How to Put Your WordPress Site in Maintenance Mode

Every once in a while, your website will need some TLC. Whether you run it all by yourself or hire WP experts to do it for you, regular maintenance is necessary. Sometimes this maintenance will include a big update, a total redesign or similar major changes. For these to be performed, access to the website needs to be limited. This is when you should put your WordPress site in maintenance mode. But what is maintenance mode? How do you set it up? And do you really need it at all? We put together the answers to these questions and more to bring you the ultimate guide on maintenance mode for WordPress websites!

Wordpress logo.
Your WP website will surely need maintenance.

Everything you need to know before you put your WordPress site in maintenance mode

In short, maintenance mode helps you fix, tweak and upgrade your website while showing your visitors an update message about it (instead of an error page or a poorly functioning and unfinished site). If you have a team of professional developers running your website, the maintenance, the display message and the work that goes into setting it up will be included in their WordPress services. But if you’re planning on doing this yourself or if you’re just curious about how it works, you should probably know a bit more about maintenance mode before you dive in.

What is WordPress maintenance mode?

Whenever you have a lot of questions, it’s best to start with the basics. So let’s talk about what maintenance mode is. Maintenance mode is a setup that allows you to work on your website’s backend while displaying a customizable message about it to the website’s visitors. This means you can work on different settings to your website, add new plugins, test out an updated theme or change up anything else as you normally would in the backend without your visitors seeing the process at work. Of course, that means your website will be down for the duration of the maintenance. But your users will know about it instead of getting frustrated with error messages or a barely functioning site that’s still under construction.

Wrench and bolt graphic.
Maintenance mode allows you to work on your website without frustrating users.

When should you put your WordPress site in maintenance mode?

Not every little tweak to your website requires that you put it in maintenance mode. Putting up new or changing already existing content, for example, can easily be done without affecting your users. You won’t need maintenance mode for fixing minor bugs either. But bigger changes may leave your website dysfunctional for a period of time. So put your WordPress site in maintenance mode when:

  • changing the theme on your entire website
  • configuring and setting up plugins that affect the workings of your website
  • adding, removing or changing major features
  • adding new services or changing existing ones

Don’t forget that the bigger your website grows, the longer any changes to it may take! The type of website you run will also affect how major updates are done. So how often you need to use maintenance mode will depend on the site.

Finally, don’t even think about engaging maintenance mode and tweaking your actual website without testing out any major changes on a staging website. This should be a replica of your website with the exact same version of WordPress, PHP and SQL base but with search engines discouraged from indexing it. It allows you to try out big changes and see how well they work without risking something going wrong with your website.

Why use maintenance mode at all?

Of course, your website being down is not ideal, but sometimes it is necessary. And how your users find out about this can make a huge difference. This is why a good maintenance mode page is important. Just like a good custom 404 page is less frustrating than a generic error message, a good maintenance mode page can make all the difference in user experience. You can add any number of things to it: pictures and designs that make it look better, useful information and links, and of course, the amount of time you expect your website to be down. This will absolutely be better for your users to see than a glitchy website.

How to put your WordPress site in maintenance mode using a WordPress plugin

There are a number of methods to put a WP website into maintenance mode. The easiest of them is to use the WP maintenance mode plugin (or another similar plugin that you prefer). Using a plugin makes setting up a maintenance mode page simple and doesn’t require that you know or do any coding at all. All you need to do is download and install the plugin. Once activated, it will be easily accessible under settings and you can get to configuring the best possible maintenance page and putting your website into maintenance mode.

Website design graphic.
A plugin makes maintenance mode setup easy.

WP maintenance mode plugin explained

The WP maintenance mode plugin is very easy to use. It consists of five tabs – general, design, modules, manage bot and GDPR. Each of these has a specific role:

  1. Under the general tab, you will be able to activate maintenance mode by selecting “Activated” at the top. You can also activate the “Bypass for Search Bots” feature in case you want search engine bots to be able to access the website even while it is in maintenance mode. Finally, you can set up user roles here for the front and backend of the website under maintenance.
  2. The design tab allows you to create your own maintenance page. It is fully customizable in appearance. You can add your own text, select a font and a color scheme and much more.
  3. You can set a countdown for your maintenance under the modules tab. This is also where you can add links to your social media or ask your visitors to subscribe and receive an email once the site is up again.
  4. Manage bot lets you set up a chatbot for visitors to use during maintenance. This allows for interaction with your users even during downtime.
  5. The GDPR tab will inform users of the protection of their data in case they sign up for your newsletter.

Other methods to put your WordPress site in maintenance mode

If you prefer not to use a plugin, you can code your way into maintenance mode. WordPress comes with an automatically set default maintenance page which displays a simple message to your users that the website is down for maintenance while you’re updating it. You can easily put your WordPress site in maintenance mode without a plugin by dropping a file called maintenance.php in your wp-content directory. Of course, if you choose to do this, make sure to backup your website first. Happy coding!

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