8 Pointers to make frequent updates of WordPress theme and plugins better
The pain of managing frequent theme and plugin updates
The web is a fast moving animal. And everyone tries their best to keep up, always coming up with better. The same goes with theme and plugin updates and new releases. Even wordpress itself releases updates. With the number of updates ever increasing, how should we manage this frenzy? We all need to spend time on what matters to us. (Read my post Continuous iteration is like gym work)
The Process must be ready. And not start to think of it after something bad occurs. But have a guide ready. Know what works for you, and establish a flow that facilitates your needs. This process does not need to be elaborate, just lean so that it serves your purpose. What are the things you need to do before starting the updates? What are the things after? What are the dependencies during the update process if there are multiple plugins? What is the fall back or roll back plan if 1 update does not work?
Important Contacts at hand. Whether you do it yourself or hire a developer, you will need their contacts on hand. Depending on whether you hire locally or remotely, you will need to either wait for the sun to come round. The developer may also not be available on short notice to cater for your emergencies. So factor that into account if you need things fast. Also depending on the product you buy and the support provided, you will be able to contact the theme or plugin creator/support team to help smoothen rough patches during the upgrade. You will need to know the software version, licenses, login passwords to support forums and premium access areas.
Have a test site ready all the time besides your main live site. Whether locally on a developer machine or an online server, having this alternative environment will allow us to quickly test the upgrade and integrate any issues. This is especially useful in the scenario where the upgrade causes problems elsewhere on the site, which is not a rare occurrence. We can then investigate the issue, isolate the problem, search and reach a solution, and actually test out that the solution works elegantly with all things updated.
Code well. The importance of this is easily overlooked. When we face an issue, it is often pretty tempting to give in to quick fixes and short term solutions while under the pressure of time and user complaints. What we will benefit from is not just code that is well written and bug free. The code also needs to be maintainable, which means it does not break with every little plugin update. If possible, always go for child themes instead of editing the actual theme files. For plugins, design your code such that its extended from the base plugin to minimize maintenance effort during upgrades.
Remove unnecessary clutter. Clutter is everywhere. Does your wordpress plugin list start to look like your smartphone installed apps listing? Last month’s plugin A that you were trying out or plugin B trial version with feature x that promised y, and which was also quickly forgotten? Don’t undermine the continuous administrative effort needed in keeping the website back-end tidy and humming smoothly. Lots of unused plugins that are still active affect site performance and take up space, and are potential for more bugs and code conflicts on your site. Therefore, remove what you don’t use, evaluate what you do need, and combine where possible. Less can be more.
Always backup. Especially before any update. You have been warned. With so many possible plugins out there, nobody can guarantee for you that any upgrade will not cause problems. I am sometimes also tempted to press that update button before doing the due diligence as well. Sometimes things turn out well, other times they don’t. You rationalize to yourself that its just a small version increase, nothing will happen, and you keep your fingers crossed. And… its not worth the trouble.
“Every journey starts with a single step” – Lao Tze
A step at a time. Don’t attempt to update all plugins and your theme all at one go, although it can sometimes feel like some free shopping grab and go spree. Pause and check through your website after each update. This will not only give time to work out which plugin is causing the problem, it will also be possible to decide on the next action plan according to your strategy. For example, to leave out this particular update, or roll back everything including other plugin updates.
Do your homework. For this, mum was right. Due diligence should be done to minimize pain. Use plugins and theme from credible providers. Which means attributes like a decent number of positive reviews, quick support response times, an active user community, and frequent update releases (bit of an irony, i know). The last thing you want is to discover that you are the only person on google searching for a solution.
For other interesting pointers, feel free to read:
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Simplify and gear up your business today.