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Guide to WordPress Optimization & Cleanup: An 8-Step Checklist with Plugins

What do you do when your computer slows down? Defragment the hard drive? Delete duplicate and old files? Clean up the registry? Remove obsolete startup items?

Yes? Well, then why don’t you do the same for your content management system?

If you think this analogy is strange, think again, WordPress, like any other content management system, is majorly engaged in the work of saving, managing and retrieving media, querying databases for files, and serving them on web pages. And so, WordPress optimization is an essential task for any publisher.

Why clean up?

As such, redundancy can and does creep into the system once you’ve changed a few themes, installed and deleted multiple plugins, and uploaded hundreds of media files. Your site will still work, obviously, but it is bogged down by the deadweight of extra files.

Here’s how you can refresh your system and make life easier for your content management system, reducing server load and possibly increasing page load times in the process.

First, take a backup

I’m guessing if you’re considering cleaning your WordPress installation, you probably have a lot of posts and files in the system — wouldn’t it be terrible if you lost them all? This is why the first thing you need to perform a backup of files and database.

There are least three ways you can do this:

You can choose any solution based on your comfort level with handling FTP transfers and appetite for figuring things out on your own, but the point is to make sure your data is secure in any way that works before you move on to the next step.

Step-by-step CMS Cleanup

In the next section, I’ll link you to some WordPress plugins that allow you to do automated cleanup, but depending on the thing you want to clean up and the amount of content on your website, you may just decide to do some of these steps manually as well, while others would just be better handled by a plugin.

> Step 1: Delete obsolete posts
If you’ve had your website up for a few years, chances are that you’ve got some old posts that are outdated now — either in terms of their content or the traffic that they are bringing you. You can start with making a quick inventory of all the content you have on your website and add a column for monthly traffic. This should give you enough information to shortlist the ones that aren’t working anymore and remove them. It’s better to have 50 good posts on your site than 200 outdated posts that no one is interested in.

> Step 2: Remove unused themes and plugins
Next, take a look at your themes and plugins and remove the ones that are not being used. As an extra step, log in using FTP and delete any folders for themes and plugins that you know you have removed from the WordPress interface as a lot of them tend to leave behind remnant files.

> Step 3: Delete old post revisions
Deleting old post revisions can help cut down the size of your database. By itself it may not make any big difference to the speed of your website but it will make it easier and faster to backup, clone, and move the database around. The most common use of revisions is to save drafts for when a post is in progress. And since, most revisions don’t serve any purpose once the last version of a post has been published, you can easily dispense with them.

> Step 4: Remove unused media
Images and documents could really add up to make the biggest chunk of data in your WordPress installation, a lot of times, posts are deleted during revisions or audits, but the image files associated with them stay in the media library forever. That’s a lot of clutter, and can, if periodically cleaned up, can save you hundreds of MBs in storage.

> Step 5: Remove extra tags
Tags are a great way to create an extra layer of taxonomy in your website, which you can use to create navigation links and tag clouds; besides, many themes and widgets utilize tags in order to create custom display options (“most popular post” widget for instance). Most users don’t understand the power of tags and add them indiscriminately, if you’ve never thought about tags as a taxonomical element, you may just want to delete them all and start afresh.

> Step 6: Delete spam comments
With good traffic comes a big quantity of spam, while anti-spam plugins like Akismet take care of this to some extent — they’re not foolproof. Badly moderated comment sections with a lot of spam does not say good things about your website, so just from a perspective of user experience, this is something you have to actively monitor and weed out.

> Step 7: Remove broken links
Websites close down, web pages are removed, but publishers rarely, if ever, revisit their pages to see if the links they inserted in posts are still pointing to functional web pages. The same thing can happen to internal links as well, maybe you trashed a post or put it into drafts but forgot to remove the links pointing to it. If these pages are getting any organic traffic, users are still probably clicking on links that don’t work and getting frustrated.

> Step 8: Clean up database
All file management in WordPress happens via MySQL databases, these become filled with tables as sometimes the files that you remove from the system but their entries remain the database. An optimized database will run more efficiently and throw fewer errors.

Optimization Plugins for WordPress

Here are some of the best cleanup and optimization plugins available in the WordPress plugin directory. Some of these serve a specific purpose — the plugin for removing broken links for instance — while some others perform multiple optimization routines at the same times.

  • WP-Sweep allows you to clean up unused, orphaned and duplicated data in your WordPress. It also optimizes your database tables.
  • WP-Optimize is WordPress’s most-installed optimization plugin. With it, you can clean up your database easily and safely, without manual queries.
  • Broken Link Checker will check your posts, comments and other content for broken links and missing images, and notify you if any are found.
  • EWWW Optimizer will automatically optimize your images as you upload them to your blog. It can also optimize the images that you have already uploaded and convert your images automatically to the file format that will produce the smallest image size.
  • DNUI (Delete Not Used Image) will search images from the database and try to find it on every post and page. If one image has one reference in this either post or page, the plugin will tell you that the image is used.
  • Bulk Delete is a WordPress Plugin that allows you to delete posts, pages, attachments, users and meta fields in bulk based on different conditions and filters.
  • Mass Delete Unused Tags deletes all unused tags. Handy tool if you want to start over with a quick clean blog.
  • Image Cleanup will index unreferenced images. These can be leftovers from cropping and scaling images. Stop them from cluttering your content folder.
  • Content audit lets you create a content inventory right in the WordPress Edit screens. You can mark content as redundant, outdated, trivial, or in need of a review.
  • Export all URLs allows you to extract posts/pages Title, URL and Categories. You can write output in CSV or in dashboard.
  • Spam Comments Cleaner deletes all the SPAM comments of your WordPress site in a regular time interval.
  • Delete All Comments Easily helps you in deleting all the comments (Approved, Pending, Spam and Trashed Comments) from your website or you can just delete all the pending comments.

What’s Next?

Your site will have a lot to thank you for if you follow these steps, both your front end and database will be lighter and relatively error-free.

However, this is just a clean up and primarily serves a hygiene purpose. It will not magically make your website work faster. If that’s what you’re looking for, here are 30 WordPress Plugins to Make Your Site Better, Faster, Stronger.

Just like your computer and your car, you need to conduct some essential maintenance tasks on your website too, especially if it is a content-heavy website, to make sure that it’s always working at its best.