Taking Responsibility for Your WordPress Website

After the update for WordPress 4.6 was released I realised something: there are too many people out there who own a website yet have absolutely no idea about how it works. In this post I talk about what everyone should know when it comes to their website.


As always, WordPress is the main topic – but a lot of this advice is transferable to other setups and CMS platforms.

Never update your WordPress theme or plugins without backing up first

Anecdotally Most people I spoke to don’t back up their website before updating. I’m a belt and braces kind of guy, I’m the kind of guy that use 2 types of source control and keeps zip file copies of each client release. I want to be able to roll back if I need to.

This is why I advocate my client’s use WPEngine – they run daily backups and alert you if you’re about to do any kind of update to a theme, plugin or WordPress version. WPEngine allows you to run on-demand full site and database backups which run in minutes or even seconds.

There are plenty of webhosts out there that run auto-backups for you. Check with your webhost to see if they offer daily backups or on-demand backups. Some may do it for free, others may charge.

You can however do this manually yourself and it’s not too difficult. Using a plugin like UpdraftPlus you can back everything up for free and download a copy of it as well as keep it on your server somewhere.

Why do you need to backup?

If something goes wrong, you don’t have to panic, just roll back to the previous version of your website and database.

Always check theme and plugin compatibility before updating WordPress core

You’re not always going to be lucky enough to have a Theme or Plugin Company or Developer who is so quick to patch bugs and help you out. You really should check that plugin or theme is compatible before updating. At 2nd Floor we provide a test version of your website to test out updates on. If we’ve put you on WPEngine you can use their fantastic staging server.

If you have a plugin from the WordPress.org repository or the plugin has some kind of update mechanism, you should be able to check for compatibility from your “Plugins” page in WordPress.

WP Plugin Update panel

You can see here, there is an update waiting, clicking on “View version 4.5.1 details” will show you and overlay panel and compatibility assessment:

Update details overlay

If you’re still unclear or have doubts, reach out to wherever you got the plugin from and find out for definite.

Know how to update/install a WordPress theme

So many people didn’t know how to update a WordPress theme that they already had installed.

Some themes have a built in update mechanism and this will show from the Appearance > Themes page:

screenshot-2016-09-01-20-53-07

All of the themes and plugins we create have update mechanisms in them to make updating your theme as easy as possible.

If you do have to manually replace the theme, its actually pretty simple:

  1. Activate another theme
  2. Delete the theme you want to update
  3. Upload the new version of the theme
  4. Activate the new version of the theme

Know what FTP/sFTP is

File Transfer Protocol (FTP) and Secure File Transfer Protocol (sFTP) are how most hosting setups allow you to upload and download files to your website. Logging in to your FTP/sFTP will give you full folder access to your website, a directory structure much like you get on any mac or pc.

Incidentally, if possible I’d always advise using sFTP access as it is more secure and turning the access on when you need it and off when you don’t to avoid possible hacking attacks.

Always have access to your credentials for WordPress and FTP/sFTP

Many people get so confused about FTP that they thought it was a service they have to pay for. It isn’t. It should come as standard with any hosting package and you have more than likely got an email somewhere with your FTP login details. Likewise with WordPress – you should have your login details for this and you should know how to setup a user that you can send to the theme/plugin developer if needed.

Understand what the Theme Customizer actually does

Too many people think that updating a theme will lose their “customisations”. If you have only used the Theme Customizer or Theme Options and you have not edited any theme files then updating a theme should not erase any Theme Customizer or Theme Options settings.

Summary

  • Take ownership of your website and know how to maintain it
  • Always backup before updating anything
  • Know how to do the basics like updating themes and plugins
  • Always check compatibility of themes and plugins before you update WordPress
  • Make sure you’re safe to update WordPress before hitting that Update button

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