Ask any WordPress expert the most important aspects of website health and maintenance and WordPress updates are sure to find a top mention. And yet, it’s the one aspect most website owners are likely to ignore. In fact, WordPress statistics say that only 23.3% of WordPress users have upgraded to the latest version while nearly 64% are using much older 3.x. versions!
We understand that keeping a site updated can be challenging. It requires applying updates to the Core WordPress, plugins, and themes. All this becomes harder if you manage multiple websites – each with different sets of plugins and themes. There’s also the fear of breaking or crashing a stable website. In fact, this fear is one of the biggest reasons that users hesitate to update.
In this article, we tell you everything you need to know about WordPress updates, their importance, and how you can apply them without compromising your website.
Why are WordPress Updates Important?
Like any other software development team, the WordPress team releases both major and minor versions at regular intervals. WordPress has released a total of 37 major versions since its first release in January 2004. The latest version 5.4 was released in March 2020. For every major version, WP also releases minor versions (for example, update 5.4.1 released in April 2020).
Be it a major or minor update; these updates include the following:
- Security fixes: Being the most popular content management system also makes WordPress a hackers’ favorite. WP sites are targeted by hackers looking for security vulnerabilities that they can exploit. Once a vulnerability is detected in a version, hackers target all websites that use this particular WP version.
To counter these WordPress security threats, WordPress releases timely updates with security fixes. Additionally, WP encourages users to find and report these security vulnerabilities so that they can be fixed. In short, updates are necessary to fix security issues and to keep your website safe from hackers.
- Bug fixes: Despite the best coding practices and testing, bugs exist in most software, including WordPress. However, developers fix each of these major or minor bugs in the ?ext or subsequent version update. As an example, WordPress 3.8.3 contained a fix for the “Quick Draft” dashboard widget bug that was introduced in the previous version 3.8.2.
- New features or enhancements: Updates also introduce new features that can enhance your website’s overall appearance and functionality. Additionally, they also release enhancements to existing features to improve their performance.
As an example, WP 5.2 introduced the new “Site Health Check” feature that helps troubleshoot common server configuration issues. The earlier 5.0 version featured the famous Gutenberg Block Editor as a significant feature. In short, you need to apply updates regularly to make use of these new features and enhancements.
- Performance improvements: WordPress and plugin/theme developers, often detect performance bottlenecks that can be corrected. With the latest updates, you can also expect an overall improvement in your website performance, including its loading speed.
With every new update or release, the Core WP version has performance improvements – such as faster scripts or database queries that increase its efficiency.
This, in turn, improves the overall user experience as they engage with a faster and optimized website. Faster websites also get a better SEO score and ranking on Google.
- Compatibility issues: The longer you delay updates, the more likely are you going to face compatibility issues. Confused? Let us explain.
With every major WP release, independent plugin/theme developers also release updated versions that are compatible with the latest version. If you don’t update WordPress and continue to use an older version, installing a new plugin/theme on your site can cause issues as this plugin/theme version may not be designed to be compatible with the older version.
Sometimes, compatibility issues can be reported between two plugins. For example, with the release of WP 5.0, the WooCommerce plugin was said to be incompatible with the Gutenberg block editor. However, with subsequent WooCommerce plugin releases, its developers were able to resolve this compatibility issue.
To avoid such issues, take a backup of your website before applying the update. This ensures that you can revert to the previous version in the event of the update going wrong.
Additionally, before installing, check if the new plugin/theme is compatible with the version you are using.
The above are some of the primary reasons why you must regularly update and keep your site up-to–date with the latest version.
Now that you know why updates are important, let’s discuss the various ways you can apply one on your website.
WordPress Updates – Manual or Automatic
Primarily, there are two methods through which you can implement WordPress updates:
- Manual updates
- Automatic updates
However, before applying either manual or automatic updates, you must remember to take a backup of your entire WordPress site. This way, you can rest assured that you can restore your website to its previous state even if the update process runs into any problems. Use a backup tool like BlogVault to create and store your website backup in a few minutes.
1. Manual updates
Manual updates require a fair bit of prerequisite technical knowhow – both of WordPress and tools such as FileZilla for file transfer. FileZilla is an FTP tool that allows you to connect to your website files after entering your FTP user credentials. Here are the steps that you should follow to update your WordPress site manually:
- Deactivate all plugins installed on your website
- Download the latest WordPress version
- Use the FTP tool to connect to your web server, uninstall the current WordPress version, and upload the new WordPress version on your web server
After completing these steps, you can then reactivate all your plugins and clear your cache. This allows you to view your WordPress site with the latest updates.
2. Automatic updates
Compared to manual updates, these are relatively easier to execute and require lesser technical knowhow after the initial setup. One thing to note here is WP allows automatic updates for its versions since the release of its version 3.7.
With automatic updates, your Core WordPress keeps checking for minor version updates (example, version 3.0.1 or 5.4.1) and applies them automatically. However, with major releases (for example, 5.0 or 5.4), it’s not safe to automatically update your website as it may cause your live site to malfunction or even crash. To avoid this, we recommended that you first apply all your major updates on a staging site instead of the live website.
A WordPress staging environment is an exact copy of your live website and allows you to test out all your updates safely without any impact on your live site. Once you are satisfied with the updates, you can easily merge the changes to your live website.
For automatic updates of your Core WordPress version along with installed plugins/themes, you can use WordPress management plugins like WP Remote or ManageWP. WP Remote also features in-built staging for your convenience.
Alternatively, you can opt for update services from your WordPress hosting company. More about that in the next section.
3. Through Your Web Host
Implementing WordPress updates through a web host is a convenient method as you don’t need to worry about performing updates yourself.
Popular hosting providers like WPEngine and FlyWheel offer services like automatic updates for their customers. Some managed WordPress hosting providers also update each of your installed plugins/themes.
On the flip side, depending on your current web host, you may incur an additional premium charge to perform automatic updates. Besides that, you need to entirely rely on your web host provider to keep your website and its components updated to the latest version.
4. WordPress Management Services
If you are operating multiple WordPress sites and don’t want the hassle of updating each of them, you can consider hiring a professional WordPress management company like WP Buffs.
These companies use the latest practices, including staging sites, to keep all websites updated. Plus, they offer professional customer service support to answer any queries or problems you could be facing.
We hope that this article has convinced you of the importance of updates for your site’s safety and stability. By avoiding updates, not only are you risking your website security, but, you are also missing out on new features and improvements.
While updates can seem challenging, with the knowledge of some best practices and the right tools on your side, you have nothing to worry about. Let us know what methods you prefer to update your site and why. We’d love to hear your response in the comments below!