Keeping your WordPress site updated is like getting your teeth cleaned – no one really enjoys it but you can get in some serious trouble if you don’t do it at least once a month.

After updates have been completed on your site, there’s no way around checking the site manually to make sure it’s all still working as expected.

What gets updated?

WordPress has a centralised update centre which lists all available updates for your site:

  • Core WordPress – the content management system itself
  • Plugins – these extend WordPress to add functionality like SEO, ecommerce, stats and spam protection
  • Theme – simplistically, the ‘skin’ for your website

We update the sites we host on a monthly basis and most often there are a few plugin updates. A few times a year, there’s a core WordPress update. It’s hard to describe how often your theme might be updated – it varies hugely between themes.

What can go wrong?

  • WordPress is extremely good at maintaining backwards compatibility but even so, sometimes plugins and/or your theme won’t be compatible with the latest version of WordPress, or with other plugins on your site
  • Sometimes the way that plugins or themes work changes, causing unexpected results on your site
  • Very rarely, updates don’t complete successfully, leaving broken software on your site

These descriptions are deliberately vague – whilst the mechanisms behind what can go wrong are simple, the effects on your site vary wildly.

What’s the worst that could happen?

Your site could be completely non-functional – because plugins often add heavy-weight functionality, if they stop working properly that can even cause the dreaded ‘White Screen of Death’ – when your site doesn’t load at all because of a server-side error.

Fortunately most update-related issues are much more minor.

So what do I need to check?

Do check: Design, functionality

Don’t check: Content

Simple? In theory yes, in practice, it’s a little more nuanced than that. So, here are a few examples of what’s what.

Design

  • Page layouts
  • Logos, graphics and images not uploaded through WordPress admin panel still appear
  • Cross-browser testing (including responsive layouts for mobiles)

Functionality

  • Forms
  • Comment tools
  • Sharing buttons
  • Sign up and login features
  • Searching

Content

  • Page content
  • Menus
  • Images uploaded through WordPress admin panel

It makes sense to draw up a list of site-specific tests for you or your team to run through after updates. Usually, these will reflect the key user journeys on your site, such as:

  • Buying a product
  • Filling out a contact form
  • Filtering your portfolio
  • Signing up to your newsletter
  • Sharing your content on social media networks

If you can still do all these key things on your site, it’s a pretty good bet your visitors can too. We can help with this specific list if you’d like us to.

If updates can cause so many problems, why bother at all?

It’s really not an option to avoid updates. We’ve written a whole post about that here: https://pragmatic.agency/update-wordpress/.