How to Safely Update Your WordPress Website

A great website is a living thing – it’s not something to create and never touch again.

Technically you could do that, but you’d run the risk of security vulnerabilities and potential hacks/breaks in the future due to having outdated code on your website (in the form of outdated WordPress files, themes, and plugins). 🚨 Therefore, WordPress website maintenance is a necessity – and there are some steps you can take to update your WordPress website safely, which I’ll cover in this post.

Not only are hackers constantly finding new ways to get into websites, developers are also finding bugs and other opportunities to update their software, and they assume you are using updated software to begin with. It’s like updating programs on your computer or apps on your phone – if you ever look at the reasons for the updates, they range from security improvements to bugs, to enhancements.

You don’t need to do this every day, but I recommend going into your WordPress admin once a week (or at the very least – once a month) with the sole goal of updating everything.

I will note, security updates should technically be done as soon as they come out. You might consider a plugin to help with these smaller updates, read this article for details though tread lightly when it comes to enabling automatic updates.

Follow the 4 steps below to safely update your WordPress website

First – always backup your site before you update your WordPress

Log in to your site and go to your backups screen (my preferred backup plugin is UpDraftPlus and you should configure it to back up to the cloud – Dropbox, Google Drive – rather than your server). If your backup just ran, that’s great. But if it’s been a few days and you know you’ve made changes to your site, force another backup, and let that finish before you move forward.

Computer Cartoon with Update Symbol | Update WordPress | Whitney Bateson Digital Strategy

*Bonus Point: Ideally, you should also test your backups every so often to make sure they work and you know how to restore from a backup. So, consider backing up, then restoring from the backup to make sure it worked.

Next, go to your live site and click around

Make sure everything is working as expected, and pick a few pages/actions you’ll test out after each update to make sure they still work. Doing this before your updates give you a baseline (if it was broken before the update, that’s good to know so you can isolate the issue – and fix it before moving forward).

Then, go to your Updates screen to see what needs to be updated

Follow this order for updates if there are any available. If not, move to the next item.

  1. Update your plugins. For major updates (version 1.19.5 to 1.20, or even bigger… 1.4 to 2.0) you may want to wait until version 1.20.1 comes out and wait to update it since this means there were major functionality changes and often developers find bugs with the first release and quickly release a subsequent version that fixes those bugs. Then, go to your live site and make sure everything is still working.

  2. Update your themes. Now, you only have one active theme. You likely have a few other old themes hanging out – up to you if you want to delete them or continue to update. But if you keep them, definitely keep them updated. Even if your site isn’t using them, the code is on your server and if there’s something wrong with it (like a security vulnerability), you could have problems. Then, go to your live site and make sure everything is still working.

  3. Update the WordPress core. Then, go to your live site and make sure everything is still working. If it isn’t (which should be rare), this article sheds some light on what to do.

TIP: You might consider using the WP Rollback Plugin if you find issues with plugin or theme updates, just know that it will help you most of the time but may not help with all update issues. You can also consider testing out updates in a “staging” or practice environment. Some hosts offer this service, but you can also use a plugin like WPStaging for this purpose.

Lastly, back up your site again

Doing this will ensure you have the most updated backup available.

Do you need help choosing which plugins, themes and tools to use on your WordPress site?

Check out my free 15+ WordPress Tools and Tips guide that includes all of the tools and tips that I have researched, use regularly, and stand by in my business!

In Closing

I hope this has helped give you a game plan for safely updating your WordPress website 👍. I can’t stress enough how important this is. Too often I see websites with old themes and plugins that take a lot of time and effort to update because things are so outdated. Prevention is the best medicine – whether it’s for your own health or the health of your website 💪.

Follow these steps each week and before you know it, you’ll be getting these updates completed in no time!

Still feeling a little iffy on the whole ‘update WordPress’ process? I get it, and that’s why we offer WordPress support plans that take care of all of this for you, plus much more. You can read more about what we offer and sign up for a plan that fits your needs and budget by heading over here. 😊

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