Too afraid to upgrade?We’ve had a few people contacting us recently saying that they are too scared to update their websites in case something goes wrong. Very often, they’ve done an update in the past and something bad has happened. So not surprisingly, they are reluctant to let that happen again. But by not updating their websites, they are storing up even bigger problems for the future. Many people make the mistake of looking at the front end of their website (i.e. what the customer sees on the internet) and thinking that as long as it works, then everything’s fine. This is a recipe for disaster! We frequently log on to websites that have multiple error messages, update warnings and WordPress health check issues. But “it looks OK on the internet” they say. This is like seeing a red light on the dashboard of your car and continuing to drive down the motorway. If this is you, then eventually, your website will fail, and it will fail spectacularly. The more outstanding updates you have, the more likely it is that things will go wrong when you do finally install the updates. So it’s definitely best to update things frequently. Small, iterative changes are always better than big changes with huge gaps in between. In the same way that if you leave too long between car services then you are more likely to have an expensive problem when you do finally get your car serviced.
Which Updates Are Required?
1. WordPress Updates
The developers of WordPress typically to issue 4 or 5 updates each year. These include changes which might include bug fixes or new features. They might make your website load faster or look better for customers. But more importantly, these WordPress updates often include security updates.
These are software changes that are needed because a security loophole has been found in the WordPress software. You’re probably familiar with these on your mobile phone. For example, Apple & Android frequently issue new versions of their operating systems which you need to install to keep your phone safe and secure.
If you aren’t installing these updates then you are leaving your website vulnerable to being hacked. Issuing a new version of WordPress isn’t an easy matter, so the developers don’t do this for fun.
2. Theme Updates
All WordPress websites use something called a theme, which is responsible for the “look and feel” of your website. Popular off-the-shelf themes include Divi, Avada, The7 etc. Some themes are custom-built from scratch, but many websites use an off-the-shelf theme which is then customised to suit your website.
All good theme developers issue updates to their themes from time to time. Again, these will be to fix bugs, add new features, improve performance or fix security issues. Issuing a new version of a website theme is a lot of work. So when a new version is available, you should update it as soon as possible. Especially if it involves a security fix. Leaving an old version of a theme on your website can leave it very vulnerable to hackers.
3. Plugin Updates
Most WordPress websites use several WordPress plugins, which are items of software that provide specific functionality or features for your website.
Popular plugins include online shop software like WooCommerce, SEO plugins like Yoast, anti-spam plugins like Akismet, security plugins such as Sucuri etc.
Good plugin developers frequently release new versions of their plugins with better features, enhanced performance, bug fixes or security patches.
Many of the problems we see on WordPress websites are caused by out-of-date plugin versions, or just old plugins that have not been actively developed over time and now no longer work with other plugins and/or WordPress.
4. Server Updates
The software on your server will also need updating from time to time. This includes scripting languages like PHP, plus web servers and load balancers like Nginx and Apache.
Some hosting companies will take care of this for you, but not all. Some will only update things if you prompt them to, and some won’t update them at all because they consider it your responsibility.
Updating server software is a specialist job, so if you are not confident with doing this yourself then you will need to find a web developer to do this for you, or choose hosting that is fully managed on your behalf.
How to perform updates
The actual process for updating plugins is quite straightforward, but it must be done in a controlled way if you are to avoid problems.
The most important thing is to make sure that you have got a backup of your website (both the files and the database). This is vital because if anything does go wrong, you will be able to restore your website if you have a backup. If you don’t have a backup, you could lose everything and you will have to get your website rebuilt from scratch.
2. One at a time
Only update one thing at a time. If you update several plugins at once, you won’t know which one is to blame if something goes wrong. So we update one thing at a time and then test thoroughly to make sure that everything still works properly.
3. Check what’s changed
Before you update anything, check the changelog to see what changes have been made. Review all the changes to make sure that they are appropriate for your site and not likely to cause any problems.
4. If possible, use hosting with a staging area
If you can afford it, then try to use hosting that includes a development area. This will allow you to test any updates on a test version of your website before deploying them to the live site.
5. Test like mad
It’s really important to thoroughly test that everything is working before moving on to the next update. This will make it much easier to unpick any changes if something has broken.
6. Take another backup
Once your website is fully updated, backup the files and the database again, so that you have an up-to-date backup for future use.
Still afraid to upgrade?
To be honest, updating your website can be an unnerving exercise. Doing it properly is a skilled job, and if something does go wrong, it can be very hard for non-developers to fix the problem. If you don’t know a good web developer that can help you at a moment’s notice, then you could be left with a website that doesn’t work. And getting quality web development at short notice is very difficult.
For complete peace of mind, we recommend that you consider a website care package. For a monthly fee, expert developers will look after all the updates for your website, and more. The best packages include backups, security checks, performance monitoring, uptime monitoring and super-fast hosting as well as all the updates. That way, you never need to fear the update button again!
Call us on 01626 572572 to discuss a website care package. Alternatively, we can perform a one-off spring clean of your website (including all outstanding updates). If you’re not even sure whether you need any updates, our website audit service will identify any out-of-date software and check the general health of your website.