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The Care and Feeding of Your WordPress Site

You can’t just publish your WordPress website and forget about it for weeks, months, or years as you could for HTML-based pages. (See more on how WordPress sites are different in our previous post.)

A WordPress site needs:

  • Updating of its modules to plug security holes that have been discovered.
  • Monitoring of visitor comments.  You’ll want to respond to questions or complaints, and you will want to encourage people’s comments.
  • Watching for fake spam comments that are loaded with links to scammy sites.
  • Regular, intentional back-ups.
Word Press Dashboard

Dashboard Showing 1 Update Pending

Fortunately, regular maintenance is neither difficult nor time consuming.

Here’s what we suggest.

  • Sign on to your site administration account at least once a week. Pick Mondays at noon or another regular time
    • Review the WordPress Dashboard.  Any pressing tasks will be highlighted in red and also the number of tasks will be shown on the header line at the top.  In the example at right, there is 1 Plug-In Update pending.  If there were comments needing review or theme updates waiting, there would be a red number by those menu items.
    • Click on the lines with red numbers showing, and follow the instructions.  This process will bring your site up to the latest version of its software.
    • Click on the “Comments” menu item and see the new comments have been posted site-wide.  Click on ones you want to respond to.
  • If your site allows any comments,  install the Akismet plug-in to block spam comments automatically.  The service is free for personal sites and $5/month for commercial sites.
  • Set up an unattended backup so that you will have access to a copy of your live system in case something unexpected happens to your hosting service or software.
    • We use Updraft for the sites we create.  The full-featured version allows us to stage a site, show it to a client, and then migrate it to the client’s live URL.  For your website, if you don’t need any special functionality, you maybe able to use Updraft’s free version.  Or, buy your own license for $60/year.
    • You, or your web developer, can install the backup program when your site goes live.  Establish a regular schedule for the backups and test the procedures.

Because WordPress sites are dynamic and can be updated from different locations, your maintenance activity is critical, if not terribly time consuming.  Besides,  although this post is written saying that YOU, the website owner, have maintenance tasks waiting for you with a WordPress site, you can delegate your responsibility.  Ozdachs will do regular or ad hoc maintenance on your WordPress site.  Or, you can assign the routine work to a techy in your organization.

Want more information? Leave your questions here, or call us at 415.347.6479 for a private response.

By |2014-02-09T13:35:10-08:00February 9th, 2014|Blogging, Wordpress|0 Comments

WordPress Sites: You Don’t Just Publish and Forget Them

It used to be that clients asked a developer to create a website, the site went live,and then the owner let the site attract business for them without any further effort.  The owner usually didn’t update the site regularly, and there were no maintenance tasks to be performed.  Maybe some content would be updated every month or so, but maybe not.

Now, though, business owners have jumped on the DIY updates/blog wagon.  They want to be able to create their own posts, and they want to be able to change the photos and content on the their websites themselves.

In response to this new approach, WordPress has exploded. WordPress lets you create and modify a website from a web browser anywhere in the world.

  • You don’t need special software on your computer
  • You don’t need to know any programming language, not even HTML
  • The base WordPress is free software that is continuously updated by passionate programmers who keep adding functionality

However, there are trade-offs in using WordPress for a site:

  • The pages of the site are created by a script that runs when a visitor wants to see that page.  Unless you buy a more powerful, expensive hosting service, the pages may take seconds to appear on your visitor’s screen.  Significant slowness will make your site fall in Google rankings.
  • WordPress sites are complex merges of scripts from many different programmers.  A WordPress template typically contains great functionality and flexibility.  However, making a fine-tuning change that is simple using HTML may be very, very, very difficult to accomplish in WordPress site.  If the WordPress developers or authors of the template you use did not expect you to want to modify a color, font size, margin, or other specific detail, then making that modification can be hugely difficult.
  • Since WordPress sites can be modified from anywhere in the world. the latest version must be consciously backed up.  With an HTML site, the master site is developed on a local PC and then a copy is uploaded to the web hosting service.  The live version visitors see is backed up by static code on the developers computer. On the other hand, the live WordPress site is a dynamic master site whose code and database settings must be intentionally saved.
  • Since WordPress sites can be modified from anywhere in the world, evil hackers are always trying to break into your site and do malicious things with it.  The WordPress developers and the authors of the software plug-ins you use on your site regularly issue updates that both address security issues and add functionality.  The website owner must regularly check for updates to the site’s template and plug-ins and install them.
CloudFlare Threat Graph

Attacks Against this Blog During the 7 Days Prior to the Writing of this Blog Post

In addition, if the new website includes an interactive blog or allows visitors to post comments, the website owner acquires additional responsibilities:

  • The owner should regularly check for comments and questions and respond.
  • The owner will need to moderate the comments.  Spammers will make bogus comments with links to their own scammy site, trying to lure other visitors to their den of inequity.

Check out our next post on the tools we use to stay on top of dynamic WordPress sites.

By |2014-02-09T11:53:49-08:00February 9th, 2014|Web Design, Wordpress|1 Comment

Don’t Put Your Data Back-up THERE!

My lunch Friday was with a professional who stores a lot of sensitive data on her office computers.  She keeps her client’s names, investment transactions, social security numbers, and other sensitive data in unencrypted files while she does work for them and for archival purposes.

We talked about how she had to wear so many different hats because she was running her own office.  Not only does she provide the professional advice her clients pay her for, she also has to be office quartermaster, bookkeeper, publicity agent, etc., etc., and IT manager.  She said that her computer set up was very simple, and that triggered me to launch into my evangelical discussion on backing up computer data.

She agreed with me completely that back-ups were critical.  She explained that she runs backups every week and makes two copies.  One copy she keeps in her office on an external hard drive and she keeps another copy on a thumb drive which she puts in her handbag and keeps it with her wherever she goes.

She, like me, is worried about an office fire or an earthquake which would destroy backup disks kept in the office.  Or, maybe the office would simply be inaccessible for a few weeks due to a structural problem triggered by the fire, earthquake, or even terrorism near her downtown location.  In either case, she said, she wanted to have a copy of her data with her so she could set up shop at her house or another location if there was a physical problem with her office.

I tried to ask gently if she had considered backing up over the Internet.  She had, she said, but was worried about how secure cloud backups were.  She just didn’t know if  information sent through the Internet could be kept private and if the people receiving the information on the other end could be trusted.

Protect Your Business
Mmmmm!… I couldn’t think of reasonable questions to ask her. I was more directive than Socratic. Here’s what I shared:

First, keeping a thumb drive full of easily readable information in a target for thieves — your handbag — is truly not a good practice! We’ve all heard news stories of some credit bureau employee’s laptop loaded with data being stolen from their car or from a coffee shop.  Handbags are traditional targets of theft and sensitive information should not be routinely kept there.

Second, professional back-up software encrypts your files before they are shipped off to the backup center.  What goes out to the Internet is unreadable digital gibberish. The data centers themselves are protected with best-practices security precautions.

Third, I cannot personally guarantee that all of your data will be 100% secure if you backup with one of the major backup services.  I am not a security expert.  I didn’t examine and test the services’ encryption techniques, nor am I qualified to evaluate the physical and technical security of the storage data centers.  You’re not a security expert, either. But, the companies who hold themselves out to be expert in data security and backups are willing to risk the liability of saying that your data is safe.  Two of them, Mozy and Carbonite, are industry standards for home and small business.  Since you are not an IT security expert, I think you should rely on the industry-standard-setting companies’ security assurances.

Fourth, you want your backups to occur automatically and more frequently than weekly. Automatically because when you’re busy and changing a lot of data, you’re the most likely to forget to do the backup and you’re the most likely to resent the time you spend on the manual process.  More frequently than weekly because you probably cannot afford to lose a week’s worth of work!  Once again, Mozy’s and Carbonite’s products solve the problem.  Each continuously examines your hard drive and backs up new and changed files.

After my diatribe, my friend said said she would go back to her office and sign up for a cloud back-up service that afternoon.  I think I convinced her and she was really going to do it.  Of course, she just might have been trying to get away from the crazed zealot she’d been dining with.


By |2012-01-22T06:51:29-08:00January 21st, 2012|Tips and Resources|2 Comments

Sexy Bodies, Sex, More Sex, and Backups

Sexy Computer Back-UpsOkay, okay, reading about backing up your data files is not exciting and I am trying to trick you into taking action. Sex sells.

But, if you’re not enticed to action by the thought of hot juicy backups, let me revert to the other sure-fire sales technique: fear.

Everywhere I went on vacation over the summer I ran across people who were in trouble because they have no effective backups of the information on their computer.

Here are some conversations I had:

  • One friend has created a huge iTunes music library on her laptop PC.  She’s spent hundreds of hours feeding CD’s into the machine. She’s now getting strange errors when she runs her five-year-old laptop and she thinks its disk may be going bad. What will happen to her music if the disk crashes?
  • A fire destroyed 11 homes in the town I was visiting. A client said she regularly backs up her financial information to an external hard drive.  But, she wondered, how she could recreate her data if the flash fire had burned her home to the ground.
  • Another client was very proud how she backed up all of her digital photos to her home computer.  She said she unloads the camera every time she returns from vacation.  The fire got her pondering how many memories she’d lose if her PC picture depositary was incinerated.

Be Very Afraid

The short, succinct take-away from all these situations is that if you do have a copy of your music, financial information, or photos physically distant from your home, you are at risk of permanently losing important data or memories.

That truth isn’t sexy (unless you’re turned on by disaster scenarios).  But, face it. Your information could be irretrievably lost if you don’t have a remote backup of your files.

What Can You Do?

A basic solution is to do regular manual backups of all of your data and store them in a safe deposit vault or with friends or family in another town.  Buy a couple external disk drives, copy the information, and then ship a disk to your remote storage location.  Do it again next week, and have your friend ship you back disk #1. This is a very workable solution, but you have to back up regularly and stick to your schedule.

Why this solution didn’t work for me was that I needed to create a list of files to back up, and I had to keep adding and modifying the list as I changed information on my computer.  In addition, the manual process required me to be in front of the computer.  I had to drag the files to update and wait for them to copy. Then I had to the same thing for the next group of files.  Finally, I bought a backup program that let me synchronize the files on my internal drive and the external drive, but then I had to do that backup manually, update the file list, and manually run that back up.  Ugh.

What Should You Really Do? — Mozy

Mozy for Your Computer Backups

Try Mozy

Fortunately, a couple years ago the cost of backing up files over the Internet fell a lot.  I investigated a couple services and am now recommending Mozy.

Here’s why:

  • It backs up all data files on a computer for a fixed price.  Out of the box it backs up files in the default locations (like “MyMusic”), and you can specify any folders or individual files on your internal disk.
  • It backs up files in the background.  If you’ve changed a bunch of files, Mozy will upload them overnight or whenever you’re not using the computer.  You don’t have to do anything to start your back-up.
  • It backs up files to its remote site over secure connections on the Internet.  Your data will survive even if your PC is burned, damaged in an earthquake, or stolen.

The cost is pretty cheap, too. First you can try it out and backup 2GB of data for free. Then, it’s $5.99  a month (price updated 9/2012) for up to 50GB or $9.99/month for 125GB.

Mozy has features like allowing me to go get a single file from the backup.  So, if you accidentally delete a file, you can retrieve it easily.  Plus, Mozy keeps old versions of your files for 30- days..  The versioning feature will save your life you when accidentally update a Word document — say, erase the whole contents — and stupidly save the new version. Just get the original document back from Mozy.

What’s Not to Love? Or, Why Wait?

I know your disk drive won’t go bad today. Your home isn’t going to explode in a molten mess this week.  And, the 7.1 destructo earthquake isn’t due this year.

But, if your reading this and you don’t have a backup of your photos, music, or Quicken/QuickBooks data that is less than 7 days old, just stop it!  Stop denying that your data is at risk.  Try Mozy.  Or one of their competitors (contact me and I can give you more info). But, do something today.

My fear is having to see your face you after your disk drive has crashed, your data is gone, and it’s too late. Please do your backups so I can sleep soundly at night.

By |2012-09-27T16:42:05-07:00October 14th, 2010|Tips and Resources|0 Comments