Update WordPress: How To and Scare Tactics

Update Your WordPress with a balloon going up - How To and Scare Tactics on Websites for Small Biz

Many of you reading this post on how to update WordPress and why you should do it will say, of course, one needs to update WordPress! However, many small business owners have websites built in WordPress and do not realize how important it is to do updates, both of WordPress and of plugins. It is also a good idea to update the default themes that come with WordPress; even if you don’t use them, one might come in handy in case of an emergency.

Scary Reasons to Update WordPress

Scare tactics, unfortunately, are the best way to get a negligent site owner to update. You don’t want to wake up one day to find your beautiful website replaced with strange pages. Getting your site hacked is the main danger in not updating. Security is the main reason to update. Updates also fix bugs found in WordPress or in plugins. New features are also added with major updates (such as from 3.7 to 3.8 or 3.8 to 3.9).

Updating WordPress is not the only way to improve security; for more ideas, read Hardening WordPress.

How to Update WordPress

Update WordPress: How To and Scare Tactics on Websites for Small BizPerhaps I have convinced you to update your WordPress, but if it’s been a while since you got into the back end, you may not remember how to get there. Here are the WordPress update steps (for www.yourdomain.com, substitute wherever your self-hosted WordPress is set up):

  1. Go to your login page: http://www.yourdomain.com/wp-login.php or (http://www.yourdomain.com/wp-admin.php and you will get the login prompt if you are not logged into your dashboard already). If you forgot your password, use the forgot password link.
  2. Click where it says updates and update!

Ideally, it is a good idea to do a backup first, but setting up backups is a topic for another post. On Websites Checklists and Blog Backup Plans, backups are discussed in the comments.

The sign that you need to do updates might look like one of these:
update wordpress OR update wordpress
The number next to those circular arrows may be higher than 1 depending on how many updates you need to do.

Your Turn, Please

Have you or a friend ever learned the hard way about not updating WordPress? I remember years ago a lot of sites where hit by a nasty hacker, and an acquaintance tweeted to me that he said I was “fortunate” not to be hit. However, it turned out he had not updated WordPress. In the earlier days of WordPress, I think it got a less fortunate reputation because people didn’t realize they had to do regular updates once the software was installed.

49 Responses to “Update WordPress: How To and Scare Tactics”

  1. A.K.Andrew says:

    I’ve learned to back-up wordpress each and everytime a plugin or WP itself needs an update. Quite early on, and thankfully after I’d been in BHB, my site was hacked, though hey didn’t really do much, and Sherryl Perry helped me to get back online, and stressed the importance of updating everything. Since then, I never let them go and have wordpress alert to let me know. Thanks also for the link on backups. I’ve been using Online backup for WordPress but it does not seem to be working properly so am now using Xcloner. At least my host backs up every 2 days. Have only needed them to restore once but do feel it’s an area I don’t have completely down.

    • Leora Wenger says:

      A.K., you sound like you are covering your bases, and your early experience probably helps propel you to keep it all up.

      Thanks for the comment and your backup notes, too.

    • Steve Grogan says:

      Luckily my site has never been hacked. The only thing I have ever dealt with was the occasional annoying troll who, whenever I wrote an opinion on something, would leave a comment where he would argue the contrary…not because he believed it, but just to be a dissident jerk.

      • Leora Wenger says:

        Steve, thanks for leaving a comment. Your site is with WordPress.com, so you don’t have to do the updating – they do it for you. And yes, trolls are a pain. If a comment is not helpful to a post, I either delete it or mark it as spam. No need for unhelpful comments.

  2. Arleen says:

    I look at updating WordPress just like installing new updates with Microsoft. There is always something new being added. It is foolish not to update. With that said, I need to update to 3.9. Thank you for the reminder

  3. Tuhin says:

    Leora, My site is not powered by wordpress! But can I integrate wordpress themes in my website or use any other wordpress’ features?(P.S-I have a very little knowledge about these stuffs)

    • Leora Wenger says:

      Tuhin, looks like your site is using some kind of website portal. Unfortunately, no, you can’t use the goodies of WordPress. It is possible to transfer your site to WordPress. Your site does have a WordPress sort of look. Interesting.

  4. Tim says:

    I backup my database once a week but update on a much less frequent schedule. I think I will be better at this now and appreciate you bringing the subject to light. Tim

    • Leora Wenger says:

      I’m glad I mentioned this, Tim! Yes, especially update when it says security update. For major updates, you might wait until, say, 3.9.1 instead of doing 3.9 right away.

  5. Paul Graham says:

    Hi Laura. As a relatively new user I have found it takes practically no time to update and cant see any real downside to doing so. A new version of a plug-in occasionally has glitches but worst case I de-activate it until solved. The themes issue is an important one as it seems natural that revisions would be more attuned to the newer ones so your advice on keeping all of those updated makes excellent sense. Thanks.

    • Leora Wenger says:

      Paul, sometimes there is a downside from doing so right away, if there is an unusual bug that effects your site. Usually, these are fixed with the next version (as in 3.9 bugs get fixed in 3.9.1 or 3.9.2). For example, I noticed there was strange behavior for some multisite set ups. Luckily, my multisite wasn’t effected, but someone else said she had to roll back to 3.8.3 and wait for a fix.

  6. Beth Niebuhr says:

    At first, I was concerned about the warning that the site might be altered during updates but for some time I have updated all my WordPress sites and plugins when the updates are made available. It takes only seconds to do.

  7. Susan Cooper says:

    I am happy to say my web guy keeps all my stuff up to-date and current. We use a cloned site to test first to identify any issues before we move on. I have a continuous updating service which is pretty cool so that is done automatically. In the end I do realize the importance of updating and the reasons why. The good news is I haven’t had to find out what would happen otherwise. :-)

    • Leora Wenger says:

      Happy to hear you have a test site! My more thorough clients use those as well. We make home page changes there first, to see how it looks.

      I’m glad you are doing all this, Susan.

  8. I always do the updates to both. And also learned the hard way when shopping for plug-ins to make sure the plug in supports the version of WordPress that you are currently running.

  9. Jeri says:

    I’ve always updated as well. However, a year or more ago when I did an update it conflicted with one of my plugins and my entire site went down. Luckily, customer service was able to help get everything working again.

    • Leora Wenger says:

      Jeri, you make an excellent point. If you had auto-updating, you might not discover that your site was down for a week. It’s good you found help to restore your site once again.

      As I work on many sites, I have had quite a few experiences where a site did not behave after an upgrade. There is always a fix if not rolling back the site to a previous version, but it can get harry at times. I like that WordPress now has auto upgrades for the minor updates but not for the major ones. (3.8.1 to 3.8.2 is minor; 3.8 to 3.9 is major).

  10. Catarina says:

    Have used the automatic upgrade plugin for 5 years and so far so good. Nowadays you don’t have to do a thing it’s completely automatic and they just let you know when it’s done.

    • Leora Wenger says:

      Catarina, you are fortunate that automatic updating has worked for you thus far. Sometimes a plugin doesn’t behave and upsets a site – see my comment on Jeri’s note.

  11. Susanna says:

    Plugins have to be updated too but, sometimes, the plugin developer is slow. So, if you’re a little wary of updating your WP, deactivate your plugins, update your WP, then reactivate the plugins one by one

    • Leora Wenger says:

      Susanna, that’s a very cautious approach, but if it makes one more comfortable with an upgrade, seems to be a sane one. I find one can rename or delete plugins with FTP if necessary to fix a problem plugin temporarily.

  12. Hi Leora,
    I agree with you entirely. I recommend CloudFlare in conjunction with all websites for threat control. Plugins such as Word Fence and Limit Login attempts are also great options. Why make it easy for hackers?

    Enjoy your week!

  13. Thankfully, my webmaster does the WordPress updating. We’ve learned over time, she MUST purposefully backup before an update, irregardless that our service provider does it nightly. The plug-ins just seem to need time to catch up with the update and so, many times, certain issues that pop-up. It’s temporary of course but without updating, how would we have the more appealing feature as WP matures?

    Thanks Leora.

  14. andleeb says:

    OH I have never though that these sites are also hacked.

    It is informative post for me but again I have to get help to check if there are some updates available on WordPress.
    I was thinking how to backup and then read your message.

    looking forward to check that post.

    Thank you for informing about an important issue.

    • Leora Wenger says:

      It looks like your site is on Blogger – so they do the updates. An advantage in some ways – sort of like borrowing the space, and the manager does the cleaning for you.

      But maybe you have another site that *is* on self-hosted WordPress?

  15. Jay says:

    I usually wait a day or two and check the internet to see if anyone is having problems with the update. For 3.9 I did not wait because I was in a rush and knew I was going to be away from the computer the entire day so I hurried up and did a back up and then hit the update button. to my surprise the update failed so I did a restore but that did not fix it so I had to call the service provider and get them to fix the problem on their side. No real problem except I lost some great comments that people wrote over that last week. Either way I was back up and running within an hour.

    • Leora Wenger says:

      Jay, oh, isn’t that the way it goes – usually you get no problems at all, but the time you are in a rush, you get problems. Life is never simple.

      Thanks for the story about your experiences, and I’m glad to read your service provider came through for you.

  16. Janie Schulz says:

    There are always updates to do with WP and the plugins, but I try to stay on top of them. I don’t know how to restore to an older version if there is a problem.

    • Leora Wenger says:

      Janie, regarding restoring a database, the short answer is: find someone who knows how. The longer answer might be follow the steps one one online post about how to restore WordPress from backup. It’s not a simple process.

  17. Jason B says:

    I usually update my site whenever the new ones are available. Depending on what plug ins you have that could be every other day.

  18. Leora, this is very timely. I’ve been staring at my “update now” message for a week, and putting it off because I need to figure out a better system for backups. Thanks for nudging me in the right direction, and for the links and tutorials!

    • Leora Wenger says:

      Meredith, good for you for taking the initiative to do a careful job of updating. I say, backup then update. There are sometimes problems from updating, but there are often problems from NOT updating. Often a problem is caused by one plugin or another.

  19. I have yet to move to my own site (soon I hope!) so every once in a while, magically, I get on my blog and think…hmmm, it didn’t do/look/have that before. :)

  20. Leora — my webmaster always waits when a new version of WP is released because, based on past experience, WP will issue patches to rectify issues within a week or two. He’d rather that WP not experiment on his clients’ sites! I used to update my plugins (not hard to do) but he does that now, too, because one old plugin can throw a monkey wrench into an entire site. He also has a clone of my site where he tries things first. I’m tech challenged so I’d rather leave this stuff to the experts like John and you!

    • Leora Wenger says:

      Sounds like he has a great approach, Jeannette. I especially agree about doing the upgrade first on a test site – I do that for a number of my clients.

  21. Crystal Ross says:

    Thanks for the reminder. I need to update mine as well. Great advice! =)

  22. Keeping your software up to date is always important. Very good reminder for everyone to ensure that websites, platforms and plugins also always are up to date. Thanks Leora.

    • Leora Wenger says:

      Johan, yes, updating is important, although there is also the flip-side – sometimes an update can cause problems. Sometimes people wait a little while before a major upgrade (such as from 3.8 to 3.9) so all the plugins have a chance to be updated, too. This is when one learns about outdated plugins – if a plugin is not recently updated, you may not be able to use it anymore.

  23. My principle is that I should wait a bit before updating…see if the new update results in more problems (yes, it is very much subjective, but I think waiting for a few days might help to gauge whether it has any major issues/conflicts with any major plugins).

    That being said, I don’t worry about it these days. With the automatic update feature, I no longer have to worry about updating WordPress…just have to take care of updating the plugins.

    Even then, it’s a good idea to wait for a few days – prevention is better than cure :D

    Anyways, thank you for sharing this, Leora :) Appreciate it!

    • Leora Wenger says:

      Jeevan, the automatic update helps my clients a lot, who don’t think much about their websites. Before, I had to remind them. Now I just tell them about the big ones (like from 3.8 to 3.9).

      Best is to do what you do – think about it before pressing update! Waiting a few days, unless it is a serious security issue, is a good tactic.

  24. Atish Ranjan says:

    I generally replace all the files on Server keep wp-content and wp-config from latest wp files. This is the best way! Many a times updating from dashboard shows you blank page. So its good to take back and update. Updates are indeed important and you need to do it as soon as they roll out.

    Nice post Leora.

    • Leora Wenger says:

      Atish, that is an interesting method – I haven’t any problems with blank pages after updates, but I know others who have. Your method is similar to how I updated Drupal.

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