One of the main concerns I hear from business owners who manage their own WordPress site pretty much boils down to this simple equation:

Running an update = breaking your site.

Most times, this type of thinking is just paranoia. Under normal circumstances, running updates will not wipe out your site content or bring your site down (but you should always have a recent backup ready just in case.) However, there are those rare cases where applying a WordPress update will throw your site out of whack, or cause errors that make your site unreachable.

If the second scenario applies to you and makes you avoid clicking the update button like your life depends on it, then there could be one of two things going on here.

1. You (or your developer) incorrectly added customizations to your theme.

Now adding customizations by itself isn’t a problem. After all, part of what makes WordPress so popular is that it’s hella easy to customize. The problems occur when your customizations are added to your theme incorrectly. When this happens, you’ll find out very soon that updating your theme wipes out the custom code it needs for certain things to work or display correctly, which breaks your site.

2. You’re just using a crappy theme (or plugin).

Look I understand. Deep down, I’m a bootstrapping, do-it-yourself kind of girl. And when I first started tinkering around with WordPress, the only themes I even considered looking at were the free ones. But then I noticed that the documentation (if it existed) was either inaccurate or just plain useless. Or certain things from the demo didn’t work like they were supposed to. Then finally, when the time came to run a WordPress update, I’d get all kinds of crazy errors that brought the entire site down.

But don’t think you can avoid similar issues by just paying for any old theme. It’s entirely possible to buy a poorly coded paid theme as well.

So what can you do about this?

  1. Use a premium theme from a reputable theme shop. And by theme shop, I do not mean Themeforest where the quality of theme you’re getting is a crapshoot. I’ve heard good things about Thrive Themes, and I know Elegant Themes is a popular solution for the DIY crowd. But if you know me, then you know that my personal fav is the Genesis Framework by the folks over at StudioPress.
  2. Make sure your customizations are in the right place. Not to get too technical here, but if you have theme customizations, they need to be in one of three places: your theme’s functions.php file (good), inside of a child theme (better), or inside of your very own custom plugin (best). This way, you can keep your site up to date and not have to worry about things around your site falling apart after an update. And if your developer doesn’t already know this, you need to start looking for a new one.
  3. Use a host that allows you to set up a staging environment. If you’ve never heard of a stage-a-whatsit, let me explain. A staging environment is just a private copy of your live website. You can run updates on the staging site first to see if anything breaks, and fix any problems that pop up. Once everything is good on staging, you’ll then push all of your changes live, usually with the click of a button. And the best part is, all of this is done in the background, so there’s zero downtime on your actual site. Cool, right? If you want to set up a one-click staging site, check out either of my recommended web hosts, SiteGround or Flywheel.

So there you have it. Hopefully, these tips will help make updating your site a breeze. Try them out and let me know how it goes, I want to hear all about it!

– Nicole

P.S. As you learn more about WordPress, you’ll find out that a lot of common problems could have been avoided with the correct setup. If you want more info on how to do that, check out my post where I walk you through setting up WordPress the right way.