“I’m not going to be doing many chages on my website, so I don’t have to worry about a lot of maintenance, right?”
I chuckle (hopefully not outloud) every time a client asks me this that question. I have to laugh a little bit because it’s a question influenced by some of the worst advice we’ve ever heard about blog maintenance. Low levels of activity with updates on a website does not mean you don’t need any other ongoing website maintenance.
The reality is that even if there aren’t any content changes on the website (which isn’t a good strategy either), the software that runs it all get old and needs updates and maintenance in order to keep the site running smooth and secure.
Ideally, a strong web strategy will include both the development of new content and regular website maintenance. The combination of the two will keep the website performing optimally for search engines, and if you’re good, with social media as well.
So what kind of maintenance needs to be done to set a website up for success?
Regular Updates to WordPress/Themes/Plugins
Simply put, the software that runs everything needs to be updated. These updates often include bug fixes, and security patches that deal with vulnerabilities which could open up the website to hackers and other malicious attacks. There are often cool new features included in many of the updates, bringing additional functionality that could help you improve your web strategy.
WordPress suggests checking for updates at least once every few months. However, with my sites and those of my clients, I check for updates several times each week. There are times when an urgent security patch may come up suddenly requiring a WordPress update along with many plugins also making updates due to the patch.
Pro Tip: Check for updates weekly at minimum. Stay on top of this in order to keep the site safe and running smoothly, and occassionally discover some sweet new upgrades.
Clean Up the Spam
Plugins like Akismet (and several others) do a pretty good job of catching most spam comments coming onto a website. However, while most of them may not ever appear on the website for people to see, they still take up space and resources in the site’s database. And a bloated database can eventually bog the website down.
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Pro Tip: Delete the spam folder daily, and follow it up with some database cleanup/optimization.
Check for Broken Links
The world wide web is built on the foundation of links. Moving from page to page in your site, and from site to site around the web is all about links. And broken links can not only damage your reputation with search engines, but also result in a frustrating user experience.
There are two ways I like to check for broken links, internally and externally.
Internal broken links can easily be found and repaired using plugins like Broken Link Checker. It scans your site regularly to find links that don’t work, and allows you to redirect them to a new location.
For the external links (elsewhere on the web, pointing back to your website), I like to use the Crawl Errors report in Google Webmasters Tools. The report shows you all of the incoming links resulting in a 404 Page Not Found error. These links can be cleaned up by redirecting them to a valid page. A WordPress plugin called Redirection can be used to point each of those invalid links to a new valid URL with a 301 Redirect.
Pro Tip: Check for and correct broken links, both internal and external, at least once per month.
Keep Your Database Optimized
If you’re staying on top of all of the other maintenance, updates, spam cleanup, and broken link fixing, then all of these changes will leave a trace in the database. And since the database is the source of all information that runs your website, it’s important to keep it clean. Failure to do this over time can result in a slow-down of website performance and create other issues.
Pro Tip: Run database cleanup/optimization maintenance at least once per week.
Back It Up!
Backups are the insurance programs of the Internet. It’s important to have redundancy somewhere, because no matter how careful you try to be with other website maintenance and upkeep, problems can still happen. If a database got corrupt and crashed for some reason, you might be glad you have a backup to restore everything.
Pro Tip: Some people like to do it more frequently, but I suggest running a database backup at least once per week, and a full-website backup once per month. I also suggest keeping the backup files in off-site storage somewhere (like Dropbox or Google Drive). This will ensure that if a worst case scenario happened, you’d still have the files to restore everything from a fresh install.
There are many other website performance considerations you can think about like chaching, minifying, and following good SEO standards. And you should make that stuff part of your website maintenance strategy. It’s also a great idea to consider a developing a content strategy focused on the user experience and needs. Having a strong overall web strategy can go a long way in helping your website accomplish the goals you have for it. The bottom line… It’s definitely not wise to take a set-it-and-forget-it mentality to website maintenance.
A good website maintenance plan will keep your site running smooth and secure, providing the best possible experience for your visitors.