Anyone who has handled a WordPress site long enough knows that updating a WordPress website is not a simple affair.
Updates are known to break websites. Once a website breaks, you need to get it up and running as soon as possible. Delay can lead to other catastrophes. Visitors who come to your site would immediately leave. Your revenue collection will take a hit. Google will learn that something is wrong with your site and your ranking will begin to fall.
But don’t worry. There are safer ways to update websites. In this article, we’ll guide you through tackling these problems and show you a safe way to update your site without the hassle.
Importance Of WordPress Updates
Updates are a new version of software that replaces the old one to improve performance, add new features, and fix bugs or security issues. WordPress, and its plugins and themes, like all software, get updates on a regular basis too.
You may ask if the current version is functioning fine, why do I need to bother updating it?
While you can leave your site alone and think everything is running fine, you’re setting yourself up for much bigger problems. It’s important to understand why developers release updates in the first place.
Developers constantly enhance their software to improve existing features and add new ones. The most important reason, however, is security issues in the software. If there is a security flaw present, this leaves your site vulnerable to hackers. If the developer finds the flaw, they patch it and release an update.
Every update serves a purpose and it helps your website one way or the other. You will receive notifications to run an update on WordPress or its themes and plugins mainly for the following reasons:
i. Security Fixes
When bugs and security flaws are found in the WordPress software, the core WordPress team then springs into action to fix these issues. They release an updated version of the WordPress core software. Once you install the update, your website is safe.
Like the WordPress core, plugins and themes also develop security issues. When developers learn about them, they release security fixes for their software.
By delaying the update, your site becomes vulnerable to attacks. So, updating immediately is extremely vital to your site when you know a security fix is available.
ii. Bug Fixes
No matter how rigorous software testing is, there are always hidden bugs that slip through. A bug simply means an error or fault in the software which can cause the website to malfunction. In most cases, a bug is a human error that appeared when the developer was building the software.
If you experience any weird behavior from a plugin, it’s probably a bug. As and when bugs are found by software testers and developers, the fix is made and an update is released.
iii. New Features
When new features are added to the WordPress core, they release what is called a major update. The core team is always working on introducing new features that improve the user’s experience, apart from improving the existing ones! The same applies to themes and plugins as well.
Now, if you continue to use the old version, you would be missing out on the new additions and improvements.
When we see that an update is available, we fear that it might break our site. Since all elements are working well with each other, why fix what isn’t broken? But the longer you wait, the more incompatibility issues you’re bound to face.
A lot of times, developers of themes and plugins usually coordinate their updates with major WordPress updates. This helps them ensure their plugin remains compatible with the updated core.
So if you see that plugins and themes have an update right after a major WordPress core update, it would be a good idea to update them.
Developers sometimes release updates to improve the performance and speed of their software. This, in turn, will help improve the performance of your site. After the update, you’ll have a website that runs faster with better SEO adherence.
So now you know why WordPress Updates are so important. We can move forward in showing you the different ways of updating your site.
8 Steps Before Upgrading WordPress
As we discussed, updates can break your site sometimes. Considering the risk, we recommend taking the following steps before you update your site.
1. Backup your WordPress Site
We know updates can break your site, render things incompatible with each other, cause buttons to malfunction, etc. With such risk involved, back ups are your safety net. If things go wrong, you can quickly get your website up and running by restoring your backup.
To back up your site, there are quite a few plugins available in the market.
We recommend using BlogVault as it’s easy to use and reliable! Once you activate the plugin, it will make a copy of your website. If you messed up, you can just restore your backup in a few clicks and have your site back to normal in a few minutes.
2. Check out what’s new in the update
Whether it’s the core of a theme/plugin, view the details of the update. These details will tell you whether it’s an urgent security issue or an improvement to the software. If it’s anything related to security, update your site immediately.
How to check the details of updates
To view the update details, select “View version details”. You’ll get a pop up that shows you the Changelog. You can see all the changes that have been made to the old version. Sometimes it may be just a small bug fix but it can make your software function way better.
Reading these change logs will help you get a good sense of what the updates are going to change on your site.
3. Make a list of all your plugins & themes
Keeping your website updated comes with a lot of benefits as we discussed reasons why updates are important.
However, not every theme or plugin receive updates. Sometimes, developers abandon themes and plugins. You are unlikely to learn about this unless you keep a track of all the updates.
If you list down all the plugins and themes and track which ones are receiving updates, you’ll soon learn which ones aren’t. You can then replace such plugins to ensure your site is safe.
You also need to manually track premium themes and plugins that do not get update notifications in WordPress admin. Visit the website of the themes and plugins and check what version you are using, and what version is available.
4. Check wordpress.org support forums
It’s very likely that someone’s already tried out the update before you. A lot of people use these forums to report what happened with the updates. So it saves you the hassle of discovering issues by yourself.
This is especially important if it’s a major WordPress core update. It makes a huge difference to check out other people’s experiences and learn from them.
5. Turn caching off
Many of us use caching plugins to speed up our sites. However, the cache may not recognize new content after you update your site. To prevent this we clear WordPress cache and deactivate the plugin before installing an update.
6. Set up a maintenance page
If you feel updating your site would result in some downtime on your site, you can put a maintenance page. This will alert the humans and bots that your site is only down temporarily and they can check back later.
This improves your user experience. As for bots, Google will not index any changes until the maintenance mode is disabled. So your rankings will not be affected.
You can tackle this in the .htaccess file if you’re tech-savvy. But if you’re not, it’s best to opt for a plugin like WP Maintenance Mode plugin. For more you can check our WordPress maintenance tips.
Updating WordPress To The Latest Version
There are 2 ways of updating your WordPress website –
We’ll show you in detail how to update your site using both methods.
How To Perform WordPress Updates From The Dashboard
We’ve entailed this method to show you how most website owners usually update their site.
1. WordPress Core Updates
When a new version of WordPress is available, a prompt appears in your dashboard. The easiest way to update is by clicking on ‘Please Update Now’.
Once it’s done, refresh your page and you’ll see that you’re using the latest version of WordPress.
2. Plugin Updates
Go to your WordPress dashboard > Plugins. Here, you’ll see which plugins have updates available. You can also select all the plugins that need updates, and select ‘Update’ from the drop-down menu.
3. Theme Updates
Themes can be updated from the ‘Updates’ tab, where you can do a bulk update by choosing ‘Select All’ and updating. You can also update it from the ‘Themes’ tab under ‘Appearance’. You’ll see a new version is available. It just takes one click and the theme will be updated.
Note: It is advisable to have only one theme installed – the one you’re using. If you have many themes installed, even though they aren’t active, they can be used to hack your site if there is a security issue in them. If you choose to keep more themes installed, ensure they’re updated.
There you have it! The easiest way to update a WordPress site – its core, themes and plugins.
However, there is a way to avoid the problems with updates and have everything functioning smoothly. We’ve entailed what you need to do to ensure your website is never affected.
How To Perform Safe WordPress Updates Using Staging Site
In this method, we recommend first taking a backup of your site, as we mentioned earlier. You can then proceed with the next steps:
Step 1: Create a WordPress Staging Site
Staging creates a clone environment of your website. It allows you to test out updates before making them on your live website. That way, you’d know if an update will cause issues on your website.
Your WordPress host might provide the option of staging sites. If not, you’d need a plugin that would allow you to create one. Here again, our go-to backup plugin BlogVault also allows you to create a WordPress staging site easily.
Once it’s set up, you can carry out the updates and check if they work fine. Check all your important pages and functions. This could include your home page, blogs, checkout, cart pages,
Remember, if it does create issues, there’s no need to worry. Any visitors to your site will not be affected by the updates or changes as your live site functions separately. You can check our 5 best WordPress staging plugins here.
Step 2: Update Live Site
If you’re happy with how your staging site is functioning, you can update your live site. You can replicate the updates on your live site.
However, we know there are times, when you’ve made a lot of changes to your site and it would be difficult to replicate them on your live site. Don’t worry. If you’re using the BlogVault plugin to stage your site, you can use the option called ‘merge’. This will push all the changes you made to your staging site onto your live site.
Once you do this, your live site is now updated safely and smoothly!
Step 3: Test WordPress website after updating it
After you’ve updated your site, your last and final step should be to test out your website. This ensures that your site is functioning correctly and that the update is a success.
i. WP Admin Check
Login to WordPress admin. Refresh your browser, visit the updates page and click on ‘Check again’. Ensure that the update has been successful and that you have the latest version.
ii. Website Check
Visit your website in incognito mode (not through the admin panel). Thoroughly check if all the critical URLs are performing well.
Each site will vary, so for example, if you have a WooCommerce site, investigate your cart and checkout pages. Try making a purchase and ensure the payment gateway is working fine. If you have a photography website, you’d need to make sure your gallery, slideshows, carousels are working fine.
iii. Browser and device testing
Check out how your website functions on all major browsers and devices like:
- Chrome, Firefox, Safari
- Windows, Edge, Mac
- iPhone and Android phone
After thoroughly testing, if everything is working fine, congratulations! You successfully updated your site safely with no problems at all!
How to Update a WordPress Site Manually Using FTP?
Before we dive into the steps of updating WordPress using FTP, we need to understand what FTP does.
FTP allows you to connect your computer to your website’s server. In doing so, you can access your website’s files. There are many FTPs you can choose from. FileZilla is one that’s free and very popular. You simply need to download it and install it on your computer. Once that’s done, we can begin to access your site.
Important note: The FTP process isn’t too technical and anyone should be able to do it. However, this method should be reserved for unavoidable situations. The slightest misstep here can result in a broken website.
Manual updates using FTP or cPanel is helpful in certain situations, but you shouldn’t really need it under normal circumstances. When it comes to this, it’s best to seek help from a WordPress developer or WordPress management solution.
Remember, to always take a backup of your site first. Always! We also recommend deactivating your plugins while installing manual updates as it’s known to cause problems sometimes.
1. Accessing FTP
- Find your FTP or SFTP credentials in your Control Panel or Profile details of your web host.
- You can then open your FTP application, enter your credentials to initiate the connection.
- In case it gives you a prompt that the certificate doesn’t match, try changing the certificate chain from 0 to 1 or 2.
How to change the Certificate in Chain in FileZilla
- You will see four panels. The left side is your local computer called “Local site” The right side is your website files called “Remote site”.
2. Updating WordPress
You need to be cautious while carrying out the steps below.
Step 1: Download the latest version of WordPress
Download the latest version of WordPress from the official WordPress website or directly from your dashboard.
Unzip the file, this will create a separate folder usually called “WordPress”. Note where it is located, you will need it later.
Step 2: Open the folders needed
Go back to Filezilla. You need to open two folders to update your site
- Your website’s folders on your server
- Your new WordPress installation folder on your computer.
On the right-hand panel, find the public_html folder.
Double click on your folder and you will see three folders wp-content, wp-admin and wp-includes.
Next, on the left panel, access the folder which contains the new WordPress installation you downloaded.
Step 3: Replace wp-admin and wp-includes
On your remote site, locate and delete the wp-admin and wp-includes files. On your local site, go to the folder in which you saved the new WordPress installation file.
Upload the wp-admin and wp-includes from the local site back into the remote site.
Step 4: Copy wp-content
You need to open the wp-content folder on the local site and copy and paste all the files into the wp-content folder on the remote site. A prompt will appear asking if you want to overwrite the existing files. Select yes. Any other content files you have will remain the same.
DO NOT delete your wp-content folder under any circumstances. This folder houses all the files that display the content of your website. If you delete it, you’ll lose your posts, pages, media uploads, etc.
Step 5: Database update
Access your WordPress dashboard. You might see “Database upgrade required”. Simply click on it and you’re done.
Ensure you re-enable all your plugins. Clear your browser cache and refresh your page. You should be able to see all the new changes.
- If you want a fresh WordPress installation on your site and want all old content to be erased, then you can just delete all the contents under your website’s folder. Then upload the new WordPress installation folder.
- In case you are unable to select a folder and upload, try uploading the zip file. You can then extract it on your remote site. After this, you can move the files and folders to the location you want by right-clicking and choosing ‘Move’.
- If you experienced a failed auto-update and are trying to do it manually, you can delete the .maintenance file from your WordPress root directory. The “Failed update” message on your site will disappear.
- At a more advanced level, with an installation using this process, you can examine the wp-config-sample.php file to see if there are any new settings you want to use or modify in your own wp-config.php file.
ii. Updating WordPress Plugins Using FTP
The method is pretty much the same if you want to update your WordPress plugins manually.
Step 1: Download the zip file of the plugin either from the WordPress repository or its official website. Next, unzip it to its own folder. In our example, we’ve named it ‘downloads’.
Step 2: Log into FTP and access public_html > wp-content > plugins folder.
Locate the plugins folder under wp-content.
Step 3: Select the plugin you want to upgrade, right-click and delete it.
Step 4: On the local site, right-click on the new plugin folder (the one we named downloads). Choose ‘Upload’ and make sure you are uploading it to wp-content/plugins.
Once done, you can sign in to your WordPress site and verify that your plugin is the new version.
iii. Updating WordPress Themes using FTP
Themes are a bit different. If you’re using a customized theme, if you overwrite the files with the new ones, you will lose your customizations. You might need a developer to help you with this.
However, if you’ve only made changes to your theme using the WordPress admin, then you can go ahead with updating it using FTP.
Step 1: Download the latest version of the theme you want to update from the WordPress repository or its official website. Unzip it to its own folder.
Step 2: Login to FTP. Go to public html > wp-content > themes.
Step 3: Select and delete the theme you want to update.
Step 4: On the local site panel, select the new theme folder (the one you unzipped). Right-click and ‘Upload’ it to your website’s wp-content/themes folder.
Step 5: Sign in to your WordPress site. Go to ‘Appearance’, then ‘Themes’ and ensure your theme version has been updated.
That brings us to an end on WordPress Updates. No matter what type of website you own, or whether you do it yourself or through an agency, remember, to get the right tools in place and then always backup – stage – update – test.
Have Your WordPress Updates Fully Managed
Keep a WordPress website updated is not a simple affair. Updates are frequent and time-consuming. Managing updates for a single website is hard enough. Managing dozens of client websites are a nightmare. If you want to focus on managing client websites without spending too much time on updates we recommend hiring management services like WP Buffs. Updates are tested on staging sites and executed during low-traffic hours to avoid any issues on the live client site.
Under their white-label program, you can offer clients 24/7 support through their support team while making your agency more profitable.
Though keeping WordPress updated seems like a daunting task, there are ways to set a planned process in place. This way hackers won’t hack your site, you’ll never see downtime, or your site crashing on account of updates.
By following the safe method we entailed above using a staging site, you should have a seamless way of ensuring you keep your site updated.
We hope this article gives you all the information you need to go ahead and update your site without the hassle and worry! If after reading this article, your website is updated, safe, and running fine, we’re only happy we could help!
Update Your WordPress Site Safely With BlogVault!