To update or not to update? That is the question.
Let’s cut to the chase – yes, you should update WordPress plugins as soon as the update becomes available in the majority of circumstances . But be careful – not all plugins are created equal, updated frequently, or compatible with each other. In this article, we’ll explain why it’s important to perform all your WordPress updates but to make backups beforehand and proceed with caution.
Why WordPress updates are scary
Most people don’t understand the importance of updating plugins while others are either too busy or simply forget. Then there’s a good portion of WordPress site owners who are simply afraid to update their plugins. And we don’t blame you – many people have had negative experiences with updates leading to either part of the site breaking or the whole site going down. A problematic plugin can get a bad name since it often leads to issues anytime it gets updated. However, it’s not always the updated plugins fault.
Many people use custom WordPress themes that have never been updated since the day they were created. In this case, it’s not so much that the latest version of your plugin isn’t compatible with your theme; it’s the opposite many times where your outdated theme is no longer compatible with the latest version of your plugins or even WordPress itself. The same also goes for WordPress plugins you may have installed that are “abandoned” or haven’t been supported / updated in years. Again – it’s not a problem with the latest version of the plugin you just updated but rather that an old-abandoned plugin is no longer compatible with the latest updates you’ve just installed.
If you don’t know how to fix these issues when they arise, reverting the plugin back to it’s previous version can often fix the issue. However, this is only a temporary fix, and it too will eventually lead to problem. Not updating certain plugins on the site because other plugins or a custom theme do not have available updates is a really risky game plan. It’s a game plan that will simply lead to more problems down the road – one of which is malware. If you find yourself in this situation our WordPress troubleshooting service can help.
Why WordPress plugin updates are important
Updates not only keep your website functional and compatible, they keep your website secure. Plugin updates contain more than just new features or compatibility improvements. They contain fixes and the latest security patches. Outdated plugins are one of the leading causes of malware infections. And if you’ve ever had your website compromised by malware then you understand just what a nightmare this can truly be. Sometimes, malware will result in adult links and shady pharmaceutical pitches being plastered all over your site. Other times, malware can cripple certain functions on the site, bring it down completely, or fully redirect to some weird Russian or Chinese website.
While we’re fans of the “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mentality, that phrase should not be applicable to something like plugin and theme updates. There’s an in between when it comes to “break” and “fix,” and it’s name is “maintenance.” In this case, WordPress maintenance is something you do to prevent the chance of something breaking or needing a fix. The truth is if you don’t update WordPress plugins on a regular basis, your website eventually will break or be compromised. The same goes for your WordPress theme, server PHP updates, database updates, and any other software update associated with your website.
It’s a lot like oil in a car – you need to change it (aka, update it) along with other items regularly, such as filters, fluids, etc. If you think skipping an oil change falls under “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” you’ll eventually have a very big break that requires a very expensive fix.
Afraid to update WordPress plugins yourself?
It’s okay if you’re afraid to update WordPress plugins on your own – we can do it for you. It’s one of the scary tasks we handle for website owners with our WordPress maintenance service. We update your plugins, theme, and WordPress core for you on a daily basis in addition to other daily site health and security tasks. So if you’re afraid to do it, we can do it safely for you.
If you’re brave, then be bold but be smart when you perform your WordPress updates. There are some simple things you can do to insure your website against any issues that arise from updates. Here’s some tips:
Make a backup before you update your plugins, theme, or WordPress core. The same goes for server PHP, database updates, translation updates, etc. If something goes wrong, you can always install the previous version of the plugin or the previous version of your site in its entirety.
Disable automatic WordPress updates. While we’re a fan of performing updates as soon as they’re available, you shouldn’t do it blind, which is what automatic updates do. While this might be safe for less volatile plugins, it can be dangerous for plugins or themes that are central to major functions on your site. And some plugins include really big updates where other steps may be required before updating the plugin.
Update plugins one by one if it makes sense. Some people like to update all their plugins at once, and this is fine in the majority of circumstances. However, when a website is on a really slow server (aka cheap shared hosting server) the mass updates can overwhelm the server resources. This can either cause the site to go down temporarily or result in other issues. Also, if you know that some plugins are problematic, you’ll want to update them on their own and then check your site to make sure everything looks good on the front end.
And most importantly, make sure you have FTP / direct server access. Whether it’s FTP, SSH, File Manager, or something else, make sure you have direct access to the website files on your server. This is a big one and the most crucial because you’ll need it if you lose website access through your browser. If you’re updating too many plugins at once or try performing another action on the site while a plugin update is in progress you can sometimes accidentally trigger “Maintenance mode.” It can also happen if the server times out or gets overwhelmed.
What’s “maintenance mode” you ask? It’s where the front end of your site disappears and you’re left seeing some kind of message like, “Briefly unavailable for scheduled maintenance. Check back in a minute.” Well you’ve waited a minute, then 10 minutes, then 20 minutes. If your site still shows this message (rather than your regular pages), your WordPress site is stuck in maintenance mode. The only way to clear this mode is to login to the hosting server via FTP or File Manager, and then to delete the .maintenance file (normally found in the public_html folder. If you find yourself in this jam, Kinsta offers a nice tutorial article that will show you how to locate and remove this file.
Another reason to have direct server access to your website files is to restore a previous version of the plugin. If the latest WordPress plugin update causes either the whole site to go down or just the backend, you won’t be able to get back to your plugins screen to revert the plugin. In this case, you would also need to login to your File Manager and manually drop the previous plugin folder back in. Having direct file access also let’s you easily download the plugin file folders before you perform the update.
Let us update WordPress plugins for you
If you don’t want to update WordPress plugins or handle any of this technical stuff, we can do it for you. Our WordPress maintenance services include daily plugin updates, theme updates, and WordPress updates. The service also includes daily website backups, daily malware scans, WordPress malware removal, real time security and firewall, brute force protection, uptime monitoring and more.
And if you’d like to have a dedicated webmaster on-call with their direct phone and personal email, we have plans that include that as well. We can handle everything from design changes, edits, fixes, security, maintenance, updates and more. Feel free to check out our various plans or contact us with any questions you might have. We look forward to speaking with you.