How to Update Your WordPress Website Without Fear

Have you ever felt a moment of panic when going to update your website? Here’s how to avoid that!

I pulled our mail out of the mailbox, and casually sorted through all of the junk to see if there was any real mail. 

And there it was. 

A letter from the IRS. 

My heart immediately began beating out of my chest as full body panic set in. 

I quickly ripped it open, completely freaked out just to find that it was pretty much a worthless piece of junk mail! 

Oh my gosh the panic! The stress! The total fear that I made a mistake on our taxes and now the IRS is coming to take away everything, including my children. 

Okay, so my husband swears to me that isn’t possible. But the logic doesn’t seem to matter in those intense moments of total freak out. 

Maybe the IRS doesn’t send you into a total panic attack like it does me, but I know a lot of business owners stress in the same way about updating their websites. 

You go to click on that update button but complete panic starts to take over your body. 

Will updating my WordPress website break my site? 

Wordpress white screen of death

The white screen of death is every website owner’s worst nightmare. 

You go to update your site … and suddenly it is ALL gone. 


Just in like that. 

No one wants to have moments of complete panic like that in their business. 

Thankfully there are some things you can do to update your site safely so you can stop having panic attacks 😉 

Can I update my WordPress website safely? 

1. Choose a theme and plugins that are supported. 

“Umm, what does that actually mean?” 

WordPress is this magical world where anyone can create anything and offer it to other people to use on their websites. 

It’s called open source. 

The downside is that any of those kind developers who built the theme or plugins you’re using can also STOP supporting it. 

Which means that WordPress comes out with an update, the plugin or theme will not be tweaked to match the update. 

After a while, that can lead to major issues with your website… like the white screen of death. 

Updating a website can be scary

And since we’re trying to avoid that at all costs, one of the best things you can do is choose a theme and plugins by major developers that are regularly updated

Trouble is that’s easier said than done. Because if you don’t live and breath websites, then you probably aren’t sure what plugins or themes are safe. 

One of the benefits of hiring an experienced web designer is that you can be confident that someone else is making those decisions for you. 

I have a go to list of themes and plugins that I use on client websites (and my own sites!). Because I use them week in and week out, I stay up to date with the latest updates, and I only use plugins that are regularly supported. 

If you don’t want to have to immerse yourself in the world of websites, just to get a website that works well for your business, then I would highly recommend working with an experienced web designer. 

Update your PHP Version

“Umm, my what?” 

PHP is the coding language that WordPress is built with. It’s maintained by your hosting company’s server, so if you never login to your hosting account, then you’ll probably never even think about it!

PHP is released in versions just like WordPress. Each update is maintained for two years. If you don’t update your PHP version during that time, then you can start having issues with your website. 

That’s because everything on the backend of your website will start using a newer PHP version… and before you know it, the site will break because your everything is talking a different language. 

Updating your website can be frustrating

Back to how not to break your site #1 – Developers *should* make their updates compatible with the latest PHP version.

BUT if you’re using an old theme plugin that hasn’t been updated by the developer in a long time, then it’s not likely to be compatible with the latest PHP version. Cue update anxiety… 

That’s why it’s so important to use a theme and plugins that are still being supported. They’ll be up to date for not only the latest version of WordPress, but also the latest PHP version. 

Which means that you can update your PHP version without any issues, keeping your site nice and secure, and getting rid of that update dread once and for all!

To check what your PHP version is and what versions are available from your hosting company, login to your hosting account. At the time of this writing, version 7.4 is the current version. If you are using 7.2 or less, then it’s time to update!


Run a backup BEFORE updating anything on your website

Don’t just jump in and update! Whether it is a plugin, theme, PHP version, or WordPress itself, ALWAYS make a back-up of your website BEFORE updating just in case you run into any issues. 

Updating your website can feel scary and overwhelming, but having a backup should take the fear out of the process. 

With a backup, you know that if anything goes wrong, you can always install the backup and go back to the way it was right before you updated. 

That way there is no way to completely lose or mess up your website. 

I tell my clients that there is no way they can actually screw up their websites because I ALWAYS have backups for them to fall back to. 

In fact, I like to have 2 or 3 different backups just in case… 

  1. An automated backup with the hosting company. Great hosting companies like Siteground offer free nightly backups, so that your site is always secure. 
  2. An offsite backup using the Updraft plugin. I like to have my Updraft backups go to a Google Drive folder. This is also automatic, so you set it up once and don’t have to worry about it again. 
  3. An offsite backup using ManageWP. For my clients’ websites that I perform the maintenance on (meaning I take care of their updates and backups for a low monthly fee), I also have an automatic daily backup to a cloud service. 

3 backups, all just to make sure that there is nothing we can do to a website that cannot be reversed. 

Don’t update everything at once. 

Ever feel like your whole family is talking to you at once and you aren’t actually hearing anyone? 

Your website can feel overwhelmed like that too if you try to do all of your updates at once.

The SAFEST way (i.e. least panic inducing way) to update your site is one theme or plugin at a time. 

The side benefit of doing this is IF you run into any problems doing an update, you know what caused it, because it’s most likely the fault of whatever you just updated. 

For example if you have 3 plugins that need to be updated, you update all 3 of them at once and then your site crashes, then you would have no idea which plugin caused the issue. 

But if you take your time and do one update at a time, then you’ll know exactly what the problem is if you have any. 

You don’t have to be afraid every time you update your website!

If you’re struggling with update anxiety, then make sure you do these four things:

  1. Use a theme and plugins that are regularly supported by the developer
  2. Keep your PHP version up to date
  3. Backup your website before running an update
  4. Only update one thing at a time.

If you still get that queasy feeling in your stomach just thinking about hitting the update button, then let’s talk about how i can help you with your website. 

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