Why would you manually upgrade WordPress websites?

The importance of maintaining a website, a WordPress website particularly, needs no more advertising. There is enough material in our article The importance of maintaining your website” as it is. With the proliferation of tools out there, a website owner can always find new ways of automating any of these processes. When it comes to upgrading WordPress websites, there are indeed many shortcuts. There are businesses such as mine that will take on the work for you. But even then, I will still have the tendency, as part of my project delivery cycle, to report on the processes that are used to accomplish such work. I find that It empowers my clients to know what is going on with what is effectively THEIR website. There are also ways such as the JetPack WordPress plugin, the WordPress wp_config changes instructions, Advanced Automatic Updates¬†and more that will allow you to do automatic upgrades. The only issues you will find with automatic updates are the likes of the following:

  • They do not always update every plugin and WordPress version
  • When they would, they do not have access to all plugin updates
  • There are many reasons why you might not want to upgrade
  • You will not be able to downgrade to your previous version if the upgrade does not work
  • A safe user will want to but won’t be able to backup before an upgrade. Backing up before an upgrade allows you to restore if tests fail.

Where the user wants a reliable site that is quality tested for every upgrade, one of the best things to do is actually just to upgrae manually. If you think that is a lot of work, try having a look at trying to fix the issues that come with a WordPress website that is constantly automatically updated without any possibility to restore at any point because of lack of knowledge of where any issue might have arisen.

There are developers tools that allow some control over the process but the only one I have come across and that has truly got me excited might not be as ready as we would all like it to be. In the meantime, this is the ideal manual process for upgrading your website.

How would you manually upgrade WordPress websites?

For each upgrade (i.e. each upgrade of a plugin or WordPress), do the following:

1. Backup your website

The best backup tools include the WordPress plugin Updraft Plus. The advantage of a WordPress backup as opposed to a backup of everything else outside WordPress is that the upgrade you are performing is a WordPress-related upgrade (WordPress version or plugin). Always make sure that the backup includes everything, from the database to the plugins to the content. Also make sure that you download the backup files onto your computer, just in case!

2. Upgrade the plugin or WordPress

3. Carry out your testing

Make sure your pages’ layout is fine, your e-commerce still sells, your e-learning still teaches, your forms still send, your branding is intact, your files still show…

If all is well, you are done. If not, you must make the decision as to whether:

  • * The issues are manageable: this means that they can either be fixed manually without requiring a downgrade or they are accepted as a downside to the upgrade. This happened to me more than once but the following occurence gave me a choice of either a manual fix or an acceptance of the issue. I use the theme called Parabola on the worldsingersongwriters.com website. One of their upgrades changed the menus to be left aligned rather than center aligned when they were marked as center aligned. Yes, it changed my favourite layout but I accepted that it was not a big enough issue to downgrade back to a less secure theme. I did not even have to tell them (I normally contact developers to report issues), as they had fixed it within days! To be honest, all I would have needed to do (beware jargon) is force the child theme’s css to center the menu, but I reckoned it was not worth it at all.
  • * The issues are causing some trouble or bringing changes to the website or one or more of its features: It is up to you whether those changes are acceptable to your business or not. But note that communication to your users (newsletter, notices on the website, notifications) are one way of dealing with this. One upgrade changed the way one of the features displayed and worked, mainly because the plugin developers wanted to make their system more accessible. For me, it was a question of making the users aware that the functionality will work slightly differently, although it would produce great results as usual. Sometimes, changes are just evolution and refinements rather than mistakes, no matter how unsettling they might at first appear. It is a question of managing the change: I test major changes before deploying them, in order to manage users’ expectations; however, such staging and piloting of changes might arguably be a bit of an overkill when your clientele is only in the less than hundreds.
  • * The issues are categorically unacceptable or even risky: If an upgrade brings security issues or a main functionaliity ceased to work as a result, this might be considered a good time to “undo” the upgrade. In this case, it is time to restore the backup and maybe liaise with the developers to explain the issues. Sometimes, incompatibility or interference between plugins might be the cause. Whatever the issues, they are sometimes known enough that the developers or other users might recommend specific settings or alternative plugins.

What difference does it make to manually upgrade WordPress website?

Being in control of what happens on your website is essential in reducing unplanned downtime, bug reports and performance issues. Being on top of your digital presentation reflects a business for which details matter and shortcuts, at least for the sake of shortcuts, are not an option.

In settings where you have and know your clients, I find that communicating the changes to your users nurtures and strengthens the relationship. After all, the reason you have a website in the first place, is for your clients. Whether they are prospective or established clients, knowing that changes are coming, what changes have been done, to a lesser extent how these have been done, how long they will take and when they will happen prepares them an manages expectations, I would explain the enhancements brought in, whether it is security, performance, functionality or look and feel. I will particularly relate them to the feedback they send, making sure I encourage in parallel their constructive suggestions, bug reports, and new ideas submissions.

Manuella Essaka
Manuella Essaka is a highly experienced Digital Consultant and Project Manager, with a successful track record delivering e-Learning, Website and Mobile Solutions to educators and learners, music professionals, businesses and organisations. She is passionate about empowering clients by developing their understanding and ownership of the digital solutions setup through regular jargon-free communications, structured training and analytical reporting.
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