Improving Stability and Security on Your WordPress Site

Have you ever heard of the term “deferred maintenance?” It’s commonly used in the real estate business to describe work needed on a property that has been delayed until the owner has the time and money to deal with it. Owning a website is a lot like owning a physical property. Let’s review a couple of items that can have serious detrimental effects on your WordPress website, if they’re not taken care of on a regular basis.

The Evolving Landscape of Web Development

Technology evolves, plain and simple. Something new comes out every month that revolutionizes how things are done in just about every aspect of our lives. From self-driving cars to synthetic organs, there’s no stopping innovation. This includes the world of web-based technology. The world of web development is evolving on an ongoing basis.

PHP, the scripting language that WordPress is built with, is actively rolling out new, major versions on a consistent basis. In turn, WordPress debuts several updates a year, with some completely changing how things work. For instance, WordPress 5.5 updated the javascript-based jQuery from version 1.x to version 3.x. This was one of the largest upgrades in WordPress history, and broke sites all over the world.

WordPress Core, Plugins, and Themes

So we know about PHP and WordPress core, and that changes in one can break the other. But what about plugins and themes? The same thing applies. An update in a plugin can even break a theme, or vice versa. And plugins and third party codebases still have to contend with each other, on top of requiring various levels of codependency on other third party libraries.

How do we manage this? WordPress has their famous five-minute install, but to be honest, managing a WordPress site can get overwhelming. Especially when a site has a large web presence, and years of activity behind it.

That’s where we come in. Curious Minds’ maintenance plans are designed to fill the gap left between the five minute install, and the mess that lingers after years of plug-and-play website activity and related technology updates. If something catastrophic happens, our monitoring services alert someone if our client’s sites go down. In addition, we have security monitoring services providing alerts if there’s anything severe that needs our immediate attention. Furthermore, we also provide managed updates.

A development company providing maintenance and services for your site is always a good move. Especially if your site is mission critical. WordPress, because of how extensive and fluid it is, can be difficult to manage when you have 50-70 plugins, each with individually managed codebases trying to be compatible with one another. Oftentimes, if a conflict occurs, there isn’t even a viable error message saying, “Hey! I don’t work well with this other plugin!” In this case, you’ll usually need a developer to come in and debug it anyway.

The best path forward is to ensure regular, ongoing maintenance so if anything does happen, someone is there to debug and figure out the problem so it’s resolved quickly and effectively.

Custom Code and Implications

WordPress themes and plugins often don’t do the entire job. Let’s say you want to have events on your site. You want them displayed a specific way, but the plugin you have to manage the events lacks the desired functionality. Naturally, you’ll want to bring in a developer to either customize the plugin, or customize your theme code to overwrite the plugin’s template files. But this creates situations where there’s now custom code on your site.

Custom code basically means you or whoever you hire are the only people updating this. The more custom code you have powering your site, the more time needed to keep that codebase up to date. The same goes with a complete custom theme. Ultimately, either you, or a hired developer needs to keep everything up to date.

But let’s not knock custom themes without trying them. If built right, a custom theme can not only outperform most of your competitors, but it also outlasts them with minimal issues because they’re not relying on a ton of third party dependencies to work.

Technical Debt

The largest complication you can encounter usually involves a lack of attention to site updates, or a poorly coded theme. This typically results in what we call “Technical debt.” Technical debt is when someone puts quantity over quality. It’s the result of people just trying to get things done, regardless of how poorly they are coding it.

With this in mind, imagine this scenario. Five years from now, you hire another company to come in and make a small change to your site. Maybe you just want to modify the contact page’s fields. That company goes in for what should be a 30-60 minute change. Instead, they discover that nothing works after they modified the field.

Three hours after this discovery, the same developer tracks the code to a custom hook in the theme code that take the submission and pulls the fields by ID, and submits them via API to FileMaker. The field ID’s have changed, so the data isn’t coming in. All of that custom code now needs to be modified. It’s finally complete four or five hours later. But if the form and API integration were better built to dynamically take field data by using the input name attributes, 80% of the time and money spent accomplishing this task could have been saved.

If the project was properly documented, and had notes explaining how things were put together, all of this could have been avoided. This is just one example of how technical debt can snowball out of control. Lack of proper maintenance, lack of good development standards, and lack of attention to detail create shoddy work.

Keeping Your Site Maintained and Up to Date

Keeping your site up to date and maintained isn’t just about updating a theme with the push of a button. This simple, single act can cause your site to spiral down a path requiring a lot of work to help it recover.There’s no quality assurance, and no testing process involved.┬áThat’s why we don’t recommend using auto-updating functionality. At Curious Minds, we do things the right way. We adhere to modern standards, evolve with the technology, and help our clients evolve as well.

 

About Curious Minds
We are a web development firm in New York and Chicago, providing development resources and consulting for websites and mobile apps since 2004.