When we think of blogging we usually think of coming up with a topic, making sure we’ve got a few good keywords, speaking to our audience and providing value. And of course, the actual writing part, which can include planning, outlining, researching, editing, proofreading… a mini-career by itself!
And yet there is so much more to running a successful blog than the act of writing. Here’s what you should be thinking about “behind the scenes” to ensure that you’re not just spinning your gears or sabotaging your efforts.
Back It Up
There is quite possibly no more important behind-the-scenes task that you can perform than backing up your site.
The quality of your content, the beauty of your photos, the brilliance of your About page – none of it matters in the slightest if your server crashes or your database becomes corrupt and you lose it all.
Do NOT assume that your hosting company is providing this service. Some do, some don’t, some “might” but only on their schedule and for their own length of time. If you’re not sure whether your host provides backups, ask.
Be very clear on what type of backups they provide, how often they back up your site, how long the backups are retained and what the process is for restoring your site in the event of a failure.
The last thing you want to do is find out your host has backed up your site, but it was a month ago and it will take two weeks to restore it after a crash.
Unless you’ve got a managed service (which typical hosting companies do not provide) then make it your responsibility to back up your own site.
Make sure that when you do, you’re backing up the site files and the database. For our site and all of our WordPress client sites we use a plugin called BackupBuddy. It’s easy to set up and you can set it to run on any schedule you like – weekly, daily, hourly – and send your backups to a remote location like a Dropbox folder.
Which reminds me… never store your backups on the same server as your site. If that server crashes, your backups will be gone along with your site.
Finally, make sure that you can actually recover your site from a backup. Never simply trust that the backup will work when you need it. Periodically “restore” your site to some test location so you’ll know that your backups are actually working.
Keep WordPress And Plugins Up To Date
Some updates give you cool new features. Some fix serious security vulnerabilities and bugs. Either way, you want to be as on top of updates as you can be.
This is where backups can come in handy, too. You never want to perform updates on your live site. Most times they’ll go smoothly but when they don’t, you risk down time or losing data. When you’re ready to do an update, install a backup of your site in a test location. Usually we do this on our desktops running a local copy of the site. Perform all your updates there. If something goes awry, you haven’t damaged your site. Then you can tinker and fix so that when the time comes to make the change to your live site, you’ll know exactly how to make it happen.
Before you update (or install) plugins, be sure that they are compatible with your current version of WordPress. If they aren’t, or if you have no reasonable assurance that the developers will be updating them, then use with caution.
You can usually tell a good plugin because it is updated regularly. If the “last updated” date on a plugin was January 2009, chances are the developer is no longer maintaining it and you may end up with anything from conflicts to serious security issues.
You may want to update your theme selectively, especially if you’ve made changes to it that will throw things off on an update. Your best bet is to either use the theme’s own functionality or create a child theme to customize, but assuming you’ve gone ahead and tinkered with the theme itself, be very careful when you update.
Check the developer’s update log to see if they’ve released serious fixes that require an update or just some new features that you can probably live without.
Follow the same process when you update a theme as when you update WordPress or plugins. Be sure the theme is compatible with your current version of WordPress and then test it on a local copy of your site first.
Updating a theme can be trickier because sometimes you may have to delete your old theme before you can upload the new one. This theme update plugin can help.
Check For Broken Links
Maybe you’ve renamed a page or deleted it and created a new one. Or you might be linking out to a third-party web page that no longer exists. Whatever the cause, the bigger your site gets and the longer you have it, the likelier it is that at least some of your links will break.
You can use a plugin but personally I prefer to use as few plugins as possible. Try this online broken link checker. It will tell you where the dead links are found so you can take action.
When your links are clean your visitors will have a better experience and search engines will be able to more effectively crawl and index your site.
Clean Up And Optimize Your Database
You might be surprised by how quickly your database can grow in size. Post revisions, unused photos or other assets, unpublished pages – accumulate enough of these and watch your database grow exponentially. Sometimes that can cause it to slow down, which will slow your site down.
You can prevent database bloat and slowdowns by periodically cleaning up your database. This can be as simple as deleting the revisions of your posts or checking through your media library for those old and unused images. We use WP-Optimize to help.
Delete Or Deactivate Plugins
There are some plugins that we use only periodically, like WP-Optimize. When not in use, we keep them deactivated. Check through yours to be sure that you don’t have any plugins using resources unnecessarily.
While you’re at it, delete any plugins that you no longer use. If you tried out three social sharing plugins but ultimately decided on one, don’t leave the other two there to drain your site.
Sometimes you may find one great new plugin that does the job of two old plugins. The more you can minimize your plugin use, the easier it will be to maintain your site and avoid conflicts. Check periodically to see what you’re really using and make decisions about how to optimize their usage.
Not long ago, our browsers would tell us when a new version was available. Then we could decide whether to download the new version or not. It was usually a process that a lot of people avoided, so plenty of people continued using old browsers.
These days, with auto update options, you may be using a new version at any given moment. And while it’s great to be up-to-date, you may occasionally find that something that was working on your site yesterday isn’t working today.
Sometimes it’s not even so obvious. That’s why it’s a good idea to periodically test your site in different browsers and on different devices. We recently discovered that after months of our mobile plugin working perfectly, it had suddenly stopped. You can find that out in one of two ways – test, or wait for one of your readers to complain about it. I opt for the first!
Check Forms And Response Messages
Forms are part of your site’s functionality and they can also work today but not tomorrow. You certainly don’t want to be losing opportunities or subscribers because your form zonked out. A quick ten-second test sent to yourself periodically can avoid all that.
Check your auto responses, too. You may find broken links, old logos, typos you missed on the first six proofreadings – hey, it’s happened to me! Act like a visitor and go through the submission process to be sure you’re on top of your game.
Monitor Webmaster Errors
First you need to be sure that you’ve verified your site with Google or Bing – or both – Webmaster Tools. Then be sure to check for errors and problems that might mean your site isn’t being crawled or indexed, or might be presenting problems for search engines and visitors alike.
Check Your Speed
With site speed at the top of Google’s list of ranking factors, you want to be sure your site zips along. And don’t assume that just because you go to a page and it comes up quickly that your site is fast. Speed to you and speed to a search engine can be two completely different things. Plus you may be on a high speed connection and not everyone viewing your site has that luxury.
Google provides browser extensions that you can install to easily and quickly check your site’s performance. I suggest you install one and then stay on top of it. See what the problem areas are so you can take action to fix them. Your visitors’ experience and your search rank depends on it.
This is a whole conversation and blog post by itself but for now let’s just say that if you’re not paying attention to analytics then there’s no way to know what’s working, what’s not, how successful your blog is, which content is most read, which pages are least loved, what needs improvement, what you should be doing more of, what you should be doing less of and on and on.
We touched on analytics recently so set aside some time and replace guesswork with data.
Try a plugin like Clicky for some really neat extended info like clickmaps so you can see what people are doing on your site.
You know how you live in your house and you’re comfortable there and everything is going well until a friend surprises you by calling to let you know they’re in town and will be by in half an hour? And then you suddenly see everything around you with a completely different set of eyes – the dirty dishes, the dust on the windowsill, the pile of newspapers you were too lazy to tie up for recycling? So you run around shoving things into closets and cleaning up for your guests.
Well, your blog is your house and it’s easy to forget that every day you have surprise guests. So you forget the dirty socks and chipped paint and get comfy there. That’s why it’s important, every so often, to look at your site as if you’ve never seen it before.
Does your About page still say what needs to be said or have you neglected to update it? Is your sidebar providing good info or is it just crammed with a bunch of leftover stuff that you’ve been too busy to clean up? Is your footer useful… at all?
Be picky – your visitors will be, too!
Make A Plan And Stick To It
As if writing were not enough, now you’ve got all these other things to think about. But they don’t have to be stress points. If you sit down for a few minutes today and make a schedule of maintenance tasks, what you’ll do and when you’ll do them, you can avoid the stress and take out the guesswork – and always be on top of your blog so it’s always the best it can be.
If you need help organizing your maintenance to-do list, or if you need help getting any of it done, let me know. We’re always available to either get you set up with a DIY schedule or to take on the maintenance tasks for you so you can focus on your business.