Keeping your WordPress website’s software up to date is like keeping the lint drawer of your dryer clean – it’s not glamorous, but somebody’s gotta do it, or eventually your dryer will catch fire and burn your house down. Okay, maybe that’s a little dramatic. It’s just so much easier and cheaper to do than fixing a website that has become broken or hacked. It takes a little time and effort, but it’s well worth it in the long run. If you want to take on maintaining your WordPress software yourself, here are 5 things you should know first:
1. What am I supposed to keep updated?
WordPress Maintenance applies to the software that runs your website, much like the software that runs your phone, for example. We do not mean content updates like adding blog posts and photos. The software you need to keep updated (in this order) are:
- WordPress Core
- Themes (yes, even the unused ones)
2. What can I rely on my hosting provider for?
Some WordPress hosting providers offer backups and updates as a part of their hosting package. Read the fine print or call and ask what this includes, as each provider is different.
Most providers that offer backups will only keep the last 30 days and charge you to restore one.
Most providers can only offer auto updates if your site is on PHP7 or higher, and even then, they can only update plugins that are free to download in the WordPress Repository (sometimes not all of them). This does not include premium plugins you may have purchased.
These auto updates also don’t include a human set of eyes on your website, to make sure nothing broke and that every plugin is still playing nicely with others.
The Care Plans we offer include updates of ALL plugins, checked by human eyes & fixed when something goes wrong. We keep a record of what plugin was updated and when. We keep daily backups for 30 days and weekly backups for 1 year – and we are happy to restore them at no extra charge.
3. How do I know if there is an update available and if it’s crucial?
You will know when updates are available when you log into your WordPress dashboard and you see a little red bubble with a number in it next to “Updates” and “Plugins” in your left sidebar menu. To see why there is an update, click on “Plugins” and click the “view version details” link below the outdated plugin. This opens up a box with the “Changelog” detailing what was added or changed in this version. Keep an eye out for important security updates. This is also a good time to make sure the latest update is compatible with your version of WordPress. You won’t get an email notification when new updates become available, so it’s good to add a quick check into your daily routine.
You won’t receive an email every time your website software needs an update.
You never know how a new update will affect your site. You should be prepared to revert to a backup every time in case something goes wrong.
We manage many websites on Care Plans here and we have a sophisticated system in place that notifies us when a website has an update available. If the update is a security patch, we update it right away. Otherwise we do our updates on the 15th and the last day of the month so that we can dedicate our time to testing updated sites. We are also dorks, and enjoy staying on top of plugin news in our industry, so we’re usually aware of when new updates are getting released, what they’re supposed to do and if they’re going to have compatibility issues.
4. Are my backups working and do I know how to restore one?
Whether you’re relying on your hosting provider or using a free backup plugin like UpdraftPlus or BackWPup, make sure you set it up correctly. Know where your backups are getting saved to and know how to restore them. Do a test run early on to confirm your backups are working and that you understand how to restore them. This will boost your confidence and save you so many headaches down the road.
5. What do I do if something breaks?
Don’t panic! Just restore your website back with the last backup you ran right before your updates. Now update your outdated plugins one at a time to pinpoint which one caused the problem. Once you figure out the culprit (and restore from a previous backup again), you can do some Googling about this release of your plugin. Chances are, others have run into the same issue and the plugin’s author might be aware of the issue and is working on a fix. That’s the best case scenario. Sometimes it’s more complicated and you may need to hire a developer to work out the kink on a staging server.
If something breaks, you may need to hire a developer to fix it. This could cost more that paying for a monthly care plan.
When it comes to our Care Plan clients, we prefer to take a preventative approach. We try to stay aware of plugin issues and perform updates carefully. We put extra scans in place for performance, security and uptime monitoring. But sometimes, bad things happen. We keep a cool head and restore from a backup, troubleshoot the issue and usually have it fixed before you can say “man, I’m glad I didn’t have to deal with that.” 🙂