DIY vs Professional WordPress Maintenance
Are WordPress Maintenance Services Worth the Money?
WordPress maintenance is one of those topics that tend to divide people into two groups: some people stand behind such services wholeheartedly, while others get all “I can take care of own my site!” about it.
So, what gives? Does hiring a WordPress maintenance company really make sense? And if so, for whom… just developers working on client sites, or maybe people running their own sites too?
And, more importantly, why are we even talking about this?
It all started a couple of months ago, when we were contacted about the possibility of doing some written promotion. But instead of just publishing a classic ad, like, “hey, they’re great, check them out!” we’ve decided that an in-depth look into the whole topic of WordPress maintenance services is going to bring much more value. Particularly, the thing we wanted to find out is whether hiring a WordPress maintenance company makes sense in the real world – for people who just need to take care of one or more sites.
Here’s the result of that:
What is WordPress maintenance?
How time-consuming is maintenance
What are the things you probably won’t do on your own
What could go wrong if you don’t maintain your site
Is professional WordPress maintenance going to be worth it for me?
What is WordPress maintenance?
So, first things first, the main objection people have when it comes to spending hard cash on WordPress maintenance is that they think they can do this stuff themselves, and that it all won’t even take that much time.
It’s not like I looked up any definition, but WordPress maintenance seems to me like the whole set of activities (or “chores”) that you need to be taking care of regularly in order to keep your site running in good health.
Here are the types of tasks that can be considered part of ongoing WordPress maintenance:
Updates: WordPress core updates, plugin updates, theme updates. This is a key element of all WordPress maintenance efforts, as not updating is one of the main reasons why websites get hacked.
Backups: database and files. And also making sure that the backups that you have do work. It’s actually reported that around 76 percent of WordPress users don’t use any backup plugin, so it’s not like backing up is common knowledge.
Security: scans, malware checks, security monitoring in general.
Performance optimization: making sure that the site works fast.
Comment spam handling.
Server-related maintenance: everything you’d normally do in cPanel.
SEO: taking care of your site’s internal structure to make it easier to rank.
Solving other miscellaneous issues as they come.
No matter how you read this list, this is a lot of stuff!
And, yes, you can automate some of it, but still, this is a lot of items to have on your mind, and each of them can go bad for one reason or the other. Even worse, that’s a lot even when dealing with a single site … and what if you have five of them.
But okay, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Instead, let’s try breaking this down one by one and look into how much of a hassle those activities are:
So the first thing that we can do to make various WordPress maintenance tasks easier is to automate as much of it as we can.
Those are easy to automate for the most part, but it’s also not that black and white of an issue.
When it comes to WordPress code updates, this can be set easily via some wp-config.php entries (how-to).
Plugin and theme updates can be set similarly, but I, personally, am not that convinced that you should take advantage of that.
Maybe it’s just my quirk, but I don’t usually update plugins or themes right away. With my theme, I actually don’t update it at all until I’m absolutely certain that none of my customizations will go away after the update, and that the site is not going to get messed up some other way.
For plugins, I like to wait a couple of days before hitting the update button. The reason I do that is because, every once in a while, some bugs will slip through the cracks causing the site to crash. So, my reasoning is that if I wait a couple of days, enough people will already have reported a problem. If you’re not worried about things like that, you can always use this plugin. It’s quite handy and gives you a lot of choice as to how your site gets updated.
This is probably the main thing you should automate about your site’s daily life.
At this point, you can use both free and paid backup solutions, and they all work quite well. However, it’s still up to up to make sure that your backups work and can be used to restore your site.
On the other hand, the main benefit you do get when working with a WordPress maintenance company in terms of backups is that it’s them who are responsible for making sure that these backups work.
But overall, backing up is something you can automate on your own too … and on multiple sites … and even for free. If you haven’t selected your backup solution yet, here’s a comparison.
There are plugins like Wordfence, iThemes Security, Sucuri, and they do give you some semi-automation in the security realm.
I’m saying semi-automation because unless you’re willing to spend money, it’s still you who has to make a decision whenever those plugins find any issues.
On the other hand, a WordPress maintenance company can offer you a similar peace of mind security-wise. However, the only downside is that you don’t know much about the quality of that security service overall. In other words, I know that if I pay Sucuri to take care of my site then I get one of the best security services in the market. I don’t know if I get the same from WordPress Maintenance Company X. But then again, that Sucuri service isn’t the cheapest thing out there. Starting at nearly $200 / year it surely isn’t an easy decision to make just to have your site security taken care of.
Uptime monitoring can be automated entirely these days, and for free. UptimeRobot gives you 50 monitors, checked every five minutes, for example.
Of course, it’s still on you to do something if the site is down.
The performance of your WordPress site is something that you can improve by doing various tweaks and taking advantage of some caching plugins.
But, for the most part, it can’t really be automated completely.
Having someone handling this for you and recommending specific fixes or even doing them – like a maintenance company – can save you a lot of time.
Spam is everyone’s favorite topic, isn’t it? Anyway, you can pretty much have it handled automatically via things like Akismet.
g) Server stuff
Server-related maintenance is not something you can automate.
The automation here basically comes down to how deeply you want to get into the topic of SEO. There’s the Yoast SEO plugin and a load of other ones, but for the most part, the level of your site’s optimization depends on how you go about creating new content on a regular basis. Not much that can be automated here.
And lastly, solving other miscellaneous issues as they come can’t be automated by definition.
2. How time-consuming is maintenance
If you can’t automate something, then you will have to either handle it by hand or ignore it completely. And ignoring isn’t always the best game plan.
Here’s a rough estimate of the time investment needed:
Security: Setting up a plugin to scan things for you is one thing, but then you should also look through the reports and decide if anything needs doing at least once a week.
Performance optimization: This is hard to estimate, since the performance of your site can go down occasionally for whatever reason (server-related, new plugin-related, some third-party integration going rogue, etc.) and it may require more or less work from you on a regular basis. To start with, you can install the GTmetrix plugin to monitor the performance for you, but it will still require some time at least every month to look through the charts and decide what you can do to make things better.
SEO: this will require ongoing effort from you no matter if you’re working with a WordPress maintenance company or not. Since it’s not a black and white issue, and everyone has their own idea of how much SEO work needs to be done for each post, let’s just skip it here.
Solving other miscellaneous issues: no way to estimate.
Taking the above into account, I think it’s reasonable to estimate that maintaining your site is going to cost you at least an hour every week – if you’re just handling the bare minimum, or a lot more if you really want to get to the bottom of things.
The question to ask yourself is whether you can make more money during your maintenance hours vs what it would cost you to hire a WordPress maintenance company. Or whether you can contribute to the site’s growth in some other way if you don’t have to do maintenance on your own.
3. What are the things you probably won’t do on your own
As I was browsing through the offerings of a handful of the popular WordPress maintenance companies, I also noticed that they offer some services that you would never do by yourself if you were to maintain your own website.
- For instance, even when updating your website – the core, plugins, theme – if you do it manually, how often do you create additional backups before and after the updates take place? (Just in case an update messes something up and you need to revert right away.)
- And if the updates happen automatically, do you have things set in a way that those additional backups are being created? Probably not.
- Also, do you keep your backups off-site?
- Do you monitor how your website looks on all popular devices?
- What is your reaction time when maintaining your own site? Do you wake up in the middle of the night when you get a notification that the site is down? Or do you wait until morning, at which point your site might already be offline six or more hours?
- If a security scan reveals some malware, do you know how to remove it? I mean, without having to research the problem on Google for a couple of hours.
- Do you create maintenance reports for yourself? You know, a sheet where you can see everything you did, and etc.
- And lastly, something that’s somewhat related here, what if you need any WordPress help – do you have anyone you can contact about that? And I’m not talking about pure hosting issues or something, but someone you can ask about anything WordPress-related.
Most of the above are things that a good WordPress maintenance company does (depending who you choose). And, in my opinion, those just might be the actual main benefits of subscribing to services like that.
For me personally, the absolute main benefit is the reaction time. It’s knowing that when anything needs doing, it will probably start getting done right away, not when I wake up and put things into motion.
4. What could go wrong if you don’t maintain your site
Okay, so the above is everything that we know we should take care of, but we don’t always get around to actually doing it. Hey, it’s just life…
So, what could go wrong if you neglect WordPress maintenance? Note: this is somewhat a way of evaluating if we need to do any maintenance in the first place.
Here’s the big three, more or less:
a) You get hacked
According to Wordfence, the most attacked things in WordPress are: vulnerabilities in PHP code (core, plugins, themes), login pages, older apps hosted on the same server, config files, and the web server itself. “Why would anyone hack MY website? It’s not like the national security depends on it.” Right?
Well, as it turns out, hackers don’t really spend that much time picking the sites they will hack (unless you’re a huge brand). Most of the time, attacks are vulnerability-based, not website-based. Meaning, an attacker doesn’t pick a target and then tries to find a way in, but rather picks a known vulnerability, and then tries to find all the websites that can be attacked with it. In that light, everyone’s a target, no matter how big or small. And not maintaining your site is the first step to becoming a victim.
b) You lose data
Data loss is often even worse than getting your website hacked. If you don’t have a reliable (and working) backup in place, you’re risking not only the site, but perhaps your entire business. And it doesn’t take much. For instance, a server malfunction, a problem with the cache, a virus on your own computer – the one you use to access the admin user on your site, and probably a myriad of other reasons.
c) You lose SEO
Did I say that data loss is the worst? Scratch that, if you rely on incoming traffic from Google then having your rankings dropped can be even worse than that. Google punishes infected sites severely.
And, unfortunately, Google is quite good at detecting problems like that. I’m saying unfortunately because it often means that if you don’t do any maintenance, it’s Google who notifies you about your site getting hacked. And at that point it’s too late. You can end up blacklisted.
Neither of the above three is particularly fun experience, obviously, but with good WordPress maintenance set in place, you can successfully avoid all of them.
So, the question becomes:
“Is professional WordPress maintenance going to be worth it for me?”
At the end of the day, WordPress maintenance is something that you absolutely do need to have taken care of.
So, there are two ways to sleep better at night and keep a vigilant eye on your site at the same time:
- taking care of it yourself,
- hiring a professional company to do it for you.
No surprise so far.
We kind of all know what the downsides of maintaining your site are if you’re doing it on your own. I mean, no matter how we put it, it’s going to take time. You need to arm yourself with patience, time, educate yourself (continuously), and – surprisingly – you need money too.
The elephant in the room is this: there have been many services and tools mentioned here – tools that make WordPress maintenance possible when handling it on your own – and a big chunk of those are paid-for if you want to get the full benefits. These amounts add up.
For example, the premium edition of Sucuri starts at $199 / year, again, that’s security only. Then, how about premium backups with BlogVault … that’s another $108 / year. And so on. So why not drop all of those additional tools, and instead pay a single fee with one WordPress maintenance company? I’m not going to state that it’s the perfect solution for everybody, but if you get your calculator out, you’ll start seeing the appeal.
If you want to stay with free tools, cool. But what if you need to maintain multiple websites – not just one. Then the time investment needed to take care of that multiplies … and so on, and so forth.
Anyway. As I mentioned above, the main selling point and the main benefit from my point of view is the reaction time. If things go bad, for whatever reason, the problem is going to be getting looked into right away if you’re working with a good WordPress maintenance company.
And as to whether such companies are right for everyone, I’d say this:
Generally, WordPress maintenance is something that needs to be happening somehow on most websites. If you don’t have the budget, but have the time, you can do most of the basic stuff yourself, and you should be fine.
In some really specific cases, like with a personal blog, or site you don’t care much about, or site that doesn’t make any money directly or indirectly, maintenance chores can probably be omitted entirely.
However, for any commercial website project, like an e-commerce store, or a business website, working with a maintenance company is generally a very good idea. You should also consider partnering with one if you’re a developer and you’d like to have your clients’ sites taken care of.
And that’s even if you have the knowledge and the experience to provide some maintenance services yourself. A good company will cover a whole spectrum of tasks for you in a single bundle, and we’re talking about people who specialize in providing this kind of services.
So, what’s it going to be for you? WordPress maintenance company or DIY?
This post is extracted from an article that first appeared in codeinwp.