Essential fall cleanup for your WordPress site

Rake those themes

Autumn is officially here. School is back in session, the leaves are piling up in the yard, and a cold brisk chill is in the air. The start of fall also presents an excellent opportunity to clean up your WordPress site and reduce the work you’ll need to do during the winter months, when Internet usage and site traffic typically increases. A little bit of work now really pays off in the long run. Keeping your site optimized and free of buildup is essential to providing a great experience for your site viewers.

Harvest time

Fall is the best time to take advantage of the “seasonal fruits” that are perfectly ripe for the picking. With the most recent update of WordPress core, the fall season is promising to be one of the largest harvests on record when it comes to plugin and theme updates. Take advantage of everything that these new releases offer by updating all of your themes and plugins. Be sure to back up before and after you update. After you are completely up to date, you are ready to initiate this cleanup plan.

Rake those leaves!

Once the snow starts to fall, an unraked layer of leaves can get matted down over the grass and smother it all winter long. It makes for a lousy appearance and shaky walking surface when springtime rolls around.

The same can be said for broken links within your content posts. Posts containing broken links send your site viewer into the muddy parts of your online yard. You can easily monitor and clean your site of broken links using the Broken Link Checker plugin. Once activated, this tool automatically scans your posts and pages for external links that no longer work. It will alert you right in the dashboard, allowing you several options to remedy the non-resolving link. These include adding a new destination for the linked content, or removing the link reference altogether. You can leave this plugin running all the time. It does a great job of continually cleaning your site content and allowing you to take action directly in the WordPress dashboard.

Another quick cleanup step for your WordPress site is to remove the unused themes and plugins that might be installed. If you are not currently using a plugin, whether it is activated or not, you need to deactivate and remove it from your WordPress installation. Stray, unused items in WordPress take up valuable system resources, increase your database size, and ultimately slow down your site. Worst of all, they can put you at risk for a serious security breach. Even if you are not using a plugin or theme, the fact that you have it installed can still present an opportunity for hackers to expose its vulnerabilities.

Pick up the poop

Fall is the perfect time to clean up the “little leftovers” throughout your website. You don’t have to get on your hands and knees with small bags for this cleanup job. Fortunately, there are tools to help remove any unsightly droppings from your WordPress installation without having to get your hands dirty with database code or programming.

All sites attract spammers, but WordPress is a frequent target of comment spammers who bombard posts with their own link building agenda. Activate the Akismet plugin to help cut down on the flow of comment spam. Every comment is stored in your database, so be sure to frequently empty your spam folder.

If you are not interested in comments at all, I highly suggest the No Comments plugin to completely disable comments from your site. For your typical online business or company site, comments are generally not required. If you have no need for comments at all, this is a great option that prevents database growth, nuisance bot activity and buildup in your database size. If you are a blogger and encourage user engagement, you’ll want to keep comments active, but this is a great option for those who do not need the functionality of commenting.

When writing a post or page, WordPress implements Post Revisions to save copies of your writing while you work. When this option is active, your database size increases with every post revision, creating duplicate posts each time you make an update. Plugins like Revision Cleaner help to remove all of your old post revisions, restoring wasted space within your database. It makes sense to get rid of old post revisions after you have posted your “final” version of the content.

De-thatch the yard build-up

In your yard, a build-up of above-ground roots called thatch keeps sunlight, oxygen and moisture from getting to the nutrient-hungry soil below. It is quite easy to remove, especially if you don’t wait until it overwhelms the yard. WordPress works in the same organic way as your grass. As your plugin usage grows, the buildup increases in your database. To help prevent your database from overgrowing beyond management, use these plugins to help keep your WordPress site clean and optimized.

Because WordPress is database-driven, keeping a clean database is vital to keeping your site free of errors and increased site bloat. Using the WP Optimize plugin will help to remove a great deal of database build-up with just a few clicks. It will run on an automated basis to perform a multitude of cleaning functions. In addition to database optimization, you can schedule the plugin to automatically clean up residual content like post auto-drafts, unapproved/trashed comments, pingbacks and transient options.

As a site administrator, speed is essential when using the dashboard and editing content. One frequently overlooked area in WordPress is the growing collection of images in the WordPress Media Library. By removing unreferenced images from your site you will speed up your own page load time every time you enter the media library section. Using the Image Cleanup plugin gives you the capability to instantly find all the “orphan” images that are no longer used in posts. It also helps to clean up unused image crop revisions that still reside. This tool does not affect your database, but helps to clean unused images from taking up too much load time or hosting space.

Plant spring bulbs

Now that your site is fully optimized, it’s a great opportunity to plan out your upcoming content. Nothing beats a consistent editorial calendar for planning what to write about throughout the winter months. One of the best tools I use for this is called Edit Flow. It allows you to plan out your content far in advance. With a handy calendar view of your upcoming content plan, it’s easy to plan your content around holidays, special events, product releases or recurring topics. For sites with multiple authors, you can assign posts to specific users and implement user notifications and approvals for every stage of the editorial process. Even if you are just a one person editorial machine, Edit Flow is a great project management tool to remind you when to get a specific post done.

Whether you’re a seasoned WordPress professional or someone who just wants their site to perform as well as it can with as little work as possible, you can benefit from a fall WordPress cleanup. Use these tools and tips to enhance the performance and speed of your WordPress installation.

Note: Start to finish, this WordPress cleanup plan should take between 30 and 60 minutes, depending on the overall volume of content in your WordPress installation. Before you begin any modification of your WordPress site, it is important to have a full backup of your WordPress installation. In fact, this series of cleanup steps will require you to make a minimum of three backups, but you should be backing up your site after every stage in this plan, just to be safe. Be sure you have a reliable WordPress backup tool before you proceed.

Marcus Couch
Marcus Couch is a speaker, author and consultant to businesses that use WordPress. He has been a WordPress enthusiast for 10 years and is co-host on two of the most popular WordPress podcasts, WordPress Plugins A-Z and WordPress Weekly. Originally from Chicago, Marcus now resides in Laguna Beach, CA, with his wife, Barbara.