WordPress Maintenance: To-do List and Helpful Plugins

As WordPress sites age and grow larger, they tend to become slower. This is because the database becomes large and gets clogged with excess data, so it takes longer every time a query is sent to it.

For this reason, it’s a good idea to carry out some routine maintenance tasks on your site on a regular basis. As well as cleaning up your database, there are various other general housekeeping tasks you should do, that I’ll go through in this article.

WordPress maintenance isn’t particularly difficult or hard, but it can be time consuming and boring, and many people put it off or simply don’t bother. For this reason I’ve also included some plugins that can make the job easier, as well as speeding up and automating the process as much as possible.

Taking Down Your Site for Maintenance

Most maintenance tasks can be done while your site is up and running but if you’re planning on a major upgrade or design modification, it’s best to temporarily take your site down so you can make sure everything is working properly before you go live again.

If you do need to take your site down, it’s a good idea to replace it with a short message explaining that it’s undergoing maintenance and when you expect to be up and running again. You can do this in a number of ways:

Use a WordPress Maintenance Plugin

WordPress has a built-in maintenance mode, which is activated when you’re running updates on plugins, themes, or the core code. This displays a generic message saying that the site is unavailable due to maintenance and you should check back in a minute.

You’ll normally not see this message for very long as WordPress updates are normally very quick to complete, but it’s also possible to activate maintenance mode manually if you want to take your site down for longer.

It’s possible to activate this mode manually, but there’s no simple way to customize the message or the style of the page displayed. Most people therefore prefer to use a plugin, and there are several to consider:

Coming Soon Page & Maintenance Mode by SeedProd

coming soon by seedprod 

 Coming Soon by Seedprod not only helps you to put your site in maintenance mode, but also gives you the option to create a “coming soon” page, which is useful if you’re launching a new website or a redevelopment of an existing site.

This plugin has 300,000+ active installs and a 5-star average rating.

It works with any WordPress theme, it produces responsive pages, and the style is totally customizable. There’s also a pro version that allows you to add an email capture form, provide a secret link for clients to view a site in development, display a progress bar, and many other feature.

WP Maintenance Mode

WP maintenance mode

WP Maintenance Mode is another plugin that easily allows you to create an attractive maintenance mode page or a coming soon page.

It’s fully customizable, and offers the option to add a subscription form, social media icons, and a countdown timer.

This plugin has 400,000+ active installs and an average rating of 4.


maintenance plugin

Maintenance is very similar to the previous two plugins and comes in a free or a pro version with extra features.

The free version allows you to create a simple maintenance page with a message, styled as you choose. There’s the option to enable the “503 Service temporarily unavailable” error code.

The pro version provides the extras like countdown timer, a background gallery, video support, and Mailchimp integration.

This plugin has 400,000+ installs and an average rating of 4.5

Maintenance Mode

maintenance mode

If you’re just after a simple free plugin without all the bells and whistles, and you’re not bothered about spending ages getting the design of your maintenance page perfect, Maintenance Mode does the job and is very easy to use.

This plugin is designed to be as simple as possible and is completely free. You can use it to display a simple text message with the default WordPress styling, or use the WYSIWYG editor to add pictures and links.

This plugin has 40,000 active installs and an average rating of 5.

There are many other plugins in the WordPress repository to explore – just search for “maintenance” and see which one fits your needs best.

Using .htaccess

The other way to display a maintenance page instead of your WordPress site is to use your .htaccess file to send the 503 status code from the server and redirect visitors to a temporary page.

You might prefer this method if you don’t like installing excess plugins, or you want to create your own custom maintenance page by hand.

You’ll first need to create your maintenance page. This can be as simple as a text file with your message saved as maintenance.html, or you can design a page as you wish.

Once you’ve uploaded this file to the server, edit your .htaccess file to include the following lines of code:

<IfModule mod_rewrite.c>
RewriteEngine on
RewriteCond %{REMOTE_ADDR} !^123\.456\.789\.000
RewriteCond %{REQUEST_URI} !/maintenance.html$ [NC]
RewriteCond %{REQUEST_URI} !\.(jpe?g?|png|gif) [NC]
RewriteRule .* /maintenance.html [R=503,L]

Replace the numbers in the 3rd line of code with your IP address – this will allow you to access the site as normal.

WordPress Maintenance To-do List

WordPress maintenance to-do list

There’s a list of several tasks you should go through when you’re completing routine maintenance. Not all of these are essential and you might not want to do them all on the same schedule, but this is a pretty comprehensive list to get you started:

1. Approve and reply to comments and clear out spam

If you hold comments for moderation before publication, you’ll need to go into your site on a regular basis to approve comments and reply to them. Depending on the size and popularity of your site, you might want to do this on a daily or weekly basis.

Using a spam filter like Akismet can cut down on time spent sorting through spam comments but there will probably still be a few that made it through the filter – you can mark these as spam and permanently delete the rest of the spam messages that have accumulated.

2. Delete unwanted drafts and empty trash

If you have unneeded draft posts, you can delete them. By default WordPress empties the trash containing deleted posts and comments every 30 days, but you can also do this manually to keep things clean and tidy.

3. Backup your site

Regular backups of your WordPress site are really important and most site owners aren’t doing them as often as they should.

There’s no reason backing up should be an arduous task – there are various plugins that can do the hard work for you and even schedule future backups so you don’t have to think about it anymore.



BackupBuddy is a premium WordPress backup plugin that simplifies and automates the task of backing up your site.

This plugin also gives you an easy way to restore your site from backup and integrates with several cloud storage providers, so you can send your backup files somewhere you know they’ll be safe.

A license for a single site costs $80 per year, including 1GB storage space.


Duplicator plugin

Duplicator is my personal choice of backup plugin as it’s free, straightforward, and works. It’s also a great way to move your whole site to a new server.

However Duplicator does require a little bit of technical setup, so if you’re not confident with this, you might want to consider a more hands-off plugin.


Updraft plus

UpdraftPlus is another very popular WordPress backup plugin and it’s available as both free and paid versions.

Backups can be created with a single click and it’s also simple to restore from backup. Backups can be sent directly to cloud storage for safekeeping.

The premium version costs $70 for a 2-site license and includes extra features such as cloud storage space, the ability to migrate or clone your site, automatic backups when updating WordPress, and support for Multisite.

There are dozens of other backup plugins to choose from, so it’s a case of finding one you’re happy with and sticking with it.

4. Upgrade WordPress core, plugins, and themes

If a new update has been released, you’ll see a red circle next to the “Updates” link at the top of the sidebar menu in your WordPress dashboard, with a number depending on the number of updates that are available.

When you click on this link you can see if WordPress needs updating and what updates are available for plugins and themes you have installed:

WordPress updates

You can either update everything in one go, or complete the updates one by one. I prefer to do them separately so that if anything goes wrong, I know which plugin caused the issue.

Of course you should always complete a full backup of your site before updating any plugins or themes or the core WordPress code.

5. Delete unused plugins and themes

If you’ve installed any new plugins or themes to test them out and deactivated them but left them in WordPress, it’s best to uninstall them completely to keep your site clean and speed up loading time.

6. Delete unused images

It’s common to upload images to WordPress that you never end up using in a post and these take up disk space on your server.

If you periodically check for unused images and delete them straight away, this is a small task, but if you have a large gallery and have never audited your images, it could take a long time to go through them all.

In this case, you could install the Media Cleaner plugin for WordPress, which will automatically flag image and other files it detects aren’t being used in posts and galleries. You can then go in and check these files aren’t needed and delete them.

7. Optimize your database

As previously mentioned, large site databases can result in a slow site, so you’ll want to go in and clean them up regularly. This is similar to defragging your hard drive to keep your computer running smoothly.

There are a number of key tasks when it comes to database optimization and plugins that can handle the job for you – check out this post for a full guide.

8. Check for broken links

Links that go nowhere can be a frustrating experience for the user and could also result in you losing important business. It’s almost impossible to check all your links manually, unless you have a very small site, so a plugin like Broken Link Checker is worth its weight in gold.

This plugin will scan your website for broken links and images and allow you to fix the directly from the plugin dashboard.

9. Check and clear system errors

Errors on your site are not always visible without extensive testing. You can use a plugin like Error Log Monitor to collect any error messages for you to review later.

Once errors are discovered, you can look into what’s causing the problem and attempt to fix it. Sometimes errors are caused by a problematic plugin and it’s better just to delete the plugin altogether.

After you’ve resolved the errors, you can clear the log file.

10. Check your site statistics

Google Analytics

If you’ve not installed Google Analytics yet, it’s well worth doing so to get some insight into how many people are visiting your site and what they’re doing when they get there.

Google Analytics is free – you just need to sign up and you’ll be given a custom snippet of code that you can put in the header.php file of your WordPress site (there are also WordPress plugins available that will insert the code for you if you’re not confident doing it manually).

Google Search Console provides even more valuable insights such as the keywords people are using to find your site and if there are any crawl errors on your site.

Summing Up

Site maintenance is not the most exciting task in the world but it’s important to keep up with on a regular basis so you know your site is running well. It’s best to schedule in regular times to carry out maintenance tasks, or use plugins with scheduling features where possible to save yourself time.

If you have any favorite maintenance plugins or tips for keeping your site running smoothly, please share them in the comments.



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