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When WordPress Websites retire

We develop websites for companies. Normally, this means that the website’s content is updated and WordPress is being maintained on a regular basis. But what if the website has only been created for an event? This way the website has a kind of “expiration date”.

The event is over, everything is quieting down. What now? Usually the website remains on the server space for some time. But no one maintains it any longer, there certainly is no new content nor does anyone take care of the WordPress install. Eventually, someone comes along and deletes it. If you are in luck you might still find the website via the WayBack Machine.

But in many cases it would be a shame to just delete the website without further ado. Often, these websites have had a short but ample life. There have been lively discussions; videos, presentations, photo galeries and maybe even results have been published. All in all much too valuable to just dump it!

Options for websites that are no longer in use

1. Keep WordPress alive and running

One option is to just keep the website. In this case, you need to be aware of the consequences: An unkempt WordPress website poses a safety risk not only to the website itself, but also to all other websites within this server space. Therefore you need to make sure to regularly update WordPress core, plugins and themes. If you used premium plugins and themes you need to maintain the subscriptions in order to get all the updates.

As long as you keep everything up-to-date, your website can be healthy and clean for years to come. If you don’t take care of it you will be running into problems sooner or later. This could mean the end for your website or at least some major refurbishing.

Right now, for instance, most hosting companies are about to retire older versions of PHP. Among them PHP 5.6 which has been the standard PHP version for WordPress projects in many years.
If your website is a couple of years old it might not work with PHP 7. There can be countless faults: You might experience the dreaded “white screen of death”, that is all you see is a blank screen. Or you might not be able to log in any longer. There is no general fix, one needs to take a look at every particular case.

2. Converting the website to HTML

Converting your WordPress website into static HTML can be a good way to solve your problem. It’s possible to generate a HTML version of your WordPress website and only provide that static website in your server space. This way, the website does not use PHP any longer. There are no executable programs and therefore no safety risks at that particular point.

HTML is a “markup language”, no programming language. It allows you to format your page but there is no way to execute commands with it. You could compare it with a word processing program (which is what HTML was developed for originally).

Generating the static HTML version means that a plugin creates an HTML file for each page and each post of your website. Additionally, all images and further information need to be saved in a way that they still are accessible. This helps to ensure that the website will look the same as before.
In the end, this can amount to a lot of files and directories.

Editing this website is not so easy any longer. (That’s why you installed WordPress to begin with.) With some knowledge of HTML it’s still possible to edit these pages as well, though.
And people can still go back to it and see all the content without you taking the safety risk.

Using HTML to secure your active website

You certainly could make use of generating a static HTML website to keep your active website secure: In that case, the WordPress website can be hosted and maintained on a secure server while only the static HTML version is accessible publicly.

That is probably the most secure way to run a WordPress website. But it also has drawbacks: Interactive functions won’t work on a HTML website. And for each change in your WordPress website, the HTML version needs to be updated as well. That can certainly be automated, but it still is more hassle than with your website being accessible publicly.
So far we haven’t used this method for active websites yet. I believe this would not be feasable for most of our client projects. But it’s definitely something to keep in mind.

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