Everything in life requires maintenance and WordPress websites are no exception. Not maintaining your website is like driving your car and never changing the oil. Eventually, the check engine light will go on and you will buy a new engine. WordPress is a great CMS (Content Management System) but even with this tool, websites still require maintenance. That is because websites are a process, not a project. Website maintenance never ends because the world keeps changing and you have to change with it. In most businesses, the design of a website has a lifespan of 3-7 years. Between those years there is a need for maintenance. Many fall into thinking that once the website is finished the work ends. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Let’s explore why this is so.
Website Competitors are wily, evil, smart, and persistent. Your business has to be the same, only better. A website that publishes and then rests on it laurels will be defeated. Competitors will not just roll over and give you market dominance. You have to earn and defend it. Beat a competitor on a keyword and we can guarantee they will respond in this never-ending battle. This is why we call this Word Wars. It has been waging since the second dot com site was issued to BBN.com on April 24, 1985 and there is no end in sight. The bottom line here is, you have to continually respond and react to your competitors or they will roll right over you.
The World Keeps Changing
The internet is constantly changing. Those changes outside your control can and require constant maintenance. The world of SEO is the poster child for this with the best professional estimates pegging algorithm changes to 500-600 times each year at Google alone. Last year Google had at least these nine major changes.
- Medic Core Update — August 1, 2018
- Chrome Security Warnings — July 24, 2018
- Mobile Speed Update — July 9, 2018
- Video Carousels — June 14, 2018
- Snippet Length Drop — May 13, 2018
- Unnamed Core Update — April 17, 2018
- Mobile-First Index Roll-out — March 26, 2018
- Zero-result SERP Test — March 14, 2018
- Brackets Core Update — March 8, 2018
These are just the confirmed updates. I’m sure that there are updates that Google did not announce that the industry did not notice. There are many sites that track these changes and my favorites are:
https://searchengineland.com/ – Search Engine Land
https://www.seroundtable.com/ Search Engine Roundtable
Each of these changes holds the potential of impacting your website content and requiring changes to your website. For example, the Snippet Length Drop change impacted every page on a website and changed the default recommendation for this critical page element.
Page load speed has a reputation of being one of the big issues for a website. This can be changed by dozens of factors. These factors change and create the need for maintenance. The first step is to know that something went sideways. Your maintenance team has to routinely monitor and troubleshoot pages that are performing poorly. Changes in technology often result in winners and losers in the performance area. This is a task that is never done and is best done as part of a continual improvement process for the site. There are a variety of tools in this area that are constantly evolving so your maintenance team needs to stay alert and use different tools.
Not all Hosting is created Equally
Hosting services are a big part of website performance and this impacts both your visitor’s experience and search engine position. The only way you know if you have a performance problem is to constantly monitor it. The best hosts monitor the plugins used and in some cases move them to the server to improve performance and security.
Website Security is no Joke!
Cybersecurity is a rapidly changing world and even huge companies struggle to keep their sites secure. There is no perfect answer but the first line of defense is diligent monitoring of suspicious activity and keeping your tools and website up to date. Security vulnerabilities can emerge at any time and you have to quickly respond to avoid being a victim. The first item on the website security checklist is to pick the best host with an active monitoring system and that is fully staffed.
Google Search Console
A regular visit to the search console gives you a heads up on any problems that are building inside Google. Failed searches and recent organic traffic Gets front page attention but there is so much more. It’s a good idea to balance your pages a few times a year. To do this get a list of all your pages and compare that to a site search on google. Website optimization is about distributing its page rank over the pages. In SEO there is a fundamental truth “The more things you are about the less you are about any of those things.” Balancing your pages is about finding the balance between conflicting SEO goals.
Monitor & Repair Links
Links, especially those that point off-site, can and do decay over time. Reviewing your site on a regular basis can help keep this under control. It is important to understand that when Google indexes your site and sees broken links, they take that into consideration when evaluating the quality of your site. Cleaning this up can help in both the organic position as well as the visitor’s web experience on your site. “404 page not found” is a perfectly avoidable error that happens on websites every day. It destroys the user experience and costs business billions each year. It is the great silent killer of e-commerce.
Did you even know there was such a thing? Many do not realize that website blacklists exist but they do. If you end up on one of these you need to go through a forgiveness process to get removed. Trust me, you do not want to be on a blacklist. This largely impacts those using email but it can have other side effects as well. What happens in email is that major ISPs use these lists to block email from reaching their users and if your goal is to reach those users – you have a problem being on these lists.
WordPress is constantly being revised and this results in a need to apply those updates to stay current. Some might ask, “if it is still working, why fix it?” The answer is because sometimes these changes can fix security flaws and not updating can leave you exposed to site hacks and other nefarious acts. Last year there were 11 updates so on average almost one per month. Updates are not as simple as just applying them. You need to understand what changed and how it might impact your site. You then have to consider what parts of your site need special attention to make sure that the fix did not break something else.
WordPress Plug-in & Template Updates
Separate from updates to WordPress itself, you have to monitor and update templates and plugins with special care for any security updates. Plugins are well known for causing problems so you want to keep their use to a minimum and use only those that have been well vetted. The more experimental plugins can cause lots of problems so tread carefully here.
Content Review & Monitor
Content is not fine wine that gets better with age. Most content decays over time and this creates a maintenance issue. In the maintenance strategy, you need to routinely review content for decay and apply the new SEO and Content best practices. At a minimum, you should decide on the lifecycle of content and then break that down into manageable segments that can be reviewed and updated on a continual improvement cycle.
Response Verification & Testing
If your website is designed without a Call to Action you need to wonder why you created it. Response design needs to be tested periodically because nothing operates forever. For some sites, this is as simple as filling out the response forms and verifying that they went to the person responsible for follow up. For others, the testing plan can be extensive. Lots of things can change resulting in a fault in systems that were well tested when implemented and sometimes you just need to check the basics. You will be amazed by how many times we have found email servers disabling critical business systems or shopping carts calculating the wrong shipping rate.
Traffic Fraud Monitoring
There is an old joke that the “www” on website addresses stands for the “Wild Wild Web”. The other definition is the World Wide Web but that’s boring and does not help with the point we are trying to make here. With over 25 years of web management experience, I can tell you without reservation that there are bad people with bad intent out there and you have to be constantly vigilant in protecting your site. Part of that process involves a routine review of your server logs, analytics, and other traffic data looking for things that do not fit your normal patterns. These are early signs of problems or residuals from attacks and you have to be aware. Like most guard duty most of the time it’s boring work until it isn’t. Most hosting services will have tools to detect upfront assaults like a denial of service attack but most of those had earlier signals in your data when they were probing your site for vulnerabilities.
Implement & Monitor LargeFS
LargeFS is a way to expand your server storage from your normal server onto S3, where storage is practically infinite. Historically it was challenging to cleanly integrate the standard WordPress UI with the scale of S3. For example, there were often problems uploading images through the media uploader and also retaining support for other plugins and themes which depended on those files being on the local filesystem. LargeFS retains the advantages of S3 while mitigating the downsides.
Implement & Monitor Global CDN
Content Delivery Networks (CDNs) are systems of distributed servers that are intended to speed up website loading times and protect against issues caused by traffic spikes.
CDNs store copies of static content throughout their network and then serve them up to users from the most geographically logical server location. Since they typically have servers all over the world, loading times can be sharply reduced. Make sure that your Host provides this as part of their service.
Development Setup for changes
WordPress is great for fast fixes – just jump in and change that word and it’s all over in a few seconds. However, sometimes you want to make big changes. You need a dev or development site set up so you can make changes and roll them all out at one time. When the dev site is active, you have to keep up with minor changes in the production version because when you roll out the new those changes will go bye-bye. Maintenance strategy in your site changes when a dev site is active!
Development to Production
Moving the new and improved website to production is a maintenance process that has to be quickly followed by a complete test of the site.
WordPress is great at quick page maintenance and it seems so simple but I can assure you the devil is in the details. The challenge is remembering all the details that might impact that quick change. In website maintenance one-step forward and two-steps back happens more often than anyone would like to admit. Something as simple as changing a word on a page can set off a cascading problem in website content. While there is risk there is also great power in adjusting your message and content to improve the web experience or search engine optimization.
For anyone working in IT (Information Technology) backup is not just something you do, it is a religion that you follow. Anyone with experience will have a story of how a backup saved their job.
Keeping Your Ear to the Ground and Your Eye to the Sky
The Internet is a dynamic world and that drives the maintenance strategy but only if you are situationally aware. In today’s world, this means a complex network of monitors and alerts that are reviewed by smart people. The basics in this are setting up alerts for your website, competitors, and other market driving resources (think media sites).
Having zero downtime is the most ideal for protecting your site’s SEO. A site monitor verifies that a site is responding 24/7 and sends the web team an alert if the site fails. There is plenty of technology that you can subscribe to that alerts you to an outage but you still have to do something about it. In most cases, you want to alert the hosting company and get the problem resolved. Next, you want to shut down paid advertising until service is restored. In the end, you will have a historical trend on how reliable your site is and if your website host is meeting your expectations.
Virus Detection & Removal
Viruses happen to websites and when they do, the damage can affect your site for a long time. If you immediately detect and remove the infection, the damage can be contained – hopefully before Google notices. If you do not respond immediately, the bad guys will continue to invade your site and the repair will require a restore to a previous point in time. If the virus is present long enough for Google to notice you will have to go through a verification process before your site’s infection flag is removed.
Top 5 SEO Testing
In SEO there is 90/5 rule a close cousin of the 80/20 rule that is so common in business. This rule states that 90% of your valuable SEO traffic comes from your top 5 keywords. Every business should know these phrases and monitor them on a regular basis. When your position slips, and it will slip, you need to know this and take corrective action.
There are lots of registrations that have to be watched over and renewed and updated. This is not a huge task but you would be amazed how many times we have found this to be the cause of a site outage. As a minimum, you want to verify the DNS and SSL registrations and renew well before their expiration date.
DIY, Delegate, or Outsource?
Given the right training and experience, you can do this yourself (DIY) or delegate it to someone on your staff that has spare time to fill. If you decide to outsource, then we advise you to be careful and pick your partner with care and due diligence. Make sure that you have direct access to the analyst that does the work. You will want a brief, routine communication with them on changes in your business and industry as that directly impacts the value they can create for you.