Do WordPress websites need maintenance?

Now WordPress has been around for several years, more and more people are asking us to maintain their WordPress website. Some are surprised to discover that a WordPress website needs maintenance – particularly if they migrated to WordPress in order to reduce their ongoing costs.

I’m writing this post to help people to understand the housekeeping tasks that WordPress websites need and why.

Isn’t my WordPress website meant to save me money?

Lots of people are choosing WordPress to replace their old static sites. This saves them money by enabling them to update the website themselves using WordPress’ built-in content management system.

But it’s important to understand that a WordPress website does have some ongoing costs.

How should I maintain my WordPress website?

Like all websites, WordPress websites benefit from several housekeeping tasks – some minor and some more complex.

WordPress updates

The WordPress team recommend updating WordPress itself, your website theme and plugins between every three and six months.

In theory, updating software updates are as simple as clicking a button. Some website owners choose to do it themselves. But this can be a false economy, as applying updates responsibly and in line with best practice is more complex.

As I discussed in Upgrade WordPress – Should you click the button?, applying updates can cause problems. It can cause errors on your website, or stop specific features from working properly. The worst case scenario is that is can completely break your website.

The reason WordPress websites can be cheap to develop is that they combine code already written by other people – the WordPress core team, plugin developers, individual WordPress designers, etc. – rather than having to do everything from scratch. But the implication is that all this code needs to work correctly together, often in ways it wasn’t designed for.

Applying a software update means changing your website code. That’s why it’s so important to approach updates responsibly – i.e. by applying them in a test environment first and backing up the live site before making the changes. This puts applying updates beyond the capability of most website owners, making it more sensible for an experienced WordPress designer to handle this side of things. So this should be budgeted for when you decide to use WordPress.

Backup your WordPress website

WordPress recommend backing up your website between three and 12 times per year. We tend to backup the websites we design daily, as there’s nothing worse than losing your work.

Rather than remembering to make backups, use a plugin such as BackWPUp to schedule regular backups. Set it to automatically delete backups after a set period to avoid wasting space on your web hosting account.

Use the Broken Link Checker plugin to check for broken links. Any broken links are displayed on the dashboard of the WordPress website admin. Or even better, set the plugin to run regularly and automatically email you if broken links are found.

Broken links are really unprofessional and can appear through no fault of your own. For example, if an external web page you link to changes its url or is deleted then a broken link will appear on your site. The Broken Link Checker plugin prevents broken links from going unnoticed.

De-clutter your WordPress website’s files and folders

As with any filing system, the files and folders on your WordPress website can become cluttered, especially if you’re not the sort of person who deletes things as you go along. A well-functioning WordPress website should contain the bare minimum – this will optimise its performance and help it to run quickly and smoothly. It will also save space on your web hosting account and reduce the likelihood of problems when you update your website software.

De-cluttering should include:

  • Deleting spam comments – If your WordPress website allows people to comment on your posts, then it’s worth occasionally deleting spam comments from the database. Do this from the Comments section of the WordPress admin, it only takes a minute.
  • Removing old themes – If you have trialled different themes or changed themes at any point then there may be unnecessary ones still installed. Go to Appearance/Themes and remove all themes apart from your current theme and the default WordPress theme (you should never delete the default theme). Again, it only takes a minute.
  • Unnecessary plugins – This is a bigger task, but plugins can soon add up – both in terms of the space they use up and their potential to cause problems for your WordPress website. See my post Can a WordPress website have too many plugins? for more advice on this.
  • Unused images – Go through the Media section of the WordPress admin and delete any images that aren’t being used. You might be surprised at how many there are, particularly if you’re the sort of person who uploads several versions of the same image to see how they look on the website.

Browser testing

Web browsers are updated all the time, so it’s worth putting some time aside every now and then to check your site displays properly in all the latest versions.

Refreshing your website content

In Why a website is never finished – Part 1, I gave several reasons why it’s a good idea to update your website content regularly. As well as keeping it factually correct and relevant for your customers, this helps to maintain your website’s search engine position.

And for more experienced WordPress designers…

To really streamline your WordPress website, it’s also worth tidying up the underlying code every now and then.

  • Remove any commented out codes and tags from your theme template files and stylesheet.
  • Remove any unnecessary blank spaces from the end of lines of code, along with unnecessary line breaks.
  • Optimise your website’s database.
  • Validate your website code, as the standards include requirements on keeping it clean and optimised.

What happens if a WordPress website is not maintained?

Hopefully, nothing! But realistically, neglecting your WordPress website leaves it open to a range of problems including:

  • Security loopholes and increased risk of hacking
  • Speed and performance problems
  • Out of date information for your customers
  • Broken links

Delaying software updates is also a false economy – the longer you leave them, the more likely the website is to break when you do apply the updates.

Who should maintain my WordPress website?

There are two options for making sure your website doesn’t get neglected:

  1. Commission a professional WordPress designer to maintain the website on your behalf. Most WordPress designers offer a selection maintenance packages for you to choose from.
  2. If you’re on a tight budget and have some WordPress knowledge, create a maintenance calendar showing what you plan to do when – and stick to it!

Over to you…

I’d be interested to hear how other WordPress designers and users maintain their websites. Have I missed anything? Please add a comment below.