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If you have a WordPress site, you need a plan for updates (both content updates and software updates, but the latter is the topic of today’s post). Keeping your WordPress site updated is really important from a security perspective — older versions of plugins, themes and WordPress can be vulnerable to attacks. You’ll also find that if you skip too many updates, it will be more difficult to catch up without breaking something. It’s not all dim and grim though — new versions often mean new features — especially those that you might want to take advantage of.

Fortunately, it’s relatively easy to update your plugins, themes and WordPress. Let’s learn how. But first things first — make sure you have a current backup! I like UpdraftPlus for backups (connected to Dropbox). Your website host may also offer on-demand backups as well.

Plugins

I personally like to start with plugins, but you can perform updates in any order. How do you know if you have any plugins to update?

Check under Dashboard, Updates and navigate to the Plugins section. If there are any plugins that need to be updated, they’ll be listed there. In the screenshot below, two plugins need to be updated. Select one plugin and click the Update Plugins button to update.

Plugins to update on the dashboard under updates
Two plugins to update under Dashboard, Updates

You can also check under Plugins, Installed Plugins. In the example below, one plugin needs to be updated. Click the update now link to update.

One plugin that needs to be updated
One plugin to update under Plugins, Installed Plugins

Once the plugin updates, you should see a success message.

Success message after plugin update
Plugin successfully updated

A few tips on updating plugins:

  • If you have multiple plugins to update, don’t do them all at once in case something breaks; update one plugin at a time
  • You may want to wait a bit to update a plugin (in case there are any bugs and the developer releases another update with a patch) BUT don’t wait too long — WordPress can become vulnerable with outdated plugins
  • After you update, take a look at where that plugin is used on your site and make sure it still works as expected
  • You may need to clear your cache to see changes, if there are any
  • I also recommend that you remove any inactive plugins instead of updating them; if you’re not using them, they don’t need to be there

Auto-updates for Plugins

You can also enable auto-updates by going to Plugins, Installed Plugins. Click Enable auto-updates next to each plugin you want to update automatically. Once the auto-updates are enabled, the text will change to Disable auto-updates.

Enable auto-update
Enable auto-updates
Auto-updates are enabled now

Themes

Likewise, there are two places to update themes.

Check under Dashboard, Updates and navigate to the themes section. If there are any themes that need to be updated, they’ll be listed there. In the screenshot below, one theme needs to be updated. Select it and click the Update Themes button to update.

An update is needed for the Divi theme
One theme update under Dashboard, Updates

You can also check under Appearance, Themes. In the example below, one theme needs to be updated. Click the Update now link to update.

Theme update needed
One theme update under Appearance, Themes

A few tips on updating themes:

  • If you have a ton of themes installed, you may want to remove some — I recommend a parent theme, a child theme and one backup theme (the latest WordPress theme)
  • If you’re not using a child theme, be careful when updating the parent theme (if you’re not sure what either of those are, check out the skinny on WordPress themes). If you’ve made customizations, they may be overwritten
  • You may need to clear your cache to see changes, if there are any
  • Take a look at your site and make sure everything looks good

Auto-updates for Themes

You can also enable auto-updates by going to Appearance, Themes. Click on the theme, then click Enable auto-updates.

Enable auto-updates for your theme
Enable auto-updates for your theme

WordPress

Depending on your host and hosting package, you may not have to update WordPress when there is a new version — it may be done for you. Check with your host about the settings for your site.

If you are ready to update WordPress, check under Dashboard, Updates. Click Update Now (again, AFTER you take a backup).

Update WordPress
An update is needed for WordPress

It will go through a few steps — enabling maintenance mode, unpacking the update, verifying the update, installing the update, etc. After it’s complete, you’ll see the welcome screen for the new version of WordPress. (And if you ever need to get back to it, navigate to /wp-admin/about.php.) Read through the welcome screen to learn all about the newest version of WordPress.

WordPress version about screen
An update to WordPress 5.7 was successful

Like with plugins and themes, take a look through your site to make sure everything works as expected.

Other Questions

Now that you know how to update your plugins, themes and WordPress, you may have some additional questions.

How often should I update? I like to update weekly or at least twice a month. As I mentioned before, updating too quickly can lead to something going wrong (due to a bug) BUT most people don’t update often enough.

What happens if something breaks? This is why you have your backup! Hopefully you can restore the backup, then figure out what broke and how to fix it. That may mean testing the update on a staging site, reaching out to the plugin or theme developer or reaching out to your website host.

What if I don’t want to log in and perform updates? Turn on auto-update and make sure you have good, regular backups running.

No, but really, what if I don’t want to do that? Some hosts like Flywheel and WPEngine offer update services for an additional fee. I also offer website care plans where I take care of this for you. Learn more.

Taking the time to make sure your website is updated will give you the peace of mind you deserve.

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