With WordPress core, theme, possibly child theme and plugin files all needing to be updated, web developers – even experienced developers (particularly those with a number of client websites in their care) – can easily get overwhelmed.

Updating a WordPress website is a bit tricky: if you don’t update the website, it runs the risk of becoming vulnerable and breaking. At the same time, updating a website can also lead to problems that may cause the site to break too.

To help you come up with a surefire game plan, we discuss the ins and outs of how to update a WordPress website correctly.

What Do the Version Numbers in WordPress Stand For?
A quick diversion from the main topic, if you’ve ever wondered what the version numbers imply, they are simply:

4.9: The first two numbers signal which version of WordPress is used. Moving from 4.5 to 4.6, for example, indicates a major release. Here, the WordPress team will introduce new functionality, features and more.
4.9.1: The third number in the sequence indicates a minor update to the same version. These minor releases indicate that security vulnerabilities and bugs have been fixed.

A Step by Step Guide to Updating Your WordPress Website
While not every web developer shares the same sentiments, the steps below are the processes we follow when updating our websites and those of our clients.

Step 1: Make a Back Up of Your Website
The single most important aspect of managing websites is to run regular backups. To do this, manually access the website’s server to export the SQL database from the phpMyAdmin console, and also export the site files from the File Manager.

Step 2: Test the Update on a Staging Site
Set up a testing/development/staging server and load an exact replica of your clients site here. Use this live staging site to test any and everything from trying out new plugins, testing code changes, and assessing trial runs of updates etc..

Step 3: Run the Updates on the Live Site
Once you’ve tested the updates and have concluded that everything is in good working order, head on over to the live site and run the updates there. As you execute updates, the website will automatically enter maintenance mode. As to not upset your client’s customers, make sure that you run the updates at a time when there is no traffic moving through the site.
As a suggestion, if your site has high volumes of traffic, consider:

  • Using a plugin to put the site into maintenance mode, and send a mail/publish a post to social to alert customers of scheduled maintenance that will take place at a designated time.

Step 4: Assess the Website Thoroughly
Once the updates have been performed, check the entire website to make sure that everything is in good working order. A common fault of some web designers is to only check the home page and neglect to inspect the rest of the of the website. Once updates are complete, look through all of the pages to make sure that the aesthetics have been retained. If the website has any special functionality such as forms, payment gateways, booking capabilities etc., make sure that you test out these elements to ensure that no functionality has been lost.

In What Order Should I Run Website Updates?
The order of updates is subjective and differs from developer to developer. Our method at Clearly See Media sees us update plugins first, themes second and WordPress core files last.

Updating a website is not an easy task: there are loads of moving parts to keep track of, especially if you manage more than one site.

Even if site updates may seem daunting, keep in mind that it’s 100% worse to leave a website alone and not update anything at all.