Updating your WordPress website may seem trivial and even unnecessary at times. After all, if your website is working properly and without any fuss, what is the need to update it in the first place?
As it turns out, consistently updating your website is a must. It improves your website’s performance, addresses unresolved security issues, enhances accessibility and website experience, besides adding several new features.
WordPress is like the center of its own solar system and is constantly being upgraded. The platform sees frequent updates thanks to feedback from the vibrant user community and an increasing number of trusted developers. Of special importance is the user feedback: they provide keen insights into what’s working, what’s not, and how things can be made better.
The fact that WordPress is open to suggestions is the reason why they have managed to reach warp speed and outshine other CMS providers.
And while WordPress is legendary for its superior design and ease of use, many users get a lot of things wrong when updating.
This post details some points to remember and an outline of everything you must do before you start updating your WP-powered site.
Before that, you have to understand why updating regularly is necessary.
Why do you need to update WordPress?
Understanding ‘why’ should always come before the ‘how’ and ‘when’ sections. When we understand the purpose of what we’re doing, the process makes sense. So before we get to how we can safely update WordPress, let’s understand why we even need to do it.
- Security: Perhaps the most essential reason behind keeping your WordPress site updated is security. WordPress might be the most popular CMS, but it does have its share of security loopholes, mainly through third-party plugins. Updating it regularly fixes these issues. Data theft or hacking is a nightmare which no website owner wishes to face.
- Fixes any bugs: Despite repeated and rigorous bug testing sessions, a few manage to hang on for dear life. More bugs often creep in when new features are added, as that means more coding is added. Updating to the latest available version manages to fix most bugs. You can also check the changelog that accompanies each update here.
- Adds new features: WordPress manages to add extra value to their product every time they offer an update. Consider when WP version 3.8 was released to replace v3.7. Not only was the dashboard improved; a completely overhauled default theme was also provided.
- Speed: No one likes a slow site, especially if they are your paying customers. Updated versions are optimized to increase the speed of your website.
In sum, updating makes your life as the owner easier and helps your clientele use your website to better effect.
Things to do before updating your WP site
Generally, there are no major difficulties when updating your version of WordPress. Occasionally, errors arise – this could be a small hiccup or a major crisis. If you are the owner or the administrator of a website which requires an immediate update, there are some preparatory steps you must keep in mind.
1. Back up your website first
Always, always back up your website before you start the process. If something does go wrong, you can always go back to the functioning version and not lose everything you have developed over the years.
A few basic facts must be made clear here. A WordPress-powered site consists of 2 parts – the files and the database. If both these elements are backed up, you can get your website up and running in no time at all.
The quickest and easiest way to back up your website is to install a backup plugin. There is a handful of options in the market, but you need to choose wisely depending on the type of site you have. Not all backup plugins are the same. Choosing a reliable one like BlogVault will ensure you always have a working backup ready to be restored. Plus you get the option of staging a site, so you can test out things before you make any changes to your live website. That brings us to point 2.
2. Never attempt an upgrade on a Live Install
This is a cardinal error and should be borne in mind at all times. Many errors can prop up while rolling out updates. One such error is a blank screen, also known as White Screen of Death. In case your update attempt is botched due to some reason, all your visitors will see is a blank screen.
To avoid it, new updates must always be tried out on a remote copy of your site. Regardless of whether on a local installation or a staging server, this rule must be followed on all occasions. Think of this step as sandboxing, a testing phase before live operations begin.
3. Install major updates later
Major updates will have to wait for some time. You can easily identify a major WordPress update as the first or the second portion of the version name will change. E.g., 4.1 is a major update, but version 4.1.2 would be a minor one. A major update may have some bugs; moreover, the audience at large does not know what to expect from the new version or how to react to it either.
All major updates are almost always followed by smaller ones which are aimed at fixing and resolving bugs. These bugs are identified when the new version goes live.
Wait for these new updates to emerge and then upgrade. That said, any update that carries a security patch must be installed as soon as they are launched.
4. Use only child themes and plugins
If you are using one of the default WordPress themes and have made customizations to it, if the theme is updated in the WordPress core update, then you stand to lose all your customizations. You’ll have to recreate them in the updated version.
To avoid this hassle, you can create a child theme and make all your customizations. It remains unaffected from the update which will apply only to the parent.
The same method applies to all themes and plugins, not just default ones. If you need to make customizations, it’s best to create a child theme or plugin. Whenever you update it, only the parent gets updated, and your customizations are never lost.
5. Turn off caching
Before any update attempt, turn automatic caching off. Leaving this option on will seriously alter the back-end operations of the website.
Updating a website with the caching will only show the cached version of the page and not the newly-updated one. The same will happen if you publish a page with caching on during the update. There’s a high chance that you will only see the older version minus the changes made post the update.
Consider this thumb rule as far as caching is considered during the update – disable caching plugins and additionally clear cache memory.
6. Keep automatic updates under control
All websites running on WordPress have, by default, their automatic updates enabled. It does have several advantages – minor releases, security fixes, and tweaks are installed automatically.
You can use plugins or manually configure WordPress to update the core, plugins, and themes automatically.
However, it is best to manually control updates in most cases, especially of third-party plugins.
For instance, sometimes, plugins/themes may not be compatible with the newest version of WordPress and may adversely affect your website. Testing out these elements before updating the live site is helpful in these scenarios.
7. Ensure all plugins are compatible
If there are any plugins which are not compatible with the latest WordPress version, they may break down, throwing your updated website into disarray.
It might not mean much to an amateur website owner, but it is always advisable to go through the latest and compatible versions of all plugins mentioned in the WordPress directory.
You will save yourself a lot of time and effort later.
8. Pro tip – Backup your site again
Even if everything went perfectly well and glitch-free, it is best to back up the site once again after updating it. You will still have access to the latest version of your website.
You can safely update your website by using one of the best backup plugins for WordPress.
If you have done everything correctly and have not skipped any of these steps, the entire process should not take too much time.
If you back up your site, test your updates out on a clone site, and then update your live site, your website will never face downtime on account of updates!