Several times a year we receive frantic emails from clients whose sites have crashed or have been hacked because they failed to keep their site updated. Please don’t become a victim of this terrifying type of experience. Prevent it by doing updates! I cannot stress the importance of this enough–hence the reason for this post.
Having a self-hosted WordPress site means that it’s yours. You own it. You and you alone are responsible for running it and keeping it updated. It’s very much like owning a car. In order to keep a car running in tip top condition you have to perform regular maintenance on it like changing the oil, checking the tire pressure, using the proper type of gas, etc. A self-hosted WordPress site must be maintained on a regular basis in much the same way. Your themes, plugins, and WordPress version should always be functioning with the most recent updates to keep your site running at its prime.
Updates can be a little scary because on rare occasion an update will cause a problem with your site. Sometimes a plugin you update may not be compatible with an existing plugin on your site and it can cause issues. Because there is always a small risk of updates creating problems, it’s important to make sure you always have a backup of your database saved before you do any updates just in case something should go wrong.
If your hosting provider does not provide a backup service, WP-DBManager is a great plugin you can install that will allow you to easily back up your database before performing updates. If you ever run into issues after performing an update, contact your hosting provider and they can help you restore your most recent backup. Keep in mind that issues caused by updates are very rare, so please don’t let the fear of this prevent you from backing up your site. I promise that any little issue you may (but probably won’t) encounter with an update will be minuscule in comparison to the MAJOR problems your site will have down the road if you fail to update regularly.
Why updates are so important
WordPress is always working to improve their software. Each update they release is packed with security fixes, bug fixes, and new features. Here’s a look at why these updates are so important:
1. Security Fixes
According to WPBeginner, 83% of hacked WordPress blogs have not been updated. Hackers are always on the hunt for sites to destroy. Hackers watch the release notes for updates and as soon as they learn of a vulnerability they start their attacks on sites that haven’t been updated. When you keep your site updated, the updates patch up those vulnerabilities which strengthens your site against malicious attacks. Updating your site as soon as an update becomes available will reduce the time that your site is vulnerable.
2. Bug Fixes
Software bugs can come in many shapes and sizes. Some bugs cause minor mechanical issues after an update. For example, in a recent Genesis Theme update we did on our site, it caused our sidebar to completely disappear! We notified Genesis of the “bug” we experienced with that particular update and within just a few hours, they pushed out an update that fixed the bug and resolved the issue. Other bugs can be more serious and can cause major security holes leaving you vulnerable to attacks. Fortunately the amazing team at WordPress and most plugin developers are quick to act against security threats and often push out an update before you even realize there has been a problem. Performing updates as soon as they become available ensures you will have the most secure and stable versions of WordPress, plugins, and themes possible. Unstable versions can crash your site or leave you prone to being hacked.
3. Adds Features and Functionality
Ever since its initial release in 2003, the amazing team at WordPress has been working hard to continually improve the WordPress platform. With each update they’ve pushed out since inception, WordPress refines itself and becomes more and more functional. Theme and plugin developers continually work in the same way to provide the best products possible. Keeping your site running on the most recent updates will allow you access to the key features and improved functionalities contained within each update.
How to Know if You Need to Update
WordPress makes it easy to know when updates are available. When logged into your dashboard, you’ll see notifications appear at the top menu bar as well as on your “Updates” tab (click on your “Dashboard” tab to access it) whenever updates are available. By clicking on either option, you’ll be taken to the “WordPress Updates” page where you can perform the updates. You can also visit your your “Plugins” tab and the update notifications will appear under any plugins with available updates.
How to Perform WordPress Updates
Before attempting any updates, remember to backup your database. It’s also wise to plan to do your updates at a time when your traffic is at its lowest because your site may appear in maintenance mode for a few seconds during the updates. When you are ready, visit your “WordPress Updates” page to perform your updates.
On your “WordPress Updates” page you’ll see three sections: WordPress Version, Plugins, & Themes.
Before you update anything else, make sure you have the latest version of WordPress running. The latest versions of WordPress include an auto update system, which will automatically update your WordPress version with new point releases, so you most likely will already have the latest version of WordPress running. If not, click the update button to perform the update.
Next, in the plugins section you’ll see a list of plugins with updates available. Be sure to double check that the new updates will be compatible with the version of WordPress you are currently running before doing the updates. Select the plugins you wish to update or check “Select All” to update them all at once and then click on the “Update Plugins” button. Again, your site may appear in maintenance mode for just a few seconds during the updates. I recommend updating each plugin individually so you can review your site between each update to make sure no errors have occurred. If an error occurs on your site after an individual update, it makes it easy to pin point which plugin update caused the issue. You can then report the error to the developer of that plugin so they can work to include a fix for the error in their next update.
If you are using one of our designs, you will occasionally see a Genesis Framework update. You might also see on occasion updates for themes that aren’t even activated on your site. That’s okay! Still perform any updates you receive notifications for. If you are using one of our designs, updating the Genesis Framework will not disrupt your design in any way.
Are there any other questions you have about WordPress updates that weren’t covered in this post? If so, please share them as a comment and we’ll do our best to answer them.