How to Update your WordPress Site

Tutorials

I’m sure you’ve all seen it…that little notification when you login to your WordPress dashboard telling you that there is an update available.

Should I update? Will it mess my site up? What if things with my site go a little crazy when I update? Click here to learn how to update your Restored 316 theme. 

While those are all legitimate questions and possibilities and I completely understand the trepidation that arises when you’re faced with this, the likelihood that it will happen is extremely rare. And if you know how to update properly, then it should not be of any real concern for you or for your site.

The most important step

Backup your site

The most important step in this process is to make certain you have a backup of your site.  A lot of hosting providers will offer this service for you either as part of their hosting package or as an additional service. If you’re with WPEngine or Flywheel, these guys backup your site throughout the day so you never really need to worry about backups.  Bluehost and Siteground offer backups as an additional service. But.. you can do backups with a plugin as well.

Using a plugin to backup & what to look for

I personally recommend the UpDraft plugin for backups.  This plugin is continually maintained and they have great customer service.  To keep regular backups of your site you can simply use their free version instead of upgrading to the Plus version.

However, if you want to look at some other plugins you are welcome to navigate to PLUGINS > ADD NEW and search “backup” in the repository.  You’ll look at the star rating of each plugin, when it was last updated, and how many people have installed it.  These are all great indicators that the plugin won’t conflict with anything else, and actually works the way it’s supposed to.

Some of the features within a backup plugin that you want to make sure that you’re able to do is:

  1. You want to be able to do manual and scheduled backups
  2. You want your backups to be saved to an outside source
  3. You want to be able to restore your site from a backup

You’ll want to have some control over scheduling some automatic updates on your site as well as the ability to initiate a manual backup.  If you site only has about one blog post a week and isn’t used for eCommerce purposes, you will be fine to schedule a weekly or bi-weekly backup of your site.  However, if you blog more than that or you have eCommerce on your site where you’re getting orders every day, you should have a schedule of backing up a couple times a day.  This is very important because should you ever need to restore your site to one of these backups, you don’t want to erase all your orders. You also want that ability to initiate a manual backup right before an update just to be sure you’re set before doing any major updates.

Another thing is to make sure that the scheduled backups you have are being saved to an outside source like Dropbox or some type of Cloud service.  You absolutely don’t want these backups to be stored on the your sites server because the amount of data in these files is quite large and it will, in turn, begin to slow your site down.

And lastly, be sure that whatever plugin you use, you’re able to restore your site from these backups should you ever need to!

Things to know before you update

Core vs Bug fix update

A Core update is anytime you see an update that has two numbers in it.  If the top of your dashboard says you need to update to WordPress 4.5 this means it’s a core update, therefore it’s a pretty major update and has quite a bit of changes in it.

A Bug fix or security update is anytime you see three numbers for your update.  If your dashboard says you need to update to WordPress 4.5.1 this just means the update was fixing some bugs that were found in the last core update, and they likely added some security patches as well.

WordPress

My general rule of thumb with any WordPress core update it to wait at least 48 hours after the update is released to update my site. You’ll be able to see over this time period if there are any major bugs that may arise when you update or if there are any plugins or theme conflicts that might arise.

If a Core update is released and it’s causing an awful lot of trouble, WordPress will issue a bug fix update relatively quickly afterward, so just wait for that bug fix update to come out before updating.

Sometimes if there are issues after a Core update and it’s a plugin conflict/issue the plugin developer will issue an update for the plugin in question as well and in that case, wait for that update to come out if the plugin you’re using is an imperative plugin for your site (WooCommerce for example).

If there is a bug fix released, I typically say wait 24 hours to be sure all is well.  Bug fixes have a lot less bugs to report after being released but from time to time they do cause trouble.  You just want to be prepared before hitting that update button.

Themes

The Core vs Bug fix update also applies to themes.  Since you’re here on our site, you’re likely using the Genesis framework so the StudioPress team are the ones that would issue an update.  Follow my same guidelines under WordPress for the updates for the Genesis Framework.

Plugins

For plugins, I recommend updating these after 24 hours of release unless it’s a super simple plugin like your social media icons and in that case feel free to update immediately.  If it’s a really big plugin like WooCommerce or a really important plugin for your site, you might wait 48 hours just to be sure there aren’t any issues being reported.

Where do I find out if there are issues?

My go to place is Facebook groups!  I’m a part of a lot of Facebook groups – as well as our own – and we typically see right away if there are any issues. You can also see issues being reported here at WordPress, here for Genesis, and on the plugin support pages for each individual plugin (example).

Keep in mind that updates are very important, so I’m not recommending you to not update.  I’m simply saying to be strategic about how you update so that you don’t encounter issues when you do push that update button.

How to update?

Automatic Updates

Some hosts offer automatic updates for you and will automatically update everything on your site for you.  I personally like to have a little bit more control over when that happens since we have a pretty high traffic website, so I turn this feature off.  This is completely up to you.. you can keep the automatic updates if that helps you remember to do them.  Just be sure that you have backups being taken on a regular basis if you have this turned on.  If this feature is set with your hosting provider, then you’ll be completely hands off and all these updates will be done for you!

If you’re getting a notice in your dashboard that your automatic updates failed here is what is happening: Your host is set up for automatic updates but updates are actually pushed out and received at different intervals. So, if your host tries to issue the update to all their sites at once, but your site hasn’t received the update yet.. it will fail. This is completely okay and nothing is wrong. Over the following 24 hours you’ll eventually see the update appear in your dashboard and then you can manually hit that button to update.

Manual Updates

If your host doesn’t offer the automatic updates or you would prefer to manually update, this process is so super simple!  You’ll see a notice at the top of your screen that tells you there is an update available.  You can also find your updates under DASHBOARD >UPDATES and you’ll see everything that is awaiting an update.  You’ll simply hit the update now button and let the process go.  Be sure you don’t navigate away from the page until it’s done updating, which generally only takes a few seconds.

While your site is being updated, WordPress, by default, will put up a Maintenance page and then this page will disappear as soon as the update is complete.  If you have a really high traffic site, I would wait to do your updates at a slow time so these updates don’t interfere with visitors on your site.

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7 Comments

    1. Hi Natasha,

      You can use something like BackupWordPress or BackupBuddy. One is free and the other isn’t. I typically use BackupBuddy for all my clients because they make it really easy to restore a site in the event something does go wrong.

  1. Thanks, just learnt of the plugins from comments above. I usually just do the cPanel backup and also download a backup of mysql databse every week or so. Never had any issue while updating yet. 🙂

  2. Thank you Lauren! I’ve been putting off updating my WordPress for fear of something going wrong. Just updated and everything looks ok. Phewf 🙂

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