Website Maintenance Guide

In this guide we’ll cover website maintenance. What is it and why it’s vital it’s carried out by someone.

If you get a website professional, or staff member to do your website maintenance for you, make sure they’re doing all the steps included below.

If you want to DIY your own Website Maintenance, make sure you don’t miss any of the steps below. 

The main reasons for website maintenance are 

  • Keep your website running for many years.
  • Ensure your website is doing what it’s supposed to – such as bringing in leads – ranking well in Google – making enough sales, etc
  • Stop it from getting hacked and potentially damaging your SEO and reputation
  • Keep small problems from turning into bigger problems
  • Protect the site incase of major disaster and at the very least, make sure it can be recovered to a previous state in time

Pre-Maintenance Check

Visual Inspection

The first thing you want to do before starting on the maintenance of the site is check the website is looking and behaving properly. 

You will see the website is currently working and if something goes wrong during the maintenance phase, you’ll know for certain everything was working previously. 

After giving the site a visual inspection, we can move onto backing up the website.

Performance Check 

It’s important to check the load speed of your website too. 

Google now takes the load speed of your website seriously in something they call Core Web Vitals which affects your websites SEO. 

I.e. if you have a slow site… then you won’t rank so well in Google.

My favourite tool to test your website speed is https://gtmetrix.com/. 

It’s best to run three tests and take the average and also set the testing location closest to your audience. 

Backups

The very first thing you should do before starting any website maintenance is backup, backup, backup. 

This way, if something goes wrong during the maintenance phase, you can load the backup quickly. 

When it comes to backups it’s best to have 3 physical copies of your website. The first copy can be the live website. The second copy should be a backup which can be stored on the same server as your website. The third copy should be stored on a completely different server location. 

What we do is have the website automatically backing up daily on the same server, plus a second daily backup on Amazon S3. 

Why do you need backups?

Updates to core files, plugins, PHP, etc can potentially cause the site to not work anymore. This might happen because one of the new updates is incompatible with an older version of a plugin. 

Hackers could hack the site. The cheapest and quickest way to fix a hacked site is to restore an older version of the site which was previously hack free. 

The data center hosting your server could catch fire or experience a natural disaster, or ‘denial of service’ attack by hacker groups. 

Updating the Website 

It’s vital to keep your website updated, or else (almost certainly) it will get hacked, or stop working properly. 

Software gets outdated and as that happens vulnerabilities in the code get exposed and open to hacking.

New software versions typically have bug fixes, new features and performance enhancers. Meaning your website will run faster, be more secure and have more features. 

Failing to update your website typically results in it being hacked or simply stopping to work after some time.

Keeping your website updated and backed up is the best investment you can make.

Using a staging server

If your website is particularly valuable, let’s say an eCommerce store or a website that’s getting leads every day, you might not want to risk running updates on the live website.

Instead what you can do is clone the website to a staging server, run all the updates, then check if the website on the staging server is looking and behaving as expected. 

Things to look out for breaking are the layout / design of the page and important features such as carts / checkout and contact forms are still all working. 

Post-Maintenance Check

Now you’ve updated your website, you’ll make sure none of the changes negatively affected the site. This can happen sometimes, that’s one of the reasons why we keep multiple backups.

Visual Inspection

Now the website has been updated, it’s time to give it another look over and make sure nothing has changed. Does the site’s design appear to be unchanged and does the checkout and contact forms still work?

Performance Check 

As mentioned before, website load speed is vital and we want to test it one more time to make sure none of the changes we made affected the website’s load time. 

My favourite tool to test your website speed is https://gtmetrix.com/. 

It’s best to run three tests and take the average and also set the testing location closest to your audience. 

Check SEO & Other Metrics

One of the best ways to do this is in Google Search Console. You can also use Google Analytics and check the amount of traffic coming in from Organic Search. 

If you’re tracking the rankings of your most important keywords that’s another good way. 

Typically I’d be doing all three

Security

Web Application Firewall (WAF)

This really only needs to be setup once but just check it’s still running

Security Hardening

Outside the scope of this article (for now) I will add more on security hardening, perhaps in a separate article as its’ a massive topic, but security is a major part of website maintenance. 

At the very least keeping the software updated is one of the main things you can do. Along with using really strong usernames and passwords. 

SPAM

Not a major security concern but one that can be solved with better website security. A starting point would be Google’s own ReCaptcha and if all else fails there is a great plugin called Clean Talk.

Again, I’ll add more about Anti Spam efforts in the near future.

Domain name registration

Don’t lose your domain name. If you lose it… it’s going to cost a LOT of money to get it back again. 

These businesses, which are like vultures or ticket scalpers will swoop in and buy your expired domain if you let it expire due to non-payment. 

Once they do that it’ll cost you thousands to get it back again. 

Domain names gain value over time of being used, so other people will buy a domain name that’s been used before as it will have better SEO value. That or they’ll hope you’ll pay them the extortionate price to get it back again. 

Mark the date your domain expires in your calendar.

Setup the domain to auto renew. 

Add a backup payment method and a backup email address and phone number to your account. 

Ask someone else to keep an eye on it for you too. 

Uptime monitoring

Using a service like https://betteruptime.com/ it will automatically notify you when your website goes down, so you can get it back up as soon as possible.

Without your website uptime being monitored you might not notice its’ down for hours or even days. 

There are other uptime monitoring services available. Most of them do a good job. 

Final Tips and Tricks

Updating Software

When you update something, you want to avoid updating to ‘round figures’ versions of the update. 

What do I mean by that?

Let’s say version 1.0 of something came up, when they update it usually they’ll update to 1.1 and then 1.2 and then they might make a minor fix and call it 1.2.1 

Eventually this number will go higher to version 1.3 and higher to version 1.4 and eventually they’ll want to do a ‘major update’ where they’ll add lots of new features or perhaps even a rewrite of the entire code base and then they’ll say ‘look at us, we made version 2.0 and it’s fantastic’ 

If you ever see a plugin with something .0 at the end, skip that update. No doubt it has plenty of bugs in it. Wait for version 2.1 or 2.2. Life will be much sweeter.