How to Setup a WordPress Website – Updates (WordPress, Theme, and Plugins)

Okay, now the site should be up and running with content added. Visitor are flocking to the site and all is well in the universie.

And then you get a theme update, a plugin update, or even better, a WordPress update. What do you do?

If you are like most people, you just click on it and let it update. Yay, all done! Oh wait, now I have stuff missing and the website is not behaiving correctly. Now my category list is showing the wrong thing, the navigation buttons are reversed. What happened?

There are three main types of updates:

  1. WordPress
  2. Theme
  3. Plugin

There are other types of updates like MySQL and PHP, but those are beyond the scope of these articles. If you need help there, you better start looking for a web developer.

By far, the most important update is WordPress (WP). Often, these changes are the result of secruity issues, broken features, or new features. The WP updates are often the most stable because they usually know what they are doing.

Before you update, make sure you read the change log. You need to know what is going to change or be removed. You also need to be aware that a WP update could break your theme and plugins in some scenarios. If you are unsure what to do, check the WordPress forums for general feedback on the update (if someone says the update crashed their website, I would say hold off on the update) and/or contact your theme developer (if you purchased it). If you go to the Plugin Directory on WordPress.org, it will state which version the plugin is confirmed to work on. This is also located in the plugin section on your website admin panel. Make sure you look at this before you start updating things. If in doubt, ask questions before you screw it up.

If you are like me and like to tinker with things, a new WP update could wipe-out all your hard work. This is the same for any type of update. Make sure you do a site backup before you begin so you can always revert back to the pre-update state if something goes horribly wrong. It’s a little time and effort but you’ll thank me if you need it.

Theme updates are the easiest to screw up. I like to play with the CSS and functionality of my themes so updates can erase all of it because I do it the lazy way, overwriting theme scripts instead of creating a hook. Hooks are customized features that are easily transferable from one theme version to another. The problem with my method is the modified theme file I changed is now replaced by the updated theme file. I could stop being lazy but then I couldn’t complain about it when I write about theme updates. So there you go. Just be aware if you make updates to the theme the wrong way, it will likely get overwritten. This is especially true for custom CSS you add to the website. Don’t EVER change the style.css file in the theme folder. Go to the website Admin panel and click Appearance – Edit CSS. That will create a secondary styling CSS file that will load after the theme style.css. Even when the theme is updated, your changes will still be made. It is possible the updated theme has different names for CSS items and could still break it, but that information should be in the change log before you updated in the first place.

In my experience, plugins update the most often and are often the most buggy. They are relatively easy to make and many developers build them without QA or outside help. Most plugins are junk but some are very helpful and do quite a lot. Pay attention to the rankings and number of downloads when you search for them. Also, look at the last update and version tested info. If those are not recent, I would pass on that plugin. You don’t need to do complete site backups for each plugin but pay attention to the changes the plugin author is performing.

That’s the quick overview of updates. If something is not broken, you don’t have to change it. Just keep an eye on the change logs and make sure the updates are not critical. If the issue is security, make sure you update in a timely manner.

As always, if you have questions or comments, you can add them below.

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