String of Code on Computer Screen

The importance of Web Maintenance, and how to do it properly

With the digital world always evolving and changing, it comes as no surprise that updates are constantly being implemented into social tools and systems. Most adjustments to tools are automatic, and there isn’t a lot you need to do to ensure that they’re running smoothly. Social Media apps, for example, can update automatically and are tested externally beforehand to ensure that they are working as intended.

However, when it comes to websites, it’s a completely different ballgame. Every website consists of a different combination of CMS, themes and plugins, and sometimes there are compatibility issues between certain aspects of websites when updates are made. These updates have the potential to completely break your site, which is why they aren’t usually automatic.

Make no mistake though, updating your website is crucial, not only for security but also for SEO and climbing Google’s search ladder. The prospect of updating a website can be extremely intimidating, but hopefully, after reading this blog, you’ll have more confidence and a better understanding of how to safely perform website maintenance.

To begin website maintenance, the first thing you’d want to do is schedule a time when this could be performed. We’d recommend arranging this for a Monday or Tuesday, as if maintenance needs to be extended or if things don’t go as they were expected to, you have the rest of the working week as a contingency. Whilst not necessary, we’d also recommend having someone with web development experience be on standby for when you intend to perform your changes, as a sort of safety net if things don’t go according to plan.

Once this is arranged, carefully plan out what you intend to do when you will be performing your maintenance. Figure out which plugins and themes need updating, as well as if you will be updating the PHP version. Also, make time for when you will be testing the functionality of your site to ensure things are working as intended. Preparing as much as you can before you begin on the day, will save you time and stress, and you’ll be thankful you did it. If you have an eCommerce website, you want your website to have as little downtime as possible, which is why planning ahead is so important.

Now, when the time comes to perform your maintenance, the first thing that you’ll want to do is perform a site backup. Head over to whoever hosts your website (Whether that’s GoDaddy or Nimbus Hosting for example) and make sure you have a copy of your site that you can restore if things go wrong. If you are updating several things at once, the website can be expected to break. Having a backup will ensure that if things don’t go at all to plan, you are no worse off than you were before, as you will be able to have your website back to how it was at the time of the backup.

Once this is completed, we’d recommend you download a maintenance plugin for your website. There are a large number of great ones out there, but some that we’d recommend are SeedProd and WP Maintenance Mode. Activating one of these will allow you to display a message for users that try and navigate to your website whilst it’s down. Not taking orders/enquiries through the website’s systems whilst it is undergoing maintenance is super important, as it will guarantee that data is not lost. Websites can be unpredictable, and whilst updating aspects of your site, orders and contact form submissions could easily be lost. The best way to mitigate this is to not let users process this temporarily, whilst you perform your maintenance.

Now, it is time to begin! We recommend you update things one at a time, and testing your website regularly within preview mode to ensure that it is working as intended. So for example, you’d update your theme first, then make sure that the display of your site is how it is supposed to be. Once confirmed, move onto the PHP version, and make sure that the functionality of the site remains the same. Check your website thoroughly after each update and make sure that things are looking and working properly. We’d also recommend filling out your contact form or ordering a product after you have finished your updates to see if visitors to your website would be able to carry out these actions. It is much better for it to not work for you, as opposed to a potential customer! If at any point you have any doubts, remember that you will be able to restore your website using your existing backup.

If you are happy with your updates, we’d recommend deactivating your maintenance plugin, but then immediately giving your website the once-over within an incognito browser window. Incognito windows will not preview a cached version of your website, so you will be able to view everything as a customer would when visiting. Once again, just confirm that everything is looking/working as intended, just to make sure that your changes have not broken the functionality of your website on both desktop and mobile.

Also, it’s definitely worthwhile to go into your Google Analytics afterwards, and looking into the ‘Real-Time’ section to ensure that reporting data is accurate. Are the test forms you are submitting going through? Are clicks being detected? Did a purchase come up in your stats after your test? These are important to check as soon as possible, to avoid you encountering problems later down the line.

 

Website Maintenance can be very scary, but it’s a necessity to ensure that your website is as healthy as it can be. We hope that this blog was helpful and assisted you if this is something you are planning to do some time soon. If you have any questions on this at all, please do get in touch by emailing us at hello@purplerobot.co.uk, and we’ll be happy to give advice and answer any questions that you may have.