Regularly updating your WordPress software is an absolute must. Even if you don’t want fancy new features, because WordPress is open-source, it’s patched frequently with solutions to bugs and potential security weaknesses. You should be updating your WordPress core, themes, and plugins at least once a week.
The downside is that sometimes plugins and themes aren’t updated as quickly as they should be, leading to incompatible plugins with the theme, with the core software, or with each other. Even if you’re examining the documentation to ensure it’s all going to work just fine, sometimes updates are released before they’re truly ready and can break your site. To fix that, you’ll need comprehensive backups.
Every time you update a plugin or theme, there’s a risk of incompatibility issues. Every time you edit something, there’s a risk of it not being saved correctly due to a bad internet connection or an accidental page reload. Every moment your site is online, there is a chance, however robust your security measures might be, that it could get hacked and malware injected in some innocent-looking file you never knew existed.
And then sometimes we just… screw up. Perhaps we make changes we didn’t intend to (although WordPress does its best to provide revisions and trash bins from which we can retrieve missing data from), or something else goes awry. And when it does, you’ll need a backup.
Backups can be stored on your hosting server, where they’re prone to hogging massive amounts of space over time or being accidentally deleted. The safest place to back up your website is, well, somewhere else. Many web hosts provide backups of your site’s files, but often don’t include the database – which, as it just so happens, contains ALL the text content and settings for your website and is much harder to replace than the theme and plugin files.
You’ll want a solution that includes both your website’s files (WordPress core, plugins, themes, images, scripts, videos) and your website settings and content. You’ll also want it stored somewhere secure where malicious hackers can’t get hold of it to corrupt or destroy it.
CDN (Content Delivery Network)
No matter how fast your hosting is, you may find that compared to the location of your customers, the hosting servers are thousands of miles away from them. Even the wonders of the internet are subject to physical limitations. If you have only customers local to one area (the UK, for example), you could use a UK hosting company whose servers are based somewhat locally. But if you have a global market, or would like to cultivate one, then you can use a CDN (Content Delivery Network) like Cloudflare. It can take a little time to set up and tweak, depending on your website’s settings, but once done they can speed up your site for faraway visitors by loading your website from a server much closer to them.
As much as a speedy CDN can help your content reach your visitors worldwide in record time, you’ll also want to ensure your files are small and downloaded quickly. There are several ways to achieve this, including caching, combining styles and scripts into single, minimised files, and reducing image sizes by scaling them down and compressing them.
All of this might seem like too much technical work, and it can be when first getting started, but ensuring that your new pages and content stay optimised for quick load times will keep visitors (and search engines) very happy.
The best way to deal with hackers is not to let them in at all. Even if you have regular backups, there’s always the risk that damage has already been done. Your website may not even look or function differently, as far as you can tell. Security breaches are particularly worrying for e-commerce websites, as your customers have trusted you with their personal details, including names and addresses (although payment details are usually processed elsewhere). If those details aren’t protected, you could be facing legal action.
There are two things vital to a secure website: Firewalls and SSL.
Firewalls work similarly to the software on your computer, keeping out unscrupulous visitors. In particular, they’ll help defend against brute-force attacks (repeated login attempts with intelligently generated username and password combinations) and DDOS (Distributed Denial of Service) attempts (large amounts of ‘fake’ traffic sent to your website to overload the server). A good firewall will also keep an eye on the files of your website in case something gets mysteriously changed by a malicious plugin or via FTP.
SSL means Secure Socket Layers, and it’s the reason you should always look for a little padlock icon in your browser bar before you type in any personal or financial details. SSL encrypts the data sent between the browser and the server so that only the browser and the server can read the data. If a visitor’s firewall isn’t entirely up to speed, or they’re using a public domain (such as coffee-shop WiFi), no one else can ‘snoop’ on the data that they’re submitting – it will be undecipherable to a third party.
To look and feel professional, you’ll want to have a custom email domain to match your website, like email@example.com. Some people still use their business name, followed by the email service’s domain (firstname.lastname@example.org, or email@example.com), but this is problematic for several reasons.
First of all, you’re promoting someone else’s brand instead of taking full ownership of yours. It’s hard to build trust with customers when, publically, you only have one foot in the door. Domain-branded emails are a standard for businesses and help to differentiate the dabblers from the professionals.
Secondly, you’re more likely to end up in a spam folder. If you’re frequently trying to contact prospects who haven’t already emailed you, there’s a chance that the powers that be will consider you to be a spammer. Almost all of the real spam in my spam folder comes from @gmail or @hotmail accounts because they’re cheap and easy to replace.
Thirdly, you’re going to struggle with mail campaigns and any software which sends email on your behalf. If you’re using a service like MailChimp for email marketing, or cloud-based accounting which sends out invoices for you (such as FreeAgent), you may run into trouble. These services prevent their emails from landing in spam accounts by asking you to ‘verify’ your domain records – something you can’t do if you don’t have your own domain because you’re sharing it with all the other Gmail or Hotmail users.
Hosting Settings & Control Panels
Your hosting control panel is where you can log in to and view, upload, delete, move and manage all of your site’s data. It’s the place where all the good stuff happens, but everyone forgets about it until they’re hunting for an option that they can’t find.
And that brings me to an urgent warning; many budget hosting companies won’t allow you to change settings that, over time, need to be changed for your website to work correctly. Perhaps you’ll struggle to update a software version, change an upload limit or a memory allocation, or tweak a security setting.
By restricting access to these options, a budget host can force you to upgrade to a more expensive package, when all you want to do is keep your website alive and well. As WordPress themes and plugins get smarter and safer, they also get more resource-hungry – just like with all technology.
In particular, you’ll want a host that will allow you to make changes to PHP settings, including its version, memory limit, upload limit, and timeout.
Budget web hosts can seem like a great idea at first until you can’t change these basic settings within reasonable limits. If you’re going it alone into the market, don’t be afraid to ask these questions to keep your website future-proof from the needy whims of WordPress plugin developers and their ‘improvements’!
When you can’t quite figure out why something is going wrong, or you need advice on how to implement a new feature, you’re going to want expert advice to save you hours of potentially unfruitful googling! A technical support team who can make significant changes, help you debug issues, or even answer silly questions (everyone asks those, even us), and who will help in a patient and non-judgemental manner, is vital. They should be easy to contact, quick to respond, and if they don’t have access to fix the problem for you directly, they should be able to give straightforward, step by step advice on how to do so.
Tying all of the above together can be hard work. Between updates and maintenance, backups, security, optimising your site for various devices in various locations, and other miscellaneous tasks that keep you from doing what you do best, there are many facets to consider. If you’re not tech-savvy, or you lack time to learn how to manage the above carefully, we recommend that you find a hosting plan that includes managed services. Find someone can help you make the most of your online presence and who can be on hand to fix any hiccups along the way.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed by all of this, you’re not alone. Many companies can help with all of this and more, depending on your budget. One thing’s for sure… it’s not something to be neglected or left as an afterthought.
Protecting the environment from the inevitable and increasing footprints of modern technology is a priority close to our hearts at Glade Digital. That’s why we boast a partnership with hosting providers who use the latest energy-saving techniques to cool their servers (they get super hot!) and are powered by 100% renewable energy sources.
At Glade Digital, we offer several tiers of managed hosting plans to keep your worries at bay and ensure that everything runs smoothly after the initial build is complete. We even include basic managed hosting and a discount on our Plus and Pro packages for the first year if we’ve built your website.
Questions? Comments? Feel free to leave them below, or get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org