Why You Need a WordPress Maintenance Plan
Smart Business Starts with Smart Website Management
In today’s world, your organization’s web presence is virtually as important as your physical presence, and your website serves as a formal representation or your business online. Like any diligent decision-maker, you did your research on website content management systems and landed on WordPress. Or perhaps you inherited WordPress from a prior project. Either way, you are not alone. Some big name companies use WordPress: TechCrunch, The New Yorker, Bloomberg, BBC America, Variety, The Walt Disney Company, Time Inc., and The New York Times.
WordPress is the most popular website content management system in the world and is used by major brands and bloggers alike. According to research by W3Techs, WordPress is used by 33.6 percent of all websites, and accounts for roughly 60 percent of all sites with a known content management platform. As Mashable put it:“America runs on Dunkin, but the internet runs on WordPress.”
However, setting up a WordPress website is not a “set it and forget it” proposition. If you're using WordPress as the content management platform for your website, it is imperative that you have Wordpress maintenance plan to support it. You do not want to be one of the website owners who learn this lesson the hard way.
WordPress is relatively easy to set up, with many customizable options, plugins, themes, and other appealing choices. This makes WordPress a popular platform for both do-it-yourselfers and advanced web developers alike.
With over 50,000 plugins, and thousands of theme choices, WordPress is well suited to meet the needs of diverse organizations and use case scenarios - from small businesses, to nonprofits, membership associations, startups, and major corporations.
Once properly setup and configured, WordPress is relatively easy to use as a web publishing platform, which is a benefit for business owners and marketing/communications professionals who want to efficiently publish web content without having to know a lot about the technology behind the scenes. WordPress also does a good job of allowing user management with different levels of permissions, and keeping a version history of published content, both of which make it easy to maintain control over who can access important site functions, and rolling back changes in a pinch.
WordPress is also so ubiquitous and widely supported that it tends to play nicely with many other 3rd party tools, and if you need to find professional help for development or maintenance, it’s not too difficult. This is in contrast to other content management platforms that may have more limited integration choices and where professional consultation is less abundant, often coming at a premium.
With so many appealing qualities, it’s not surprising that WordPress has evolved into the web’s most popular content management platform. However, this popularity also means that WordPress website owners need to be extra vigilant in maintaining their site in order to keep it functioning properly.
Why A WordPress Maintenance Plan?
Despite its simplicity and ease of use, under the hood WordPress is a fairly sophisticated database-driven system with lots of underlying source code. The reality is that WordPress requires consistent maintenance to remain stable, secure, and in good working order, like any other software.
Viruses, Hackers, and Bots, Oh My!
Due to being a highly ubiquitous platform (think Microsoft Windows for websites), WordPress is a common target for hackers, viruses, bots, and other bad actors in cyberspace. In fact, ZDNet has reported that WordPress accounted for roughly 90 percent of all hacked content management systems sites in 2018.
Imagine one day learning that your site contains malware and is unsafe. Or maybe portions of your website disappear entirely. Or perhaps worse, hackers take control of your site, steal your customer’s information, and deface your site, severely damaging your company’s brand and reputation.
Fortunately, thwarting the majority of these security concerns can be addressed by simply keeping your website up to date.
Keeping Your Website Current is the First Line of Defense
WordPress routinely receives new updates, typically multiple new release updates each month, which improve the security and performance of the platform. In order to make sure that your WordPress website remains secure, your site needs consistent maintenance of the core code as well as any plugins that may be in use.
In the aforementioned ZDNet report, “experts blamed most of the hacks on vulnerabilities in plugins and themes, misconfiguration issues, and a lack of maintenance by webmasters, who often forgot to update their content management system, themes, and plugins.”
By routinely updating your WordPress website and all plugins, you are ensuring that your site has the latest security patches in place, significantly reducing your vulnerability to common attacks. Ignore these updates at your own peril.
A Properly Maintained Website = Good User Experience
Aside from security considerations, also consider that most WordPress sites utilize plugins that are produced and maintained by third party vendors. Depending on how vigilant the plugin developer is with their updates, compatibility issues can arise with each new WordPress update, which is all the more reason you need to keep both the WordPress core version current along with any plugins, and you need to perform quality assurance testing with each update to ensure that nothing breaks and that performance does not suffer in a way that will impact users.
As a site owner, you want to offer a positive user experience for your visitors. Poorly maintained sites with broken links, errors and warnings, or slow loading times, will push the patience of visitors who are likely accustomed to fast Internet service. Customers will be less trusting of your website and less likely to interact with your business if your site appears unprofessional or unsafe, either of which can be the undesirable byproduct of a poorly maintained site. A WordPress maintenance plan is the most fundamental step you can take to ensure that visitors to your site leave with a positive impression of your organization.
A Hosting Plan is Not (Necessarily) a WordPress Maintenance Plan
Every WordPress website needs hosting, and hosting plans come in all shapes and sizes - from low budget shared hosting, to fully-managed dedicated servers and high-powered VPS/cloud plans. Typically, these plans come with some level of maintenance and administration from the host (unless you are responsible for complete administration of your own server); this may include routine software patches, and upgrades, or firewall monitoring. However, what's important to understand is that the "maintenance" of the server/hosting environment is a separate set of tasks from the maintenance of your WordPress website.
Generally speaking, the host does NOT perform WordPress specific maintenance to keep your website current; things like WP core version updates, plugin and theme updates, customizations, troubleshooting, and quality assurance testing need to performed separately. There are some specialized plans that bundle hosting and maintenance together (such as those offered by HSS), but those plans are the exception rather than the rule. In short, it's important to ensure that you have a solid plan for both your server administration AND your WordPress maintenance.
Factors Outside of WordPress
Speaking of hosting, it's important to acknowledge that the standards for the underlying technologies upon which WordPress operates (such as PHP and MySQL) are also subject to changes; this is another reason that you want to update the version of WordPress on your site. For example, if you are running WordPress using an old version of PHP or MySQL, or if they have not received the proper security patches, then your hosting environment may become incompatible with WordPress and your site may stop running. Or worse, it could continue to run but with a host of back-door security vulnerabilities that you may not even be aware of.
Customizations, and Hard to Reach Places
WordPress websites can vary greatly, not only in terms of appearance, but in terms of setup and configuration. Very few professionally developed WordPress websites go live with a generic “out of the box” setup. Rather, most WordPress websites are a combination of third-party plugins, themes, and various configurations thereof. Each WordPress website is typically further customized to meet the unique needs of each organization.
While WordPress makes it very easy for general users to update basic content, such as blog posts, events, press releases, or other page content, the time will inevitably come where you’ll need the assistance of a WordPress developer. Eventually you will want to (or need to) change something that is a little more behind the scenes, such as modifying input fields on a page, or a contact form, or a customization to a theme or page template; basically anything that involves touching or creating source code.
In these cases, you will want to make sure that you have a reliable resource to make these adjustments for you, and this is where a WordPress maintenance plan can make life easier and help advance your web presence.
Waiting for a Website Emergency is Not a Plan
Preventative maintenance is your best defense to prevent any unfortunate surprises with your website and to keep it running smoothly. But even despite best efforts, unanticipated issues such as bugs, errors, and outages can arise, and when that happens you’ll want to have a reliable, dedicated resource that is ready to act on your behalf and get things up and running as quickly as possible. You do not want to find yourself in the position of waiting, or having to hunt down a new consultant or agency to help you as your website visitors encounter problems and your reputation suffers. Leaving things to chance without a plan is certainly an option, but it is not a wise one. Making sure that you have a proper support resource in place ahead of time is the only responsible choice for any decision-maker who wants to reliably protect their brand and business.
What a WordPress Maintenance Plan Should Include
A quality WordPress maintenance and support plan should minimally address the following responsibilities:
- Regular updates for WordPress core version releases and plugin updates, with quality assurance testing after each update.
- Troubleshooting of conflicts or errors on your site when they arise (for example when third-party tools do not work together).
- Security best practices to block potential threats before they occur, including continuous monitoring and protection against spam, malware, unauthorized logins, and other malicious attempts. This also includes properly securing your site with SSL.
- Ongoing, automatic backups in case your site ever needs to be restored in the case of disaster or data loss. Ideally, you will have incremental (e.g. daily/weekly/monthly) redundant backups stored in multiple locations (e.g. a backup drive, as well as offsite cloud storage).
- A properly maintained server/hosting environment with current and secure versions of Apache, PHP, and MySQL, properly configured SSL certificates, security firewall, and other best practices for server maintenance.
- Performance optimization to ensure that your WordPress website is configured for optimal performance, including best practices such as page caching and image compression. After all, a fast website is not only important for users, but can also impact search performance.
- A dedicated resource who is familiar with the site, has access to all necessary administrative documentation and permissions, and who can assume responsibility for maintaining, and, if necessary, restoring the site, while also responding to on-demand needs in a timely fashion.
- Finally, the plan must be proactive and provide ongoing, forward thinking guidance to protect your website and your business on an ongoing basis.
Whether you support your own WordPress site yourself, whether you have an in-house staff administrator, or use the services of an outside vendor, the key is that you have a plan to keep your website in good working order. This is the foundation for maintaining a website that is both professional and sustainable, and the peace of mind that comes with having a sound plan in place is invaluable.
You've invested a lot to design your website, generate content, and get it up and running properly; it's well worth the investment to keep it that way.
Questions About WordPress Maintenance & Support?
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