It’s a lot of work, right? If you want to take a sizable number of WordPress tasks off your plate, it’s time to call in a WordPress expert. But do you go with a developer or a WordPress maintenance expert?
In this post, we’ll explore the differences between developers and maintenance services and which type of WordPress expert you should hire (hint: it’s the maintenance expert).
WordPress Maintenance Experts vs Developers: What Do They Do?
Traditionally, the role of the developer is to develop. They’re the folks you get to build your website and do things like custom code plugins, create custom themes and everything in between.
WordPress maintenance experts specialize in maintaining WordPress sites. This includes everything you need to keep a mission-critical site online and running smoothly, from world-class security and uptime monitoring, to keeping software up-to-date, daily backups, and expert support.
Maintenance experts also specialize in performance optimization, which for businesses can be the difference between a sale and a bounce, or ranking on the first page of Google and rather than the second.
Lately, there’s been a rise in the number of developers who market themselves as WordPress maintenance experts. These developers often push maintenance contracts onto their clients when negotiating a development contract or after a site has been launched.
If you stick with a developer for maintenance, how do you know if they’re giving your site the care and attention it deserves? What if the developer sees you as a walking money box, an easy way to add to their bottom line?
Sure, a developer may do everything correctly and send you a fancy report at the end of each month (and if they’re not sending you a report, you should seriously start questioning your investment). But when maintenance isn’t their specialty and they’re also busy developing websites, you’ve got to wonder whether your business is a priority.
What WordPress Maintenance Experts Do that Developers Don’t
1. Check WordPress, plugins, and themes are up-to-date:
Maintenance services made up of teams of WordPress experts typically check that WordPress core is up-to-date along with any plugins and themes your site is running.
Why is this important? According to security experts Sucuri, out-of-date plugins are the leading cause of WordPress website hacks.
You could pay WordPress experts to clean up a hacked site and it would cost you both in terms of money and customer confidence—having to notify your clients and customers about the hack could have a long-lasting effect on your business.
A good WordPress maintenance service will help prevent the unthinkable happening in the first place by keeping your site up-to-date and always running the latest versions of software, ensuring you’re protected against known security vulnerabilities.
2. Checking for plugins and themes that are no longer in use
It’s a common myth that inactive plugins and themes are safe to leave deactivated on your site. But in fact, the threat they pose is often greater than active plugins and themes.
Why are inactive plugins and themes a risk? Because their PHP files are still active on your server even if the actual plugin or theme isn’t active on your site. So when you’re not updating these plugins and themes to the latest and most secure version, malicious hackers or automated bots could find the files and take advantage of any known exploits.
At Barrel Roll, we recommend keeping plugins to a minimum for this very reason.
It’s not just inactive plugins and themes you have to be aware of though—an even greater risk is abandoned themes and plugins.
It’s not uncommon for a developer to release a free plugin or theme and expect to start selling a pro or premium version. When that doesn’t materialize, the project ends up being abandoned and its code falls out-of-date, leaving it open to security vulnerabilities and exploits.
3. Check Backups are in place and working
Ever had a developer implement backups, only to need said backups weeks or months later and find they were longer working? Yes, it’s a scary prospect and, unfortunately, all too common.
A developer may set and forget backups, and won’t necessarily keep checking they’re working. They often utilize backups provided by hosts rather than setting up offsite backup solutions that work regardless of the status of the hosts’ environment.
There are many reasons why your site might suddenly go down, including hardware failure, hacking attacks, the weather, and even power outages. Likewise, backups can stop working for a whole host of reasons, most often because the backup destination has become unavailable or runs out of storage capacity.
If you hire a WordPress maintenance expert, one of the first actions they’ll take will be to put backups in place. They’ll also regularly check that backups are actually working. So you can be confident that if your site breaks or you need to roll it back, you’ll have a backup available, ready to restore at a moment’s notice.
4. Check and delete spam
Spam’s not just annoying and unsightly but can contain links to malicious software or fraudulent content. Spam comments seem to come in thick and fast, so it’s easy to miss genuine-looking comments that, in fact, link the comment author’s name to a spammy website.
If you aren’t a WordPress expert, it can be tricky sifting through comments and determining what’s a genuine comment from a reader and what’s 100% spam. Fortunately, WordPress maintenance services can take care of spam for you.
They’ll activate the right spam-fighting tools on your site and regularly review and remove spam comments. This will ensure your site is safe from potential security threats that spam comments pose, leaving you more time to reply to the real, live human beings who read and comment on your site.
5. Fix 404 errors
A 404 error occurs when you try to visit a web page that doesn’t exist. They are usually the result of updating links, moving to a new domain, or deleting old posts or pages.
You might think, “why should I worry about fixing 404 errors?”. After all, Google’s stance is that:
404s are a perfectly normal part of the web… In fact, we actually prefer that, when you get rid of a page on your site, you make sure that it returns a proper 404 or 410 response code (rather than a ‘soft 404’).
Despite Google’s take on the issue, it’s not all that it seems. Any page rank those now dead links once contained would be lost and wasted if you simply let them return a 404 error.
A WordPress maintenance expert will clean up broken links by removing them or replacing them with different links, or redirecting them to relevant content. More importantly, fixing these errors across your site can boost your SEO.
6. Optimize the database
Any WordPress expert will tell you that a site’s database is one of the most overlooked cogs of any website. The database is like the foundation or brickwork of your house. You wouldn’t leave them damaged and falling apart because if you did you could cause irreversible damage and your home would topple over. Not a good thing.
Your WordPress database stores all of your website content. If you update your website regularly, such as publishing new content, installing (and deleting) plugins and themes, your database will grow larger over time.
A large database can greatly impact the performance of your website as it takes longer for your server to retrieve information from database tables.
A WordPress maintenance service will regularly optimize your database, keeping it streamlined for peak performance.
7. Optimize images
Do you run an image-heavy website? Maybe you’re a photographer? Whatever the reason for having a lot of images, they should always be optimized.
Unnecessarily large images files can dramatically slow down your page speed. Compressing and optimizing your site’s images—usually with no noticeable loss in image quality—will make your file sizes smaller. Sometimes dramatically so. This helps your pages load much faster, and provides a more enjoyable user experience for visitors who will have less to download.
Optimized images equate to a faster loading site, and a quicker loading site makes Google happy and improves your SEO. According to Hubspot, a 1-second delay in page speed costs $7,000 in conversions.
When you go with a WordPress maintenance expert, they will ensure your images are optimized so as not to hamper your page speed. Check out our comparison of the most popular WordPress image optimization plugins to learn more about how they work and which work best.
8. Test site functionality
Developers are great at building functionality for websites—but not so great maintaining it. Whether you run a small website with just a handful of pages or a large site spanning many pages, it’s crucial that you regularly test the functionality of your site.
This includes testing contact forms, your cart and checkout (if you run an online store), product pages, live chat, and other elements of your site that users interact with.
A Wordpress maintenance expert will thoroughly and regularly test all of this functionality and more across your site. They make sure users can checkout without problems, and easily get in touch with you via contact forms and live chat.
9. Test email delivery
Email deliverability is perhaps one of the hardest things to get right. Emails and especially email deliverability is steeped in jargon, from your SPF to your DKIM and SMTP to SES and everything in between.
Email deliverability offers up a minefield of opportunities for things going wrong. If you experience an email deliverability problem, customers won’t receive order confirmations, password reset emails or any other emails that your site sends. What’s even more troubling is that you’re unlikely to know the problem exists until it’s too late.
My point is, this is one to leave to the experts. A WordPress maintenance expert will take care of your email testing, ensuring smooth communication with your users.
10. Test and optimize site performance
Users are an impatient lot who simply won’t tolerate poor page speeds or inadequate website performance. It’s pretty simple, really: the faster your pages load, the happier your visitors will be, and the more likely they will stay on your website, spend money, and come back.
How quickly your pages load affects every metric on your site that really matters—user experience, bounce rate, search ranking, conversions, and page views.
Google has published extensive articles about the art and science of website optimization and performance, which is by no means a trivial task. While developers are skilled at building websites, maintenance experts specialize in working with sites to make them faster and better performant. At Barrel Roll, we’ve been able to reduce page load times by over 50% on average.
11. Scan for malware and review security logs
With WordPress now powering 30% of the web, security should be a top concern. Why? Because this popularity comes at a price—WordPress is heavily targeted by malicious hackers and spammers who seek to leverage insecure sites to their advantage.
That’s not to say WordPress is an insecure platform. The WordPress Security Team, made up of approximately 50 security experts and researchers, is constantly monitoring the platform, ready to release a fix when a vulnerability is identified.
Securing your site is about prevention and mitigation. Your web host should provide a comprehensive security architecture that hardens and protects your website, but you must also take additional steps to ensure your site is as impenetrable to hackers and bots as possible.
A WordPress maintenance expert will routinely scan your site for malware and dissect your logs, ensuring your site is always well-protected.
12. Check SSL (TLS)
SSL is the standard technology for keeping an internet connection secure, safeguarding any sensitive data that is being sent between a web server and a browser, and preventing hackers from reading and modifying any information transferred, including potential personal details.
If you don’t have SSL, it’s critical you get it so your site doesn’t display as insecure and unsafe to users.
If you do have SSL, it’s important to routinely check that your certificate it up-to-date and actually working. Why? Depending on your certificate issuer and web host, your certificate may expire and need to be renewed after a set amount of time.
An often overlooked aspect is mixed security warnings in Chrome and other browsers. This is when your site doesn’t have that the green padlock in the URL bar and instead displays a warning symbol. On closer inspection, you’ll find that scripts or other content such as images being loaded by a plugin or theme are loading over HTTP and not HTTPS, causing the mixed security warning.
When you work with a WordPress maintenance expert, they’ll ensure your SSL certificate is working and that no mixed content warnings are present, keeping your site secure and boosting visitor confidence.
WordPress developers develop and design websites, plugins, and themes. WordPress maintenance experts, on the other hand, specialize in maintaining every aspect of a WordPress website, ensuring your site is getting the TLC it deserves.
A WordPress maintenance expert will give you the peace of mind you need so you can be confident that your site is running well, letting you focus on the day-to-day running of your business.
LOOKING FOR A WORDPRESS EXPERT?
If you’re interested in learning more about maintenance for your website, get in touch to learn how Barrel Roll can keep your site performing at its best to support your growing business.
TEST YOUR WORDPRESS KNOWLEDGE
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