So you’ve decided that it’s time to update your small business’s WordPress site. Great idea! But you’re afraid it needs to be rebuilt from scratch, which sounds like a lot of work and expense. Well, I’ve got some good news for you: you don’t need to start over. Like an old house with solid bones, your old WordPress site just needs some maintenance and upgrades to look brand-new again and serve your business for years more to come.

Remember when you first got your business website online? For a lot of businesses, especially artists and makers who sell their products online, publishing your first website is the moment when it all seems real: you’re out there for the whole world to see. Since most small businesses start out on a shoestring, you might have used WordPress to build your first site yourself. Maybe you got some help from your friend who works at a tech company. And while your business has evolved and you’ve been diligently adding new content, chances are the site still looks pretty much the same as the day it was launched.

Even if your website is only two or three years old, the web has seen a lot of changes since them. More of your customers are using a smartphone or tablet to view your site, and Google and other search engines keep refining what they consider to be best practices for a high-performance, high-SEO website.

Sites built on WordPress are up for the challenge of today’s web.

People (and Google) have high expectations for websites today. They expect sites to load quickly, to work as well on a phone as on a big-screen desktop, and to use high-quality images that look crisp on clear on high-resolution screens.

Fortunately, sites built on WordPress are up for the challenge of today’s web. With WordPress, you are in charge of how and when your site is upgraded. You can do a top-to-bottom overhaul, or take advantage of WordPress’s modular structure to tackle one piece at a time without disrupting your site or committing to a huge upgrade project.

Whether you choose to do it all in one fell swoop or little by little, here’s what you’ll be looking at when you update your small business’s WordPress site:

Update your Small Business’s WordPress Site to the latest version of the WordPress Core to improve the security and performance of your site, and add support for new features.

  1. Update your Core
    The first version of WordPress was released to the public in May 2003, and since then there have been over two dozen major releases of the WordPress Core, which is what the code forming the foundation of the WordPress platform is called. Upgrading your site to the latest version of the WordPress Core will both improve the security and performance of your site, and add support for new features that you’ll want to take advantage of. WARNING WARNING WARNING: do NOT, under any circumstances, just go ahead and upgrade your actual website to the latest version of WordPress without testing it first. There’s a good chance that things will break, especially if your site runs a version of WordPress that’s two, three, or more years old.
  2. Upgrade your Plugins:
    One of WordPress’s strengths is that it supports Plugins, little pieces of code that add custom features. Just like the Core, quality plugins get updated regularly by their authors to make sure they work with the latest version of WordPress. Again, DON’T DO THIS WITHOUT TESTING THE NEW PLUGINS FIRST! Once you’ve updated the WordPress Core the plugin update process should go smoothly, but never gamble with your business’s website!
  3. Clean Up your Content:
    Reading your old blog posts can sometimes be a lot like looking through your diaries from high school. If there are any posts that don’t fit with your current niche, have become outdated or obsolete, or you just plain want to get rid of, now is the perfect time. Likewise, if your tag and category lists have gotten out of hand take this opportunity to thin them out. If any of this results in the permalink, or permanent URLs, of your any of your content to change make sure to set up type 301 redirects from the old URL to the new so that Google knows where the content has moved to and you won’t loose you search engine rankings.
  4. Review your SEO:
    Every year Google’s PageRank algorithm gets more sophisticated, adding or refining their treatment of factors affecting your site’s ranking in their index. Your site needs to have optimized code, content, and performance in order to stay on Google’s good side. I go into this topic in-depth in my three part series on SEO for Small Business Websites—get started on part one here.
  5. Dress Up your Site in a New Theme:
    Switching to a new theme is the flashiest way update your small business’s WordPress site, but it’s more than just a change of clothes. In order to make your website responsive (which means that the site automatically adjusts its design to fit onto different sized screens) and to start serving up images optimized for devices with Retina or other high-res displays, your site’s theme needs to be updated to provide those features. This is also the perfect opportunity to make sure your site design is aligned with your current branding, and to update your imagery with your latest products, events, or locations. There are thousands of themes available for free or for a reasonable cost or you can get a custom theme made just for your business, but either way TEST, TEST, TEST! Switching themes on a well-built WordPress website is usually simple, but it’s always better to try out a new look at home before sharing it with the world.

You don’t need to go back to square one when you update your small business’s WordPress site, but as you can see these updates can take a certain amount of technical know-how. dbdc is here to help artists, makers, and small businesses grow online. I offer a free, private phone consultations to anyone and everyone. Schedule yours today to get started updating your small business’s website.