Blog Maintenance Checklist:
18 things you should do monthly for your WordPress Blog
It’s been a while since I last published a post for my Blogging 101 series. I was sadly inspired to write this post due to a sad series of events and a realization that Google was not crawling MamaNYC as much as it should have been (sigh). If the point of creating a blog and publishing content is to find readers that will actually enjoy it, I want to make sure Google is actually noticing my posts! Otherwise, I would be talking to myself.
When I came back from a short hiatus from blogging in January (2014), I knew that there would be an enormous mess to clean up. Between emails piling up, an abandoned blog with lots to fix and update, and the fact that my hosting bill went unpaid for about 6-weeks (hooray! my entire blog was DOWN and nonexistent to the world!) — I had a diaster, to say the least. I had to act fast and work hard, but I am fully recovered and back to ‘normal’, which includes completing the following checklist at least once per month.
I know how difficult it can be to blog and worry about all the other stuff (“…you mean I can’t just write content? There’s MORE?!”). Hey, unless you want your blog to resemble a dead bag of bones, of course you will need to do lots of other legwork to ensure everything is running smoothly.
Think of your blog as a car…
The fine folks at the auto factory built my car (your web designer). They put all the nuts and bolts, oil and brake fluid, windows and tires.
Every few days, I run to the gas station to fill my gas tank (posts; content). The gas keeps my car running on a daily basis. I add more gas (blog posts) whenever I can. I don’t want to be left stranded on the side of the road (Google abandonment issues).
However, I still need to do routine maintenance:
Tire rotation (updates!), Oil change (removing unused plugins), Car wash (review your sidebar)
All of these things are done on a routine basis to ensure top performance of my vehicle. If I neglect my car… well, you all know what will happen!
How often should you maintain your blog?
Daily, if possible! I try to do at least one or two tasks per day, such as emptying spam comments and approving the good ones. That sort of stuff should take less than 5-minutes per day. Let them build up and you might find yourself approving comments for 30-minutes!
Doing those smaller tasks will make your life (and blog!) much easier and happier. However, I still recommend setting aside at least 1-day per month to really dig in deep and take a peak at everything in your dashboard, Google Webmaster Tools, Google Analytics, and CDN account (if you have one, which I highly recommend!)
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Update your About page
Did you know that the ‘About’ page is one of the most popular pages created and also the least edited content? Just as your blog and life has changed it the last few weeks or months, I can assure your ‘About’ page has become outdated and requires a spruce up. Many people may argue that there’s literally no reason to update this page. Nothing has changed, right?
I remember when I first created MamaNYC and whipped together an ‘About Me’ page. It was a novel (to say the least) and eventually became a forgotten thought. Months went by before I realized that the entire dynamic, focus, and target of my blog and lifestyle had dramatically increased.
Neglecting to update your ‘About’ page may lead to misinforming your visitors, losing out on a potential job, or worse! (Who knows… it could be bad. Real, real bad! Aaah!) But seriously, I try to read my ‘About’ page at least once a month to make sure I am not forgetting anything — and I make edits every single time.
Update plug-ins, themes, and WordPress software (if necessary)
These updates should be done as they become available to ensure your blog is running with the latest versions. Plugin updates may include a security hole patch. WordPress software might have an update that will speed up your site. Although these should be done as soon as possible, I recommend checking everything for updates during your monthly checkup at the very least.
Get rid of unused plugins
Plugins can really bog down your blog speed. Look through your list of installed plugins. Permanently delete any inactive plugins – they are taking up space and can also make your blog vulnerable for security issues — even though you’ve deactivated them.
Decide if the active plugins are actually valuable for your blog. Is it really worth slowing your blog down a bit? Is that blog even doing its job? Find out which plugins are slowing you down with P3 (Plugin Performance Profiler). This tool will help you scan your blog to find out which plugins are causing a slow performance. It will measure the impact that each plugin has on your site’s load time.
Clean up drafts and revisions
Here’s something I didn’t know until after at least 1-year of being on the WordPress platform…
WordPress saves a draft of every post and page every time you update them.
Even the slightest change, press “Save Draft”, WordPress just saved another draft revision copy. So, let’s say you’ve written 500 blog posts and made 5 revisions each (even though it is generally much more!). Let’s do the math and say you’ve written 400 blog posts ->
5 (revisions) x 500 (blog posts written) = 2,500 revised post/page files
Now do you see just how bloated your database can become by useless and unused revised data files? Also, clean up your drafts and empty your trash – regularly! Go through each and ask yourself if you seriously plan to ever finish composing that post. I’ve had drafts sit for months at a time! It’s a waste of space and I will hardly ever use them again. If I really like the topic idea, I write it down in my notebook.
Get started and clean your WordPress database with the WP Optimize, which is an effective plugin that allows you to clean up your WordPress database and optimize it without phpMyAdmin. Next, install Revision Control plugin so that you can limit the number of revisions that will be kept on file for each page or post.
Conduct a malware scan
Did you know that your blog can become infected with malware? It will linger in your files and you can’t exactly ‘see’ or necessarily notice it is there right away.Do you know who will notice? Google.
Semi-luckily, Google won’t immediately blacklist your site, so you will have a little bit of time to correct any problems before the search engines start to prevent visitors from visiting and getting infected. That’s why this task is crucial and should be done every 4-weeks – minimum! If you can do a scan weekly or bi-weekly, do it! Get a free website malware scan at Sucuri.net for detection.
Confirm social feeds are working
Do you utilize a social fee service for your blog? Make sure they’re all working and test them all out — individually. If you are using tools to automatically push your blog posts onto Twitter, Facebook, Google+ Plus, LinkedIn, or another social site, you should verify each is working properly.
Check all of your forms
If you are using forms on your blog, fill them out and submit as a test to ensure they are working properly. Do this at least once a month to determine functionality, especially if your Contact Form is the only way for a client to reach you. If you are using a third-party plugin to create and manage your forms, make sure they are updated as soon as possible.
Review your sidebar, spruce it up, create value for visitors
There are generally three spaces that are seen by every single visitor: header (w/ navigation menus), footer, and sidebar. They can grow outdated just as fast as your About page, so don’t forget to audit each space at least once a month. Are you utilizing that space in the best way possible? Review that sidebar from top to bottom and check all links, images, and affiliate ads.
If you implanted affiliate banners, make sure each of them is giving you a return! That space is valuable and there isn’t much available. Treat is 125×125 square of space like gold. If there’s an affiliate banner taking up space and not earning any income — why is it there?
Think about where you are placing certain banners and text. Is your sidebar overcrowded? Remove a few things and tidy the place up! Make sure you have displayed all of your social networks, feeds, and contact details in the sidebar. Since this is the most universally seen space on your blog, I cannot stress just how important it is to make sure each widget area includes useful, relevant, and resourceful links or banners for visitors.
Analyze, review, update your Google Webmaster Tools account
This was my major fail moment. February and March were quite busy months and I neglected to keep an eye on my Google Webmaster Tools. Make sure Google is crawling your website and update your sitemap if necessary. Make updates if any other changes have occurred since your last monthly checkup. Check your sitemap and make sure Google is crawling your pages.
*Type this into Google (as a regular search term): site:yourdomain.com — Is the number of results close or exact to the number of posts + pages you’ve published? If you’ve published well over 800 blog posts and the number of search results is 75, you’ve got a problem. Take a closer look at your sitemap.
Back up your blog
This is a MUST — and the best part of all? You can automate the entire process so that you don’t even have to think about doing it! You have enough on your plate, so how can you possibly remember to conduct a monthly backup? (I actually think this should be a daily or weekly chore, but at least — please, once a month!)
I like to use WordPress Backup to Dropbox, which is a free plugin that allows the user to choose a day, time and frequency for backups to be performed. Thereafter, I can have the file delivered directly to my Dropbox account. It’s a no-brainer solution and definitely a great way to protect yourself and your content.
Some may not be comfortable with that backup solution, so I would also suggest BackUpWordPress, which backs up your entire WordPress installation. Everything from your posts, pages, comments, widgets, themes, plugins and files will be saved. The only difference is that there will be a file that you can thereafter save on your hard drive as opposed to your Dropbox cloud account.
Test and speed up your site load times
Did you know that Google recommends a site load time of 2 seconds or less? As one of my biggest pet peeves, I am constantly struggling to improve the page speed for MamaNYC. There are tons of things that you can do to lessen the download time. I found some great resources on how to speed up WordPress blog.
Work on your image optimization and make sure they’re all equipped with alt=, title=, and dimensions (height & width).
– First, I like to run a website test speed (run it a few times spread out over a course of about 10-15 minutes; no need to record your times – use the “History” tab to see your previous load times).
– Next, I will do a few recommended changes, such as removing unused plugins and deleting revisions.
– Thereafter, I run a few more speed tests and see if my hard work made a difference. *Remember, even a few milliseconds can make a difference.
Delete spam and trash comments
Clean out your comments by deleting spam and trash comments. These can pile up quickly, so make sure deleting them is part of your ongoing blog maintenance activities. I make it a point of emptying my comment spam at least every other day since I generally average about 1,500-3,000 within a 72-hour span usually. (Side note – use Akismet to control spam blog comments!)
Check your RSS and email feeds
It is essential that your blog RSS feed and email updates service works properly. Your readers rely on those updates as a way of knowing what new content has been added for the day or week. Without those services working properly, visitors are being lost and you may be talking to yourself (no one to read your blog posts!!!).
*Tip: If you aren’t already a subscriber for your own feed and email newsletter – do it now! This is the best way for you to notice that there is a problem with your feed. I actually signed up for my newsletter using two different email accounts just to be sure (or, is that called paranoia?). You will be able to quickly notice when something goes wrong with your feed or email subscriptions.
Test your email subscription form to ensure functionality is perfect. You don’t want to be that blogger that lost new subscribers because her sign up form was coded incorrectly!
Check for broken links
There’s nothing more annoying then clicking on a link that you expect to bring you to a resource you’re interested in learning more about — only to learn that the website owner tricked you (well, not intentionally…). Think about that disappointment that you feel when another blogger has a broken link. (Do you cry, too?) This is another thing that should be done fairly regularly, but at least dealt with while you’re going down your monthly checklist.
Not only can a broken link totally annoy your visitors, they’ll also lead to a negative impact on your site’s ranking with the search engines. This can become a huge problem and the fix is probably one of the easiest on this list! You can use an online broken links checker to find broken links and make any necessary fixes. WordPress users can download the Broken Link Checker plugin. I’ve used it for years to regularly check my links on all posts, comments and other content on MamaNYC for broken links and missing images. It’s quite simple to use and you can also set it up to send you an email summary.
Erase all unused themes
Head on over to your themes (Appearance–>Themes). Make sure that the only theme is the one you are currently using. Remove the default themes if you haven’t already (Twenty Ten, Twenty Eleven, etc.), but choose one of them to stay. Leaving one of the default themes is important because WordPress will reload and activate that theme should your current one break during an update or accidentally become inactive/removed. So, leave TWO themes:  current active theme;  WordPress default theme — all others get the boot!
(Note, just so that I don’t get myself or someone else into a boatload of trouble: If you are using a child theme, do not delete the parent! Ex: StudioPress users need the Genesis parent theme to remain!)
Test your navigation
Conduct a thorough test of all your internal links along your navigation menu, sidebar, and footer. Make sure they’re all working! It may seem obvious (“Why would I want to check my navigation? I already set it up and know it’s working. Duh!), but you may be surprised. Something may have broken. You may realize that one of the menu options is obsolete or unpopular with your visitors.
I use a website heat map through ClickTale.com to find out where my visitors are clicking. Create a project on ClickTale so that you can have recordings of your visitors’ pageviews, find out where they are clicking (heat map), and where they may be experiencing trouble. I find heat maps to be extremely beneficial in my navigation menu planning.
Analyze your Google Analytics
Although I do log into my Google Analytics account fairly regularly (every 2-5 days), I am really just a passerby on a fast moving train. Maybe I will log in to quickly see how my pageviews did for the last few days, or to log incoming referrals for a campaign that I am working on. I always like to stay in the habit of at least checking in every few days so that I can ensure my analytical code is still detecting visitors (nothing worse than realizing Google Analytics hasn’t logged any visitors for 3-weeks!).
However! Once a month, I try to really sit down (when the kids are asleep) and analyze, research, discover, and plan. There’s so much power behind your Analytics reports and many people don’t know how to use it to maximize their own performance. Spend a few hours learning what it all means, how to customize reports, segments, create goals. Your traffic tells the story of your blog – use it to your advantage.
Discover what keywords are bringing a high volume of readers – consider doing another post (or two) based on the same topic (and be sure to link to the older post, too!). Where does most incoming traffic originate from? What social network is quickly slipping in the ranks? Have you been tweeting lately? Maybe that’s why your traffic decreased -19% this month. Do some research and find out what’s working and what’s failing on your blog.
(And now… last, but certainly not least!)
Pretend it’s your first visit on your blog
Visit your blog as though it is your very first time looking at your navigation, font sizes and styles, theme layout, and sidebar. Huh? Why? Simply because you’ve grown quite accustomed to your blog and it’s navigation. You might be missing something that your visitors aren’t, which may leave them to click onto the next blog.
Set aside 15-minutes and really try to clear your mind of everything you know about your blog. Have a pad and pen by your side to take notes of any posts, links, images, or pages that need to be refined. Take a peak at all of your different navigation menu options and ask yourself those questions you ask when you’re on another blog: How can I contact this blogger? Is she on Facebook? Does he have a Twitter account? I wonder where she’s from and if she’s an expert in this area. Has she won any awards or nominations for blogging and writing? When did she start this blog, or blogging altogether? Where can I find a list of her current giveaways? Does she offer parenting tips and motherhood advice?
This can be trick and I often miss things since I am going too fast (“I know this page is fine!”). Stop and give yourself a minute on each page. Whenever I do this task, I use a piece of paper and write #1-10. I don’t let myself stop looking until I have found at least 10 things that I can improve or fix on my blog. Trust me, I always find more than ten!
DOWNLOAD & PRINT:
Take this checklist to go! I’ve put together an easy to use blog maintenance checklist printable worksheet. It lists all 18 of these tasks accompanied by a checkbox. Simple, right!? Print it out, share with your friends, and don’t forget to jot down a few notes to the side if there’s something you would like to further investigate. Good luck!
Is there ANYTHING that I missed?!?
Leave a comment below and tell me if there’s a monthly (or daily, weekly) routine that you conduct as part of your blog maintenance. Is there any other vital task(s) that I left out? Do you set aside ‘Maintenance Time’ already each week or month? Tell me your tips and tricks! I love to hear about other bloggers’ routines!