Maintaining the content of your website has its benefits for obvious reasons: your content stays fresh, it improves visitor experience, pricing stays up to date and it is great for search engines. One thing most WordPress based website owners forget to address is maintaining the actual software that runs their website. This is usually ignored because it is not necessarily visible from the front end of the website. Even so, keeping your WordPress installation up to date is hugely important.
WordPress is a complex CMS (content management system) that has many “moving” parts that make it work. Like a car, it is important to make sure you run routine maintenance to keep your site from breaking down. The primary areas of a WordPress site to maintain are your WordPress Core, Plugins, Database and Files. If any one of these parts of WordPress breaks it has the ability to take your entire site down with it.
The WordPress Core and Plugins are two parts of WordPress that require frequent updating. You might notice this when you login to your admin area and see the little number next to the “updates” menu item. WordPress is an ever evolving platform that receives continuous updates from its developers that improve the software and fixes security vulnerabilities (think hackers). Applying these updates as soon as they are available is incredibly important and hugely reduces the chances of your website going down. Plugins, on the other hand, are usually independent pieces of software that also are constantly being improved upon. Keeping your plugins updated has similar benefits and will ensure that they continue to play nicely with newer versions of WordPress.
The WordPress database is where all your important content is stored. When you update a page or add a blog post and hit “Save”, all that information is stored in your WordPress database. If your database is compromised it can take down your entire website. In some extreme cases it can be very difficult to fix your database and if there are no database backups available you could lose much or all of your hard work. Thus, making routine backups of your database and removing unused data from it is highly recommended.
The files that run WordPress consist of your main installation, plugins and custom theme. When you update your core installation or plugins these are the files that often change. This also means that these files are vulnerable to the outside world and are usually what gets hacked by unkind visitors. Depending on the size of your WordPress site you can have thousands of unique files and when a hacker gets in it can be very challenging to clean up all the damage they have done. This is why it is important to take backups of your core files and store them in a safe place.
If you have managed to get by without performing routine maintenance on your WordPress website consider yourself lucky. As of September, 2013 more than 70% of WordPress installations and vulnerable to hacker attacks. Keeping your site up to date and running regular WordPress maintenance can thwart most attempts by hackers to take down your site.