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Before you call me a tree-hatin’ so and so, don’t misunderstand. I love trees – most of the time. I love them when they’re all shiny and new and green in the spring, as they provide shade in the summer and with their bold and beautiful colors in the fall. In winter, the down and dead ones can provide a fair amount of warmth and give us something to watch as they burn in the fireplace when the power gets knocked out by some otherworldly beast of a storm. And we all know that they’re just good to have around in the broader context of the environment.

And with apologies to Joyce Kilmer, even though I’ve never seen a poem as lovely as a tree, they can be problematic at times. Like the deciduous ones, every fall. Particularly if you live on a heavily wooded lot, once the colors fade and the leaves come raining down, ugh. Especially if you have a neighbor with a bunch of 60-year-old pin oaks whose leaves fall late and always into your yard.

But the leaves are a minor annoyance compared to all the other things that can go wrong with trees, especially if we ignore them too long. Bugs invade. Branches snap. Roots rot. It’s sure easy enough to take them for granted.

So trees are just like websites, yeah? Of course they are, but trees deteriorate more slowly. (Note to self: work on segues.) Our websites can take a turn for the worse in a heartbeat if we’re not paying attention. We need a plan to prevent bad things from happening. Just how do we protect our websites from bugs, disease, root rot and all the other perils that lurk?

Catch the problem before they do

First, and I admit this is a GGO (Glaring Glimpse of the Obvious), we should look at our websites periodically. Like every day. I know. You’d be amazed at the number of those of us who don’t and only find out something is broken when a client points it out. Ouch. So visit your website regularly just to make sure it’s happy.

And keeping things updated – the CMS, plugins and the PHP driving everything in the background – is certainly a best practice. Regular updates help ensure the health of our websites. But there can be a downside – especially if automatic updates are enabled – because some updates don’t play nicely with others. Conflicts break things. Even though it requires a little more work, disable automatic updates because we just don’t like surprises.

That brings us to the topic of managing our updates and keeping current versions installed on all the pieces and parts that drive our websites. We may not feel like it’s that important given that our site is running just fine, but consider that some ne’er-do-well might find a weakness in a plugin they can exploit and they share their findings with every other ne’er-do-well on the dark web and your website then gets hacked and starts linking to Russian porn sites and/or selling Viagra. Or worse, unbeknownst to us, we become part of a nefarious network perpetrating evil. The scenarios are endless. And none of them are pretty.

Accidents happen, even to us

But what happens when we update as planned and we break something anyway? Well, that’s why we always want to make a full-site backup before clicking that button. There’s a reason developers tell you to do that – not because they don’t have confidence in their product – but rather they don’t know what else we have going on and what conflicts might arise.

Then consider another scenario where we have plugins and themes and things laying about that we’re not using any more. Or maybe never used and forgot to discard. Dead limbs on our tree. They don’t just have the potential to create another portal for nefarious exploits mentioned earlier. Even unused plugins consume resources on the server and slow our websites down because they don’t know they’re not being used. Every time a page gets called up, they fire off just to make sure. Get rid of the dead wood. Keep everything running smoothly.

So let’s all agree – we love our trees and websites both. But they need our attention on a routine basis. And back to the GGO. At a bare minimum we oughta at least look at them once in awhile and appreciate their beauty and have sense enough to call an expert if something doesn’t seem right Timmy. Elsewise, they might come crashing down on our houses and we’ve enough to do already. Like planting some more trees…


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