How to update WordPress manually

How to Update WordPress Best Practices

For a WordPress user, updates are a way of life. I’ve told that to students many times! In this article I discuss how to update WordPress manually, pros and cons and best practices.

Updating WordPress can be a nightmare

Honestly there’s nothing worse than having a developer build you a website, then finally give you the reigns of the WordPress admin, and you find yourself looking into horrible messages and alerts all talking about WordPress updates.

How to Update WordPress Best Practices 1

A slew of messages and alerts all related to WordPress Updates

To some of us, WordPress updates are that online WordPress chore that we want to ignore because we want to focus on all the other cool things: the way the website looks like, the content we are publishing, how to improve the homepage.

And that’s okay. You’re human.

But I’m here to tell you that WordPress updates are nothing to be scared of.

The good about updating WordPress manually

  • Updates are usually separated into two categories: bug fixes or enhancements. Do you know which one is worse? The answer is neither. They’re both good things.
    • Bug fixes means you’re using software of developers who are constantly improving their code so that you, the user, can have a better experience. It means someone found or reported a bug, it was looked into, fixed and tested, and you’re being offered a better version of what you already have.
    • Enhancements are good too. They are additions to the software that were not there before. That means that your website (for a WordPress general update) or your plugin can now do something new or better than before. Some of these enhancements can be truly significant for your back or front-end work. (For example, WordPress 4.8 added a bunch of much-needed widgets! In the past, unless you knew HTML, adding images, video, audio or other type of content into a widget sometimes required other plugins.)

You know the saying, it’s always greener on the other side? I don’t think that applies to WordPress Updates. The other side in this case would be no updates. Think about it: you’d be dealing with developers that have abandoned their software and stopped updating it.

Sure, updates sometimes come with bugs, but in active development, those bugs will be fixed as well, while most likely making the entire product better. Software projects that stop receiving updates are one thing: dead. They’ve been left behind and forgotten, their bugs never to be fixed again unless for a come-back revival. So you might as well question it, and ultimately replace it or uninstall.

Embrace updates!

The ugly about updating WordPress Manually

Well, it’s obvious. It’s what I mentioned before. You want to do cool things on and for the site, but the updates never stop, and they’re always there, and they require reading, and so on.

But it’s okay. Just know that you’re making your website better in different ways. And if you “want to enjoy the golden eggs, you gotta take care of the special goose.”

How often to expect updates in WordPress

  • General WordPress updates: 1-2 times a month.
  • Plugins: expect an update for some plugin(s) everyday. Well-established and respected plugins are likely to update once or more a month.
  • Themes: very rarely, if ever. About once or twice a year.

Other downsides

  • To do it right, the process of updating can be time-consuming.
  • Updates are potentially dangerous because you are introducing new code to your website.

While some people neglect to update their WordPress website for various reasons, it’s important to note that in the long run, it is not a good idea to not update your website and it will catch up with you and your project.

How to update WordPress responsibly

I wish I could sit here and tell you that the best approach is to just select every update available and update everything at once without knowing what the updates are. We’ve all been guilty of it probably.

Or some may be asking themselves if it’s a good idea to have WordPress update automatically. This is even an option and/or recommendation from many hosting providers. But the reason why it is even an option is because to update automatically is better than to not update at all, which many people do.

If you want to update WordPress manually and responsibly however, this is the best approach:

  1. Rule 1: Make the updates often so that they don’t pile up. Making 1-2 updates each time you login is better than 10 or 20 all at once. Not only will it take you more time to have to about all of the updates (more time than you may have or care to spend), but you will also be introducing plenty of new code all at once into your site. You may not know where a problem originates from if you have no idea about which new update could have caused it.
  2. Rule 2: As WordPress always states in the update admin page, have a backup in case the update(s) cause any issues. Having a backup on your server is great, but you can also consider having external backups as an added security measure. Check out the Updraft Plus WordPress Backup Plugin for a great, free way to schedule external backups.
  3. Don’t update everything without reading what the updates are about. Take the time to look over what the updates are going to fix or offer you.
  4. This brings us to the changelog. It’s the verbiage that comes along with the update and it includes things like the bug fixes and/or enhancements discussed above. It’s important for you to open the changelog link for every update that you’re doing. (More on changelogs below.)
  5. After reading the changelog(s), make the updates.
  6. Explore any new features or options.

Choose plugins wisely

Most of your updates will consist of plugin updates. The best way to feel good about our updates begins with installing only well-reviewed or known WordPress plugins. If you take the time to research solid plugins and developers at the time of choosing your plugins, then you are likely to trust your pending updates more.


You may not understand everything that was done to a pending update, but the changelog is your best chance at understanding or learning more about the update(s).

A changelog for the popular Contact Form 7 plugin.

The changelog has a little bit of something for everyone. Updates may include developer-oriented changes to WordPress (“under the hood”) or to plugins, while also containing exciting changes or fixes to front/back-end visuals or functionalities. The changelog can also include improvements to backend UI, settings, etc.

Whatever the case may be, changelogs are public announcements to you about what the changes are. You’ll never know when you will find something interesting and useful for your website and project in an update.


How are you going about the process of updating WordPress? Have any tips? Let me know.

Have a question? Ask in the comments.


  1. Nice way of explaining Bugs and Enhancements, I’m guilty of letting them pile up, and it makes sense it is better to see the updates than nothing at all (which might mean that the theme or plug-in was abandoned)

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