You know how important your website is. It allows you to receive donations. It allows people to sign up for your mailing list. It allows people to take action and support your cause.
Your WordPress website serves a critical role, and keeping it healthy and working is incredibly important.
If your website is on WordPress.com, then you don’t have to worry about all this because everything on the back-end is taken care of for you. If you have a self-hosted website using WordPress.org, then read on.
Four elements of WordPress maintenance
There are four critical elements of WordPress maintenance that you should be aware of:
- Regular site backups
- Keeping WordPress core and plugins up to date
- Making sure you’re using good, reputable, regularly updated plugins
Let’s go through the importance of each of them:
1. Regular site backups
With technology, things can go wrong. That’s just the nature of it. That’s why you should regularly make backups of your site.
If you’re on a budget, then you can probably find free backup tools. I don’t know if you’ll find free tools with automation, but you can definitely find free tools. Or perhaps your website hosting plan comes with backups included in the price.
How frequently should you do backups? If you update content often and can automate your backups, then I would suggest a daily backup. That way, if something goes wrong and you need to restore an old version of your site, then you won’t lose a whole bunch of work that you put into it.
If you don’t update content often, then you can get away with backing it up less frequently. Just aim for as frequently as you can with the tools that you have.
You don’t want your website to get hacked, infected with malware, or otherwise. There are little things that you can do to make sure that this doesn’t happen, including:
- Make sure there are no administrator user accounts with the username “admin”. That’s one of the first things hackers look for when they try to hack into a WordPress site.
- Make sure you don’t have any deactivated plugins. For each plugin, you can have it activated or deactivated. If you’re using it, activate it. If you’re not using it, delete it completely. Having a deactivated plugin leaves a potential security hole for hackers to get into your website.
For the rest of your security needs, I recommend using Wordfence. There is a paid version, but the free version gives you basic solid security such as malware scans.
3. Keeping WordPress core and plugins up to date
Keeping everything up to date is important. Using out of date software could leave security holes in your website that pose a large risk of hackers getting in.
The importance of a staging site
When updating software, it’s helpful to have a staging site. A staging site is simply a clone of your existing website that is not visible to the public. You can use this site to test out technical functionality without risking breaking your live website.
Staging sites are helpful when updating WordPress core (core just meaning the WordPress software itself) and any plugins that you have. Occasionally, plugin conflicts arise. Let’s say you have:
Plugin 1: this gives your website its donation form
Plugin 2: this gives you an editorial calendar where you can schedule your blog posts in advance
Both of these plugins are imaginary; I don’t have any specific ones in mind.
So let’s say you update one or more plugins, with or without updating WordPress core, on your staging site. Then, you go ahead and try to make a test donation, but suddenly, it doesn’t work. One thing you can do is deactivate plugin 2 and see if that makes any difference.
So, you deactivate it, try to make a test donation again, and this time, it works.
So, you have identified a plugin conflict. Once you know that it’s causing the problem, you can then determine what the next course of action is. There is no universal right answer to the next course of action. It depends on your particular WordPress website setup.
If there are no plugin conflicts, then you can go ahead and confidently update the live website. Just make sure that you make a backup of the live site before updating it. Just in case something still goes wrong, then you should be able to easily restore it from the backup.
4. Make sure you’re using good, reputable, regularly updated plugins
The awesome thing about WordPress is that anyone can publish a plugin.
The crummy thing about WordPress is that anyone can publish a plugin.
Be very careful about which plugins you use. I use a general rule of thumb:
if it hasn’t been updated within six months to a year, unless it has five stars and tens of thousands of installs, don’t use it.
If the plugin you’re using is free or has a free version, then it’ll have a page in the WordPress plugin repository. This is where you can find its ratings and last updated date.
Also, the more you use WordPress and the more you talk to other nonprofits who use WordPress, the more familiar you’ll become with which plugins are good and which ones aren’t.
Go forth and maintain your website
Your website can do so many cool things. You needed a self-hosted WordPress site because the simple WordPress.com site wasn’t enough for you. However, with greater flexibility comes greater responsibility.
As long as you’re armed with the knowledge of how to take care of maintenance, and you keep on top of it, then you’ll be in good shape.
I know that you’re stretched for time and resources. I know this may seem like a lot. However, if you take a bit of time to keep on top of it, then it’ll be much easier than the amount of time and stress it’ll take to clean up the mess if something breaks.
If you have the resources, you can always outsource it as well.