Everything in life requires maintenance. From the structures we use for work or housing to the toys and electronics we use for entertainment. For things to last and continue to provide value, they need to be cared for on a regular basis.
Your WordPress site is no different. Technology continues to evolve (at a faster clip all the time) and competitors advance, too.
While it may not require your full-time attention, you need to be sure to periodically dedicate time to review your site for performance and security issues. You also need to update it to remain effective as a tool for whatever purpose it may serve.
In this post, we’ll discuss WordPress maintenance — what it is, when to do it, and tools that can make it more efficient.
What is WordPress maintenance?
Car owners know the value of preventative maintenance, taking care of their vehicles through regular check-ups and adjustments to avoid performance issues and breakdowns.
For a WordPress site, this maintenance will look a little different, though it’s equally important when it comes to long-term success and effectiveness. WordPress maintenance includes things like monitoring your site for security vulnerabilities, checking its performance, and updating its software.
Why is it important to maintain your WordPress site?
Website issues — like car problems — are easier, quicker, and more cost-effective to prevent than they are to resolve. Failure to maintain your site can lead to problems. And even a few hours of downtime can lead to significant financial losses.
The saying, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”, is especially true for security issues. Vulnerabilities created by unmaintained sites are the main opening point for hackers. And while it is possible to recover from a hack, nobody wants to go through that pain.
Regular WordPress website maintenance is essential and doesn’t require much extra time if you automate tasks and leverage available tools. Below, we’ll cover the maintenance tasks you should perform regularly, plus discuss best practices and tools that can simplify the process.
How often should you perform WordPress maintenance tasks?
The WordPress maintenance items below aren’t a once per year, spring cleaning kind of thing. Nor are they all intended to be done at the same intervals.
For example, one major goal is to keep all of your site’s components up to date — WordPress core, your site’s theme, and plugins. Most sites will leverage multiple plugins, which means that on any given day, there may be an update for one or more elements.
Other goals include maintaining a strong user experience. And a monthly review and optimization of site performance — like load times and Core Web Vitals scores — can take care of this.
WordPress maintenance routine tasks
Here are the tasks you should do regularly along with some tips to make the process easier.
1. Fully back up your WordPress site
There are a number of events that can cause you to lose WordPress files and data, from a coding error to a hack. But no matter the cause, when this happens, you can lose countless hours of hard work. Ecommerce sites can lose customer and transaction records, messing with their accounting and ability to fulfill orders.
Periodic backups can be sufficient for sites that rarely update content. But for most sites — and especially for ecommerce sites storing customer and order data — even daily backups are not enough protection. You need real-time backups that are made every time a new comment is posted, a blog post is updated, a product is changed, or a new order is placed.
Jetpack VaultPress Backup is a WordPress plugin that saves every change you make and helps get you back online quickly and easily. With a click, you can restore your site to any past state while keeping product and customer order information current.
It also comes with an activity log that lets you see what changes preceded a problem. And off-site cloud backups keep everything safe if the issue stems from your hosting provider. If you’re on the go, the mobile app lets you restore from almost anywhere.
Learn more about how to back up a WordPress site.
2. Check your site dashboard
Like a car’s dashboard, the WordPress dashboard serves as a central place to get a snapshot of your site’s health and navigate to important areas for more detailed work.
The WordPress dashboard notifies you when one or more of its parts needs attention, displaying a red circle. For example, the Updates area in the navigation bar shows the total number of updates available between WordPress, your site themes, and installed plugins.
If you’re running an online store or active site, you’ll log in every day. But even if you don’t regularly modify your site, it’s a good idea to at least occasionally log in and browse the dashboard. You may have new comments awaiting approval, notices from specific plugins, or other things you should take care of.
Learn more about the WordPress dashboard.
3. Check the Site Health screen
WordPress versions 5.2 and later include the Site Health diagnostic tool, which gives you performance and security-related information. Check your site status via Tools → Site Health.
The Site Health screen has an overall health indicator — a green, yellow, or red circle — followed by links to switch between the Status and Info tabs.
The Site Health Status tab displays one or more sections based on your site’s current status:
- Critical issues. Parts of your WordPress website that are potential security vulnerabilities or significant performance issues.
- Recommended improvements. Non-critical items that can be modified to improve performance, the user experience, and more.
- Passed tests. All other items tested by the Site Health tool with no issues detected.
Every item displays a category label, like Performance or Security, and an arrow that lets you expand the row for more information.
The Site Health Info screen contains multiple expandable rows, giving you information that you can use to troubleshoot issues. The Copy site info to clipboard button makes it easy for you to collect system info for emailing to a developer or posting to a ticket or support thread.
One helpful piece of information — your site’s PHP version — is listed under the Server tab. Keeping it up to date is critical for both site functionality and security. Learn more about how to check and update your PHP Version in WordPress.
Learn more about the Site Health Screen.
4. Install the latest version of WordPress
Keeping your WordPress version up to date is a crucial part of WordPress maintenance. Here’s how you can perform manual updates to WordPress core, along with how to automate the process:
Update your WordPress version automatically
Automatic updates for major and minor releases have been enabled by default since version 5.6. WordPress updates itself when a new version becomes available and then notifies the site owner via email.
To confirm that your site is set for automatic updates, go to Dashboard → Updates and look for the message, “This site is automatically kept up to date with each new version of WordPress.”
If your WordPress installation is set to only perform minor version updates automatically, you can click a link to Enable automatic updates for all new versions of WordPress.
If you don’t see the link, a host or plugin setting may be hiding the option. You can update your WordPress version manually if you’re unable to turn on automatic updates.
Update your WordPress version manually
You can update WordPress manually via Dashboard → Updates. You’ll see a blue update button with the new version number if an update is available. Make sure to back up your full site, then click the button to update to the latest version of WordPress. You’ll see a confirmation message once the update is complete.
5. Update your WordPress themes and plugins
Outdated themes and plugins are common targets for hackers. Like WordPress core, you can automate the update process.
You can look at Plugins or Appearance → Themes to see the number of items that need updates.
Update WordPress themes automatically
Go to Appearance → Themes. Mouse over your theme and click Theme Details.
Click the link to Enable auto-updates. Do this for every theme installed on your site.
If the link to enable auto-updates is not available for a theme, you can update it manually.
Update your WordPress themes manually
Go to Appearance → Themes. Click Select All and then Update Themes. You’ll see a confirmation message when the updates are complete.
Update your WordPress plugins automatically
Go to Plugins → Installed Plugins. The Automatic Updates column lets you click a link to Enable auto-updates for each plugin.
Once you’ve enabled auto-updates for a plugin, its link changes to Disable auto-updates.
Update your WordPress plugins manually
Go to Dashboard → Updates. Click Select All and then Update Plugins. You will see a confirmation message when the updates are complete.
6. Delete unused WordPress themes and plugins
It’s common for site owners to install a theme or plugin to “test it out” and then forget to remove it. Or sometimes you need a plugin for a while, but your needs change.
Whatever the reason, it’s best to regularly audit the tools you have installed and remove any that are unnecessary.
How to delete unused WordPress themes
Go to Appearance → Themes. Then, hover over it and click Theme Details.
Click the Delete link in the bottom right of the modal window.
How to delete unused WordPress plugins
Extra plugins can slow down your site, increase the chance of code conflicts between plugins, and create a security vulnerability. To delete WordPress plugins that you’re not using, go to Plugins → Installed Plugins.
Click the Delete link in the bottom right of the modal window.
Click the Delete link for the deactivated plugin to remove it.
7. Run a security check for vulnerability issues and malware
Hackers never rest, and neither should you. Stay ahead of security threats by adding a solution like Jetpack Scan to your WordPress maintenance lineup.
This tool runs automated daily audits of your site and notifies you immediately when an issue or suspicious behavior is detected. It also includes a website firewall to keep intruders out, with priority support from the Jetpack team.
An easy-to-read interface shows you any potential issues and can help you resolve many threats with just one click.
Learn more about Jetpack Scan.
8. Clean up and optimize your WordPress database
The WordPress database stores all your site’s data, including posts, comments, revisions, user info, passwords, plugin-related information, and more.
Over time, the database can become bloated with records you don’t need, including spam comments, years of page revisions, and data added by old plugins that weren’t cleaned up properly when the tool was removed. Without periodic maintenance and cleanup, the database can become sluggish and slow down the site.
Plugins like Advanced Database Cleaner give you tools to review and optimize the contents of your WordPress database. You can even automate your database optimization and cleanup with scheduled tasks.
9. Delete spam comments
Spam comments are more than just a nuisance — they can make your WordPress website look unprofessional, negatively affect your search engine rankings, and even harm your visitors, since they often include links to malware-infected sites. So, it’s important that you make managing and handling spam comments a regular part of your site maintenance.
Thankfully, there are some ways to simplify managing spam comments in WordPress. First, go to Settings → Discussion in your dashboard. Here, you’ll find a variety of settings that apply to comments in WordPress.
A great first measure is to check the box next to “Comment author must have a previously approved comment”. This ensures the comments aren’t published unless you’ve already approved a message from that author.
Then, you can use the Comment Moderation and Disallowed Comment Keys sections to automatically hold comments or send them to the trash when they meet certain characteristics. For example, you might flag messages that include certain phrases, or ones from a specific email or IP address.
But even with these measures in place, you’ll want to manually review comments to approve them for publishing. Or, you can use a WordPress spam plugin like Akismet.
Built by the team behind WordPress.com, Akismet uses powerful spam-fighting algorithms to automatically take care of suspicious comments and contact form submissions. You can simply set it and forget it, saving time while maintaining your reputation and security.
10. Find and fix broken links
Broken links can occur when you delete a page or update its URL without redirecting it to the new version. Or, if you’re linking out to a third-party site, they may have made a change without your knowledge.
Either way, broken links are never good. They can be confusing for site visitors, who will just see a 404 error when they try to navigate to your page. And they can hurt your search engine rankings by providing a bad user experience or even confusing the search engine bots.
While you can manually go through your site and click every single link, that’s both time-consuming and error-prone. Instead, it’s best to automate this process by using a plugin like Broken Link Checker.
This will search all of your content, notify you if it finds any broken links, then make it easy for you to update the URLs.
11. Test your WordPress forms
It’s a good idea to occasionally test your contact forms, newsletter sign-ups, and any other forms you have on your site. You want to ensure that any site visitors won’t have problems submitting them, and that the right person on your team receives all the submissions.
12. Test any ecommerce functionality
If you run an ecommerce store, you’ll want to regularly check all store functionality from time to time. Run through your archive pages, test that variations and customization options work, check on search tools and filters, etc.
Most importantly, proceed through the checkout process yourself. Make sure that shipping calculations, coupon codes, and payment gateways are all working properly. Actually place an order, even if it’s with a coupon code that reduces the price to $1.00, to ensure that confirmation emails are working, and the payment actually goes through. The last thing you want is to miss out on sales because of a problem you didn’t even know about.
13. Keep an eye on your site load times
A slow-loading site negatively affects your site visitors and your search engine rankings. It’s important to keep an eye on things and identify any areas that need improvement.
Jetpack Boost is an excellent tool that speeds up your site and shows you exactly how it’s performing on desktop and mobile devices. After the plugin is installed and set up, all you have to do is navigate to Jetpack → Boost to get your current score.
You can also test your site’s performance and get improvement recommendations using Google’s PageSpeed Insights tool.
Tips to make WordPress maintenance as easy as possible
WordPress maintenance doesn’t need to take up a ton of time or become a stressful part of your website. Here are some tips to simplify the process:
1. Automate as much as possible
We’ve covered several different ways you can automate parts of the WordPress maintenance process. Here are some key tools you can use to do so:
- Jetpack VaultPress Backup, for automated, real-time backups that you can restore even if your website is completely down
- Akismet, to protect your comment and contact forms from dangerous and annoying spam
- Jetpack Scan, for malware scans and one-click fixes
- Advanced Database Cleaner, to automate database optimization and improve site speed
- Broken link checker, to check all of your site content for broken links and 404 errors
- Jetpack Boost, to monitor website performance and make quick improvements
Jetpack Security combines automated backups, daily security scans, spam protection, and more, addressing multiple items from your task list in one solution.
2. Create a WordPress maintenance checklist
A written WordPress maintenance checklist is a great way to stay on top of important tasks. All you need to do is follow the list here, and you’re good to go! Or, use this as a starting point and edit/add steps as needed for your own WordPress site.
3. Set a regular time to go through your checklist
Once you’ve established your website maintenance tasks, set calendar reminders to make updates and test elements of your site.
If you establish a consistent routine for checking your list — like the beginning of each week or the first day of every month — you’re more likely to stick with it and not neglect important site maintenance tasks.
4. Set up a downtime monitor
If your site goes down, you want to be notified right away, as downtime can lead to unhappy visitors and lost revenue. And it can impact your search rankings if crawlers try to visit while it’s not working.
While it’s not really part of WordPress maintenance, keeping an eye on your website downtime is certainly an important task for any site owner.
Jetpack has a free downtime monitor that checks your site’s availability every five minutes and notifies you by email or SMS alert if your site ever goes down. Plus, it works seamlessly with other Jetpack tools, so you can restore your site from a backup, and use the Activity Log to investigate the root cause of the problem.
Learn more about WordPress downtime monitoring.
Frequently asked questions about WordPress maintenance
Let’s answer some of the most common questions about WordPress site maintenance.
Do all WordPress websites require regular maintenance?
Yes, like all websites, WordPress sites require regular maintenance. For example, it’s important to stay on top of software updates, security vulnerabilities, and speed bottlenecks to ensure a highly-functioning, effective WordPress website.
How long should a round of WordPress maintenance take?
Typically, WordPress maintenance tasks don’t take much time to complete. To save time, try to automate as much as possible, from backups and updates to malware scanning and spam prevention.
How do I activate WordPress maintenance mode?
When WordPress updates are running, visitors to your site see a WordPress maintenance mode page with the message: “Briefly unavailable for scheduled maintenance. Check back in a minute.”
Sometimes you want to manually put the site into maintenance mode, like when you have a temporary site issue that you don’t want visitors to see, or are about to make major updates and wish to go into maintenance mode until you’re finished.
You may also want to create a custom maintenance mode page and message, which is good for the brand and user experience. It gives you greater creative control over the page style and text, so you can make it more informative and visually appealing.
For example, if you’re adding new site features, your message might say: “We’re upgrading our site, come back soon to check out the new features!”
For more instances where you might want to turn on maintenance mode, and multiple means of activating it: How to put Your WordPress Site into Maintenance Mode.
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