This post How to Update Your WordPress Site was originally written in 2016, but has been updated with current information.
So, you need to know how to update your WordPress site? Updating your website is one of the top ways to keep it secure. So, why do most of my clients fail to update their sites on a regular basis? I think it is because it may seem scary or overwhelming or because they don’t realize how important it is. In any case, it needs to be done on a regular basis.
How Do I Know If My Site Needs an update?
There’s a couple of places you can check to see if your site needs updating. There will be a circle with arrows near the name of your website that has a number by it. This indicates how many updates are available for your site.
Alternatively, you could check under Dashboard > Updates and see if there’s a number in a circle there. That is also an indication that you have updates available. Click either place and you’ll get to the updates screen.
Always Make a Backup Before Updating Your WordPress Site
I’ve seen it too many times. A plugin needs to be updated, so you just update the plugin. Then, the whole site goes down. Your heart jumps into your throat and you feel sick. What have you done? Having a site break on you is a scary thing. No one wants to feel that way. And the good thing is that it’s preventable. If you make a backup of your site before you update, then you’ll have a restore point if anything goes wrong. That’s a much better feeling than thinking it’s all gone.
So, the first step in learning how to update your WordPress site is learning to make a backup. There are numerous plugins and services. Often your hosting company will offer backup services. I prefer to use a few different backup techniques in combination. I use Siteground hosting for most of my sites for many reasons. One of them being that daily backups are automatically included and there’s no setup to get the backups started. I also use ManageWP as a quick way to make sure that I have a second backup offsite in case anything ever happens to my hosting company. It’s sad to say that I’ve seen it more than once that a hosting company’s automatic backup system has failed and the site was lost. For this reason, I feel you can never be too careful about making extra backups. Once you’ve connected your site to ManageWP, you just activate the backup service and create a backup.
First, Update WP Core Files
Once you have a backup or two, it’s time to start updating things. This is the part where you really learn how to update your WordPress site. In WordPress, there are 3 sections for updates. WordPress Updates, Plugins, and Themes. Each section needs to be updated separately. I usually start with the WordPress Core Files. Often they are updated automatically, but if not, you’ll see a blue button that says update WordPress. Click there to update and then WAIT. It’s important to wait for an update to complete running before you click anywhere else. If you don’t let it run all the way through the update process, you’ll likely end up stuck in maintenance mode. If that happens, you’ll need to remove a maintenance file from your website files in order to bring your website back. It isn’t terribly hard, but it can be scary and should be avoided.
Once the update is finished, the screen will refresh and you’ll see a welcome page for the new version of WordPress that explains all of the new features that are included in that release. Once you see that, you can click back to the updates page by clicking on the circle icon with the number next to it or the Dashboard > Updates link from the black bar menu.
Next, Update the Themes
Next, I like to update the themes. I also make it a rule to only keep a couple of themes on my website. That would be any child themes I am running, the parent theme, and the latest default WordPress theme. I delete the rest because they add unnecessary files to my website and take up room on my server.
To update the themes, scroll down to the themes section and select all. Then, click the blue button to Update Themes. Again, wait for the update to complete before you click anywhere else. It’s so important to wait. If not, your site could be stuck in maintenance mode and you’ll have to manually remove the maintenance file from your site files. It may not seem like anything is happening and your screen will look blank for a bit while it’s running. Don’t worry, just be patient and wait for it to finish. If you get a timeout error, just refresh the page. Once the updates have finished, you will get a notice that all updates have finished. Then, you can click back to the updates screen the same way you did before.
Then, Update the Plugins
If all is going well so far, I update the plugins next. Scroll to the plugins section and select all. Then, click Update Plugins and wait again. If you see a blank area in your dashboard again, don’t worry, but just wait. It will finish updating all of the plugins and give you a notice that it’s all finished updating.
Clear Your Cache
Once you get things all updated, you’ll want to clear your cache. This could be in several places, so make sure you clear all of the caches including hosting cache (for Siteground, just click on the Purge SG Cache in the top black bar), optimizer cache (If you have a plugin such as WP Rocket, you’ll see a button in the top black bar that you can hover over and click Clear and Preload Cache), CDN cache (If you use something like Cloudflare, you can clear the cache for that as well), and even theme cache. If you’re using Divi theme, you’ll go to Divi > Theme options > Builder > Advanced and then click on the CLEAR button next to the static CSS File Generation Enabled button.
Check in an Incognito Browser and Your Phone
After you have cleared all of the caches, you should check your site in an incognito browser window. If you’re using chrome, hit CTRL + Shift + N to get a new incognito window. Then, visit your site and see if it’s looking normal. Click around and look at different pages, test your forms to make sure they still function. If you have an ecommerce site, do a test purchase. If you have a members area, check to see that it’s still protected and functioning. Check how things look on your phone. Usually updating things is a seamless process, but occasionally things break. It’s important to check your site thoroughly after an update to make sure things are functioning properly. You don’t want things to go unchecked because it could mean you’re losing money if things aren’t working.
What if There’s a Problem?
In case of a problem, you can always restore from your backup. Then, update things one at a time and check after each update to see what breaks the site. Once you know which update breaks your site, you can restore and update everything except that thing.
If you still feel intimidated by the task of updating your site, you can sign up for my maintenance package where I will go in and update everything on a regular basis, and if something breaks, I will work on fixing it for you. One less thing to worry about, right? Let’s work together to keep the hackers out of our lives. Nobody likes a hacker.