP Security, iThemes Security is one of the strongest security plugins for WordPress. Using several advanced features like two-factor authentication, malware scan scheduling, and limited password durations, it endeavors to keep your site protected from spammers and hackers alike.
Database optimization is very important for everyone from individual bloggers with a large number of subscribers to large scale businesses and e-learning organizations. WordPress uses the database creation and management system MySQL and administrative tools like phpMyAdmin that give you access to these databases.
Additionally, here are some plugins that make handling databases easier.
- WP-DBManager: Used to control all things pertaining to your database, WP-DBManager lets you backup, restore, delete, repair and optimize it.
- WP Optimize: The main advantage of using WP Optimize is that it does not need PHPMyAdmin to clean up your database. Enabling scheduled optimization runs and backups is also possible here.
UpdraftPlus: UpdraftPlus has an easy-to-use interface and can also be used to backup non-WordPress files and databases. One of the highest rated plugins on WordPress, it can be used to backup databases remotely.
Creating, editing and managing documents regularly helps avoid excess caches that bog down your website with unnecessary data, thereby reducing site speed.
File management plugins like WP-Download Manager and WP-Filebase let you control the amount and type of files stored on your server. They also let you categorize and sort file lists so that they can be easily recalled later, whenever necessary for future reference.
Server Uptime Monitoring
Uptime monitoring involves mapping your site’s uptime so as to know if it is going down and the reasons if so. Site downtime has a significant impact on business and sales, for obvious reasons, which is why you need to maintain the consistency and reliability of your site.
Plugins like ManageWP have advanced features like multisite management and scheduled site pings to make sure that your site is up and running. The Jetpack plugin for WordPress also has the Monitor service which notifies you if your site is down.
Creating and maintaining a beautiful site is not enough.
You need to check your site’s performance to deduce user experience. Using online tools that give you a statistical analysis of the number and type of users, popular pages, links and more, visitor experience can be monitored, including the time spent on the site or a particular post/page, and so on.
You can locate broken links from here and resolve the issues. All of this helps in increased site uptime and a better SEO ranking.
Some plugins that can be used for efficient performance tracking:
- Google Analytics: The most robust analytics plugin on WordPress, Google Analytics helps you get a real-time view of website traffic and track site speed.
- Crazy Egg: Using heat-mapping technology, Crazy Egg lets you know exactly where users are clicking on your website. This works for static pages only though. It also has advanced power tools to determine traffic flow which can be then optimized to facilitate easy navigation.
WordPress Maintenance requires a dedicated and systematic approach if it is to be done right. Handling all the functionalities needs an in-depth knowledge of coding supplemented by hands-on experience. There is only so much one can learn from manuals; the rest is all practical.
If you opt for WordPress Maintenance on your own, ensure that enough attention is paid to every aspect. Preparing a maintenance plan and working accordingly is essential, as is spending a definite amount of time on it regularly.
And if you are not very confident about your abilities to man this ship, you can always hire a WordPress Maintenance Service like ours, that will maintain your website for you!