Once I hand over a newly developed site to a client, I can’t stress enough how important it is to keep the site updated, not only for compatibility reasons using modern browsers and adding new plugins, but mainly for security reasons. Your first form of security should be a strong password. Your second form of security should be an updated site. When I get a new client and I see a ton of orange circles in their dashboard, I cringe.
However, updating your site is a two-step process. You should never do updates until you have first done a backup of your site. Some hosts do backups for you, but be sure to check if there is a charge to restore your site. And make sure your backup includes not only the site files but also the database, an integral part of WordPress sites.
It’s easy to do your own backups with any number of free backup and restore plugins. Personally I like to use UpdraftPlus. It allows you to backup themes, plugins, and uploads separately, so if you update a theme and it wrecks your site, you can quickly and easily revert back to the old theme, without having to revert the whole theme, which can take a long time and leave you having to update plugins all over again.
Personally, I also like to do a screenshot of the plugins page with the names of the plugins and their version number, just in case there is a problem with one plugin update and I can just download a previous version from the WordPress repository, but that said, keep in mind that it should only be a temporary solution. If something is not compatible, a fix needs to be found. Keeping out of date software on your site is not a solution.
You will know you have updates when you get those orange balls on the left menu. You can click anywhere that is shows the orange notification, but I usually prefer to go to Plugins. Next to each plugin that needs an update, you will see a notice:
Then just click the “update now” link. It will take just a minute and then the highlight should turn green to let you know that the update is complete. If for some reason it doesn’t turn green, wait a couple minutes and try refreshing your browser and then try to complete the update again.
These days, WordPress also has an automatic updates feature for plugins. If you are not on your site often and don’t have to worry about updates, enabling automatic updates is the way to go. Just be sure to check the front end of your site often to make sure nothing is amiss. This makes it a little harder to catch when things go wrong, but honestly, that doesn’t happen very often.
Once you’ve completed the plugin updates, hover over Dashboard at the top of the menu and check to see if there are orange circles next to Updates. If so, click on it.
This will show you if the theme needs an update. If it does, simply select it and then click on Update Themes. Again, give it just a minute to do the update.
Best practice is to check the website after each update you have to do, so if one plugin update causes a problem, you’ll know which one. Generally, updates don’t cause any problems, but every once in awhile something goes awry.
The final thing that needs to be updated regularly is WordPress core. When the core needs to be updated you will get a box like this in the upper left hand side of your dashboard.
When you see this notification, simply click the “Please update now” link. It will then redirect you to the Updates page. Simply click the blue “Update to version …” button.
This will likely take a few seconds and then you will see a new screen telling you more about the update. As always, be sure to check the front end of your site to make sure everything looks good.
Is your site up to date? If not, updating it should be your top priority. And updating generally only takes a few minutes of your time, but could save you hours and thousands of dollars by keeping your site safer.