Backups and Keeping WordPress Updated
A routine to keep your site safely up to date and your work protected
I want to keep my WordPress site with all of its plugins updated. How should I go about it?
For today’s topic, we are going to focus on best practices for maintaining your WordPress site, specifically when it comes to routine updates and along with that, keeping backups. Let’s dive in.
Keeping your WordPress site updated is, simply put, one of the most important security measures you can take. A site with outdated plugins, themes, or even the WordPress engine itself is an ideal target for bad actors. If that wasn’t bad enough by itself, outdated sites will often struggle with poor performance that pushes users away. With this in mind, let’s take a look at the most important elements to keep up to date and the methods you can use to make the process less painful.
The WordPress engine
The most obvious and the most universal element, WordPress provides regular free updates to its core platform, which is a great thing and part of the reason why so many people use it in the first place. These are your highest priority since your site will remain vulnerable to the latest exploits until you do update.
Since your theme governs the entire layout of your site and likely several features that your users interact with, Theme’s require a delicate touch when updating. Theme updates tend to be less frequent than plugin updates (also because you likely won’t have multiple themes as opposed to plugins.) However, because themes govern such an apparent and pervasive part of your site, it is particularly important to make sure to create a recent backup before updating in order to minimize the chances of something breaking.
Last but far from least, plugins are perhaps the most granular updates to stay on top of. Because plugins can vary so widely in use and function, they can govern anything from incredibly niche features to elements that affect every single page of your site – including security. This makes it crucial that you take a bit of time to consider the role of each individual plugin (and, if you followed the recommendations from our last article, underlines the dangers of installing and relying on an abundance of unnecessary plugins.)
A note on Backups
So now that we’ve established the key updates for your site that you need to maintain, what is the best way to go about it? Well before we get to that, we need to go over another incredibly important practice: keep regular backups. Your options will vary based on your hosting service, but regardless of the service you rely on, backups will always fall into two categories: automatic and manual.
Automatic backups are an incredibly useful tool for protecting your site from unexpected disaster. As a general rule of thumb, the more backups you can keep the better, and automatic backups are your best tool for doing so. Keeping anything up to and including a daily backup of your site means that at a given time, you risk losing a day’s work at worst. (Automatic backups also go hand in hand with automatic updates, which we will get to later.)
Manual backups, on the other hand, are notably useful for going through a suite of updates. Because so much can change between WordPress, Theme, and plugin versions, you need to be prepared for the unexpected every time you update anything. While automatic backups can help you if something goes wrong, manually updating before you choose to update is the easiest and simplest way to insure that you can get the most recent working version of your site up and running in the least amount of time. Simply put: if you’re going to update, create a backup.
The Flow of Updates
Now that we’ve covered all the various types of updates and backups to consider, let’s go over the actual process of updating WordPress and how you should do it. For future reference, here is what a working flow of WordPress maintenance should look like:
- Keep automatic backups of your site and data
- Check your WordPress Admin site regularly for any updates
- Create a manual backup when it’s time to update
- Update your site in the following order of priority:
- WordPress Engine
- After each and every update, check your site to make sure that the functionality hasn’t been impacted
- You’re done!
This may seem like a tedious process, but in practice it’s rather straightforward, and following these steps can save you a HUGE headache down the line.
Keeping multiple domains updated
This process is enough for a single site, but what do you do if you are perhaps maintaining several domains? Doesn’t this become a lot to keep track of, and is there a way we could streamline and makes things even easier to manage? Fortunately, adding additional sites to keep on top of doesn’t actually add much more time, and there is indeed a way to cut down on even that simple addition. As we hinted earlier, the solution here is enabling automatic updates for your site or sites. While reducing the workload required to maintain your site is a good thing, bear in mind that over-relying on automation comes with its own challenges and should be considered another tool in your toolbox rather than the go-to solution.
What updates should be automated?
To begin with, you should NEVER have updates to the either the WordPress engine or to your site’s themes automated. These are just too fundamental for your site and the risk of an unforeseen error is too great to make it worth it.
Plugins on the other hand are the perfect candidate for automatic updates. Many plugins are used for very small quality of life features within WordPress, designed to help you with your site rather than directly interact with users on the front end. Consider a plugin which helps you manage your website, such as Plugin Notes Plus – this a Plugin which lets you take notes about other plugins – your users will never interact with this directly in any way, making it a perfectly good candidate for automatic updates.
And that’s it! This may seem like a lot of information to keep track of, which is why it’s best to come up with a simple and reusable routine to help you simplify. Once you become familiar with the process of keeping your websites updated, everything becomes much more streamlined and you can divert your attention to more pressing matters – and remember, keep regular backups!