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How to Update your WordPress Website in 8 Easy Steps

As you’re well aware, it is imperative to the well-being of your business that your website is properly updated and maintained in order to gain and retain customers! In this step-by-step tutorial, I will explain not only HOW, but also WHY and WHEN to update your WordPress website.

Why You Should Regularly Update Your WordPress Site

Think of your WordPress website as a car. It’s shiny and new when you get it, but it needs to be maintained regularly to stay in tip-top shape. For example, your car’s oil needs to be changed regularly, the tires need to be rotated and balanced and eventually replaced, maybe something goes wonky with the fancy new software and it has to get a factory update. Either way, if you don’t properly care for your car, it won’t last as long and will eventually break down.

Now think about your WordPress website. Whether it’s shiny and new or a few months/years old, it needs to be updated and maintained regularly to ensure it continues to function smoothly. Updates are necessary because they:

  • Increase security and reduce the chance of your website getting hacked or infected with malware
  • Fix bugs and issues with previous versions and/or compatibility with other plugins and themes
  • Add new features and functionality that the previous versions didn’t provide

When to Update Your WordPress Website

Now that we’ve covered WHY, let’s quickly touch on WHEN. My advice: update your WordPress website at least once per week. Use a project management tool like ClickUp to remind you to update your websites and your client’s websites on a weekly basis. If you maintain a handful of websites, it might take a bit of time, but once it’s done, you don’t have to think about it until the following week.

How to Update Your WordPress Website

Want to really make the process easy – check out these tidbits:

  • If your website is hosted by a fully Managed WordPress Hosting Provider (i.e. Flywheel), your life will be much easier as security and backups are automatically taken care of. 
  • If your website is hosted by SiteGround (the GrowBig or GoGeek plan), your backups are taken care of as they offer a free backup and restore service for everyone on those plans
  • BONUS: if your website is hosted by Flywheel or SiteGround (the GoGeek plan only), you have the ability to create a staging copy of your live site to test the updates in the staging environment before making the changes in the live site

If you’re updating your WordPress website for the first time, follow these steps first:

  1. Gain access to your website files via FTP or via your hosting provider’s file manager; this is important because if anything goes haywire during the update process, you may need to access your website files to fix the issue
  2. Download the recommended security and backup plugins:
  3. Before doing any updates, be sure you have a full backup of your website files and database (saved on the server and in an offsite location); if you’re using UpdraftPlus, go through the setup process, run a full backup, ensure it is saving to an offsite location (i.e. Dropbox, Google Drive, etc.) and set the automatic backup to run once per day and keep two copies at all times
  4. Complete all updates (according to Steps 1 – 7 below) and then run a Wordfence security scan to check for any issues or malicious files; if any warnings come back from the scan, read through the alert and fix the issue immediately; after you run your first scan, the plugin will automatically set itself to run a new scan every 24 hours

Steps to update your WordPress website (on a weekly basis)

STEP 1:

Login to your WordPress website so you’re viewing the dashboard (i.e. backend).

STEP 2:

Check UpdraftPlus to ensure you have a recent full backup of your website files and database.

STEP 3:

Update your plugins one by one; after each update, check the website to make sure it is functioning as it should (this is especially important if the plugin hasn’t been updated in a while).

STEP 4:

Update your theme(s) one by one; after each update, check the website to make sure it is functioning as it should.

STEP 5:

Check your comments and take the appropriate action (approve, disapprove, mark as spam, etc.); if you’re receiving lots of spam comments, download either the Akismet or WP-SpamShield plugin in order to help manage your spam comments.

STEP 6:

Update the WordPress core files when available; this won’t be necessary every week as updates to the core files don’t come out all that often, but when they do, you’ll want to update your site immediately.

STEP 7:

Once all updates are complete, double check your website is still functioning as it should.

STEP 8:

Check Wordfence to ensure a recent scan was completed on your site and that it came back clean; if any issues or malicious files were reported, fix these immediately.

FINAL STEP:

Repeat Steps 1-8 on a weekly basis (at a minimum).

What if something goes wrong while I’m updating my WordPress website?

If at any time during the update process your site stops functioning or breaks (i.e. ‘the white screen of death’), you will need to troubleshoot the issue. Below are some troubleshooting suggestions that are on my go-to list when I have issues!

If after an update your site doesn’t look right or function correctly, try these steps:

  • Try deactivating the most recent plugin you just updated (hence the importance of updating your plugins one-by-one)
  • Deactivate all plugins and re-activate them one-by-one

If you’re left with ‘the white screen of death’ and all you see is an error at the top of the page, take a look at the error and try to identify which file is causing the issue. More often than not it will be plugin conflict, so you’re looking for the plugin name in the error (towards the end of the error). Once you spot it, follow these steps:

  • Access your website files via FTP or via your hosting provider’s file manager
  • Navigate to the plugin folder in question
  • Rename the plugin folder to something different (i.e. ‘PluginName-old’), which is effectively deactivating the plugin
  • Refresh your website and it should now be back to normal

If the above troubleshooting suggestions don’t work, Google it or feel free to reach out in Screw the Commute for assistance.

As with a lot of things in the WordPress world, there is varying advice on the order in which you complete updates. Some argue it should be plugins then themes then WordPress core, while others swear by the opposite approach of WordPress core then themes then plugins; my advice is to simply do what works for you.

Be sure to update ALL plugins and ALL themes, even if you’re not using them and/or they’re deactivated. Outdated plugins and themes are easy ways for hackers to infiltrate your site.

Advice disclaimer – these are the steps that I take to update and maintain websites, but this is only meant to be advice and does not guarantee your site won’t break, be hacked, or otherwise have issues.

If you get lost or confused during any of the steps, please reach out to us and we’ll do our best to help. Alternatively, if you’d rather not deal with any of the updating and maintaining processes, you can Hire a Rockstar to do it for you!

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About the Author:
Some people look at the sky and see stars; others see constellations. Some people look at lines of code and see a website; Julia saw a path to empower women in building their dreams. As a (former) military wife, self-taught web developer, and lover of location independence, Julia has taught over 2,400 women to say “YES” to any WordPress request, but not only that, “YES” to themselves, and “YES” to creating life on their own terms. Empowering women and seeing others succeed is the biggest motivator for Julia. And so, she created a program to teach others the skills that allowed her to take back control of her life and start living on her own terms.
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