How To Avoid The Zombie Apocalypse With Routine Maintenance

You know how you're supposed to get your teeth cleaned every 6 weeks? And change your oil before your car starts making that weird sputtering noise?

These are things you were taught as a child, or maybe a young adult. Wisdom passed down from older, wiser generations to keep our world from falling into disrepair and being overtaken by creatures of the night. Or at least people with bad teeth and sputtering cars.

What you probably weren't told at an early age is that your website needs regular maintenance too. It needs to be tended to on a regular basis to keep things up to date, otherwise it becomes what is not-so-commonly known as a zombie site (Honestly I just made up that term, but it works). So how do you know if you have a zombie site? Here are some tell-tale signs:

  • The copyright statement at the bottom has any year other than the current one. Bonus points if it's earlier than 2014.
  • When you log in you're accosted with notices that there's a new version of WordPress out, your theme is outdated, and you have 15 plugins that are no longer current.
  • Your last blog post is about your New Year's resolutions... from last year.

Sound familiar? It's not uncommon. In fact it's something I run into all the time when I go in to work on new client's websites. You may even be great about keeping your blog updated, adding new testimonials, and updating your pricing and gallery, in which case you're doing a great job! But if you don't have a designer performing regular maintenance, and you've never been shown what to do yourself, you may be suddenly realizing you have a zombie site. Don't worry, you're in good company, and it can be brought back to life... usually without a machete.

Here are the basics that I recommend. If you're already doing most of these, you're ahead of the game. If you aren't, there's no time like the present. I recommend going in the order listed below, starting with the back-up and working your way down the list. Each thing builds off of the last.

Disclaimer: Updates can be tricky sometimes, especially if your site hasn't been updated in a year or more. If you aren't completely comfortable doing these things yourself, or if it's been a long time since any updates were done, don't try this at home. I can help.

Backup your content!

This is crucial, and should be the first step before any of the others. There are a number of good plugins available to simplify this, but whatever you use you should be running a monthly site backup and storing it somewhere separate from your actual site (not on your server if possible).

Update your WordPress core files.

WordPress releases new updates pretty regularly. Whenever a new one comes out you'll get a notice in your admin dashboard, if you don't have automatic updates turned on. The only caveat I have here is that sometimes the first release of an update can be a bit messy. Code changes happen and things may need fixing after the update. Never update WordPress without backing up your site first, and check your site thoroughly afterwards to make sure everything still works right.

Update your theme.

The same caveat applies here. Always back up your site first. Always check it after. If you aren't sure whether your theme needs updating you can go to Appearance -> Themes from your dashboard. There will be a notice on your current theme if a new version is available.

Update your plugins.

After your core files and theme are updated, it's time to check the plugin list. You'll be able to tell whether you have updates available by looking at the Plugins link in your dashboard, a little circle will appear with a number inside indicating how many plugins need updates. You can go to Plugins -> Installed Plugins to see all of your plugins and update the necessary ones. I also recommend deactivating and deleting any plugins that you know for sure you aren't using. However, if you don't know for absolute certain you aren't using a plugin, or if someone else installed it and you aren't sure what it does... leave it be.

Check your copyright.

This is a once yearly thing, but easy to overlook. People really do pay attention to that little symbol down there, and it can knock major points off your credibility if it looks like you haven't updated your site since 2012. You may be able to change your copyright date yourself in your theme settings, depending on the theme. If not, you may have to bring someone in who knows PHP and can update it in your theme's code.

If you do these five things regularly you can keep your site running smoothly for years. If you don't, things can start to build up and suddenly you're fighting off walkers with a stapler and wondering why your site won't open.