Updating Your WordPress Website Responsibly
Even though WordPress makes it so easy to update things with just a few clicks, you always still need to update responsibly.
It’s easy to cut a few corners on our own personal websites; I do it all the time. But when we’re being paid to manage a website for a client, it becomes especially important that we take the proper steps to update responsibly. This way, we can avoid our client’s live website ever breaking, and then getting that dreaded phone call none of want to deal with.
How to Update Responsibly
The following tips will help you to update responsibly and avoid ever breaking your client’s live website.
1. Keep Everything Up-to-date
Reputable theme and plugin authors, that are still supporting and maintaining their products, are always going to strive to get things working with the latest WordPress.
So it’s important you keep WordPress, your theme, and all of your plugins up-to-date. For example, if you’re constantly updating WordPress and all of your plugins, but not updating the theme, it’s only a matter of time before things begin to break.
2. Update Regularly
Things evolve quickly in the WordPress community and it’s easy for your website to quickly become out-of-date and insecure. Make sure you’re regularly getting everything updated.
For each website you maintain, try setting up a weekly, monthly, or quartly time that you dedicate to making sure everything is up-to-date. And if you’re maintaining a website for a client, urge the importance of this and charge for your time.
Instead of clicking update links throughout your WordPress dashboard on a whim as you see them, use that regular time you’ve set aside to update everything for each site at once.
Also, the further you fall behind on major releases for WordPress, your plugins, and your theme, the harder updating will be and the more overwhelming the entire process is going to seem.
3. Back Up Your Website
There’s so much information available online about the topic of “backing up WordPress” that it’s just too overwhelming. We see messages so often like, “Make sure to back up your database and files” … that realistically we’ve started just ignoring them.
But backing up is crucial; so let’s make this simple.
Nowadays, most reputable web hosts have some sort of backup solution that’s already set up for you, which allows you to roll back your website to a previous point in time. So just ask your web host about this and how it works on their platform. They may charge a few extra bucks for it, but it’s worth it. Then, if anything ever goes wrong, you can quickly just start over.
If you’ve ever Googled “backing up WordPress” you know there are tons of other ways your site can be backed up and restored. But if your web host doesn’t offer any kind of feature to quickly and easily roll things back, you may want to consider finding one that does.
4. Use a Staging Environment
Out of all the points in this article, this is probably the most commonly overlooked. You really should not be just clicking updates randomly in your WordPress dashboard on a live website, without knowing what’s going to happen. And if you’re being paid to manage a website for a client, this is just a pretty poor practice honestly.
So instead, you should be making updates in a staging environment, before those changes go to the live website. This just basically means you’ve made a copy of your website, you’re updating everything on that copy, and then you’re publishing those changes on the live website once you’ve verified everything works correctly.
Just a few years ago, if you weren’t a hard-core server tech, this may have seemed impossible, or a process that you just didn’t have time for. But now more and more web hosts are starting to offer staging features that anyone can use quickly and easily. So ask your web host about this and learn how it works on their platform.
And if your web host doesn’t have any kind of system for staging your website, maybe consider finding a web host that does. It’ll just make life easier.
5. Your Child Theme May Break
For those making code customizations to your theme, if you’re doing them from a child theme, you’re doing things right. But the system isn’t always perfect.
Regular maintenance of your WordPress website realistically also involves regular maintenance to your child theme. So just be prepared that if an update breaks anything, you’re ready to re-visit your code customizations.
And you’ll find that when you’re updating responsibly from a staging environment, there’s a lot less pressure involved here.
If there are styling issues, use your browser’s inspector to see what’s changed and how you should update your CSS. If there’s a break in the page or something’s missing, get WP_DEBUG on so you have clear errors being printed that point you to where you need to edit in your child theme’s PHP code.
Glancing over the points in this article, it may seem that updating responsibly is just too time consuming for your workflow, but it’s not.
If you currently don’t know how to back up your website or set up a staging environment, yes the process of doing the research of how to do this on your web host may take some time. But after you’ve got it all figured out, it’s a breeze. So invest some time in learning how to back up your website and how to use a staging environment.
Also, make sure to find a good web host that offers these features, which are easy to use. More and more web hosts are starting to offer these types of features quickly through some sort of user dashboard. I don’t want this article to be about recommending web hosts; so if you’d like to know a couple of web hosts that offer these things just ask me.
Then, just be organized. Set up an update process and a set-aside time for each website where you update everything at once that needs to be updated.
And most importantly, your time is valuable and so is updating responsibly. So express this to your clients and charge for your time.