WordPress Updates – Our Process.
WordPress has matured a great deal over the years and provides us with a great way to build custom websites utilizing any combination of the now 54,681 plugins available. Change is inevitable, and with the volume of plugins, WordPress maintenance is vital to ensure security, performance, and compatibility for your website.
Due to everything required to maintain a WordPress website, we always suggest a retainer service for companies with an agency to help update and optimize their website. The core WordPress environment, theme, and plugins need to be updated regularly to help keep the site secure and all functionality working seamlessly.
We try our best to operate proactively when it comes to WordPress. By aiming to resolve issues before they are deployed live, it allows us to limit issues that users may run into.The process always starts with creating full backups of the website so that we can always revert back to a safe point if anything goes wrong. We then pull down the latest production database to our local development environments (essentially a working copy of the site loaded on our computer) to mirror production as closely as possible for testing. Updates are then run on our local computers and then we start our QA (Quality Assurance) efforts.
For each website we build out a QA checklist of all known functionality such as CRM integrations, tracking software/scripts, interactive front-end elements, ecommerce/cart/checkout experiences, redirects, custom integrations, etc. This list can be extremely extensive, as we work closely with clients to verify we’re testing as thoroughly as possible. WordPress, and most plugin developers, are great about providing detailed release notes on updates which we review to provide us insight on what areas to test.
On a good day everything works as intended and we can move forward. On a not so good day, we end up debugging weird errors and narrowing down what the culprit is one at a time. Sometimes it involves us reaching out to plugin developers, or having to resolve custom code issues: really digging into the code and getting under the hood to find the oil leak.
Once we do our first pass of testing and resolving any issues on our local machines, we then push the changes to a staging environment that has also been synced with production. At this point we should expect to see everything working properly and we use staging as our final QA pass before introducing the updates to the live (production) environment. We then run through all the QA one last final time, just to triple check.
Some of the most common issues we run into are related to depreciated code due to security updates (i.e. most recently the PHP 7.2 update), custom CRM plugin conflicts, and poorly supported plugins. It is always a good idea to research the plugins you may be deciding to use and verify they’re actively maintained and supported. You can do this by looking at the install amounts and development activity from the WordPress plugin page. We also highly recommend a WordPress specific hosting service (we have been delighted with WP Engine over the years). They aid in spotting security and plugin vulnerabilities ahead of time and provide excellent resources for backing up and restoring sites.
In conclusion, updating a WordPress site is an ongoing process. Not running updates or just clicking through and running all the updates directly on production will most likely break something, and you’ll be left with a major headache. Be proactive — backup, update, test, test again, push to production, test yet again.