Looking after a WordPress website is about more than just finding somewhere to host it. Like a car, a website needs to be maintained and cared for if you want it to keep running. But what does that involve, exactly?
In this post, we’ll look at the different things you need to do to keep your WordPress website humming along, and share our process for keeping more than 100 websites at a time in tip-top condition.
It’s also for you if you’re looking for someone to look after your website, or if you’re planning on doing it yourself.
What we describe here is the minimum you should do to protect your site from being hacked, grinding to a halt or not working at all.
Not all web designers offer this, so when shopping around, be sure to ask anyone bidding to look after your website about their maintenance programme.
Do websites break?
It’s a common misconception that, once created, a website will continue to work forever.
This is simply not true – in fact, at one point or other, every website will break and will need fixing – this article explores the reasons for this in some detail – but essentially websites these days have many moving parts that can be upset for all kinds of reasons.
It’s not just hosting
Sometimes, at renewal time, our clients query the price by comparing it with XYZ hosting company, where they can get hosting for £80 per year.
The trouble is, they are not comparing like with like. In fact the service you get from a hosting company is very different from the service you get – or should get – from whoever looks after your website.
Many hosting companies claim they will ‘support’ WordPress or WooCommerce – but they only mean their hosting allows WordPress and WooCommerce to run, not that they will help you with it.
So, if you have a problem with your website, don’t expect your hosting company to fix it for you.
But while hosting is important, there’s much more to looking after a WordPress site than hosting.
Caring for a WordPress website – the essentials
For the purpose of an example, this is what we offer in our website care package – we’ll go into more detail below.
- Web (and e-mail) hosting
- Website security
- Software updates
- Fixing issues as they arise
- Support for web and email
- Website maintenance and optimisations
Our clients also get the licence for a premium WordPress theme included.
Apologies if this sounds salesy – it’s not intended to be, just that this is the best way to explain things.
You can get web hosting for $1 a month if you want, but you get what you pay for. Better quality hosting offers better uptime and performance, while budget hosting often leads to frequent downtime with no response from the hosting company. Believe us, we’ve been there. Cheap hosting is not worth it.
Our main webhost, SiteGround, gives us cutting edge tech with fast customer service and it makes our lives easier in many ways. SiteGround gives us great performance and many tools to make websites run really fast – and your website load speed is really important.
A decent webhost will have good hardware, a more professional approach and a better approach to security.
There are plenty of other decent companies around who don’t charge a fortune – just be careful when choosing a webhost.
Another benefit of SiteGround is that the host applies extra security at server level, and continues to improve. Why is this necessary? WordPress now has a huge market share and that makes it a worthwhile target for hackers.
Most hacks are automated and the average WordPress site can be hit thousands of times a day. A pro-active host will try to block much of this malicious traffic before it gets to your website.
Besides hosting-level protection we also make several changes to the sites we look after, and add extra security features, which we won’t discuss here for reasons of… er.. security.
But the point here is that a WordPress website needs some level of extra security, however it’s done.
WordPress is dynamic software – it’s constantly being changed and improved, but also security fixes are often released. The same goes for the plugins that are added to WordPress to extend it into an online shop, or just to display a contact form on a website. Themes, that control the look of a website, are also often updated.
It’s similar to the way a smartphone works with apps, which also, by the way, need to be updated.
But here’s an important thing that everybody who owns a WordPress website needs to know: Updates are not optional.
Updates are essential to keeping your WordPress site secure. And they HAVE to be done.
They also need to be done to a regular schedule so you don’t fall too far behind. But beware of security updates, which should be done as soon as possible.
Yes, updates can sometimes break your site, but that’s why you have backups!
A website is software and software sometimes goes wrong, for any number of reasons. It’s not an everyday occurrence but it does happen.
If something goes wrong with your site, a backup will get you out of trouble. Not having one may mean having to rebuild your website.
Websites change over time as well and so having a two year-old backup probably won’t help you. You need regular backups, preferably in multiple places.
How do we do it? We have daily backups on all sites, going back 30 days, and a second, independent backup running once a month and storing an archive.
This means whatever happens, we can restore a site to where it was before disaster hit and it’s saved us more times than we care to remember!
At some point or other, things are going to break and you’re going to need someone to fix them – or learn to fix things yourself!
And while it’s true that most issues can be caused by updates, you can’t ignore updates as we’ve already covered.
If you’re running your own business, the last thing you want is to be fixing your website, which is why we fix problems as we find them, often without the client knowing.
But generally we prefer to not have to fix them in the first place, so we’re careful about how we do updates.
Support for your website and email
Not necessarily an essential, but we provide this for our clients because everybody needs help and it’s another way we differ from dealing directly with a hosting company.
Remember that if something breaks on your website, your host will not support you.
We have a simple system that logs requests for help from our clients and holds them in the system until the issue is solved – it’s called Freshdesk, in case you’re interested. In just over four years it’s handled more than 500 support tickets.
Thanks to this system our clients know their request is being dealt with and won’t be forgotten. They just have to send an email to our help email address or fill in a form on our Client Help Website.
Every web designer’s support system is different, but we cover everything from making small changes to fixing problems on websites.
Obviously, providing support is a cost for our business, but it’s essential for our clients, so we include it.
Website maintenance and optimisations
As we’ve already covered, websites are made of software, and software tends to build up junk data as it rolls along every day. This data can eventually cause a websites to grind to a halt, and even only small amounts of junk can affect performance.
As a rule, the bigger and busier your site is, the faster it will accumulate junk – especially if you have an e-commerce website.
This junk needs clearing out from time to time, optimising the WordPress database and getting rid of junk files. Think of it as house keeping.
Optimising your website will help keep it running fast, which affects your site’s performance in search and ease of use. With e-commerce a slow website means lost sales.
Commercial WordPress care providers
Unsurprisingly, a gap has emerged in the market in recent years and several companies have popped up who will look after your WordPress site for you, but usually not host it.
But the major takeaway from this post should be that if you don’t have anyone looking after updates, backups and all the other things we’ve talked about here, you’re asking for trouble.
Over to you
Have we missed anything out or do you think we’re going to far?
Let us know in the comments.