Updating a WordPress Site

WordPress is without question an awesome piece of kit.  There are an estimated 64 million WordPress websites around the world today due to the popularity and ease of use.  However, having a WordPress website comes with the commitment of keeping it updated! 99% of the time nothing will go wrong when you perform an update, but that 1% of the time something does go wrong will be the one that you remember!

Before you click that enticing “Update All” button, you might want to consider what could potentially happen to your website if you don’t follow these steps first!

Let’s first learn about each type of update and what they’re actually for. Within WordPress, there are three main components that are recommended to keep up to date.

1) WordPress Core

This is fairly self-explanatory, WordPress is considered the “core” platform of what your website is built upon. Similar to how a phone uses android or IOS, regular updates provide latest security plugs, new features and improvements and keep everything running smoothly and safely.

2) Themes

A theme on WordPress dictates the design and functionality of the website. There are free themes and premium themes, both should receive updates on a regular basis for bug fixes and performance improvements. If your theme hasn’t received an update for twelve months or more, then it can be considered as abandoned and you should look for an alternative theme.  Read this blog post if you are wondering how to install a new theme.

3) Plugins

Plugins are little add-ons that you can download to increase the functionality of your website. This can be in the form of a contact form, galleries, additional login security etc.  There are far to many to list on here.  You can see on this plugin directory, there are thousands of options.

You shouldn’t really need any more than 10-15 plugins on your site.  This can be more, depending on what the website does, but make sure you are not bloating your site with unneccessary plugins.

Plugins receive updates regularly, sometimes every other day – so it’s always best to keep an eye out for patch notes! Same as the themes, if a plugin hasn’t had an update in around twelve months, then it is worth looking for an alternative as it is likely to have been abandoned and will not be secure.

Minor Releases VS Major Releases

Minor release

Put simply, minor releases are mainly for bug fixes, security improvements, and slight performance enhancements – similar to how often apps update on the app store. It is strongly recommended to update to the latest minor release, as otherwise your site will be less secure and could lead to a situation where hacking is easier and more likely.  Want to know why would someone hack into your site?
A minor release can be idnetified by the version number X.X.X (e.g: 5.7.2)

Major release

A major release is usually for big updates and overhauls that offer new UI’s, better user features, and developer API’s. You can update to a new major release when you feel the need to, as it focuses on features rather than security.
You can tell if it’s a major update by the format X.X (e.g: 5.7)

Updating WordPress Software

So, you’re ready to update your site! Now that you have some of the basic knowledge required, let’s jump into actually updating your site for all the newest features and advancements. We’d just like to mention that most of the time, your website will update without any issues.

However, because you’re making critical changes to the software your site is built on, things can sometimes go drastically wrong. Here’s how to avoid those detrimental issues and have a smooth update experience each time!

Preparing to update key components can sometimes be daunting, but not to worry as there are only a few steps to follow.  Firstly, make sure you have a backup of the latest stable release.  If you’re not sure how to create a complete site backup, please be sure to check out our How to backup your website blog, which will help you out.

Now you’ve completed the backup (hopefully), just head over to the dashboard.  If there is an update ready, chances are you’ll see some text which says “WordPress X.X.X is available! Please update now”.

Click on the link and it will take you to the update page itself.  On this page, it will again prompt you to backup your site in case you forgot the previous step. Remember, it is strongly recommended to backup before a major release.

Now, just click the big blue “Update Now” button!  WordPress will automatically put your site into maintenance mode, so users will get a message on their screen similar to “www.yoursite.com is undergoing scheduled maintenance.  Sorry for the inconvenience.”

As soon as the update has successfully completed, your site will be taken out of maintenance mode.  Typically a WordPress update can take anywhere from 5 seconds to a minute, depending on file size.  Once it is complete, just double-check over everything to make sure nothing is corrupted or broken.

Updating WordPress Themes/Plugins

If you followed the previous steps, then you already have a backup of your site (which is great), if, however, you skipped the WordPress update and are looking at updating plugins and themes first, then a backup is still needed!  In fact, it is more important to get a backup of plugins and themes than it is the core WordPress, as these are more likely to go wrong!

Okay, we are going to assume a backup has definately been done – head over to your WordPress Dashboard, and on the left sidebar under “Home”, you should see “Updates”.  Click that and it will show you the available updates for themes and plugins.  The easy way is to just press “Select All”, which will highlight the plugins/themes to update with the checkboxes.

From here, simply press “Update Plugins” or “Update Themes”, depending on which you choose to upgrade. WordPress will handle the rest for you.  Themes take slightly longer than plugins to update, but both should be well under 30 seconds.

If you are worried about updates affecting your site, one technique is to update the plugins one by one, and then test after each update.  This way you will be able to isolate any plugins that have negatively affected your website.  This is a safe way to do the updates and will help understand what went wrong and how to fix it.  However, it is much more time-consuming.

WordPress Update Wrapup

So, now you’ve completed all the updates for your site and you’re ready to go! Just do one final check to make sure everything is back to normal and your site is working properly.

It’s really that easy! We hope you enjoyed this blog and if you found it helpful, let us know on social media or contact us here. We’d love to hear your feedback!

For more blogs and news about digital marketing, feel free to check out our blog page.

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