What Are WordPress Website Updates, and Why Are They so Important?

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  • Date Published
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Many website owners don’t understand the importance of WordPress updates, or simply neglect them! Here is how you can do better!

WordPress Updates are Not Content Updates!

Many of our clients misunderstand WordPress website updates. To them, website updates simply mean replacing a few images and adding some new content. To WordPress web designers like us, the term has a much different meaning. WordPress website updates have nothing to do with your website content, even so, freshly updated content is equally important to the health of your website.

In this context WordPress website updates refer to updating your WordPress core, plugins, and database as required. If you have a WordPress website for your company or product brand you have probably noticed the update notices on your WordPress admin dashboard. While you may feel like ignoring them, these updates are vital to keeping your website running and secure.

I want to help you better understand what WordPress website updates are and how they can affect your WordPress website. I will go over what they are, why there seem to be so many updates, why these website updates are so important, how to update your website, and what happens if you don’t make regular website updates.

What Exactly Are WordPress Updates?

Good question! As I already mentioned we are not talking about website content updates here. WordPress website updates can be grouped into four distinct categories:

Core Updates

At times critical or core updates become available for your WordPress files. A critical WordPress website update means there could be an issue with your WordPress website. Ignoring this type of issue or update can impact your site significantly.

Basically, this type of update means that there has been a change to the WordPress Content Management System (CMS) itself. Usually this type of update involves a completely new version of WordPress, including a new version number and name. As of this post, the latest version of WordPress is 5.2, named “Jaco” for the Jazz musician Jaco Pastorius.

Here is a little tidbit for your next trivia night; all WordPress versions are named after famous (or not so famous) Jaz musicians. Here is a complete list of WordPress names and versions that you can use to really impress your friends, if you are a nerd like me, that is.

Security Updates

Most WordPress core updates are the result of or include a security update. As WordPress is made aware of new security threats, they will introduce fixes to overcome any vulnerabilities and close any loopholes. This will help prevent the take-over of your WordPress website by hackers or malware.

While WordPress core updates are usually a few weeks apart security updates, or “bug fixes” can be much more frequent. And they are the most critical for the overall health and security of your WordPress website! The longer you wait before updating, the more at risk your WordPress site becomes.

Feature Updates

This type of update involves the addition of new features. The most significant new feature in recent years was the introduction of the Gutenberg Editor in WordPress 5.0. New features and capabilities can help to create a new and overall better experience for your website visitors. Therefore, they usually have the biggest impact on your overall usability and user experience.

Performance Updates

The last of my WordPress website updates involves performance issues, such as your image optimization or page speed. When your WordPress website and plugins are properly updated for the best performance possible, your website visitors will have a better user experience.

Website performance is a key issue in 2019. Especially page load speed is critical for proving the user experience ever more demanding mobile consumers expect. Which makes WordPress performance updates so essential for your website optimization efforts.

Why Are There So Many Updates?

These days it seems like there are WordPress website updates every day! I swear that I can update one of my own WordPress websites or blogs, go for a cup of coffee or some Ramen, and when I come back a new update is ready to install. If it is not WordPress itself that is out of date one or more plugins want your attention. So why is that? Is WordPress out to get you?

You can rest assured that is not the case, no matter how much it appears to be. As a matter of fact, the opposite is true. WordPress website updates actually have your back! Automattic, the company behind WordPress, tests the WordPress platform on an ongoing basis to find any bugs and provide the best possible experience.

And just like updates for smartphones, laptops, and web apps, website updates generally introduce new features, eliminate problems, and maintain the best possible user experience for your website visitors. Along with the actual website updates, WordPress plugins that run on your WordPress website are also being tested and updated as often as WordPress itself, and usually more often.

Why Are WordPress Updates So Important?

For Site Security

Because WordPress is the most popular CMS out there it is also a huge target for hackers. And hackers are busy exploiting any and all loopholes in your WordPress website. WordPress developers are constantly fixing security breaches and vulnerabilities and these protections are released in newly updated versions of WordPress.

Therefore, performing regular WordPress website updates is a surefire way to protect your WordPress website from hackers. Installing the latest security features usually only takes a few minutes, which is considerably less time than restoring a hacked WordPress website.

To Keep Themes and Plugins Updated

The WordPress core is not the only security or performance issue on your WordPress website. Your WordPress themes and plugins are equally at risk. Outdated themes and plugins can cause a variety of issues, from degraded page speed all the way to serious compatibility and security risks. With regular updates, you can eliminate these risks by simply keeping all of your themes and plugins updated at the same time.

To Keep Your Website Running Smoothly

By not keeping on top of WordPress website updates you are not benefiting from new bug fixes or improvements that keep your site running at its best. Some updates may be relatively minor, so you will not notice anything amiss if you don’t keep your site updated. Other updates may include coding changes. Old versions of your themes and plugins may not work as well, or not at all.

The updates help our WordPress websites perform at the highest level possible for that period of time. But even after an update is released, developers from all over the world explore and experiment to find new, better ways to provide security, solve problems, or introduce new features.

What Are the Most Important Things to Keep Updated?

There are many components of a WordPress website that you will need to keep updated. That includes your actual WordPress themes, including your active theme and one backup theme, as well as your plugins or extensions. You will also need to update your WordPress database as needed.

If you simply have a blog or small business website, your updates will be relatively limited. But if you run an online store or membership site your updates can be quite extensive, and require some planning ahead, and a backup plan, just in case!

How to Update Your WordPress Website

Backup First, Update Later!

Any time that you update your WordPress website, themes, and plugins you may run into compatibility issues. Not all theme or plugin developers update their products at the same time. For instance, your WordPress theme may be updated, but some of your plugins may not. And they may not work with your new theme. Or your updated plugins no longer work with an outdated version of your theme.

Therefore, I cannot stress the importance of making a full backup of your site before starting any WordPress website updates! That way, if something goes wrong with your website updates you can simply restore your site from your backup and proceed from there to fix any problems with your files or database.

Don’t Make All WordPress Website Updates at Once!

The next thing to remember is to make your website updates one step at a time, and check to make sure that your site still looks and functions the same after each update. If everything looks good you can make the next update.

I recommend updating your version of WordPress first, followed by your active and backup WordPress themes. Your plugins should be done last, and one at a time. That way you will have a much easier time to pinpoint any potential compatibility issues.

And remember to make a backup before each individual update. I really cannot stress that enough!

Other WordPress Update Considerations

WordPress Theme Updates

Sometimes WordPress theme updates can change the appearance or functionality of your WordPress website in unintended ways. Perhaps the theme developer replaced some basic code or made style changes. This can affect how visitors view and interact with your WordPress site.

Before you update your active theme, I recommend you read the update release notes to see if anything may interfere with the way your website looks and feels. At least that way you can plan ahead or consult with your theme developer.

WordPress Plugin Updates

WordPress plugins or extensions are independent pieces of software designed by developers outside of WordPress. When WordPress releases updates to its core software, it is the developer’s responsibility to keep their plugins up-to-date, but not all of them do so. As a matter-of-fact, here is a list of 3,000+ abandoned WordPress plugins you may want to check out!

Therefore, I always recommend that before you even consider installing any plugin you research the plugin, read reviews and check when it was last updated. Any plugin that has not been updated within the last two (2) years is considered outdated and abandoned. Once installed, it is up to you to make sure you have the latest version or find a suitable replacement.

Software Conflicts

WordPress software and website updates usually go smoothly, but occasionally they conflict with each other and can trigger malfunctions that will result in a poor user experience for your visitors at best or bring your WordPress website down completely at worst.

Should You Update Your Own WordPress Site?

Of course, it is possible to perform these website updates yourself. But doing it properly is quite time-consuming and risky. And as I mentioned there seem to be endless website updates. Is this really the best use of your valuable time?

Therefore, it may be better to have your website updates performed regularly by a professional WordPress developer who knows what they are doing and has the resources and skills required to resolve any issues that may arise from the update.

WordPress website updates should be part of any WordPress maintenance plan. If you do not have one, I highly recommend you look into the benefits of a WordPress maintenance plan. Many WordPress developers offer WordPress maintenance as part of their services, so find out if yours does.

What Happens If You Don’t Update Your WordPress Website?

Not knowing what’s happening behind the scenes can make these updates seem unimportant. Because these website updates come so frequently, it is easy to brush them off as an inconvenience. Or we can simply convince ourselves that an update isn’t something we really need, right now!

So, what happens if you don’t make regular website updates? Well, not much at first. However, if you want to get the most out of your WordPress website, you need to make regular updates to your WordPress site and the plugins you are using.

Here are a few reasons why that is in your best interest.

Security Threats

WordPress security updates prevent hackers from compromising your website and causing problems for your visitors. These website updates are important to pay attention to because the longer you go without updating, the more at risk your WordPress website becomes.

If you are still using old versions of WordPress, your theme, or your plugins, hackers can easily find more weak spots and vulnerabilities to come in and steal your data or place malicious code onto your website. Regular security updates can prevent your business website from being hacked, going down, or in a worst-case scenario being erased.

Performance Issues

WordPress performance updates are equally beneficial for you and for your website visitors. Because bugs or glitches can appear in your version of WordPress, or the theme and plugins that you use on your WordPress site, performance updates are essential for removing them so that you do not run into problems or performance issues.

When your WordPress website is properly updated for the best performance and user experience possible, your visitors will have a better user experience. This will prevent them from running into usability and other problems that may force them to leave your site, and head on over to your competitors.

Degraded User Experience

In 2019 providing the best possible usability and user experience is absolutely essential if you want a user-friendly website. WordPress feature updates are usually more spaced out than security and critical updates, but they can often have the biggest impact. It is important to pay close attention to these updates as they will help you create the best possible website for your business or product brand.

Final Thoughts on Updating WordPress

In the world of WordPress development, new and updated is always better! By keeping your WordPress website updated regularly, you will benefit from improvements and changes that will make your life easier, keep your website looking and working at its best and help your readers, users or customers have a more user-friendly experience on your website.

With each new update that WordPress releases, you will find that the new versions of the WordPress core and your theme and plugins give you improved options for customizing your WordPress website, fixes problems and bugs that a recent update may have caused, and will provide you with improved security and protection from hackers.

So, it is in your best interest to make regular WordPress website updates. They will provide you with peace of mind that your WordPress site is protected and running smoothly. And they will provide your website visitors with the usability and user experience they require to meet their expectations and keep them coming back.

If you do not feel comfortable making your own WordPress website updates we are here to help.

Do You Need Help Making WordPress Website Updates?

With the ever-increasing importance of keeping your WordPress website updated and secure, you don’t want to risk missing WordPress website updates. Doing so will put you at risk of a security breach, diminished website performance, or a degraded website user experience.

Our WordPress web design team can help you update your WordPress website, and maintain it for you. We are experts at carefully crafting custom mobile-first websites to meet (almost) any budget. From designing new WordPress websites, redesigning or updating an existing website, building responsive e-Commerce websites or creating a multilingual online presence for your business to our WordPress website hosting maintenance plans we work directly with our clients to prepare them for ever more demanding mobile consumers. Why not let us know how we can help?

And if you are still not sure what all goes into user-friendly web design, don’t worry! Simply reach out and contact us. Our expert team will listen to you, answer your questions, and determine the best way to remove the obstacles in the way of your business objectives and continued growth. It is one of our specialties, after all!

Are You Updating Your WordPress Website?

Are you performing regular updates on your site? How is that working out for you? Are WordPress website updates talking too much of your time? Or do you have any other questions or concerns regarding your website updates? Please feel free to let us know so our audience can benefit as well and grab our feed so you don’t miss our next post! And feel free to share our post with your audience!

Thank you! We appreciate your help to end bad business websites, one pixel at a time!

By Gregor Schmidt
Co-Founder/CXO
@gregorspeaks