Why you should always keep your WordPress site updated.

You’re probably fed up with being told to keep your WordPress site up-to-date. Every time you log in, that little red alert icon guilt trips you from the sidebar, and now I’m going to nag you about it as well? ‘Fraid so.

I once had a client come to me with a site crawling with malware. He had only noticed when long, nonsensical sentences started appearing all over the site. You couldn’t miss it, and neither could his customers.

Once malware finds a way in, it digs itself in and is almost impossible to remove. Every time we fixed a corrupted file, it recreated itself. The root of the infection turned out to be a few specific files hidden deep within the WordPress core. Until we tracked down every single one, and removed them at once, we couldn’t shift the malware. If we missed one file, it re-infected all the others.

In short, it was a nightmare. It took forever to fix, and it was all down to a small security vulnerability in one of the site’s plugins. Thing is, the issue had already been patched. If the site had been kept up-to-date, the attack would never have succeeded.

1. Keep your site secure

WordPress, like any software, is susceptible to vulnerabilities. As I found out first-hand, you don’t want to find yourself having to deal with a hack or malware infection. If you can stop it happening in the first place, you should.

Outdated versions of WordPress, plugins or themes are easy targets, often containing well-known security issues that attackers can exploit. WordPress updates address known security issues, protecting your site from common attacks.

2. Fix bugs and improve stability

Security vulnerabilities aren’t all you have to worry about. WordPress is ever-changing, and sometimes these changes introduce bugs or glitches. The Web, too, is always in flux, with new features continuously introduced, tweaked, adopted and deprecated by web browsers.

Luckily, as a website owner, you don’t have to worry about keeping up with all these changes. The WordPress team, along with theme and plugin developers, will worry about it for you. Regular updates fix bugs, and adapt to the shifting foibles of the browser vendors.

Staying up-to-date ensures your website always functions as intended, and prevents problems that could affect user experience, such as broken links, page errors, or slow loading times.

3. Access new features

Updates aren’t just about practical (and boring) things like patching vulnerabilities and fixing bugs. Sometimes, they include brand new features, and even huge platform changes. If you don’t update, you miss out on some of the most existing stuff WordPress has to offer.

A notable recent example is the introduction of the Block Editor. WordPress used to use a form-based content editor, and didn’t let you see how your content would look on the page. The Block Editor offers a more dynamic editing experience, using a much closer representation of the published page.

Later updates have included smaller, but still meaningful changes. New blocks to use in the editor, changes to creating and managing menus, and the Command Palette.

4. Prevent incompatibilities

If your site uses plugins, there’s always a risk of incompatibilities arising. Whether between different plugins, or between one or more plugins and WordPress core. The more plugins you have, the greater the risk.

WordPress core updates often remove deprecated functions and features. Outdated plugins that refer to code that has been removed may not work as they should, and may even break your site. Keeping plugins up-to-date makes it more likely that everything will work well together.

It’s up to developers to decide when to update their plugins. As a result, plugins update at different times, and some may even stop receiving updates at all. Plugin updates don’t typically sync with each other, or with WordPress core. That’s why it’s always best to follow a robust and consistent update process. As part of this, you should test on a staging site before making any changes to your live website.

5. Take advantage of optimisations 

WordPress updates often introduce new features that can help with site optimisation. Better caching techniques, for example, or more efficient code structures. Sometimes, an update might improve database connectivity, leading to more efficient data retrieval. This can have an especially big impact on sites with a lot of content.

These improvements can reduce load times and make for a better user experience. In turn, this has a knock-on effect on SEO, as search engines favour sites that load quickly and perform well.

How to update a WordPress site

Actually updating a WordPress site, its plugins and themes, is pretty straightforward. Even so, to reduce the risk of errors or downtime, it’s important to have a solid process in place. Why not try our five steps to updating your WordPress site.

Looking for help managing backups and updates on your WordPress site?

You should get in touch.

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