How to Update Your WordPress Website Properly (And Why It Matters)

How to Update Your WordPress Website Properly (And Why It Matters)

Why do you need to update WordPress? Luckily, when you’re with us, it’s something you don’t need to worry about since you’re all taken care of with our managed WordPress hosting (we’re WordPress experts, too!). Sadly, we can’t work with everyone! If you’ve found yourself reading this post because you want to update your WordPress website yourself, we’re still here to help!

So, really… tell me. Why do I actually need to update WordPress?

WordPress itself is a software and in this fine year of 2020, software gets updated… a lot. Software gets updated mainly to fix bugs and patch security vulnerabilities; the same goes for WordPress and everything inside. Most WordPress security research shows that the majority of hacked WordPress websites are caused by outdated WordPress core, plugin, or theme files. You should know that for minor updates, WordPress will automatically update itself. However, larger updates require someone to press a button… usually that someone is you. Here is a great article on why you should always use the latest version of WordPress.

There are two main methods to update WordPress, either using the WordPress Dashboard (automatic) or via s/FTP (manual). Most people will opt for the automatic method, but we’ll go over both methods below just in case.

Hold on! Before you update WordPress, do these things:

Arguably THE most important step during a WordPress update process is performing a complete website backup, and having that backup stored in a separate location. A complete backup includes anything and everything on your website (even the stuff you might not know about):

  • The WordPress database
  • Any media files (images, videos, PDFs, etc.)
  • Plugins and themes
  • Core WordPress files

Again, we have to toot our own horn – by working with IntoClicks, you always get our managed WordPress hosting which includes daily backups of everything! We keep the last 30 days’ worth of backups on your website, so you’re always safe.

Having a backup before you update ensures a quick fix, should anything go wrong during the update process. What can go wrong? Well, it’s software, so… lots. Files, plugins, or themes can conflict with others during an update process which may cause a site error or even cause your entire website to go down. Having the backup available can restore everything back to right before the update so you can try some troubleshooting before you try the update again.

Another good idea (though not 100% necessary) before updating is to disable any caching on your website or on your server; this means deactivating any caching plugins (such as W3 Total Cache or WP-Optimize) and switching your website into development mode if possible – depending on your host and/or CDN, there may be different steps to accomplish this. Turning off any caching will make sure you aren’t caching any WordPress maintenance pages during the update process, or otherwise interfering.

One more thing before we get down into it – update your plugins and themes (if needed). This can help you avoid any compatibility issues that may arise after the WordPress update. To update your plugins and themes, simply visit Dashboard > Updates, and select anything that appears then click the blue update button underneath.

Okay! Time to start updating WordPress!

Method 1: Updating WordPress via the Dashboard (Automatic)

If there is a new version of WordPress, you will see a banner at the top of your Dashboard. It will look something like this:

WordPress Dashboard showing the new version available and update link

Simply click “Please update now” and you will be taken to the WordPress update page, which looks like this:

WordPress update page with update now button

Click the blue “Update Now” button and it will begin the update process, during which your WordPress website will be automatically placed in maintenance mode. This usually takes about five minutes or so, but that also depends on your host among other factors. During maintenance mode, visitors will still be able to view your website but you won’t be able to install plugins or themes during the update. If you don’t see the blue “Update Now” button but you know there is a new release, click the “Check Again” button near the top to refresh the list.

That’s all there is to it! As we mentioned above, this is usually the most preferable (and easiest) way to update WordPress so most users will opt for this method. Once successfully updated, you will be greeted with a welcome page that lets you know everything was successfully updated and shows you the changes in the newest update. As a precautionary measure, we recommend exiting this page after the update has been completed and taking a few minutes to run through and test your website to make sure everything is still functioning properly.

Welcome screen showing a successful WordPress update with changelog

Method 2: Updating WordPress via s/FTP (Manual)

Updating WordPress manually is much more technical and advanced, so we recommend only using this method if you are VERY comfortable with s/FTP as this method can cause the most “damage” to your website during the update process. If you hadn’t already, we’d also suggest reading up above on what you should do before you update.

Here’s how to update WordPress using s/FTP:

  1. Download the latest version of WordPress (ZIP file).
  2. Unzip the file locally (on your computer or laptop); upon doing so, you should see a folder called wordpress.
  3. Deactivate any active plugins by going to Plugins > Installed Plugins; deactivating plugins will not remove them from your website.
  4. Connect to your WordPress website using FileZilla or your preferred FTP client. Here is a support article explaining how to connect your website with FileZilla, as well as some other information on FileZilla and FTP.
  5. Once you’ve successfully connected, find that wordpress folder you unzipped earlier and overwrite all folders and files EXCEPT for the wp-content folder and the wp-config.php file. Do not delete any folders or files.
  6. From here, open the wp-content folder and upload the individual files (like index.php) to the wp-content folder on your web host. Add any new files and overwrite any updated files, but DO NOT replace the themes folder or the plugins folder.
  7. When that’s complete, visit your WordPress admin page at www.[your domain].com/wp-admin. You might need to log in again as the update process will clear the cache and update any cookies stored (that means the browser cookies will need to be reset). WordPress will let you know if a database upgrade is needed from here and, if so, will give you a link (something like www.[your domain].com/wp-admin/upgrade.php to start the WordPress database update. Click the link and follow the instructions on the page to update your WordPress database.

That’s all she wrote, you’ve manually updated WordPress! Great job! As above, once you’ve updated WordPress this way, we’d recommend opening your website in an incognito/private window and checking to make sure everything is working as expected. You can also turn on caching and reactivate any plugins you deactivated before this process. For additional information, visit the extended upgrade instructions on

WordPress is updated… now what?

With the newest version of WordPress installed on your website, you can sit back and relax for a bit… at least until the next one! Of course, the EASIEST and MOST RELAXING thing you could do for yourself is contact IntoClicks and have us take care of it for you! We’d be happy to host your WordPress website on our blazing fast VPS servers powered by Google Cloud! Heck, maybe you stumbled on this post because you’re looking to set up a new website… well, we got you covered there, too! Learn more about our small business, ecommerce, and custom WordPress web design in Tucson, and we’d be more than happy to answer any questions you might have.

We can help – we’re IntoClicks.

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