Update WordPress, Plugins and Themes

by | May 6, 2016 | Blog, SEO | Web Design

It happens to all of us. We are working on our computer and somewhere on the screen a little window pops up telling us our software is out of date. Most of the time, we completely ignore the notification and just go about our business. It may be ok to ignore the latest version of Microsoft Windows, but what happens when you ignore an update to your WordPress software or neglect the plugins and themes.

(This blog has been revised to meet Roundpeg standards in 2020. All edits have been bolded)

The What

It’s no secret the speed at which technology advances and changes, the software for your website is no different. There isn’t just one program running your site. Let’s take a look at the different levels.

First, you have WordPress software. This is like the foundation of your home, everything on your site is built and runs on the foundation of your WordPress software. All the site’s primary functions and security are driven by the foundation. WordPress is continually updating its operating system and it is advisable to ALWAYS update to the latest version to protect your site from hacks and security breaches.

Next, your theme is like the framework of your house. Just as the framework of your house determines the basic layout of how the interior and exterior of your house will look, the theme determines what the website looks like and how things are laid out for everyone to see.

Unlike keeping your WordPress software updated, it is not always advisable to update your theme. Why? Often your developer has created some custom coding to get the site to look exactly the way you want. Updating the theme may overwrite some of the custom coding requiring additional work to put everything back the way it should be. Always check with your developer before updating a theme. If your developer has written in custom code to a WordPress theme and has not created a “child” theme (a “locked-in-place” version of the theme that cannot be updated), that is likely the best course of action to prevent any accidental overwrites. It is also important to know that in 2020, child themes have largely gone by the wayside in favor of most developers using more robust themes like Divi which include many of the features that warranted the code in the first place.

Finally, you have plugins. These are add-ons that provide extra functionality or design of the site. Think of these as interior upgrades to your house such as granite countertops or crown molding on the walls. They can range from tracking analytics and calendar displays to extra back end security or special lead capture forms.

These small programs are more susceptible to attack, allowing malicious files to work their way through the plugin and infect your website. Any time you see an update for a plugin, make sure you are operating on the most updated version of WordPress and your theme – then update the plugins.

What happens When I Neglect To Update WordPress?

The short answer is you leave yourself vulnerable. Like walking out of your home and leaving the back door open, everything may be just fine when you return or you may find someone has wandered in, raided the fridge and fallen asleep on the couch. It is also important to understand that if your updating plugins and WordPress around a “child” theme that this may cause conflicts and issues with the theme.

Recently we had a client who had not updated any of their software in several years. A malicious file made its way through a plugin. The infected plugin essentially crashed the entire website. In this case, we were able to use the file manager to remove the infected plugin and restore the site. In other cases, the site might have to be completely rebuilt from a backup.

Hacking and site breakage are just the worst case scenarios. Failing to update your software may have smaller consequences as well. Just because your site isn’t broken doesn’t mean you’re okay. Out of date software can leave your site running inefficiently causing your site to slow down. On a positive note, new versions of plugins may bring new features as well.

Not Sure How to Run Updates

It’s a pretty simple process. We have an entire section on the Roundpeg website dedicated to helping you learn your way through WordPress and you can visit that here. There is a step by step guide to walk you through the details on how to update the software on your site. Of course, you are always welcome to give us a call or send us an email. Roundpeg’s Digital Toolbox platform has all the tips you need to manage your WordPress site. Sign up for a free account today to get some help on your Webventure.

Roundpeg is an Indianapolis web design firm. Blog content edited by Simon Efroymson, October 2020.

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