Unpopular opinion: routine WordPress maintenance should be free for everyone.
Before I talk about WordPress let’s talk about alternative website solutions, which are not open source. Products like Squarespace, Shopify, Wix, and plenty of others are all propriety website solutions. These closed-sourced solutions have one thing in common: they control everything which, as a by-product, means they eliminate the need for routine maintenance. They do the backups, they do the server and software upgrades and they do the web hosting. They control how their platform can be extended which means everything just works out of the box. If you discover a bug then reach out to their support teams to fix the issue. Fundamentally you don’t have the power to break their product.
Now let’s look at the WordPress ecosystem. WordPress is an open-source application. You have full control. You decide where to host WordPress. You decide how it should be configured. You can extend WordPress to do whatever you want. You can install add-ons from others or write your own. You can even change core WordPress code! Although a plugin would be a safer option :). You have the power to break your stuff.
The balance between power and stability
Does the common user actually care about control? Well, that’s a deep question. Most folks don’t care about control until there is a reason to care. I mean, why use WordPress when there is a Squarespace? Oh wait I can’t do XYZ on Squarespace or maybe Squarespace doesn’t want me to do XYZ on their platform… that’s when owning your own platform matters. The same argument is made about freedom. We fight wars to be free when we are oppressed. However, when living in freedom we tend to gradually give away freedom for the idea of more protection or better safety.
Why do I spend my life supporting WordPress? For me, it’s not about WordPress or even the amazing WordPress community. I support the open web. I support you, the individual, being free to pick your platform, free to modify it, and free to break things. Currently, WordPress is the best option for you to own your platform. Technology is always changing. If there’s ever another platform that does WordPress better than WordPress, I’ll support that.
With great power comes some maintenance chaos.
The freedom to extend WordPress with themes and plugins, made by anyone without restrictions, means WordPress needs routine maintenance. I’ve personally never charged for WordPress maintenance services. Instead, I offer web hosting with routine maintenance services bundled in. If a plugin author releases a bad update, I have bulk management tools to quickly revert to a previous update for all customers. If a new PHP update breaks a WordPress theme I do my best to help my customers by writing compatibility patches and/or suggesting alternative solutions.
Full freedom to do anything also means the routine upkeep can be a little chaotic. I run all scheduled WordPress plugins and theme updates every week on over 1800 WordPress. With brutal consistency, it’s amazing most updates are very smooth. However, sometimes things do need extra attention, and having a web developer close by is a good idea.
If routine maintenance is something everyone needs then what can we do as a community to help out?
I think there is more that could be accomplished as a community than what’s currently left to be solved by “maintenance plans.” I’m all for anyone who wants to solve WordPress maintenance through a product or service; I mean, that’s what I do. However is that really what’s best for WordPress? I’ll admit that WordPress maintenance will never fully be solved. That comes back to the idea that WordPress is your platform and as your platform you will always have the freedom to break it. However many WordPress maintenance-related issues can and should be improved. Here are a few ideas:
- Standards for checksums – WordPress can verify file integrity through wp core verify-checksums and wp plugin verify-checksums –all WP-CLI commands. It would be amazing to see checksums expanded for 3rd party plugins and themes. This seems like a good baseline of security which maybe WordPress could do.
- Better built-in tools – WordPress themes and plugins should track file-level changes with a built-in method for reverting to the previous version. Not just a previous version number but an actual previous version, including all file-level changes of your theme and plugins. Better yet, tie this revision system to PHP fatals. If something just randomly starts giving PHP fatal errors then maybe WordPress could try pulling from its previous version of that theme or plugin to restore the website.
- Graveyard for unsupported themes and plugins – The WordPress ecosystem is old. Many themes and plugins are no longer supported by the original authors. It would be amazing if those could still receive PHP compatibility patches from anyone wanting to submit a pull request to Github, all tied into the WordPress.org automatic updates.
The best web host doesn’t do web hosting.
The best web host manages the hosting layer and handles the maintenance layer. I know WordPress maintenance is a popular option for many looking to offer paid services. Alternatively, I think more people should consider reselling WordPress hosting with routine maintenance services built into it.
There are lots of great WordPress hosts like Rocket.net and Kinsta. At scale, the cost per site goes down, so the more customers you have the easier it becomes to tack on extra services like routine maintenance or long-term backups.
It would be a huge win if more people could pay closer to just a web hosting fee and just receive routine WordPress maintenance services bundled in.