When you dreamed up your website, you probably had thoughts of beautiful imagery, engaged visitors and a vibrant online community.
Did your dream include spending time running updates on your website each week? No? What a shock.
Updating your website is, admittedly, extremely boring, yet absolutely necessary.
Why the heck do you need updates, anyway?
There are three main reasons that you want to keep your website up to date:
- Security. WordPress sites are, unfortunately, targets for hackers. By keeping your software up to date, you greatly reduce the risk of an attack. This is because developers regularly update the code to take care of any known security holes and to keep the code up to date with the latest standards.
- Speed. As browsers change and software improves, speed tends to increase as well. You don’t want to be running old code that slows down your site.
- Ease of Use. I wasn’t quite sure what to call this one. Basically, you want your plugins/themes to work well together. As WordPress changes, so does the way that plugins/themes are written. If you are running old versions of plugins/themes on your site, you greatly increase the chance that something “goes wrong” in terms of editing or viewing your site.
Here’s the deal. If you keep your site up to date, your life will be easier.
Believe me, I know it’s tempting to ignore updates. It’s boring, and honestly, you probably don’t notice much of a difference whether you run the updates or not. But updating your site is absolutely essential, especially if you run an online business and can’t afford downtime.
How often should you update your site?
I advise running updates at least weekly. Sure, in an ideal world, you’d update every day, but it’s unlikely that’s going to happen. So schedule it into your weekly “to-do” list and you should be set.
What if something “breaks” during an update?
If your site is properly set up, it is unlikely that updates will cause any major issues. But I’m not going to lie. It is definitely possible that something could go awry.
There are a variety of reasons for this, but typically something “breaks” because of one or both of the reasons below:
- You are using old plugins that have been abandoned, meaning the developer is no longer updating them.
- The plugins or theme on you site have been customized improperly (without using a child theme)
Look, it’s a total pain if this happens. But it shouldn’t keep you from updating your site. In the next section, I am going to show you exactly how to make a backup of your site so that you are able to restore things if anything goes wrong.
How to run your WordPress updates
Alright, let’s talk tactics.
There are three simple steps to properly updating your WordPress site:
- Run a backup.
- Run your updates.
- Check your site.
Simple, right? Let’s take a more detailed look at each step.
Step 1: Run a Backup
Always, always backup your site before you update. This is your security blanket; if anything goes wrong, you can restore your site and be on your way.
Even if you have automated backups set up (which you definitely should!), you’ll want to run a manual backup right before updating just so you have the very latest version available.
There are a variety of ways to do this. If you are using a WordPress-specific host like WPEngine, you can likely do a one-click backup point. Check with your hosting company for details if needed.
For those without a fancy hosting company, I recommend the UpdraftPlus Backup plugin. If you aren’t familiar with UpdraftPlus, be sure to check out my guide on backing up your WordPress site. I also have an article that describes exactly how to make a manual backup with UpdraftPlus.
IMPORTANT: If you are making a backup with a plugin like UpdraftPlus, be sure to download the backup or store it on a cloud service like Dropbox before you proceed with your updates. This way, in a worst-case scenario where the updates “break” your WordPress dashboard, you’ll still have your files available.
Step 2: Run the Updates
Got your backup handy? Good, let’s update.
In your WordPress Dashboard, head over to Dashboard -> Updates.
This will give you a handy list of all of the updates that are needed on your site. These fall into three main categories:
- WordPress software
Updating the WordPress Software
The very top section will alert you if your WordPress version is out of date. If it is, you’ll see the message “An updated version of WordPress is available.” along with a blue “Update Now” button.
All you need to do is click on the Update Now button, sit back, and relax.
Up next are Plugins. On your update screen, you’ll see a listing of plugins that have updates available.
The easiest thing to do is just click the top “Select All” checkbox. This will select every plugin on your site that has an update available. Then click the “Update Plugins” button.
The last thing to update are your themes. This works the exact same way as plugins. Click the “Select All” checkbox and then click the “Update Themes” button.
Once you’ve run all the updates, you’ll see these glorious messages on your Updates page letting you know that everything is up to date.
Step 3: Check Your Site
Awesome, everything is up to date!
The final step is to take a quick click around your site. This doesn’t need to be a formal process, just keep an eye out for anything that looks funky or out of place.
If you have an e-commerce site, add a few things to your cart and make sure the checkout flow is working properly.
If all looks OK (which it most likely will!), you’re done. Give your self a pat on the back and move on with your week.
If something looks amiss, you might need to restore the backup that you created in Step 1.
Keeping your site up to date is simple, but vital. An updated site will save you countless headaches and allow you to focus your time and energy on more important parts of your business.