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5 New Year’s resolutions for your WordPress site

We’re nearly three weeks into 2016, and you’ve probably cheated on your diet at least once. A few drinks may have been drunk since New Year’s Day. Your commitment to better budgeting and early morning workouts might also be wearing thin.

Don’t despair. By this point in the year, more than half of resolution-makers have given up, perhaps because January 1st is the worst possible day to make resolutions. If you’re determined to beat the odds and make lasting positive changes, why not start February 1st or January 19th, for that matter?

Today, we’re giving you another crack at making some New Year’s Resolutions, at least where your WordPress site is concerned. Whether it’s been collecting cobwebs for months or only needs a tweak here and there, we’ve got five rock-solid resolutions that will keep your site current, secure, and running like a well-oiled machine in 2016.

1. Keep your files up to date

How often do you hit “Install” the first time you see “Updates are ready for your computer” pop up on your screen? Our guess is not very much. Most people put off updating their software about as much as they procrastinate upgrading their WordPress code, theme and plugin files. Everything’s working fine, right? You’ll get around to it eventually, right?

Wrong. Keeping your files up to date is one of the most important and effective measures you can take against getting hacked. When you let your core files fall out of date, you’re handing hackers an open invitation to exploit obsolete security features and gain access to the back end of your site.

We know it can seem like there’s a new update every time you log in to your site in reality, there were only 16 in 2015 but the two minutes it takes to install an update is nothing compared to the time and stress it takes to recover from a security breach.

2. Clean up your database

Speaking of things people put off until disaster strikes — left unattended, databases can grow into huge, unruly messes that slow down and even break your site. You might feel like you run a clean operation, but extra data from site revisions, drafted posts, spam comments, and pingbacks all pile up over time, bloating your site and making it run as slow as molasses.

Before you wade too deep into the muck of your backend, it’s important to back up both your database and site files. Keeping an extra copy can help restore things in a flash if you get overzealous and accidentally delete something crucial. Plugins like VaultPress, BackupBuddy and Updraft Plus all make quick work of backups.

Now it’s time to start cleaning. Start by deleting any plugins you aren’t using. It’s also a good idea to purge any lingering plugin data in your wp_postmeta table. Then, turn your attention to comments, clearing out those awaiting moderation, deleting spam, pingbacks and trackbacks. If you want a plugin that does all these tasks and more, we recommend WPOptimize.

3. Stay on top of your on-page SEO

There are many factors that influence search engine rankings just look at this visual guide from Moz but you don’t have to painstakingly tick off each one to achieve strong SEO. Taking five minutes at the end of each post or page to run through a few items can do wonders for your ranking.

What should you pay attention to? First off, if at all possible, try to use a relevant keyword in both your post title and URL. You’ll also gain favour with Google bots if you can use this keyword at least once in the first few lines. Make sure to add a meta description to each page and post, again including your keyword if it doesn’t sound too contrived. Insert some relevant outbound links, optimize your images, ensure your HTML tags are appropriate, and you’re done!

4. Proofread before you publish

Everywhere you look online, from blog posts to news stories to banner ads, you’ll find typos, grammar mistakes and missing words. Why? Because proofreading takes more time and patience than most of us are willing to commit. But when it can be the determining factor between getting a contract and losing one, or between running a successful ad campaign and ending up the butt of a joke, proofreading is worth the investment.

Make it standard practice to run everything you write through a spell-checker (WordPress doesn’t have one baked in like most word processing programs, but this post shows you how to add one). Try reading your writing aloud to catch any missing punctuation or clunky phrases. And of course, a second pair of eyes can almost always catch something your eyes didn’t, so ask a friend or colleague to read what you’ve written before you hit Publish.

5. Improve your site’s mobile experience

Just about everyone these days is toting some kind of mobile device. They’re using them to do their shopping, check bank balances, and, yes, read blogs and websites. If you’ve been ignoring this growing segment of site traffic, now is the time to make catering to it a priority.

How do you optimize your site for smaller screens? It all starts with a responsive WordPress theme. There are plenty of mobile-friendly themes out there, and we just happen to make some of the best.

If you’re too attached to your current design to scrap it for a new theme, you can also grab a mobile-friendly plugin like WP Mobile Detect. It will help make your site content beautiful and readable on just about any device without forcing you to give up the design you’ve spent countless hours perfecting.

Making your site responsive will go a long way towards improving your site’s mobile experience, but also be mindful of how mobile visitors access your content. Think about the size of their screens — wordy headlines and large, elaborate graphics aren’t going to work. Neither is pagination. Keep your titles punchy, your images optimized, and your infinite scroll switched on, and you’ll keep visitors tapping and swiping into 2016 and beyond.

PSA: As of Sept. 29, 2017, you can no longer purchase themes from this website. We will continue to provide limited support, including bug fixes and security updates, until March 31, 2018. Thank you for everything. We'll miss you dearly.