Outdated plugins leave you vulnerable
While there are plugin updates that exist purely to add new features + functionality to a plugin, there are just as many that fix security issues. Which is why plugin updates are crucial to take care of as an online business owner.
If your site has a staging version, follow the steps below on that site first. Doing so will ensure that your live site runs flawlessly while you tackle those updates. Once you know everything is good to go, then you can run the updates again on your live site without worry. If you don’t have a staging site + don’t have the option to get one, you can still run your updates efficiently + without much site downtime at all.
Step 1 — Run a backup
Before touching a single update, it is mission critical that you run a full backup of your WordPress site. That way, if something goes completely haywire, you have a backup to go back to in minutes. How’s that for an update safety net?
Step 2 — Research your updates
Once your backup is done, head to the updates page to see exactly which plugins have a pending update. Click on the details for each plugin (yes, each one) to see what sort of notes the developer put in for the update.
It’s ok if you don’t know exactly what the notes say. What you are looking for is possible new features, warnings about things changing or security notes for the most recent version. Each plugin update will likely take you 1-2 minutes to review.
I also recommend making a note of which plugins have updates available. This will come in handy for step 4. You can either take a screenshot of the list of pending updates, type them out in your favorite note taking software or sketch out a quick list on some scrap paper. Keep in mind that as soon as you run your updates, they won’t be listed on the updates page, which is why it’s important to make a list outside of your website.
Step 3 — Run your updates
If you have fewer than 6 plugin updates to run, you can select all of them + click the “Update Plugins” button. If you have more, it’s smart to run them in batches of no more than 6. So select the top handful, run the updates + then come back to this step for the remaining plugins.
The reason is that it can slow down your update process, which causes your site to be in maintenance mode for longer. It also gives you more to check, which means a problem might exist for longer than you’d like it to. Having only a handful of plugins to test means you spot problems right away.
No matter how many plugins you are updating, wait until the update screen says it’s complete before moving on.
Step 4 — Check functionality
Here’s where that list of updated plugins comes in handy, because it’s time to test the ones you updated. Whether they exist on the frontend or the backend, head to that part of your site + make sure the plugin works for each one that you ran an update for.
Let’s say you updated your contact form plugin. That means you’ll head to your contact page + fill out the form. If it works as expected + you get the contact form submission, move on to checking the next plugin. If you updated your backup tool, run another backup! Was your slider plugin updated? Go to the homepage + make sure your slideshow is displaying properly.
The easiest way to ensure things work is by performing the function that it is responsible for. Some of these will be super easy + some may take a bit more time to test.
Step 5 — Address any issues
Hopefully there aren’t any changes to your site after the updates, but it does happen. If it’s a design change but everything still works, you can work on the styling while the site stays up + running. If the plugin stopped working completely, you may have to revert to the backup you made in step 1 + find someone that can help you fix the plugin OR pick a brand new plugin to use instead.
One quick tip for buggy plugins is to head to the settings section for that plugin within your dashboard. More often than not, a simple “save changes” click will reset the plugin + solve any weirdness that shows on your site. Even if you don’t change any of the settings, give this a try before spending hours trying to find a new solution.
Step 6 — Run another backup
Once you’ve run all plugin updates + confirmed that your WordPress site runs beautifully, run another full site backup. This way you have a copy of your up-to-date website to fall back on in case you have a crappy situation arise later in the week.
Most WordPress sites are good with biweekly or monthly plugin updates. It gives the plugin developers time to address any issues, while keeping you from having to run updates so frequently that you want to pull your hair out.
And if running even one batch of updates has you miserable, the team at tiny blue orange can tackle these for you. Not only do we do monthly maintenance, we fix anything that changes or breaks because of the updates.