When to Update Your WordPress Plugins (and When to NOT)

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When to Update Your WordPress Plugins (and When to NOT)

WordPress is by far the world’s most popular content management system (CMS), powering 36% of the internet. Among the reasons WordPress is considered to be the platform for website creation is its flexibility. Its core software allows users to publish content in a robust way, and the variety of available plugins extend WordPress’ capabilities to do just about everything under the sun.

What’s a Plugin?

In case you don’t know, plugins are little pieces of extra PHP code added to a WordPress site to perform a specific function. There are plugins for SEO, website backups, Google analytics, e-commerce, live chat, contact forms, and many more applications.

If you have a WordPress site, you have at least a few plugins running in the background, keeping your site secure, fast, and functioning properly. From time to time, developers update plugin code for different reasons (e.g., improve performance and security, introduce new features), and it’s important to keep plugins up to date on your site. Using out-of-date plugins can cause your site to perform sub-optimally – and they can even break your entire site!

But we have some “rules” around when you should and should not update your plugins when you see that updates are available that will help you keep your site running smoothly.

Best Practices for Updating Your Plugins

Let’s start off with two mission-critical don’ts:

  • Don’t use automatic updates.
  • Don’t select the “update all” and install new versions of multiple plugins at the same time.

The reasons for these two no-nos will become apparent as we explain the rest. Here is what you need to do before, during, and after updates.

What to Do Before Updating Plugins

Back up your site! If anything goes wrong during the installation or the plugin has a bug, you could end up with serious issues, including loss of data. Backing up your site first ensures you’ll be able to reset everything to the way it was before the update blew everything up.

Put Your Site in Maintenance Mode. This one is particularly important for WooCommerce sites, as all kinds of things can go wrong if you’re updating your site at the same time a customer is processing a credit card order.

Wait a Week. You know when your phone lets you know there is a software update available, but you don’t click ‘install’ for a few days because you know everyone will be complaining about some problem with it?  It’s like that. Let other people be the early adopters and deal with the headaches that come with a buggy update. After about a week, developers will have worked out the kinks.

What to Do While Updating Plugins

Update on a Staging Site. A staging site is a copy of your site. Test the updates on the staging site to ensure everything is working properly and then later install the updates on your live site.

Update Only One (Maybe Two) Plugins at a Time. If you update a bunch of plugins at the same time and your site (ahem, your staging site) crashes, you won’t know which of the updates caused the breakdown.

Check Your Timing. There are two parts to this one. First, install your updates during non-peak hours for your traffic. That way, if anything goes wrong, fewer users will be affected. In addition, don’t update your plugins during the first week of a new, core WordPress update to ensure developers have time to check and update for compatibility.

Update Deactivated Plugins, Too. Deactivated plugins are still a part of your site. Therefore, if they are out-of-date, they, too, can mess up your website.

What to Do After Updating Plugins

Check Your Site Thoroughly. Comb through your site looking for any broken links, ensure everything looks the way it did before the update, and that all tools (e.g., maps, chat widget) are still working.

Delete What You Can. Don’t delete plugins that are important to your site! However, do delete any deactivated plugins that you no longer need. Also, routinely check to see that developers are providing regular updates to your plugins. If you find plugins that haven’t been updated in over a year, find and install a suitable replacement and then delete the old one.

Plan Your Next Update. That is, if you don’t already have one, create a site maintenance routine for yourself. Go in and check for updates. Verify that plugins are being updated by developers. (A rule of thumb: The most popular plugins are updated every 1 to 6 months, on average.)

Even Better than Best (Practices): Hire a Pro

Imagine you have a car that keeps track of when it needs maintenance – so you don’t have to remember to schedule the appointment. And it drives itself to the shop and back – so you don’t have to sit there and wait for it or bum rides back and forth. Plus, it’s smart enough to know the best time to go – when you’re not going to need it. And it saves you money because the perfectly timed maintenance means you never face the major expense that comes with a breakdown.

Would that appeal to you?

That is what it’s like to be on a Raney Day Design care plan!

Truly, the smartest way to keep up with website maintenance, ensuring it’s done properly and thoroughly, is to trust it to a professional. Web designers and developers have the expertise to perform the practices above, do it quickly, and troubleshoot and handle any issues that crop up – before they become problems for you.

Here are just a few of the benefits of our care plans:

  • It’s off your plate – you don’t have to think about it, remember to do it, or learn how. (Do you know how to create a staging site? Put your site in maintenance mode?)
  • We’ll have an “ear to the ground” for you – we’re up to date on industry news. We know what needs to be updated and when, plus we’ll be aware of specific problems to anticipate.
  • We can be your trusted advisors. For example, we have the knowledge to help you pick and install the right plugins for the functions you need, including replacement options when your existing plugins become obsolete.
  • It’s cost-effective. Investing in a care plan means no major, unplanned (“Surprise! The site just died!”) expenses pop up because something crashed on your site.  It’s far more expensive to fix a major breakdown than it is to have a professional in your pocket making sure those crashes never occur.

If you’re a savvy business owner who’d like to gain the peace of mind that comes with knowing your website is systematically and effectively maintained – without having to think about it – visit our Care Plans page to learn how we keep our clients running smoothly.

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