Updating WordPress, themes and plugins in 5 simple steps

updating plugins

As part of our ongoing series on the benefits of a WordPress website support package, this post looks at how to update your WordPress software, themes and plugins to their latest versions.

We’ll look at why it’s important and what could happen if you don’t keep everything up to date. Plus we recommend the easiest way to do this.

Why do I need to keep updating WordPress, my website theme and plugins?

We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again. If you have a WordPress website it is absolutely critical that you update everything to the latest version on a regular basis. There are 3 main reasons for this:

1. Security Updates

Updates to WordPress and associated themes and plugins are often issued in order to address a security problem in the existing version.

For example, the latest release of WordPress fixed no less than 6 major security issues. If you are not updating WordPress regularly, or if you run an old version of WordPress, your website is vulnerable to hacking.

2. Functionality improvements

WordPress, theme and plugin developers often release new functionality to improve their products. If you don’t update to the latest version, you could be missing out on a whole host of useful features and improvements that could improve your website, offer a better customer experience and improve your performance in search engines.

For example, the latest release of WordPress included 39 maintenance fixes – for example, fixing the problem of returning a “page not found” error instead of saying “no results” when there were no results for a customer’s search request.

3. Storing up problems

If you are running multiple plugins on your website (and let’s face it, who isn’t?), then it’s really important to keep them updated. Whenever a new version of WordPress is released, good developers will test their plugins to ensure that they are still compatible with WordPress. If not, they will issue a new version of their plugin.

Updating a plugin by a single version is a fairly straightforward process. If anything goes wrong, you know which plugin is to blame and you can isolate the problem.

However, if you have multiple plugins which all need multiple updates, you won’t be able to tell which plugin (or which version of it) is causing the problem.

Anyone who has been faced with the “white screen of death” will know the sense of panic that this creates. The resulting mess will be painstaking to fix and could cost you a lot of money in terms of developer time.

Updating WordPress, themes and plugins

If you have items on your WordPress website which need updating, whatever you do, do not be tempted to just press the update button! Doing this is just asking for trouble.

There is a process which needs to be followed which will minimise the likelihood of anything going wrong with your website.

1. Take a backup

Firstly, whatever you do, take a backup. Yes, really. It may seem like a pain, but if you don’t take a backup before making changes you may live to regret it. It takes a little bit of time, but it will save you countless hours of heartache if anything goes wrong.

Take a full backup of your site before you make any changes. And don’t just take a copy of the content – you need a backup of the files AND a backup of the database.

2. Make sure you preserve any modifications unique to your site

Before making any modifications to customise a WordPress theme, create what’s known as a child theme and make any changes there. Never make changes directly to the main (parent) theme. That way, whenever you update your theme, you can preserve your customisations.

If you have made changes directly to your main theme files, you’ll want to save those changes before updating. If you do not do this, you will lose them when you update your theme.

3. Update themes and plugins before updating WordPress

We usually prefer to update any plugins and themes before updating WordPress. Most reputable developers update their themes and plugins before a new version of WordPress is released. If you update WordPress first, you might break your site if a plugin is not compatible with the new version.

4. One at a time

Update all plugins one-by-one. That a way, you can test your site in between each update. If anything goes wrong, you will know which plugin is to blame and the problem can be more easily isolated.

5. Review your plugins

As part of the update process, do a quick audit of your plugins to see whether the developer still supports them. That is, are there regular updates to ensure compatibility with the latest version of WordPress?

If there have been no updates to your plugin for several months, then you might want to think about finding an alternative or at least check that the developer has tested that their plugin works with the latest version of WordPress.

Remember to plan your upgrade

We always advise people to update WordPress, themes and plugins at an off-peak time. Then, if anything goes wrong, it affects fewer customers and you have more time to sort it out. The exception to this is if there is a critical security update, in which case update as soon as you possibly can.

Use a staging area

If possible, test out your changes on a replica of your website. We maintain staging areas for each of our customer websites on separate development servers so that we can do just that, without affecting their main (live) website.

The easiest way to update WordPress, plugins and themes

Updating WordPress, plugins and themes can be time-consuming and nerve-wracking, especially if you are not sure what you are doing. If you are not sure how to proceed, use a web developer to do this for you. Or consider signing up for a premium WordPress Support Package.

All our premium support customers have all their updates done for them, promptly and correctly. They never need to check for updates and they have the reassurance of knowing that we will handle all this for them without any fuss as part of their monthly support.

Summary

To summarise,

  • Always update WordPress, your website theme and all your plugins promptly whenever a new version is issued
  • Make sure you follow the process and don’t cut corners
  • If you’re not sure what you’re doing, hire a developer to help you. Or sign up for a monthly support package.

More about our monthly support packages

As well as having WordPress, themes and plugins updated, our premium website support customers also benefit from guaranteed development time each month. Here are some examples of the work we’ve been doing for them recently:

  • Building a new area for a website to promote the physical retail shop for a customer with an online shop
  • Assisting with building a Facebook presence and adding links to their Facebook page from the website
  • Upgrading WooCommerce to the latest version (version 3.0), and ensuring compatibility with existing plugins
  • Resolving plugin conflicts for an e-commerce store running multiple unsupported plugins
  • A full SEO (Search Engine Optimisation audit) to identify improvements required
  • Configuring online booking forms for a training company
  • Installing and configuring EU Cookie Law plugins
  • Installing plugins to minimise website spam
  • Writing code to automatically email users of a website when their status changes

If you would like to know more about how to make updating WordPress easier, or the many benefits of our support packages, please do not hesitate to contact us.

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