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How to Update Your WordPress Site (Challenges and Solutions)

Updated on March 24, 2022

7 Min Read
how to update wordpress

Keeping your WordPress website updated can be quite a challenge. This probably explains why less than 50 percent of WordPress users have upgraded to the latest version despite WordPress’s continued recommendations.

Why is updating WordPress a task that many users ignore?

WordPress update requires updating the Core WordPress, plugins, and themes. This becomes harder when you manage hundreds of websites – each with a different set of plugins and themes. Besides, WordPress updates can sometimes break or crash websites – this is an important reason users hesitate to update.

However, WordPress updates are too critical to be ignored. Hackers are constantly looking for vulnerabilities in outdated WordPress versions and plugins/themes. Updates help protect your website from threats by eliminating these security issues.

The best part – Updates are free and contain new features and improved compatibility with other tools.

This article looks at some of the challenges associated with WordPress updates and some efficient ways to update a WordPress site successfully.

Reasons Why You Should Update WordPress

One of the main reasons why you should update WordPress is security. Several WordPress sites are compromised because they were running on older WordPress versions, making them vulnerable to malicious attacks.

WordPress updates are released after core developers have identified and fixed bugs and vulnerabilities in the older version. If you don’t update your WordPress version, you expose your sites to dangers.

Another reason is the new features that mostly come with major WordPress updates. For example, WordPress 5.0 introduced block editors, WordPress 5.3 came with major UI improvements, and WordPress 5.4 included improvements to the block editor.

Performance is another reason why you should always update WordPress. While core WordPress developers are busy finding bugs and fixing them, they are also looking for ways to make WordPress faster and improve page load times by releasing major and minor updates. An example of this would be WordPress 4.2, which improved JS performance, and WordPress 4.1, which improved complex queries.

Lastly, you would want your WordPress themes and plugins compatible with your WordPress version. Most of the time, themes and plugins developers align their updates with WordPress updates which means if your themes and plugins are compatible with the newer WordPress version and you are still running your site on the old one, things can turn pretty bad very quickly.

How to Prepare for a Major WordPress Update

Updating your WordPress version should not be taken lightly, especially if it’s a major update, because there is always a chance that the process might fail, and you will lose all of your data.

It is always advised to take both automated and manual backups to prevent this. These are some of the elements that you should definitely backup before running the WordPress update process:

  • WordPress core files
  • Entire WordPress database
  • Plugins and themes
  • Images, videos, and all media uploads

Once you have backed up your WordPress site properly, you won’t have to worry about the backup process, as you can always restore your site and its data.

This article discusses some of the challenges associated with WordPress updates and some efficient ways to update a WordPress site successfully.

3 Challenges of WordPress Updates

Here’s why WordPress administrators find it so challenging to keep their sites updated:

1. Too Frequent Updates

Take any WordPress site, and there are primarily three components to update regularly – Core WordPress, Plugins, and Themes. Since its initial release in 2003, the WordPress team has released new versions of the Core WordPress at regular intervals.

Apart from major WordPress updates (like version 5.0 or 5.4), WordPress releases minor updates (5.1.1), including security updates and bug fixes. You need to keep track of major and minor updates, evaluate the fixes, and apply them to your websites.

However, your job does not end with the Core WordPress updates. You also need to update the plugins and themes installed on your site. Plugin and Theme updates do not follow the WordPress release cycle and can be sporadic depending on the developers. So, you need to keep a close eye on updates for plugin and theme updates.

Some plugins and themes may be abandoned by their developers to make things more challenging, and there might be no updates. In this case, you need to replace these plugins or themes with similar ones that are actively supported and maintained.

2. Too Many WordPress Sites to Manage

Applying the latest updates on a single WordPress site is hard enough – imagine the difficulty of doing this for hundreds of sites.

Most large businesses have multiple websites for a product or service line. As a result, WordPress administrators need to evaluate each website and perform updates for the themes and plugins. This requires a significant time investment, especially if each website has its own plugins and themes. This is a typical scenario for WordPress agencies that manage multiple clients.

3. No Update Notifications From Plugin or Theme Developers

While WordPress sends timely notifications to its users whenever a new version is released, the same cannot be guaranteed by plugin and theme developers. Online marketplaces like ThemeForest and MojoMarketplace do not regularly post updates about the plugins and themes they sell.

The lack of or limited update notifications can make your job even tougher. You need to regularly check for new updates.

How to Update WordPress Site Safely (Easy Methods)

Before I tell you the three ways to update your site, here’s a quick tip – Take a complete backup of your WordPress website before applying updates. This way, you always have something to fall back on in case of any issue or incompatibility.

1. Use a WordPress Management Service

wordpress update

One way to update your websites is through the WordPress admin account, where you can view and take action for each of your individual sites. Log in to your WP Admin area and go to WordPress Dashboard > Updates. You will notice the current WordPress version and the option to upgrade to the latest WordPress version.

An easier way is to use the WordPress management feature that many WordPress security plugins like MalCare offer.

malcare manage plugins

(Source: MalCare)

For instance, you can use MalCare’s WordPress management feature to update and manage multiple websites. You can add an unlimited number of websites to manage and apply updates for core WordPress, plugins, themes across all websites.

2. Weekly/Monthly Schedule for Updates

As a WordPress administrator, you need to schedule a time for website updates as part of your website maintenance checklist. You can do this weekly or monthly, depending on the number of sites that you manage and the number of installed plugins and themes across all these sites.

However, WordPress updates can sometimes cause compatibility issues or even site crashes. I highly recommend that you first apply updates in a sandbox (staging) environment before directly implementing them at the live site. A staging website is a replica of your live website where you can safely test the updates before merging the changes to the live site.

You can set it up manually or use dedicated staging plugins such as WP Staging to create a staging site.

blogvault staging site

(Source: BlogVault)

However, Cloudways offers a compelling and easy-to-use staging environment where you can create as many staging websites you need and test the impact of the updates.

staging cloudways

3. Opt for Automatic Updates

The last solution is to set up automatic updates for your websites. Available for WordPress sites since version 3.7, automatic updates install the latest WordPress version and the latest available plugin and theme updates without requiring the administrator’s intervention.

One of the advantages of this approach is that you can execute automatic updates in the background, so they do not interfere with your website’s other activities. Automatic updates let your website upgrade to the latest versions almost immediately without major delays.

However, a prime disadvantage of automatic updates is that they can break your website or cause incompatibility issues in some instances. Additionally, automatic updates can override any customization in the code d WordPress file or any plugin/theme. Automatic updates are not recommended if you have installed plenty of plugins/themes downloaded from private developers or untrusted sites.

You can enable automatic updates manually or using WordPress plugins like Advanced Automatic Updates or WP Updates.

Let’s discuss each of these two methods now in more detail:

3.1. Enabling Automatic Updates Manually

To enable automatic updates for your Core WordPress version, add the following code to the wp-config.php file in your WordPress installation:

define ('WP_AUTO_UPDATE_CORE', true);

Set the value to “false” to disable automatic updates.

To enable automatic updates for minor WordPress versions, add the following code to the wp-config.php file:

define ('WP_AUTO_UPDATE_CORE', minor);

This function helps disable automatic updates for any major WordPress version.

To enable automatic updates for your WordPress plugin or theme versions, add the following code to the auto_update_$type filter in the wp-admin folder of your WordPress installation:

For plugins:

add_filter('auto_update_plugin', '__return_true');

For themes:

add_filter('auto_update_theme', '__return_true');

This function lets you update all plugins and themes in your installation.

3.2. Using WordPress Plugins like WP Auto Updater, you can implement automatic updates. Here’s a guide on how to use this plugin.

WP Auto Updater Plugin

  • Go to Plugins > Add New > search WP Auto Updater > Install and Activate the plugin on your WordPress site.
  • Go to WordPress Dashboard > Auto Updater.
  • Next, select the version type from the dropdown (major and minor) Core WordPress updates. You can also apply automatic updates to plugins and themes.

wp updater plugin


  • Next, you have the schedule section from where you can set the update interval and date.

wp update schedule

  • Save the changes once done.

Final Thoughts!

We hope this article has convinced you of the importance of WordPress updates. We strongly encourage you to make it a part of your website maintenance plan. Not only are WordPress updates a great way to fortify your website against malware and hacks, but they also ensure a better user experience and higher SEO rankings as a result.

Thankfully, today, many tools and plugins make updating and managing multiple websites much easier. While updates can be risky, you have nothing to worry about with the knowledge of some best practices and the right tools on your side. Our top recommendation? Test your updates first on a WordPress staging site before making any changes to your live site.

How do you go about applying updates on your WordPress site? Is there any method that we have missed out on? Do share your comments and suggestions on WordPress updates.

Note: This article was published in collaboration with MalCare.

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Mansoor Ahmed Khan

Passionate about technology, entrepreneurship, and marketing, Mansoor Ahmed Khan is in computing since he knows how to type on a keyboard. His daily life is rocked by his family, projects, and his screen. Probably in this order, he likes to be convinced at least. You can reach out to him at [email protected]


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