When we build a website for a client, we offer ongoing maintenance services as an option. All our Care Plans include an updating service. Most find these services vastly preferable to doing this tedious but necessary work themselves. Since today is one of the 3 most annoying days of the year for WordPress website owners all over the world, I thought I’d give you a brief overview of what and how we manage maintaining your sites on a day to day basis and on WordPress Update Day.
On August 16th WordPress.org pushed out a major update. This one is version 4.6. Frankly, I’m not that excited about it because there isn’t much new and exciting that affects my sites and my clients’ sites. A couple of years ago WordPress went from usually 2 major updates a year to 3. That has, in my opinion, resulted in fewer big, cool changes and of course the dreaded WordPress Update Day now comes 50% more often.
Before I even start, I tend to wait a few days or even a week. Once in a rare while some huge issue appears with updates and I don’t want to be the guinea pig who updates first. I’ll be the follower guinea pig. You also never want to leave updates too long because that can cause serious problems, even security issues. It’s a delicate balancing act and over the years I’ve developed a feel for it.
First, I read some select places on the internet to see if people are complaining about updating problems. If they are and the problems sound like they will affect my sites, then I’ll usually wait a bit for the next minor update. That will be 4.6.1 in this case.
I update sites in this order:
- Sites I own.
- Straight-forward sites without complex features.
- Sites with complex features like eCommerce, maps, restricted content, and site networks.
I don’t want to be a guinea pig in the world-wide WordPress community. I darn sure want to mess up my own sites before I update my clients’ sites.
First and foremost I make sure I have a backup of the entire site downloaded directly to my computer. That requires a premium plugin that lets me automate the backup process throughout the year but also lets me backup on demand and download that backup of the site’s software, files, and database. WordPress does many great things but I tell you, it sure makes backing up a nightmare compared to an old static site. BackupBuddy, my backup software, makes it tolerable however.
This one, occasional, backup is by no means enough for a complete backup strategy. But anytime I see potentially problematic updates, themes, plugins and of course, core WordPress itself, then I need to have this extra backup to feel safe.
Updating plugins is a nuisance. Some plugins you can routinely update without fear. Others routinely cause problems and require extra checking, troubleshooting, and fixing. Some just never get it right on a big point update but you can trust their minor ones. And before you say that type of plugin is bad software, that is not necessarily true. There are a couple that are absolutely top of their class, but are just so complex they tend to miss something that explodes once it is out in the wild. You just get a feel for these things. Learn from your mistakes.
Plugins require updating often. A site that is more than just the very basics can require updates on average every week. Sometimes it will be even more often, and sometimes less.
Once all the themes and plugins are updated, then I update core. “Core” is what we call the WordPress base software. It’s big stuff and despite tons of testing, it can ship with little bugs. Maybe those bugs don’t affect you, or maybe they break your site.
The second most important thing, after that original backup step, is that you check your site. Go visit and make sure it looks like it is supposed to. That it works like it is supposed to. That checking step is very time-consuming, boring and easy to skip. Don’t skip.
When I ask you to also look over your site, this is why. I check but more eyes are better because it is easy to miss something.
After the Check
After a core update, even when I wait a couple of days to do it, there will be several plugin updates dribbling out over the next couple of days and weeks. So we keep updating and checking, updating and checking. Now you know the ugly details behind our WordPress Care Plans updating services.