Running a website isn’t just about publishing new content and designing beautiful pages. There’s also a lot of WordPress maintenance work involved if you want to keep things running smoothly. If you don’t take regular care of your website, its performance can start to slip.
Fortunately, most WordPress maintenance tasks are straightforward and easy to implement. In this article, we’re going to talk about how to:
- Monitor your page loading times.
- Clear your post drafts and trash.
- Update your plugins and themes.
- Back up your website.
- Check for broken links.
- Clear your WordPress cache.
- Optimize your WordPress database.
- Update your passwords.
Don’t be intimidated by the number of tasks on that list. Most of them won’t take very long, and we’ll walk you through each process. Let’s get to business!
1. Monitor Your Page Loading Times
The time it takes for your website to load is important when it comes to ensuring an excellent experience for your visitors. If it takes too long, they can become frustrated and leave, which translates to a high bounce rate. In turn, that often means lower conversions.
As a rule of thumb, your website should take less than two seconds to load. Once you cross that line, the wait starts to scare a lot of users away. That means you’ll need to test your website’s loading times periodically, which you can do using a service like Pingdom Tools:
To use Pingdom Tools, just enter the main URL for your site, and choose a test server. Your results will vary depending on which server you use. For example, if your website is hosted on a US server, you’ll get better results running tests from New York or San Jose:
In any case, your results should always be under the two-second mark across all test servers. You should also run these tests multiple times, in order to calculate average loading times and get more accurate results:
You’ll want to test your site’s loading times this way at least once a month, so you can catch any problems before they get too bad. If your pages are taking too long to load, that points to an underlying issue with your website. Fortunately, there are a lot of easy ways to speed up your site. In addition, you’ll need to make sure you’re using a top-quality web host.
2. Clear Out Your Post Drafts and Trash
The longer you run your WordPress website, the more ‘trash’ that will accumulate on your dashboard. For example, there will be a lot of discarded post drafts, trashed pages and comments, and so on.
In some cases, all that data can slow down your website. Plus, it’s always nice to keep your dashboard clutter-free. For those reasons, you’ll want to delete those items periodically. This is a task that’s quite simple to do right through your dashboard.
Let’s start with the deleted drafts of posts and pages. To get rid of those, go to the All Posts or All Pages tab, and check to see if there are any items under the Trash category:
If there are, click on the Trash link. Then, take a minute to make sure there are no items you want to preserve among these drafts. Once you’re sure, select all the items under Trash and click on the Bulk Actions menu. Choose the Delete Permanently option, and hit the Apply button:
You can repeat this process with the other content type (posts or pages, as relevant).
Now that you’ve emptied your WordPress recycle bin, you can take care of deleted comments. This process works just the same as with posts and pages. Just go to the Comments tab, and check to see if there are any items under the Spam and Trash categories. If there are, go ahead and bulk delete them.
After this WordPress maintenance task, your dashboard should be squeaky clean. Depending on how much content you publish on your site and how many comments people leave, you might want to do this at least once per month.
3. Update Your Plugins and Themes
Plugins and themes are one of the best parts about using WordPress. You have thousands of options to play with, many of which can add vital functionality to your website. However, with many plugins comes great responsibility.
If you don’t keep your plugins and themes up to date, chances are they’ll start malfunctioning at some point. Old software can cause conflicts with newer versions of WordPress or your other plugins. Plus, outdated plugins and themes can lead to vulnerabilities on your site, which attackers can exploit in order to infect it with malware.
To avoid these problems, all you have to do is check out the Plugins tab from time to time, to see if there are any notifications about available updates:
The same applies to themes. If there’s an update available, you’ll see a notification within the Themes tab. Then, you simply need to click on update now.
In some cases, you may want to test updates to your main theme or important plugins on a staging website before you install them on your site. This is an extra bit of work, but it can save you a lot of time and trouble if an update is still a bit buggy.
4. Back Up Your Website
As far as WordPress maintenance tasks go, backing up your website is the best thing you can do to improve its security and keep things running smoothly. Having a recent WordPress backup in place can save you in a lot of situations.
For example, if your website breaks, all you have to do is restore your latest backup. This is also true if you delete important information by mistake, or run into compatibility issues with a plugin.
The problem is that most people know they should keep backups, but few of them actually do it. That’s a shame because WordPress provides you with plenty of options when it comes to creating backups of your site.
If you don’t know where to get started, check out our full guide on how to back up your website. In that article, we cover how to back up WordPress using plugins, via FTP, and through your control panel if you’re a Hostinger user.
As far as we’re concerned, you can never have too many backups. At the very least, you should back up your site once per week. If you publish new content multiple times per week, however, you might want to set up a daily backup system for maximum protection.
5. Check For Broken Links
Most pages on your website will probably include several links. These links can point to other pages within your site, or to external domains. As time passes, some of those links might stop working – or break – because their destination URLs cease to exist.
Broken links are a serious issue, because they can confuse visitors and make your site come across as unprofessional. After all, if your page has multiple broken links, they might think it hasn’t been updated for a while or wasn’t carefully edited.
You could take the time to check out all of your post and page links manually. However, that’s not a practical approach unless your website features very little content. For larger sites, you’ll want to use a tool such as WP Broken Link Status Checker:
Although this plugin hasn’t been updated for a while, it’s still one of our top picks for detecting broken links on your site. To use it, you’ll need to first install and activate the plugin. Once you do that, a new WP Link Status tab will appear in your dashboard. Click on the Add new scan option under that tab:
On the next screen, you can configure the plugin to look for both broken links and images, which is a nice bonus. You can also determine how far back the plugin should look, and which types of broken links it should test for (internal or external):
When you’re ready, click on the Save and run crawler button and give the plugin a while to do its job. The process can take a while, depending on the size of your website. When it’s done, you’ll see a success notification like this one:
If you click on crawling results, you’ll see a list of all the broken URLs the plugin could find, including their anchor text and on which page they’re each located. Now, it’s up to you to edit those pages, and replace the URLs or remove them. Broken links aren’t something that show up every day, fortunately, so you’ll probably just need to repeat this check every couple of months or so.
6. Clear Your WordPress Cache
‘Caching’ your website is one of the easiest ways to improve its performance for returning visitors. The way this process works is that your users’ browsers will save part of your site’s data to their computers, so they don’t have to reload your pages in full each time they visit.
However, you will need to clear your cache from time to time, particularly when you make large updates to your site. This will ensure that all visitors can see the changes. If you’re already using a caching plugin, this process is rather simple, since most of them include built-in functionality to help you clear your cache.
For example, the WP Super Cache plugin is a popular choice. If you’re using this tool, all you have to do is visit the Settings › WP Super Cache tab in your dashboard. The plugin will send you to its settings page, and you should find a button labeled Delete Cache under the Easy tab:
Just click on that button, and this is another WordPress maintenance task you can cross off your list! Usually, we recommend running this task whenever you make changes to your website. That way, you can make sure visitors see the latest version of your site when they visit, and not a cached copy.
Of course, this process can vary somewhat, depending on which plugin you’re using. In a previous article, we covered how to clear your cache using several commonly-used plugins. If the one you have on your site isn’t on that list, you may need to take a look at its documentation.
7. Optimize Your WordPress Database
WordPress stores all your site’s information in a database. Every change you make to your site ends up in one of that database’s tables. The problem is that, as your site grows, its database tends to accumulate a lot of leftover information. Your discarded post and page drafts – which we talked about earlier – are perfect examples of data that WordPress saves even though you might never need it.
That’s why it’s a good idea to clean up all the information you don’t need from your database periodically. In other words, you’ll want to ‘optimize’ your database. You can carry out this WordPress maintenance task manually, by accessing your database from your hosting control panel. However, databases are delicate, and it would take you a lot of time to find the tables you need to clean up.
In most cases, we recommend that you use a database optimization plugin, such as WP-Optimize:
What this plugin does is look through your database tables for all the information WordPress doesn’t need anymore. Better yet, you don’t have to configure anything once you set it up.
After enabling the plugin, go to the new WP-Optimize tab in your dashboard. There, you’ll see a list of all the data the plugin will remove, including post revisions, spam and trashed comments, and more:
Then, you just need to click on the Run all selected optimizations button and let the plugin work its magic. In most cases, you can get away with doing this every couple of months. The process is so simple, however, that you should feel free to run this WordPress maintenance task whenever you have a few extra minutes.
8. Update Your Passwords
Last but not least, updating your password is an essential WordPress maintenance task. You probably know that changing your passwords often and never reusing the same one is important. However, in practice, a lot of us are guilty of not following those rules all the time.
There are many things you can do to protect your WordPress website. However, changing your admin password every few months is as simple as it gets. This way, you can be sure you’ll never re-use passwords across accounts, and you’ll minimize the risk of someone accessing your site.
Along with changing your own password, you should encourage other users with access to your dashboard to do the same. This is especially important if you’re not the only person with admin account privileges.
If you haven’t changed your password for a while because you have trouble remembering new ones, we recommend using a password manager. In most cases, it will help you generate far more secure passwords than you might come up with on your own, and it will remember them for you too.
For every successful site you see, there are a lot of WordPress maintenance tasks that go on in the background, in order to keep things running smoothly. WordPress maintenance might not be glamorous, but it ensures that your website always feels snappy, so you don’t scare visitors away. Plus, steps like backing up your website and updating your passwords also help to keep your site safe.
Do you have questions about any of the WordPress maintenance tasks we’ve discussed? Let’s talk about them in the comments section below!