How to safely update your WordPress website

Mar 15, 2022 | Maintenance, WordPress

Follow this stress-free guide to help you update your WordPress Website. Keeping your WordPress website up to date is vital. Sadly, it’s something that is often overlooked. This is because website owners are often worried about breaking their sites. That fear isn’t unfounded.

I’ve experienced sites breaking because of an update on multiple occasions. Most of the time the fix is easy, but occasionally it can turn into a nightmare. Thankfully, there are some super easy steps that make the process goes smoothly, and should you experience any problems, we can simply roll back your site to a working state.

Back up your WordPress Website

The first thing you are going to want to do is to back up your website. This is very simple to do, and we have a handy guide that you can follow to get this done. We recommend using a plugin called UpdraftPlus. With this plugin you can connect your backups to go into your Dropbox account, and you can even schedule these backups for however often you think they will be needed.

Check your site

It’s important to check your site after updating so that you know if anything has gone wrong. Open your website in another browser tab so that you can check that everything looks the same after updating. If you are using caching plugins, you may need to clear your cache after your updates. Otherwise, you may be seeing an old version of the page when you go to check it.

Update your WordPress website: Plugins

The first step in the process of updating your WordPress website is to update your plugins. These updates are fairly frequent. You will usually have a few different plugins that need updating every week. Most of the updates include security fixes, so it’s fairly vital that you do the updates here. To run these updates, go to the admin section of your website. In the sidebar, hover over Dashboard and click updates.

The WordPress Dashboard with an arrow pointing to the word updates. Showing you how to update your WordPress Website.

Scroll down until you see the Plugins heading. Sometimes, you may see a warning message underneath a particular plugin. This usually tells you that this is a fairly significant update and to proceed with caution. If you have your backup, you should be alright to ignore this. However, if you are unsure, check with whoever built or hosts your website.

An arrow pointing to a select all checkbox that will select all plugins. Another arrow pointing to a button with the text Update Plugins.

Now click update. Let the updates finish before clicking anything else, otherwise you may lock the site in maintenance mode. Great, now go check that everything looks right on your website. If all looks good, proceed on to updating your themes. Otherwise, you can roll back your update with the backup you created earlier.

Update your WordPress website: Themes

Now, it’s time to update your themes. You will notice there is a section for themes in your updates. Themes don’t tend to be updated quite as frequently as plugins. However, because the look of your site is largely determined by your theme, the changes may be significant.

An arrow pointing to a checkbox to select all themes. Another arrow pointing to a button with the words Update themes.

Should you back up your site again?

Up to you. I wouldn’t bother, but if you don’t want to update your plugins again in case something goes wrong, then go ahead and create another backup.

Now check the themes you want to update and click update. Go ahead and check your site before moving on.

Update your WordPress website: Core

This is the big one. In most cases, this one goes fairly smoothly (at least these days it does). This is the engine behind your website. These updates are usually monthly and contain everything from new features, bug fixes and security fixes. Click update and check over your site.

Now, everything is up-to-date. Pat your self on the back and go grab a coffee.

An arrow pointing to a button with Update to version 6.0.1. This is the version number of WordPress.

How often should you update your site?

In my opinion, both weekly or monthly are fine. Sometimes there are more urgent cases where a vulnerability is found, and an update is released to fix that. But if your site doesn’t run too many plugins, then this probably won’t happen to you too often. Also, if you have your backup’s setup, you have an extra layer of security there.

Should you use auto update?

A while back, WordPress released a feature that made it possible to have your themes and plugins auto update. This is a handy feature and can save you a bit of time. However, keep in mind you’ll still have to check that everything looks right on your site after these updates. There also, won’t be any backup taken before these updates are run.

An arrow pointing to a link that say Enable auto-updates. This is referring to enabling auto updates on a plugin.

I personally use this feature on a few plugins. For example, I use it on plugins that I know aren’t likely to do any cosmetic damage to the site. Also, any security plugins.