If you’re the owner of a WordPress website, or responsible for upkeep on one, this guide will help you confidently keep your website in tip-top shape, to optimize performance and avoid painful breakdowns.
Managing and maintaining a website sounds scary, but the truth is website maintenance is more accessible than ever before with the multitude of Content Management Systems (CMS for short) that you can build a site on these days.
In this guide we’ll discuss the benefits of using WordPress as your CMS for building your website, how to get the most out of WordPress by keeping up on regular maintenance for your site, and some pitfalls you can avoid by doing so.
WordPress has long been considered the “harder” CMS to get up and running on. Compared to options like GoDaddy’s site builder, Squarespace, Wix or *shudder* …Weebly, that offer a live builder or drag-n-drop experience, WordPress does have a steeper learning curve. But, in the long run you’re better off learning the ins and outs of WordPress because of its inherent SEO value and its rich ecosystem of plugins that make it infinitely more flexible and powerful.
Built for SEO
A key part of making your website work for your business, is by optimizing it for SEO. In addition to writing regular keyword-targeted content, this also includes tasks like adding meta titles and descriptions to pages, or adding alt tags to images. Luckily, the options to add this information are readily available as core features of WordPress.
This is a major reason why WordPress outranks all the other major CMS platforms in terms of organic traffic (take for example Squarespace or Wix) because it’s structure is SEO-friendly. WordPress is fully editable and customizable because it’s open source, which means you can edit any template file manually, or use a plugin like Yoast or Rankmath to fine-tune your website to your SEO strategy.
For new small businesses, bloggers or freelancers, a pre-packaged (or commercial) theme is often a perfectly fine choice. When you’re just starting out, paying $50 – $80 for a commercial theme is way more reasonable than paying thousands of dollars for a custom WordPress theme.
To clarify, every WordPress site has a theme. It’s a basic feature of WordPress. You either install a theme that you purchased – please, for your own good, we’re begging you not to use a free theme – or a developer creates a custom coded theme that was developed for you based on a design.
The appeal of commercial themes is that they make working with WordPress and creating a website relatively easy. The limitations of a theme are that you can only customize it within the structure or parameters of that theme, so you usually have to make concessions to the theme instead of making choices based on what best reflects your business or your brand.
We’ll talk more about commercial themes, required upkeep and potential issues later.
For now, let’s look at another major benefit of building your site with WordPress: plugins!
One of the biggest benefits of WordPress being an open-source platform is that the pool of contributors is so much bigger than other proprietary platforms. Because of this, developers can create plugins (useful tools and add-ons that can expand the functionality of your WordPress website significantly. If you can think it, odds are someone has made a plugin for it. Some plugins are free while others come at a cost.
There are a lot of great free plugins, and while paying for a premium plugin is sometimes the best move, just because a plugin is free doesn’t mean it’s of lesser quality. It’s more a reflection of the mindset of open source developers – much like the Github community, the WordPress community is very, well, communal. They are invested in making WordPress better and better.
Use an MFA plugin for WordPress user authentication and definitely keep all of your plugins up to date to address any security vulnerabilities.
A few core plugins that we install on every site we manage are:
- Ninja Scanner for running virus + malware scans and Ninja Firewall for site security
- WP Cerber Security – 2FA, Antispam & Malware Scan
- Wordfence Security
- Short Pixel for image optimization
- WP Fastest Cache (FREE & Premium versions)
- WP Rocket (premium)
- Nitropack.io (top-tier paid plugin for site speed)
Plugins can be a double-edged sword, it’s important to properly vet them before downloading them willy-nilly (lucky for you we’ve got some pointers on that further on), but the amount of flexibility they can give your site vastly out performs other CMS’s.
Performing regular maintenance on your WordPress website, plugins and web host software will help prevent security holes in the functions of your website. Not only will you protect your visitors/users, but you protect yourself as the owner from potential problems related to a breach.
A tool we like to recommend to our clients is the Wordfence Security Plugin that will help notify you of when important updates are needed.
LEVEL ONE: Keeping your plugins, theme and core files updated is your first line of defense against the waves of malicious bugs, viruses and hackers.
What Happens if You Don’t Update Your WordPress Website
Launching your new website is always so exciting! It’s the result of all your hard work behind the scenes finally paying off. It can almost feel like you’ve just let your newborn baby out into the world. But just like any newborn baby, your WordPress website is going to require some nurturing.
Nurturing in the form of updates. Owning a top-notch website requires maintenance. If you neglect that maintenance, several problems can, and ultimately will, arise. To keep your WordPress website running efficiently and effectively, it’s essential that you keep it updated. By staying on top of updates, you’ll avoid a lot of headaches in the future. Here are some of the most common issues that can result from not updating your WordPress website.
Updating and keeping the core at least 1 or 2 releases behind the most current release. I never update to the most recent version right away because there are always bugs.
There’s a chef I follow on IG and I wanted to get a recipe from her website. I go to a recipe page on her website and I get a Wordpress debug error! I had to email her and it took 4 days of her working with her developer to get everything back on track. Wild. Keeping your site maintained can help eliminate bigger headaches down the road.
WordPress is constantly striving to update its platform to best serve it’s users. And as they do, older versions become less stable and more of a security risk. Unfortunately, there will always be hackers on the internet and one of the easiest ways they can hack a WordPress site is through deprecated (outdated) code. By updating your website, you’ll greatly reduce the risk of your website being hacked.
Because WordPress is an open-source software, developers are always creating new and amazing plugins that you can use to implement additional and/or improved features to your website. New plugins that could help increase your workflow, efficiency, traffic, and overall website performance might not be compatible with older versions of WordPress.
Unable to Access New Features
WordPress developers work hard to create new features on the platform. When you don’t update your website, you won’t have access to these new features that have the potential to improve the WordPress user experience, as well as your website’s functionality and performance.
When you don’t update your WordPress website, it’ll likely result in slower load times. In terms of SEO, Google favors fast websites because Google prioritizes user needs. Most users won’t wait around for a slow website to load (a recent study shows users won’t wait more than 3 seconds), and that’s potential business lost. By updating your WordPress website, you’ll maintain your website’s lightweight speed. And both Google, and your users, will be pleased.
Most users won’t wait around for a slow website to load (a recent study shows users won’t wait more than 3 seconds), and that’s potential business lost.
Big Problems in the Long Run
Because WordPress is constantly evolving and improving, your website requires continuous maintenance. If you neglect this maintenance by not keeping up with updates, it’s only a matter of time before you could run into some big problems. Problems that could crash your entire website, and maybe even result in data loss. It’s just not worth the hassle and the headache.
By keeping up on updates, you’ll continue to enjoy an efficient and effective website. It may require some work, but it’s worth the peace of mind. If you need help keeping your WordPress website updated, reach out to us. We’d love to help take that off your plate!
Key Principles For “Do-It-Yourself” WordPress Maintenance
Key Principle #1: Choose themes wisely
The quality of themes varies widely. Some are poor quality while others are very professional looking as well as extremely customizable. However, what you see from an outside, user perspective doesn’t always tell the same story behind the scenes.
One of the downsides to many modern themes is that they are built using page builders. This seems like good news from non-techies, or people who don’t know how to create custom code. But, they do have quite a few disadvantages as well.
Commercial themes–especially page builders–are often bloated with extraneous code, and excessive features you may never use but still negatively impact site speed. Plus, commercial themes require frequent updates, as the developers add new features or patch bugs in their code, which is a potential break-point for your site if their code conflicts with a plugin or core WordPress files.
If you’re focused on long-term SEO growth, a bloated theme can significantly hinder your progress. Work can still be done on your site and SEO edits can be made, but since themes can be less reliable and need more TLC you risk having more time spent on keeping the website up and running, than making big SEO moves. Meaning, if you want your website to support long-term business growth, this is absolutely crucial! Page builders don’t allow access to specific pieces of code that is needed to address SEO issues and areas of improvement.
Because of these reasons, we recommend investing in a custom WordPress website for growth-oriented businesses, because you should have a website that reflects the quality of your business, and grows with you, instead of holding you back. Custom-built themes are light-weight, increasing your overall website’s speed, and are great for managing SEO for long-term results and growth.
Key Principle #2: Vett plugins carefully
Plugins are powerful tools that can elevate your website’s functionality and capabilities. But, like themes, it’s important to choose them wisely. When deciding on a new plugin for your site, a general rule of thumb is to check when they were last updated (should be within the past 2 weeks), whether or not it has been tested with your current version of WordPress, and what the reviews are (aim for 4 stars or higher to ensure the quality). If a plugin is being regularly updated, that is a good sign that the author is still active and the plugin will be well supported.
Key Principle #3: Always backup your site before you update
This one is easy to forget, but so important because things can and do break sometimes when you’re updating core WordPress files, themes or plugins. In order to protect your data and digital assets, you need to backup your website not only on an on-going basis, but especially before any major updates. This can be done manually or automatically through your hosting provider or a backup plugin. Most hosting platforms offer backups as either a free or add-on feature. You can use a plugin to back up your site, but if your site breaks during updates and you forget to download that backup the plugin ran, you’re in trouble. Utilizing backup tools in your hosting platform lets you easily revert your site to a safe backup point, even if your site is down and you can’t login. Even if it’s a paid add-on, its definitely worth it!
Key Principle #4: Always have a plan
Aside from backing up before a major update, you should have a system for on-going maintenance and backups. We all know how stressful sudden surprises can be, so making a plan for regular maintenance can keep your (website) stress levels to a minimum.
An easy way to do this is to break down your tasks annually, quarterly, monthly and weekly.
- Ensure your php is up-to-date (this should be accessible through your hosting provider’s cpanel)
- Audit your plugins and delete any you’re no longer using
- Make sure WordPress is up to date (you’ll typically get a dashboard prompt when a new version is available)
- Make sure all plugins are updated
- Be sure to check plugin compatibility BEFORE updating WordPress or your plugins
- Address any issues in Wordpress’ “Site Health” report
LEVEL TWO: Upgrading your hosting can be a game-changing improvement to your sites performance and security.
Why your hosting provider is crucial to site maintenance.
Saving money is a good thing. But if there’s one thing worth investing in, other than a custom Wordpress site for your business, its quality hosting. Even if you’re not getting a custom website, good quality hosting is still crucial, but getting a custom website developed and then hosting it on an economy plan with HostGator or SiteGround is like buying a Rolls Royce and then parking it outside during a hailstorm (or hurricane season) with the doors unlocked and the keys still inside. You’re asking for trouble.
Economy providers like Bluehost, SiteGround, HostGator or Media Temple offer you amazing deals on shared hosting, but in this case, sharing is not caring. Shared server space means your website is vying for resources, and that can lead to really poor load time.
In addition to poor server response time and Time to First Byte (TTFB), or the time it takes for a server to actually respond to a user action in a browser, choosing a low quality provider is like putting the cheapest possible shingles on your roof to protect your house from damage when it comes to protecting your website from security threats.
Ultimately, getting on a quality hosting plan is not going to break the bank. Paying a little extra for hosting to make your site faster and more secure, could help you edge out the competition and ultimately make you money. Quality hosting is an investment that pays for itself.
The features I look for on any hosting for WordPress are automated daily backups, one-click staging environments, current PHP versioning, and preferably automated migrations. Daily backups on modern hosting allow you to restore yesterday’s version of the site if anything breaks, which is very useful. One -click staging environments allow you to test plugin updates or code base changes without having to do it on the live site. If everything checks out or looks good, you can port those changes to the live site. Hosts that are running old versions of PHP are also suspect. PHP 7.2 is already end of life! There are still hosts using PHP 5.6 and 7.0! PHP 7.4 is current. Software needs updates, and the software running the server is no different. Automated migrations are a nice-to-have that makes moving your current WordPress site to a new host easy. Many hosts have figured out how to offer this, and I prefer using those hosts.
Choose the host that’s best for your type of business. Cheap hosting is okay if your site isn’t driving lots of revenue. When it’s time to ramp up sales though, choose a host that focuses on speed and security. Faster sites convert more visitors into customers, and security issues can end up costing you millions. Typically “managed hosts” perform better in both areas since those types of hosts focus on one type of website (e.g. WordPress) and can focus their technology on making certain types of sites fast & secure.
The Benefits of a Web Partner
A common request through our years as web designers is clients (past or present) reaching out to us to make updates and changes with their site. This is because they are either unable to make updates, or just cant find the time necessary to do them.
Oftentimes logging into a site that hasn’t been updated in months feels a bit like this…
It’s not a good feeling, and more importantly, it means that this site is in danger of being compromised either by broken, deprecated code or security threats, and cleaning things up becomes a matter of delicate and risky surgery rather than a simple checkup.
We get it, site maintenance can be very putsy and tedious, and if you’re running a business it’s one more thing to find time for.
That’s why having a web partner can make a world of difference for how your website runs and the longevity of it. While you should be able to do many of these maintenance routines on your own, not everyone is going to have the time to do it and also learn the in’s and outs of it.
That’s probably a big reason why we see so many websites with issues such as security vulnerabilities and performance issues causing the website to not work as well as it should.
Like a car, getting routine maintenance done on your website is key so that it can run longer, more efficient, and avoid the bigger problems that will come if you don’t.
We know that having a web partner like us will help you to avoid these types of problems so that you can get the most out of your investment (because let’s be honest, websites aren’t cheap).
LEVEL THREE: Having a team of A-players to help you monitor and defend your website, will get you farther than you could get on your own.
Our Web Maintenance package is $300/ month and includes:
- Security check
- Checking in on any spam risks and vulnerabilities on the website. This won’t eliminate all risk and spam but we stay vigilant on your behalf.
- Checking in on any spam risks and vulnerabilities on the website. This won’t eliminate all risk and spam but we stay vigilant on your behalf.
- Site Backups
- Pulling a monthly backup of the site.
- Some premium hosting providers give daily backups.
- Duplicating existing page templates, and adding content, or misc. site edits (not to exceed 2 hours)
- Creating a new location page or service page based on another page layout. Images and text can be changed and implemented based on your content provided.
- Changing text on the website to reflect any updates.
- Updating plugins – Out of date plugins can leave you vulnerable to attacks. Plugins update regularly so we will update them on a monthly basis.
- Hook Client Rate – Clients on the Web Maintenance package are given the Hook Client Rate of $150/ hr for additional miscellaneous tasks. Turn around time and estimates are provided based on Hook Agency capacity and will be agreed upon before we begin.
Get a Monthly Web Maintenance Package and Stop Stressing about your Site
Your website is one of your biggest marketing assets for your company. Don’t let it go to waste because of old plugins, or lack of security. Web maintenance is necessary to keep your website up to snuff and allows you to keep your site running longer and better. If you’re interested in a partner to manage updates and maintenance for you, reach out to us, we’ll set up a call to discuss your needs and make sure your marketing machine is as healthy as possible.