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The most important step to take before you update a plugin

I set my clients up with the free WordPress security plugin, Wordfence. One of the features of Wordfence is a notification email every time you need to update a plugin, WordPress, or your Theme (which will be diytheme’s Thesis theme in the case of all my clients’ sites).

These emails may seem a little alarming at first since their subject is:

[Wordfence Alert] Problems found on <>

When you scan through the email you will be told that there are “Critical Problems” on your website. Ouch! Honestly, “critical” is a bit harsh, when really, they are simply telling you that you need to update a plugin (or WordPress, or your them). Once you see a few of these emails and realize that they are only asking you to update a plugin, they become easy to ignore! That’s ok, but don’t ignore them forever…

When should you update a plugin?

You don’t have to upgrade that plugin as soon as you receive these alerts, or when see the little alerts in your plugins menu in your WordPress dashboard. Personally, I like to wait a few weeks to let others discover glitches that inevitably arise with upgrades, and let the plugin, theme, or WordPress developers iron out these kinks.

DIYthemes published a great article about “How Thesis Version Numbers Work (and What They Mean for You).” While they are talking about what the updates to the Thesis theme mean, their explanation also applies to most plugin, and WordPress upgrades.

Software version numbers are kind of confusing, aren’t they?

Chrome, for example, has crazy version numbers, such as 31.0.1650.63, that mean little or nothing to anyone except its developers.

WordPress version numbers like 3.8 and 3.8.1 carry a more obvious meaning, but they still require some explanation.

Thesis version numbers are similar to WordPress ones, and today, we’ll see precisely how they work and what they mean. This quick overview will provide you with insights you can use to proceed with confidence whenever we push a Thesis update.

Here’s how Thesis breaks down Version Numbers:

  • Major Version Number: In a Thesis version like 2.1.6 (current at the time of writing), 2 is the major version number. The major version number signifies game-changing, earth-shattering differences in the underlying platform. For example, Thesis 1 and Thesis 2 are, quite literally, 100% different.
  • Minor Version Number: Most of the significant Thesis updates are of the minor version variety. Continuing with our example of version 2.1.6, 1 is the minor version number. Whenever we issue a minor version release, you can expect it to include new functionality and other improvements that will make your life easier. From our perspective, these are the “fun” updates that people tend to appreciate the most.
  • Revision Number: Revision updates are an annoying but necessary part of software development, especially on a platform like WordPress, where compatibility is an ongoing concern. To illustrate, Thesis 2.1.6—where 6 is the revision number—indicates that this is the 6th revision of the 2.1 release. We only issue revisions to address functionality issues, fix bugs, or ensure compatibility.

Hang on a minute… Glitches? Kinks? What?

Occasionally, updates to plugins render them incompatible with your version of WordPress, theme or other plugins. You may get an scary error that completely takes your site down, or another plugin stops working in your website, or the plugin you updated stops working.

There are a few things you’ll always want to check before clicking that upgrade button. When you receive notice that there’s an upgrade for one of your plugins, make sure to click “View version details.” There may be a warning in there about compatibility or special requirements. Have a quick look at the changelog to see what’s new.

Click through to the plugin’s homepage on and check to see if other users have marked that the plugin works with your version of WordPress. If you see that many people have marked it as broken, consider waiting on your upgrade.

While it sounds easy enough, all this geek speak can be intimidating.

So, here’s the one thing you must do before you click “Upgrade”

Backup your website.

I install and set up Backup Buddy on all of my client’s websites. This tool automagically backs up your entire site on a set schedule (such as twice a week, or twice a month). In the rare and terrifying event that your site breaks, (or is hacked… urgh…), and if your hosts can’t fix the problem, this backup will save the day.

99% of the time you can ignore Backup Buddy in your WordPress dashboard and simply sit back and let it do it’s thing. If you are updating a plugin, theme, or WordPress, however, before you click that update button, run a backup.

  1. Login to your WordPress website
  2. Click on BackupBuddy in the left panel of your dashboard
  3. Click on the Complete Backup button
  4. Go lose yourself in Facebook or Pinterest for a few minutes while the backup runs
  5. Once it has completed, you will see a notice asking if you want to download it. You do.
  6. Alternately, click on the BackupBuddy button in the left panel of your dashboard, and you will see the backup listed. Hover over the latest backup and click Download. It will download to your computer. Make sure you note where it is saved to and perhaps go move it to a folder where you will remember where to access it later.
  7. After it has downloaded, hover over the name of that latest backup again, and click delete to delete the backup (and make sure you delete any other that are listed there. If you are have a niggling worry about doing this, you can always download them first before deleting them.
  8. Now you can go update your plugin!

After you updgrade your plugin:

  1. Go to the pages in your site where that plugin is used, such as your slideshows, rotating text, WooCommerce shop
  2. Check that everything looks normal!
  3. Click buttons, check links, test that it still works in any way you can (including testing a purchase in WooCommerce)

What if there are problems?

Sometimes you simply need to go to the plugin in your dashboard, such as going to Display Buddy to check on your slideshow or rotating text. Navigate to the actual slideshow, gallery, rotating text group, or whatever it is and check the settings and save. Re-visit the page on your website, and refresh the page (click Control R (PC) or Command R (Mac)).

If it’s more complicated than this, contact your web developer (that’s me, if it’s me!), or your website host (such as GreenGeeks).

I’m not trying to scare you. These problems are typically few and far between, but it’s better to be safe than sorry. It’s so easy to upgrade WordPress plugins but it’s imperative that you backup your site before you get clickhappy clicking on all those upgrade buttons!

Most importantly, it’s always a good idea to run the latest revision you can, as that ensures maximum security and compatibility for your site.

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