Doing a WordPress website update is not as simple as it seems.
Most of the websites throughout the world are built using the WordPress platform because it is open source and full of plugins and services that can be used to help developers develop websites. In terms of WordPress’ downside, if you use it regularly, you’ll need to update those elements in order to maintain a high level of security, maintain your website’s integrity and to ensure the latest features are available to you when designing your site.
Although the WordPress environment has no moderation or control over it, unlike the Apple iOS operating system. As a result, it means that practically anyone can create an application or a plugin, and some of these can sometimes have adverse effects on a website’s performance. It is important to note that even though it may seem simple to click on “Update”, it can cause a WordPress website to crash completely if you do.
I am writing about the experiences of one of my earlier customers who saw this first-hand when working on a website I built nearly twelve months prior. As well as declining monthly servicing, they declined to have me perform maintenance for them.
CAN YOU BREAK YOUR WORDPRESS WEBSITE DOING AN UPDATE?
A WORDPRESS WEBSITE CAN BE UNSTABLE IF PLUGINS ARE NOT COMPATIBLE
Yes is the simple answer – while pressing the update button looks tempting, it can cause all types of unknown problems, but first, a bit of context to the situation.
Managing your own site
I was engaged by this small business owner to build a new website for their brand. The old site was built on WordPress but had a custom made structure that didn’t make it easy for the owner change or update. Part of their brief for the new website was the ability to make their own changes so they could promote their range of services as they evolved over time.
As a digital marketing consultant this is a very common brief and I was able to create a new website using WordPress as the CMS using the popular Elementor page building tool to manage the site. This makes it easy for the business owner to make updates or changes to the site while saving costs on hiring developers to create custom code or new page content.
Updating website text
Generally speaking adding or adjusting text is a relatively straight forward task for any person to complete. Although depending on what gets changed it may adversely effect a site’s on page search engine optimisation by removing certain pieces of content, phrases or headings that give it context or relevance. Therefore the money saved by a business owner doing it themselves can cost them later in lost visitor traffic.
Updating, adding or removing plugins
WordPress has millions of plugins available that have been created by developers around the world. Some of these are written by students while others have been created by global companies that creates a wide variation in quality, reliability & trustworthiness. While it is relatively easy to update, change, add or remove plugins this process can have severe consequences depending on the choices made. What makes this process difficult to manage is that different combinations can deliver different results, there could be conflicts between plugins that deliver unexpected outcomes.
Updating a theme or page building tool
Putting plugins aside, the other complex area to deal with is your WordPress theme and page building tool. Some WordPress themes will control or manage many of a site’s functions like the layout, different customisations & settings. A page building tool can sometimes manage all of these aspects or even override the theme’s functionality. Either way any updates or changes made to either of these two elements can also create unusual outcomes, including the site not loading correctly.
In conclusion, there is a myriad of variables that can be encountered for a business owner to consider before they start making updates to their WordPress website. In this example the owner tried to do it themselves & it crashed the site immediately which impacted their ability to earn an income. So while they were attempting to save money by doing it themselves, they put their business at risk.
WHAT MISTAKES DID THE OWNER MAKE WHEN UPDATING THEIR WEBSITE?
- Website back up; every business owner should make sure there is a back up of their website available. Some hosting companies will include this in their service, others may provide it as an extra cost. The other alternative is to use a WordPress back up plug in or doing it manually so that you have a copy of your site on hand. Before an attempt is made to make website updates a back up should be made and in this example the business owner didn’t do this, but luckily when I had set up the site I had enabled automatic back ups via their website host.
This meant time and money was saved on troubleshooting by having the option to revert to a backup to quickly resolve the website crash.
- Plug in usage; it wasn’t clear why the owner decided to change plug ins but it was evident that the correct due diligence wasn’t carried out to ensure what was suitable for use. In this example Nitro Pack was installed but the reviews available raised a number of concerns as to whether this was a good choice.
- Testing or staging site; some website hosts have the option of cloning a site to create a test or staging version. This lets you try different things on your site to see how they work instead of using your live production site. Once you are happy with all the changes the clone can be copied over the live site. This is the safest way to ensure everything is working correctly & it doesn’t disrupt the functioning site.
- Making changes for the sake of it; while it is important to keep your website up to date to maintain high level of security and performance there can be some situations where it may be more important to focus on other areas. For this example the site was working well, it was enjoying year on year visitor growth & all the elements were functioning well. So making any changes may not deliver any immediate benefits and in this case, led to the site crashing completely.
- Not using professional help; every business owner should always consider the primary skill sets either they or their staff have so they can deploy the right level of expertise to run their business. Most owners are not digital marketing experts therefore it doesn’t make sense to spend time making website adjustments without the knowledge or experience to correct them if something goes wrong. The money saved on hiring external help is then lost in a decline in productivity & in this case, the website crashed which is a revenue creating device.
- Clarity on business priorities; this business owner decided not to opt for a monthly website maintenance package or any marketing development. Their business offered a number of different services in very competitive market segments, so in essence each vertical needs its own marketing activities to generate awareness & help the business getting found.
From its launch in November 2020 there wasn’t any additional content, information or examples of completed work added to the site. So when you start to consider where or how time should be spent on developing the business, updating plugins probably isn’t one of them. With thousands of businesses in the local area offering similar services it becomes more important to compete locally to get found online.
Below is an example of two businesses and the difference that ongoing development can deliver.
WHAT STEPS SHOULD HAVE BEEN TAKEN?
- Make sure there is a back up of the website on hand.
- Create a staging site to do testing and evaluation.
- Review any suggested plugins to be added & evaluate their quality & purpose for being used.
- Make sure all the plug ins have versions that are compatible with the version of WordPress the site is using, the current theme being used and the page building tool.
- Test and evaluate the selections to ensure the site functions correctly.
- Push the site live to replace the existing one.
- Make another back up of the working site.
- Evaluate any changes to visitor or search volumes after the changes.
WHAT DROVE THE BUSINESS OWNER TO UPDATE THEIR SITE?
As far back as 2018, Google has used page loading speed as one of its many ranking factors it applies to every business website to determine which sites are shown in search results. Any business owner can use the free Google PageSpeed Insights tool to check how their site performs on Mobile or Desktop. By Google’s own admission this does not guarantee a site will rank well if it achieves 100/100 but it will give you an indication of how their algorithms measure your site. Although it is common knowledge there are tools available that can falsify the results of these tests and which will be different to ‘real world’ visitor results.
The owner had engaged an online service provider to provide their site with Calendar and Booking functionality and after it was installed it had a significant impact to page loading speed. The owner attempted to rectify this by trying a different cache plug in and you can see the difference in results below.
While it looks encouraging further exploration should have been conducted to determine if these results were ‘real’
The owner installed the Nitro Pack cache plug in which has received very mixed opinions by others that have used it. Allegedly it has the ability to serve information to the speed measurement tools to produce high scores that are not consistent with the actual visitor experience.
There are a few screenshots of the discussions here & many others available online as well. The plug in even installs their own advertising footer with a link back to their website.
So in this whole process the business owner was attempting to try and resolve a performance issue with their website but without the right expertise or contingencies in place.
Every business owner should carefully consider whether or not they should make changes to their website, especially without the right precautions being taken. Ideally you should engage a digital marketing consultant to get assistance.
- Changing theme, plugins or page builder can prevent the site from loading.
- Changing URL’s, page names, headings or text can impact SEO performance.
- Adding elements from 3rd parties can cause conflicts on the website, slow the site down or cause other functionality issues if not tested correctly.