In general, WordPress offers a mostly hands off experience. On occasion you will see numbers show up in the left side bar of the Dashboard or “admin” area indicating that either one or more of the themes, one or more plugins, or WordPress itself requires an update. Providing you haven’t modified any of the core files of any of the above, updates are a simple, quick and relatively safe process.

Performing a backup prior to doing an upgrade wouldn’t be a bad idea, that way, if there are any undesirable results you can always perform a quick restore. You can login to the site using FTP, or use the servers File Manager and download any plugins or themes that you are updating from there. For updating WordPress, usually just a database backup is recommended. There are free plugins that offer scheduled and manual database backups. The schedules backups can be performed daily, weekly, or monthly depending on the plugin, and can be sent direct to your email account.

1 Removing old or unwanted add-ons

It is a good idea to NOT keep unused plugins or themes within the WordPress install. A lot of times, plugin and theme updates are carried out to gain extra features, but other times they are as a result of a security flaw. If a plugin or theme isn’t in use, many WordPress users let it sit there and don’t bother to upgrade it, creating vulnerabilities in the system. It’s best to delete those add-ons and just re-install fresh up-to-date copies if/when the time comes for them to be used again.

2 Database optimization

In a previous step we talked about keeping a backup of the database, or manually creating one when upgrading WordPress, but there are other database related “tasks” that are recommended. Sure, MySQL is great but it doesn’t tidy itself up as well as it should when entries are deleted. There is a table optimzation command that can be run on the server to clean up any “fragmentation” that exists with the database. A simpler way however is to use a plugin (free) to run that command with just a click or two (or maybe three).

3 Taking out the trash

Another task that should be carried out routinely is “emptying the trash,” similar to emptying the recycle bin on a Windows computer. When you delete posts, pages and comments they end up in the trash bin ready to be restored if the need arises. Emptying them on ocassion can reduce the clutter. After performing many deletes, and “emptying” the trash bins, is the best time to optimize the database, because that is when it is most fragmented, similar to when files are deleted from a computers hard disk.

4 Look in Webmaster Tools

Webmaster Tools keeps track of a lot of information about your site, assuming you added your site in there and validated ownership. You can find out if there are any broken links. Also, with a combination of Google Analytics data you can see what search terms are bringing in the most traffic and to what pages the traffic is mostly flowing to. You can learn the page speed as well (in Google Analytics) and perhaps make changes to improve on user experience. It also gives you a chance to look at your site in the eyes of a visitor where you can make an analysis of what can be improved.