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If cobwebs haunt the back end of your website and, more importantly, if you don’t know how to access the back end of your website, this post is for you. Forty percent of all websites use WordPress for content management, so there’s a decent chance your site utilizes WordPress. WordPress has a big system update coming March 9, and here’s why that’s important to you (and here are some best practices to keep your website maintained).

Not updating is risky for your site

The upcoming update ensures WordPress is using the latest version of the JavaScript library called jQuery, which relates to functionality of your website. jQuery simplifies some of the coding/programming tasks for developing and updating websites. jQuery takes a lot of common tasks that require many lines of JavaScript code to accomplish, and wraps them into methods that you can call with a single line of code.

WordPress typically has come packaged with a legacy version of jQuery. With version 5.7, WordPress will be packaged with an updated version of jQuery. Once your site is on 5.7, the existing themes or plugins that rely on legacy versions of jQuery could have issues. 

Because the update hasn’t launched, it’s unknown if this will cause a fatal error to appear on a blank screen of death, or will cause some error messages on an otherwise working website or if some plugin functionality will stop. 

WordPress plugin and theme developers may need to adjust their code to ensure they are also using the new version of jQuery. There is a temporary fix of installing the Enable jQuery Migration Helper plugin to allow sites to keep running an old version of jQuery. It’s like a patch to identify issues and temporarily disable the latest version of jQuery if you need to update plugins and themes. The migration helper plugin in theory downgrades a site to a legacy version of jQuery if it detects an issue. However, this plugin will not be maintained indefinitely and is not a permanent solution.

You don’t have to comprehend what the above explanation means, but the lesson is, if your site isn’t up to date, you risk errors or even a full site crash.

One of the major plusses of WordPress is that the software is free. However, the other side of that coin is that WordPress software must be updated regularly to keep the security and functionality code up to date. Otherwise, your site is a sitting duck for hackers, who prey on small businesses partially because they’re less likely to keep sites updated. 

And, there are a plethora of plugins – free and paid – available to add features and functionality to a website. The developers of those plugins must update their code to stay in compatibility with the regularly updated WordPress code. Thus, both WordPress and the plugins attached to your site have to be manually updated regularly. If you don’t know when that last happened on your site, keep reading.

As of this post, the current WordPress code is version 5.6 but 13.3% of websites are still running on version 4 (last updated in November 2017), according to W3Techs. That’s a lot of websites that haven’t updated WordPress in at least three years. Updates aren’t a new thing. WordPress has had at least one major update annually since its inception in 2003 along with more regular minor updates.

Why does that matter?

WordPress isn’t updating its functionality because its programmers are bored and need something to do. Developers also make major updates to the functionality of the plugins that work with WordPress, meaning WordPress has to make sure it can accommodate those changes in order to keep your sites online.

Websites generally utilize a theme and plugins. Each layer could potentially use jQuery in their code. Thus, each layer has to be updated because older versions will no longer be supported when the code is updated to WordPress version 5.7.

Sometimes the plugins and website themes created to work on WordPress sites are abandoned, meaning the developer has stopped supporting them. Therefore, you can’t update them. In that instance, you might need a new website theme to replace your outdated one before you can get current.

What can you do?

You could go into the backend of your site, navigate around your dashboard and click “update” buttons on your plugins and see if hope that works. Or you can contact an organization for a site consultation to see to see if your site can be easily updated via the “update” buttons, or if more in depth work needs to be undertaken. If any layer of the code (WordPress, theme, plugins) is multiple versions out of date, it may be easier to install a new version than to update multiple times. 

Savoir Faire is preparing for the update for the sites we maintain for our clients as well as our own site. Here’s a taste of what we do to prepare for major updates like this:

  • We create a staging site for the update.
  • We update the plugins first, then the site themes, and then update WordPress core code.
  • We test the staging site to make sure all the functionality is there.
  • Once we know the staging site functions, then we launch it live.
  • We also do a lot of plugin evaluation and vetting before we install new plugins.

A value add we provide clients

While Savoir Faire maintains some of our clients’ websites, we don’t own them. We create administrator access for each client so they’re able to get into the back end of their sites, should they need or want to. Many web developers do not do that. They may give you editor access or pick and choose what access you have. We believe it’s your site; you should be able to access the whole thing (just don’t break it while you’re back there!).

In the rare case where a client does something on the backend that creates a problem, we take regular site backups (or use a host that runs regular backups). That means we have some fail safes on their behalf, which is a best practice. If something unexpected happens that crashes one of our client’s sites, we can quickly and easily revert back to an earlier, functioning version that’s relatively recent.

For some clients, we build or update their site and then they do their own regular site content updates. For them, we offer website maintenance options, where we’ll assess when plugins and software needs to be updated and perform those updates. If clients don’t opt in for a maintenance package with us, we provide a notification letting them know that they need to perform updates to ensure their site continues to work and any security risks or vulnerabilities are addressed and patched through  updates.

This is what we do. If you’re not getting this treatment, ask yourself why. Then, give us a call. We can scan your site to see if you need updates and fixes. And, if you think your site may not have been updated in a while, don’t hesitate. You don’t want to see a blank screen or 404 error where your website should be next month.

Keep your site healthy!

Click here for free website build and maintenance ebook.

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