Running websites: Getting your website ready for Christmas!

Blog Audio: Read/listen time: 7 minutes

Christmas is just around the corner and you probably arent thinking about Website Maintenance! Those of you that have websites or manage websites for your company may not have considered all the things that could go wrong while you are off work and enjoying the festivities.

The last thing you want is for your website to go down, stop working or have orders not processing over the Christmas period.

With that in mind, I have created a pre-Christmas website checklist that you can use to minimise the chance of your website going down or failing during an automated update while you are supposed to be relaxing.

My name is Paul Edwards, I am a web consultant and front-end developer based in Worthing, West Sussex. If you feel that you have any unanswered questions I would be happy to have a chat with you about your specific situation. Call me on 01903 527927.

Today I answer the question:

What do you need to do to get your website Christmas ready?

Christmas? Why should you be thinking about websites?

There are two kinds of businesses out there, those that realise that their websites are responsible for much of their income, and those that dont.

There is an absolute posibility that nothing bad will happen to your website at all while you and your team are away from the office over Christmas. The stars could align, there might be no plugins that require updating, no core security fixes and your server could have lots of redundent space.

there were four WordPress core updates in the build up to Christmas last year (2018)

I don’t want you to think that I am scare mongering, so let me show you some research about WordPress core updates..

What are the chances of WordPress core updates in December?

I am not trying to worry you without cause, so I have done some research to see how many December updates have been rolled out on WordPress over the years. You will see from the graph that I have produced that it is not uncommon for December to have a number of WordPress core updates. These updates have varied from security updates to feature updates to maintenance releases.

I will be the first to admit that past performance is no gaurantee of future performance but even if you ignore all historic data pre 2018 you can see that there were four WordPress core updates in the build up to Christmas last year.

Dont forget that core updates are just the tip of the iceberg. It is far more likely that you will have a much larger number of plugin updates which will become due during the time that you are away from the office for Christmas. The number of updates will depend upon how many (and what) plugins that you run on your website. The fewer plugins, the smaller your exposure.

Graph showing yearly December WordPress core updates
The statistics for this assessment have been gained by viewing the WordPress releases here:

What kind of issues could your website experience over Christmas?

Generally, if something is going to go wrong with your website it is going to be one of two types of problem. Firstly, the issue could be a a critical one which results in your website either partially or fully ceasing to function or Secondly, the issue could be non-critical meaning that your website continues to function, but that your customers expectations are not fully met in some way.

Noone wants to be thinking about their website while they are trying to rescue the turkey

Let’s divy up all the potential issues that could ocurr over Christmas into a. Critical and b. Non-critical and look at potential ways of avoiding those problems that you can impliment in time for your festive break.:

Potential Failures

A. Potential Critical Failures

  • Your website disappears leaving a blank screen (white screen of death)
  • Your website becomes unavailable and shows a webhosts holding screen or ‘Internal Server Error’ message
  • Your site gets defaced and altered and/or shows innapropriate content
  • Browsers display security warnings
  • Functions of the site such as shopping baskets and contact form stop functioning
  • Email does not get sent from your server
  • The site permentently displays a ‘under maintenance’ message
  • You are unable to log into your website

B. Potential Non-Critical Failures

  • Orders don’t get fulfilled due to staff holiday
  • Customers don’t realise fulfilment will take longer
  • Social media activity goes quiet
  • Backups arent completed
  • A build-up of personal data on the website
  • Unable to upload files to your website or save changes to your website content
  • Drop in search engine rankings
  • New content not being posted
  • Contact forms may stop working
  • Broken links sending visitors to missing/error pages
  • Someone leaves milk in the fridge!

Tasks to ready your website for Christmas and to minimise chance of failures

  • Disable auto-updates of WordPress core and any plugins
  • Manually update core and plugins prior to finishing work for Christmas
  • Check server space and that any scheduled backups wont use up that space before you come back to work
  • Update opening hours on website, social media and by emailing clients
  • Schedule blog, content and social media posts to drip feed while you are away
  • Ensure full backups of files/databases are carried out prior to leaving office
  • Arrange holiday cover for essential non-movable tasks for your website, either in-house or freelancer
  • Add a site message if your shop postal/response times will be slower or paused during Christmas
  • Update Google and Bing with your Christmas opening hours
  • Purge your website of unnecessary plugins to reduce the number of potential updates/vulnerabilities
  • Consider sending site backups to third party location such as Dropbox business account to reduce potential use of hosting account space
  • After running all your core and plugin updates ensure you validate your contact forms and test them
  • Purge your website of any unneeded data prior to breaking for Christmas to reduce risk/exposure in case of hacking/breach
  • Check your site for broken links and your social media posts for old links. Update site accordingly
  • Ensure SSL certificates dont expire while you are on holiday, if they are, renew early.
  • Ensure hosting accounts and domain names arent due to expire while you are away from the office, if they are, pay invoices before due
  • Ensure critical plugin licenses arent due for renewal while the office is closed, if so, see if early renewal is possible

Listen now: I explain common website maintenance tasks

Do you do these 10 things during website maintenance?

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View the full blog post (written and audio) here.

12 Simple Steps to Bulletproof WordPress Backups

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Why you need to routinely purge data from your website

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Want someone to watch over things for you?

If you feel that you need more detailed guidance in preparing your website for Christmas, please get in touch with me on 01903 527927. I am very happy to offer advice and guidance that will help you in your particular situation and steer you in the right direction.