The Full “Pre" Care Plan Website Evaluation Checklist
Before You Take on a Client for Website Care
by WP Care Market
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When approached to take over a website you did not build, it’s critical you look “under the hood” and evaluate the website for any potential issues you will have during ongoing monthly maintenance.
Typically positioned as a one-off paid service before onboarding to a website care plan, this list will walk you step-by-step through a basic “pre” care plan evaluation. This process includes testing updates on a staging or development environment, then carrying out updates and improvements on the live website for your future website care plan client.
Use this list featured in Selling the Care Plan, a popular course from our web pro training program, to perform a full website evaluation to assure a reliable onboarding experience for your new care plan client.
Pro tip: If you'd like this list INSIDE your WordPress admin, check out the DocketWP plugin. You'll find this list below in their template library, allowing you to insert it into your website, customize it and save it to your own saved lists!
Run Security Scan
Take a moment before any evaluation to run a security scan on a free scanner like Sucuri Site Scanner. If the website has malware, do not carry out the evaluation service - instead, get the malware addressed in a separate "Hacked Website" service cleanup through you or a third-party provider. Running a security scan on the website before the evaluation prevents you from trying to evaluate a burning building. The "pre" Care Plan Website Evaluation service is intended to be run on a clean website.
Confirm Staging or Development Environment
If a website has not been regularly updated, there will certainly be small issues that arise on the front-end and the back-end. Considering this is a website you did not build, you don't want to run a full update on the client's live site without knowing what will change. Transfer the site to a staging environment or a local development environment so you can safely run an update. This way if there are issues you are not required to address them immediately but can present them to the client in a punch-list for review.
Optional: Disable Emails
Make sure your staging or development environment is set up to block unnecessary alerts to admins or users. WordPress will send out error notices to the admin on the website if there are failed updates. Users on the website can also receive new posts alerts, comments alerts, and other emails that go out of the WordPress system while you are working on troubleshooting a website on a development enviroment. To disable emails on WordPress, simply use the Disable Emails plugin. By disabling emails, you prevent unnecessary alerts and notices. This should only be disabled on a staging site, never the live site.
On Staging: Run Website Maintenance Checklist
Now that it's time to carry out updates on the staging website, review our Ultimate Website Maintenance Checklist! This list has all the steps to carrying out updates to a WordPress website. In short, you want to follow a process for updates to WordPress Core, plugins, themes, and optimizations.
Create Document With Website Details
The "pre" Care Plan Evaluation isn't just for you to understand the website, it's also for your client. Providing a deliverable of your findings will help them understand what should be improved, redesigned, or immediately addressed. Compile a document in which you can add all the items you will note in the upcoming steps of this checklist. Include "action steps" to not only describe what you found but what needs to be done.
In Document: Note Errors in Admin
When logged in as an admin on a WordPress dashboard, there will be a series of notices on the website from plugin and theme authors. These will key you into elements of the website that need to be addressed such as premium plugin licenses missing, incomplete settings, and errors from conflicting plugins that should be addressed. Note the errors, notices, and important action steps in your document to discuss with the client. (View both the live site dashboard and staging site dashboard for these notices.)
Review the current theme and whether the theme can be updated or modified without causing an issue. How do you know? Note whether it's a child theme or not, who created the theme, current version info, and if it's being supported. If you're handy with code, check theme files for any custom coding added to the theme that may prevent a smooth update. While reviewing the themes installed, note any additional installed themes that can be removed. Keeping the theme updated is a priority for security and performance for a WordPress website. Having too many themes installed can cause issues with vulnerabilities and unused themes should be removed.
Review the current active plugins and whether they can all be updated, which ones need premium licenses, and which ones may be redundant. For premium plugins that need licenses, make a note to confirm with the client that they have access to the licensed accounts. For deactivated plugins, consider recommending they be removed as even deactivated plugins can pose a security risk. Keeping the plugins to the absolute minimum of what's required is key for security and performance. Having too many plugins installed can cause issues with vulnerabilities and unused plugins should be removed.
When reviewing users you want to bring to the attention of the client who has access to impact the functionality of the website. Those with administrator access control the website, so if the client doesn't have access, or has a lot of admin users, this could be a large security concern. In Users, you may find old admin logins from past developers, people no longer working for the company, dummy logins from old web hosting, or users created for temporary support access. You'll want to address these with the client and remove or downgrade (to an editor, collaborator, or subscriber) those who don't need admin access.
Review General Settings
Inside Settings -> General confirm the main email for the website is accurate and is what the client prefers. Also, review the timezone setting is set properly for the client's timezone. This can affect scheduling posts. Often you will find the previous developer's email as the main email and the timezone setting set to default. Adjusting these two items for your client is one small step that prevents big headaches.
Review Discussion Setup
Clients aren't often aware that comments are cluttering their database. Review the Discussion settings and note what they are set to so you can discuss it with the client. You want to make sure they are not susceptible to spam comments and security concerns. If Akismet is not active, make the recommendation and inform them of the steps to acquire a key. Address if the client should have commenting turned on, use a different commenting system, or adjust the settings for spam control.
Review Site Visibility and SEO
Confirm the website is not blocking robots in Settings -> Reading. If you are on a staging environment, you may want to check the live site to note these settings as some staging environments will turn this on automatically (and that's expected). Make sure the live website is visible to search engines, and note if a Search Engine Optimization plugin is active with metadata entered on pages. You don't need to offer SEO services to make this observation. It's important for clients to know if their website does not have these features installed whether you provide this as a service or not.
Confirm Analytics Tracking
By viewing the developer source of the homepage, you can quickly identify if the website has Google Analytics tracking code. You can also view this by seeing if a Google Analytics plugin is installed. However, just because the website has code, does not necessarily mean the client has access to that analytics account. Although it's important that the website has Google Analytics in the code of the website, it's more important that you confirm the client has access to their analytics (as well as the ability to add you to the analytics account).
Confirm SSL (& Any Mixed SSL Errors)
Every WordPress website is required to have an SSL certificate installed properly to not produce a security warning in a web browser (https:// instead of http://). If the client doesn't have one set up, see if their web host offers the free Let's Encrypt SSL certificate and quote a fee to install. Often times, websites will have an SSL certificate installed but it will be serving images and source files that have an http:// address. Mixed SSL content on a website causing a security warning on the visitors' browsers. Nothing this is critical for clients who may have no idea.
Review Web Design
The majority of the "pre" care plan website evaluation list is about looking under the hood of the website. However, we would be doing ourselves a disservice to not include reviewing the front of the website for improvements that can be done to help the client toward their goals. Think of just identifying low-hanging fruit, small adjustments like adding ReCaptcha to a contact form, or adding testimonials for social proof. Creating a punch list for the client is also a great way to show them how being on an ongoing website care plan will afford you an opportunity to work through a series of improvements over time in a cost-effective manner.
Run Performance Check
A WordPress website performance scan can reveal underlying issues that often involve problem plugins, theme modifications, and necessary optimization. Take a moment to run a performance scan on the live site with a tool like GTMetrix. By running a performance report on the live site, you can identify what issues need to be addressed over time to improve the website load time and increase visitor analytics.
Finalize Document & Schedule Call
Compile all the notes from running updates on the staging site, running the live site scans, noted improvements or issues you observed. Include the detailed breakdown as action steps for the client. This doesn't mean it will be done by the client but frames the report as a solution rather than a problem. Schedule a call to discuss the document/report and confirm carrying out the updates/improvements noted in your report on the live website. Make sure you've included time in your Website Evaluation service to addresses these. If not, create a quote and have the client pre-pay before carrying out improvements since this is being done on a live site.
On Live: Run Website Maintenance Checklist
Now complete the "Pre" Care Plan Website Evaluation by carrying out the updates on the client's live site. Follow the Ultimate Website Maintenance Checklist. Review this list for all the steps to carrying out updates to a WordPress website. In short, follow a process for updates to WordPress Core, plugins, themes, and optimizations.
On Live Site: Execute Improvements
Now complete the list of action items you documented in your report for the client. Make sure that the client has confirmed the priority of these action items and that the price for the improvements was included in your Website Evaluation. By executing improvements before you charge monthly for a website care plan, you are being proactive rather than reactive in your care of the website.
Save & Deliver Full Backup
It's important you also include a reliable backup as a deliverable of this service. Taking a backup right after you've confirmed the site is up-to-date provides you the best backup to keep on file for one year. Making a fresh backup of a clean website protects both you and the client should the client not proceed immediately with website care. Advise the client to download and store the backup in a safe place, letting them know that if they ever need it restore it, there will be an additional fee if not on a website care plan.
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Every website needs to be kept up-to-date and regularly fine-tuned to keep it performing well, secure, and meeting its goal as a 24/7 sales tool. Carrying out website maintenance properly to avoid major issues require a step-by-step foolproof workflow.
At WP Care Market, we love a good update SaaS. We've enjoyed recommending ManageWP, MainWP, BlogVault/Malcare, and other great plugins and tools that make it easy to update your WordPress website. However, in all the automation, we can lose sight of what a reliable process for updating a WordPress website requires to assure as few issues as possible.
This list is featured as a resource in Agency Processes for Care Plans, a popular course from our web pro training program. Need more of this? Enroll in one of our courses for web professionals on providing quality website care plans to your clients.
Pro tip: If you'd like this list INSIDE your WordPress admin, check out the DocketWP plugin. You'll find our list in their template library, allowing you to insert it into your website, customize it and save it to your own saved lists!
Before Updates: Confirm Full Backup (Database and Files)
Having a reliable backup has saved me many a day when an update went haywire and broke the site. Even more important is having a current backup. Taking a backup right before you update is the best way to ensure you can restore an exact copy of the site before the update. We recommend backups in three places: your web host (like WP Engine), through a backup service (like Updraft, ManageWP, BlogVault), and a yearly backup stored on Dropbox or Google Drive. Make a fresh backup from the place you feel most comfortable restoring from.
Before Updates: Perform Visual Check
The only way to know if an update changed something on the website is to do a visual inspection of the webpages before you update. Since this could mean tens or hundreds of pages, stick with the most important pages that have key functionality on them. Although we really like the recent release of visual site regression software, there's nothing like the human eye. You know this website best and which pieces might change with an update. Doing a visual check of the website before you update keeps you from troubleshooting a design change or issue that may have existed before you updated!
Update: WordPress Core
WordPress Core updates involve the mainframe of the WordPress software on your website. If a plugin has an update notice, it could be because it's updating its code to comply with the latest WordPress software version. This is why updating the WordPress core software first is key. The WordPress team tries hard to make sure these updates are smooth, however, they cannot account for all plugin and theme conflicts. By updating WordPress first, any issues after the update can be directly attributed to that step, making it easier to troubleshoot on a development environment (or by contacting your web hosting for insight).
If it's been a while since a website's plugins have been updated, you may want to update them one-by-one to better isolate a surprise issue with that particular plugin. However, if a website is regularly maintained and it just has a handle of plugins, you can typically get away with batch updating all plugins at once. It's important to remember that plugins form a "symphony of functionality" on a website and can easily result in an "out-of-tune" mess. We call this mess plugin conflicts. Be aware when updating plugins to major releases as they cause the most change. Educate yourself on what exactly is a minor and major release (same goes for WordPress core).
Update: Manual Plugin Updates and Premium Plugins
Often times a plugin will fail to update from inside the WordPress admin. This could be because it's not hosted on the WordPress repository or there's an issue with the connection (among other reasons.) In most of these cases, this will result in you downloading the latest version and uploading it yourself. Although this is an extra step, it's critical you keep all plugins as current as possible. The plugin that requires manual updates is often overlooked, so can be a weak link in security. Make sure all plugins can be updated inside the WordPress admin, even if that means purchasing a license or initiating a connection with a marketplace inside WordPress (like Envato Market).
After Update: Perform Visual Check
We perform another visual check after updates, just as we did before updates. Again, even though visual regression software is coming a long way, there's nothing like the human eye. Since you checked the website before the update, you should have a good idea of what might have changed. You know which pages could change the most with a particular plugin breaking or changing, reference those specific pages. The goal of the visual inspection after the update is to catch missing elements, visual errors displayed as code, or design changes that may be a result of a WordPress or plugin update.
After Update: Document Outstanding Issues
Most changes you catch from an update may be small enough to not warrant you restoring a full backup on the website. However, you may not have the time or means to make those changes during this update process. Make a task list in an external system, or inside your WordPress admin with DocketWP, of the changes you've seen that need to be addressed.
Optimize: Clean Up Revisions
WordPress has a lovely feature of saving revisions on pages and posts so you can return to a previous version. All these revisions can build up in the database over time and require optimization. At the time of this article, there's no out-of-the-box way to delete revisions in mass from inside the WordPress admin. Deleting revisions is a common feature of many WordPress update SaaS platforms, however, if you need to do this inside WordPress we recommend using WP-Optimize.
Optimize: Clean Up Spam Comments
If commenting is enabled on the website and there are no discussion restrictions in place, spam comments can build up quickly. Thankfully, WordPress has an out-of-the-box way of deleting spam comments by navigating to the comments section and clicking "empty spam." If you are finding that there is an enormous amount of spam comments, restrict the discussion settings. Cleaning up spam comments will further optimize the website and reduce the size of the database.
Optimize: Address Admin Panel Notices
Often overlooked are the pesky admin notices placed there by developers who request further steps for setup, upsells to their premium versions, or requests for ratings. Don't ignore them as sometimes legitimate requests, like updating the database after a major plugin update could be mixed in among them. Clear out and address all admin notices so the important ones are not missed.
External: Run Security Scan
A WordPress website should be scanned regularly for potential malware which can easily be injected in an out-of-date, vulnerable plugin. If you don't have this as a regular service for the website you're updating, then take a moment during every update to run a security scan on a free scanner like Sucuri Site Scanner. By running a security scan on the website after an update, you have a marker for a time in which you knew the website was scanning clean. Therefore if you encounter problems you can go back to the date of your update for a backup restore.
External: Run Performance Check
A WordPress website should be scanned regularly for performance issues. If you don't have this as a regular service for the website you're updating, then take a moment during every update to run a performance scan on a site like GTMetrix. By running a performance report after the update, you can identify what changes may have occurred with your updates and address improvements.
External: Check for Broken Links
A website should be scanned regularly for broken links. If you don't have this as a regular service for the website you're updating, then take a moment during every update to run a broken link checker scan on a site like Dead Link Checker. By running a broken link checker after the update, you can identify what changes may have occurred with your updates and address improvements.
Optional: Update Theme
**We recommend always updating the theme on a staging site first to check for issues before the live site.**
Theme updates are not as frequent as WordPress and plugin updates, but they are just as important. Theme developers may release an update for improvements or they may release it for a security fix. Referencing the changelog of a theme will give you a better idea if this update cycle is worth updating the theme or you can save it for later. Theme updates cause the biggest changes to a website, so it's important you update with care AFTER you've updated everything else and checked for issues. That way you know when something is broken as a result of a theme update.
Optional: Perform Visual Check
Since theme updates result in the biggest changes for a website, a visual inspection is a must to recognize what might have changed. If the theme hasn't been updated in a long time, you will notice the greatest changes that may require an hour or two of clean up to address. You will only know the issues of a theme update by taking time to comb through the website in a visual check after your update.
NEED MORE RESOURCES & PROCESSES FOR YOUR WEBSITE CARE PLANS?
WEBSITE CARE PLAN TRAINING IS AVAILABLE NOW
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