Keeping WordPress Healthy: A Well-Visit Checklist

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It’s a beautiful thing when you get your brand new WordPress website fully up and open for business for the first time. It’s like getting moved into a new house, or sitting in your new car breathing in that infamous new car smell. It feels good- everything is clean, bright, shiny, and works like a charm. No doubt you put a ton of time (or money!) into making sure everything was just so for launch day.

Like homes ands cars, that spotless clean and those fresh new scents wear off over time. Your WordPress website needs regular maintenance too, just like the other important things in your life. You wouldn’t expect your car to keep running without an oil change or your house to stay clean without a good brooming here or there, right? Same with WordPress. It’s needs some regular loving too.

This article will walk you through a maintenance checklist for keeping WordPress healthy. Dive in here ever so often to make sure your website is operating at peak performance!

Eh… this sounds like it’s going to take a long time. Do I have time for this right now?

Yes this is a longer article, but the steps themselves aren’t going to take very long to complete. In a pinch for time? Browse now, then set yourself aside 30 minutes sometime soon to run through it all for the first time. In the future as it becomes familiar territory, you probably won’t need anywhere near that long.

Do I really need to do this? How often does my site actually need a checkup?

When your website is chugging along without a hitch, it can be hard to see why you’d need to do any of this. Remember, it’s no different than the regular maintenance you’d have done to your car. It might be running just fine right now, but if you don’t keep it maintained you’re going to have perfectly preventable issues eventually pop up. Catch the minor things now, before they turn into major ones that cost you money.

We recommend taking these steps at least quarterly (every 3 months or so) to make sure you’re keeping WordPress healthy!

Check 1: Back up all the things. Always.

If you’re maintaining backups of your website already, you’re good. If not, you need to be and we’ll show you a few options for how. This is step one primarily because if you have not run updates in a long time, some of these steps may change the way parts of your site look or function. Before you let that statement scare you off, consider this: if you fall into that category, you’ve potentially got lots of bigger issues approaching very soon over the horizon. Running through these steps will prevent them.

If you know you haven’t updated in a long time, get a backup in place to revert back to if you realize something breaks. Often an older plugin can cause problems like that, and it’s a simple matter to rollback to a backup, replace the plugin, then move on. If you experience a security breach because of older code on your site, cleanup will be nowhere near that easy.

Great Backup Plugin Options

Each of these options will allow you to backup a WordPress website, and more importantly restore easily from any backup.

Check 2: Make sure WordPress and everything it depends on is up to date

We’ll be checking 3 things in this step:

  1. WordPress version
  2. PHP version
  3. MySQL version

WordPress

Your WordPress version is the current build of WordPress that you’re using. WordPress is updated regularly, and updates commonly include important security and functionality upgrades (and fixes). Keeping your WordPress version up to date is very important for security and functionality. It’s also something that flies under the radar for a lot of people. It’s just one of those things you may not think about that often, but it’s vital for keeping WordPress healthy.

It’s easy to update though- Just pop open your WordPress dashboard and navigate to Dashboard>Updates. Boom. Your WordPress version is right there. Click the “Check Again” button at the top of that page to run a check for more current versions. If it’s still telling you you’re on the current version after that, you’re good. If not, update!

PHP and MySQL

PHP is the coding language that WordPress uses to run. MySQL is the database managment system that WordPress uses. Both are critical to the functionality of WordPress, and like WordPress itself they update periodically. Having versions of either that are too old can mean your website will start experiencing functionality problems or, even worse, security issues.

Updating these will require you contact your host, but takes no more effort than that. They’ll do it for you. You can check your version numbers in your host’s control panel if they offer one. If you’re a Ninja Forms user, it’s even easier: navigate to Ninja Forms>Get Help and you can view your system status. They’re right there in the first few lines 🙂

For reference, the current version (as of publication for this article) of PHP is 7.2.3, and MySQL is 5.7.21

Check 3: Tidy up your plugins

Many of us are collectors when it comes to WordPress plugins. That’s not necessarily a bad thing! The diversity of plugins available for WordPress is one of the things that make it such an ideal, flexible platform for so many. Collect away! Just do so with a measure of discretion.

Whether you have 10 plugins or 50, there are a few regular steps you need to take to maintain your collection:

  • Delete unused plugins. If they don’t need to be there, get rid of them. They’ll only slow you down.
  • Update existing plugins. Outdated software is both a potential security and functionality concern.
  • Audit. Look at each plugin that hasn’t seen an update pushed in a long time. Are there alternative plugins that meet the same need that do receive regular love from their developers? They’re likely a safer alternative.

As tech evolves, the software you’re using should evolve with it. That’s done through plugin updates- they’re an absolute necessity for almost every piece of software. Many of the security breaches that you read about in the news come down to someone exploiting vulnerabilities in software. Regularly updated software is less likely to be vulnerable and less likely to experience functional difficulties as WordPress continues to change. Staying on top of your plugins is one of the most essential pieces in keeping WordPress healthy!

Check 4: Update and test your theme

When you think about keeping WordPress healthy, your theme probably isn’t one of the first things to come to mind. We select a theme primarily to meet the aesthetic standard that we want. Makes sense- it’s the face of your site, after all! Once we have the look we want, it’s perfectly understandable that we don’t want to mess with it a whole lot for fear of breaking the design we’ve worked so hard to achieve.

However, as WordPress and everything around it continues to change over time, your theme should be getting regular love too. You can check for theme updates either through Dashboard>Updates, or Appearance>Themes. If you see updates, take them. Any well designed theme should not break the appearance of your site through updating!

Make sure you’re still looking good across all devices!

Viewing a website from a desktop computer has become less common than from mobile devices. It’s actually been that way for a couple years now! That makes checking periodically to ensure your site is still responsive and speedy across different, smaller devices is really important. Fortunately, that’s really easy to do. Here are two great tools to do exactly that:

Mobile responsiveness and speed isn’t just a factor in keeping users happy. Google calculates those factors into your site’s overall visibility (SEO) as well!

Check 5: Test your site’s performance and monitor uptime

Most of us tend not to think about slow page load times and downtime (periods of time when your site is inaccessible) unless we notice them. That’s definitely not the best policy. Slow periods and downtime can happen more frequently than you might think. If we’re not monitoring or don’t receive complaints, we may never know- but potential clients and customers will! Part of keeping WordPress healthy is keeping your site in tip-top shape to perform.

Fortunately, there are drop dead easy ways to test and continuously monitor for these. Here are a few tools to do exactly that!

Monitor for downtime

These tools will monitor your site for downtime and alert you when it happens.

Test website performance

These tools will test your site’s web performance, identify problem areas, and give you suggestions to improve.

Check 6: Evaluate your security measures

A huge part in keeping WordPress healthy is actively monitoring website security. You can’t be on top of that 24/7, but you can install a plugin that will be. From there, scanning your website periodically for potential threats is a huge part of keeping WordPress healthy. You want a solution that can both actively monitor your site for incoming threats and perform a full security sweep of your site periodically.

The plugins below meet those criteria and more. If you don’t have security on your site, check these out and get some in place asap!

Check 7: Do a periodic, personal maintenance sweep

After doing everything else, it’s a good idea to browse your website personally to check key functionality and do some general maintenance for keeping WordPress healthy.

Forms, checkout pages, anything else that’s a key part of your site deserves a personal touch to make sure it’s working properly.

Broken links are annoying to guests and are counted against you by Google for SEO. Combing your site manually would be a drag, but there are plugins like Broken Link Checker that can do it for you!

404 pages are similar: users don’t like them, and neither does Google. If you’re a Google Analytics user, you can check for and identify them fairly easily. In Google Analytics:

  1. Navigate to Behavior > Site Content > All Pages
  2. Set Primary Dimension to Page Title
  3. Set an Advanced Filter for “not found”
  4. Click Apply

This will return a list of “Page not found” pages on your site. Just click on each individual result to get the specific URL so that you can fix it.

Bonus: There’s a Health Check plugin!

This is one we recommend in our support channel all the time. While we typically recommend it for pretty specific reasons there, it’s a fantastic all around tool for combing your site for potential problems. It’s a great idea to give this plugin a spin before and after you run through your general maintenance routine. It may just catch something you don’t 🙂

The plugin’s called Health Check. You can follow that link to give it a look on WordPress.org.

Finished all 7 steps? You’ve done everything you can to ensure your WordPress website will perform well into the future.

Like we mentioned at the top of the article, this guide may look like it would take a good chunk of your day to work through. It might your first time through, but if it does it’s time well spent and you’ll get faster at it each time you run through it. Keeping WordPress healthy is a critical piece of running a successful WordPress website. Being proactive is too. Far better to catch an issue before it impacts your users!

Is there any specific steps you’d recommend adding to this article? Plugins that you use that we haven’t mentioned? We’d love to hear about them, or just share your general thoughts in the comments below!

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