One drawback of using WordPress as your platform – perhaps the only real drawback – is that the system requires maintenance.
The core WordPress application releases a handful of small security updates each year, and major new releases come out often as well. Plugins and themes get out of date quickly and require patches and upgrades to keep the system running smoothly and safely.
How do you make sure your WordPress website is safe, secure, and stable?
The Before Times
Up until now, themes and plugins required manual upgrades.
Someone needed to go into the site and click a button to upgrade the software, then test the site to make sure everything worked properly.
You used to have to do this for the WordPress core as well, but WordPress introduced a feature a few releases ago that would automatically upgrade any minor releases (say, 5.5 to 5.6, or 5.5.2 to 5.5.3). They’d give you a day’s warning via email, then automatically run the upgrade unless you’d explicitly turned it off. Major releases – say, from 4.8 to 5.0 – still required manual intervention.
Even with minor core updates turned on, the system as a whole could get out of date very quickly; unless someone was running upgrades on a weekly basis, you’d find your site collecting upgrade notifications like my kids collect Pokemon cards.
The Before Times Solution
Up until now, you had three choices for website maintenance.
You could pay a developer on a monthly basis for ongoing maintenance, which includes regular upgrades and updates.
You could pay a developer an occasional fee for occasional, as-needed maintenance (this is what we do here at Sweet Smart).
Or, you could learn the ins and outs of WordPress and do your own upgrades, and call in the WordPress cavalry (at emergency rates) if anything goes wrong.
New for 2021
WordPress recently released version 5.6 and that comes with some new features.
You can now set up your plugins to automatically update.
You can also set your core files to automatically update – not just minor releases, but major releases, too.
Should you go for it?
Setting up automatic updates is always risky, because if a plugin is no longer supported, or the core files change some basic functionality, you can break the whole site.
But NOT updating your site can be risky, too. Security holes open all the time, and keeping your software up to date is the most important thing you can do to keep your site safe and secure.
Plus, WordPress has done a lot of work in recent years to make sure that plugins in their directory are safe and regularly updated. If you do some research, and stick to popular, well reviewed plugins from the main WordPress.org repository, then the risk of a conflict or breakage is low.
Here at Sweet Smart we have always been big fans of clients who want to maintain and work with their own sites. We’ve always aimed to help you be as independent as possible.
Here’s what we recommend in terms of using the new features of WordPress 5.6.
- Make sure you have OFFSITE backups set up – regular backups that are stored to a cloud account like Dropbox or Google Drive. This is your insurance policy should anything go wrong with regular updates.
- Go ahead and activate automatic updates for the WordPress core MINOR updates, and all plugins that are mainstream and still being regularly updated.
- Make sure you are visiting your own site and testing its basic functionality on a weekly basis, so you can catch any problems and restore from backup if needed (and know how to restore backups, or have your developer on speed dial in case of problems).
- Cancel your monthly maintenance plan, if you have one – but consider booking an annual spa day with your WordPress developer to manually upgrade themes and plugins that are excluded from automatic updates (there are some), and to run any major WordPress upgrades.
This combination of settings should help keep your website generally safer and more secure, while also saving you money and keeping required paid maintenance to a minimum.
Want to change your website settings to enable automatic updates, or book a spa day for your site to make sure everything is as safe as it can be? Contact us today for a free quote!