Tim Priebe

How to maintain a WordPress website

We’ve been creating WordPress websites since 1909. Wait, I’m pretty sure my notes are wrong and we actually started in 2009. That seems a lot more likely.

We’ve launched hundreds of websites. Some of our clients now manage their own websites, while others have us manage their websites for them. And while we’ve always offered hands on training with our clients and had training videos available as well, we’ve never put together a guide on managing your own WordPress website.

Until now.

So let’s get into it! We won’t be going into all the technical details on each of these, but I’ll talk through some tips for managing your WordPress website. Then at the end I’ll share a few resources with you.

Update website content

I’m sure you surf the web on a regular basis. Have you ever run into any of the following issues when looking at someone else’s website?

  • You call the phone number they have listed, only to get no answer or a message saying, “The number has been disconnected.”
  • You see a photo of the staff, but later when you meet them in person they are much older than their photo.
  • You show up during the hours they have listed on their website only to find out they changed them 3 years ago and forgot to update their website.
  • You email a company using an address you find on their site, but just get a bounced email back.
  • They show a product or service on their website that you really want, then you discover that they don’t offer it any longer.
  • You go to an address a business had listed on their website, and they’ve been gone for years! Did they move? Did they close down? It’s hard to tell!

Now think about it from your perspective. You don’t want to lose clients, customers, volunteers, or donors because your website’s content isn’t up-to-date, do you?

Auditing your content on a regular basis is super important!

Schedule time on a regular basis to do an audit of the content on your website. In general, somewhere between every six months to once a year is how often you should review everything.

Go ahead and schedule your first review session now! Depending on the size of your site, you may just need to set aside a single hour. If your site is bigger, you may need to pull in other team members or set aside a few hours.

Look over all the content and make notes where things are completely wrong or even just not as accurate as you’d like.

Drive traffic to your website

So you have a website. Good for you! Nearly everyone has a website. If nobody’s visiting it, there’s not much point in having it, is there?

The way you get more sales, donations, volunteers, or leads is to get eyeballs looking at your website. And it takes an ongoing effort to do that!

Some of that is out of your control. But there are a couple great things you can do to help things along.

Blogging

If you want people to find you through search engines like Google and you only have time to do one thing, make it blogging! In 99% of the cases I’ve seen in the last decade plus, my number one suggestion to show up better and more often in search engines is to write great articles on a consistent, frequent basis.

I’ve shared before how to optimize your blog posts for SEO to help you in Google. But you also can—and should—send out an email newsletter that lets people know when you have a new blog article. Have an option on your website to get people signed up, but also ask people personally and directly if they’d like to be on your email newsletter list to get helpful articles.

Your mileage may vary based on the competition in your industry and geographic region, but we’ve found that blogging either once a month, twice a month, or weekly will be beneficial in increasing your traffic.

Posting on social media

Social media is a waste of time, you say? Well, it certainly can be. But if your organization is sharing things on a regular basis and part of those posts link back to your website—including the blogs we just talked about—it can help you increase traffic to your website.

Some social media sites to consider include:

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • LinkedIn
  • Instagram
  • Pinterest

There are tons more, of course. When picking which ones to share on, be sure to take into account four elements:

  1. The audience of the platform versus your target audience
  2. The capabilities of the platform versus your organization’s needs
  3. The platform’s culture versus your organization’s culture
  4. Your comfort level on the platform

All four of those elements factor into whether a given social media site is a waste of time for you and your organization or not. But if you pick a good one, it can help get more traffic to your website.

Don’t only post links to your website, of course. That looks a little self-serving to people who find you there and to the social media site’s algorithm. And you want to look good to the algorithm, as that determines how many people see what you share.

Oh, and did I mention social media helps with your SEO as well?

There are entire books written on individual social media platforms, so let’s move on.

Using an SEO plugin

Speaking of Google, search engines, and SEO, let’s talk about SEO plugins. If where and how you show up in search engine results is important to you, you should consider setting up, configuring, and regularly checking in on an SEO plugin.

Yes, that’s right, I said checking in on a regular basis. SEO changes on a regular basis, so you can’t just set up a plugin and leave it forever. Just like you’re auditing your content on a regular basis, it’s a good idea to review all your plugin’s settings compared to best practices. Many plugins will also add additional features over time. Some of those will be a good idea to enable, others may not.

SEO plugins come in two different categories, although these aren’t official terms or anything like that. First is all-purpose SEO, and second is plugins that solve specific problems.

Here are four plugins to consider:

Yoast SEO

Yoast SEO is an all-purpose SEO plugin. They offer both a free and premium version. My team has used the free version on a number of client websites and found it useful and easy to use.

All in One SEO Pack

All in One SEO Pack is another all-purpose SEO plugin. They are the self-proclaimed “original WordPress SEO Plugin.” This the first SEO plugin we ever used, and it continues to be popular.

Redirection

Whether you had a website with great rankings and want to maintain that ranking, or you change things often enough that you want to be sure your rank doesn’t suffer, the Redirection plugin is a good option. It logs 404 errors (bad for SEO) and lets you pick where to redirect them. You do have to check your logs on a regular basis.

Smush Image Compression and Optimization

While I recommend compressing and optimizing images before you upload them to WordPress, this image optimization plugin is a good option if you want to do that on the WordPress side of things.

Website analytics with Google

It’s beneficial to know what people are reading on your website. If you have a page that you want to get more traffic, you can make changes and see if they increase your traffic. If you want to find out what topics you should blog about in the future, you can see which ones have been popular in the past.

Enter Google Analytics. Google Analytics is a website analytics service offered by Google. They have a free option that’s been around since 2005 as well as a paid option. For most organizations, the free option is more than sufficient.

Get started with Google Analytics

You start by setting things up on the Google Analytics website for your site. Then you have to hook that into your site. There are two primary ways to do that.

  1. Use the code Google gives you. Depending on your theme, you may be able to add Javascript through the customize section, directly into the theme template files if you’re comfortable with PHP, or use a plugin like Insert Headers and Footers to add it.
  2. Use a Google Analytics specific plugin and use their setup process. My current favorite is Google Analytics Dashboard for WP (GADWP).

There are pros and cons both ways. If you want to know what those are, I recommend pulling in an expert to help with the setup.

Monitor your analytics

Once you install Google Analytics, you’ll need to let it collect data for a while. Then next comes the fun part! Well, fun if you’re nerdy about this stuff like I am.

Check your analytics on a regular basis! For most people, logging in on a weekly or monthly basis will be sufficient. But if you’re obsessive, you can check in daily.

Here are some things you may want to use Google Analytics to look at.

  • How has my website traffic changed last month versus a year ago?
  • What blog articles have I written that are popular?
  • Are the pages I want to get traffic actually getting it?
  • What country or state do most of my visitors come from?
  • How many people are looking at my website on a desktop computer versus a mobile device versus a tablet?
  • Which social network is most of my traffic coming from?
  • How long do people spend on my site?
  • Do most people leave after one page or view additional pages?

There’s a lot of information Google Analytics makes available to you. Give yourself some time to get comfortable with the tool and learn how to use it.

If you want to accelerate your skills, Google runs Google Analytics Academy. That may be worth looking into to get started or even to take your skills to the next level.

While Google Analytics tells you what’s happening on your website, if SEO is important to you then you may also want to set up Google Search Console. That free tool tells you what’s happening on Google before people get to your website. You can find out where and how you show up on search results.

Check for broken links and images

Broken links can create a lot of problems. When a link on your website doesn’t work, it reflects poorly on your organization. Best case, nobody ever finds it. Worst case, people get frustrated and leave your website, never contacting you. And it can have a negative impact on your search engine rankings as well!

Fortunately, there’s a way to check for broken links!

Broken Link Checker

The WordPress plugin I like that automates checking for broken links is called Broken Link Checker. It monitors your entire website on an ongoing basis, and sends you an email when there’s a broken link. It also detects broken images and notifies you about those as well!

There are a lot of options you can configure, but I’ve found it works pretty well with no configuration at all.

So install that plugin and be sure to take care of any problems it emails you about!

Back up your WordPress website

I’m often asked if WordPress sites are more likely to get hacked than others. Well, WordPress powers more websites than any other system as of this writing, so it is a target for hackers. While you can and should take some security precautions, one of the best things you can do is back your website up on a regular basis.

It’s likely that your hosting provides backups for you already. But unless you have WordPress-specific hosting, there’s a decent chance that the backup isn’t easy to restore. WordPress has its own idiosyncrasies, which means that usually a WordPress plugin is the best option for backing your site up.

Here are a few options, although really there are tons of options out there.

BackupBuddy

We’ve used BackupBuddy from iThemes for years now. It’s not foolproof, but we’ve found it works consistently for us. We’ve also had success the few times we’ve reached out to support. It is a premium plugin, so be prepared to pay for it.

Jetpack

The team behind WordPress also maintains a plugin called Jetpack. Jetpack contains a lot of features, including the ability to back up your website. People seem to be pretty divided about the plugin. Some people love it while others think all the features make for an unnecessarily huge plugin that can cause issues. Personally, I like to stick with dedicated plugins without a lot of extra code, so I usually avoid Jetpack.

UpdraftPlus

UpdraftPlus has a good reputation in the industry. They have both a free version and a paid version. It has a reputation for being reliable and easy to use. I’ve not used it myself, but several other WordPress experts I know love it.

Regardless of which backup plugin you choose, be sure to download your backups or have them sent to another location like Dropbox. You don’t want them just sitting on your website, as any hacker that gained access could just delete them.

Update WordPress, plugins, and themes

One of the biggest advantages of WordPress is you have hundreds if not thousands of people across the world constantly working on improving it. They’re working on WordPress itself, as well as themes and plugins.

But the only way you can get those improvements is if you update everything on a regular basis!

Of course, there are security reasons to update your site regularly as well. Because anyone can look at the code for WordPress, plugins, or themes, hackers can discover security exploits. Usually the WordPress community discovers those issues and they’re fixed quickly. But unethical hackers can read what was updated as well and look for sites with the old versions of the software to exploit.

So regardless of whether you want new features or just want to stay secure, you need to back your website up on a regular basis!

Here’s the system we use for our clients and that we recommend they use for themselves at least on a monthly basis.

  1. Back up the entire website and download that backup to your desktop.
  2. Look through the site to get an idea of what everything looks like.
  3. Apply any upgrades that are available. That includes WordPress itself, plugins, themes, and for some websites translations.
  4. Back the site up again.
  5. Look through the site and make sure nothing broke. If it did, you can either restore the backup and call in help or you can work on fixing the issue yourself.

Be warned: Upgrades can break things! My team takes great care when picking plugins and themes to install on website, so we don’t have things break really often. But out of all our clients, about 1% of them might have something break that we need to fix in any given month.

So be prepared for an upgrade to break something on your website. It’s a definitely possibility each time you upgrade. Back that thing up!

Other WordPress maintenance activities

There are a lot of other things you could do when managing your WordPress website on an ongoing basis. Here are some you might consider:

  • Reviewing comments
  • Deactivating and deleting unused plugins
  • Confirming forms are still sending emails
  • Changing the wording on calls to action to see if you get better results
  • Updating your password
  • Deleting any users that no longer need access to the website’s backend
  • Optimize your database
  • Run a security audit
  • Take steps to speed up page load time

Set time aside to perform maintenance on a regular basis. There will always be something to do!

WordPress resources

Looking for additional information and resources for your WordPress website? Since we’ve been doing web design for WordPress websites for more than a decade, we’ve put together a number of resources you may find useful.

First off, here are a few articles we’ve written:

Second, if you’ve ever forgotten your password, you’re not alone! This episode of PixelTV covers how to recover your password if you’ve lost it.

Finally, you may have read all this and decided that you really want help managing your WordPress website. The T&S Online Marketing team has created, managed, and hosted WordPress websites since 2009. We would be happy to talk and see if we’re a good fit for you.

Just reach out to us to have a conversation!

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