With the recent release of WordPress 5.6, a bunch of sites broke and/or were no longer accessible by site owners. How could a simple update wreck havoc on only certain sites? Here's what I found:
- Sites in question were not maintained properly. They were not keeping up.
- They have a completely customized and tweaked theme — and no longer have a relationship with the developer who created it for them.
- Or, the WordPress theme in use was not tested up to WordPress 5.6.
- There are plugins activated that are abandoned or not tested up to WordPress 5.6.
- Website hosting that is not “managed” and/or able to offer the support needed when things go haywire.
The More Things Change…
I've been at this over 25 years, with WordPress since it's birth. I've seen this pattern repeat itself over and over and over and over….
What pattern? Site owners that don't keep their sites up-to-date. Themes in use that aren't of quality code — and updated as needed. Plugins that aren't necessary, secure and/or tested with each WordPress update.
Add to that, the majority of site owners are not paying attention to the impending changes in future WordPress releases to know what to consider. Why would a site owner need to do that, you ask? In a perfect world they wouldn't have to.
But if you are a DIYer and do not work closely with your theme dev or a consultant, that puts this responsibility on you. If you can't or don't want to follow the WordPress development track (and make any necessary adjustments yourself), then you need to use themes, plugins and partner with those who can for you.
WordPress is very upfront about what lies ahead. This gives both theme and plugin developers more than enough time to test, tune and release updates in line with new WordPress releases.
My WordPress Website Risk Management Strategy
Because I've been there done that with hosting, themes and plugins, I have a strategy that helps site owners to have stable WordPress websites. Not just for their new sites but as technology evolves.
This strategy is sticking to a select group of Managed WordPress hosts, quality premium themes and plugins that I know keep up and make quality, as well as support, a priority. I also spend the time to read and evaluate what is in the pipeline so we can then make educated decisions.
This approach allows my clients to not have to worry about incompatibilities or the next update breaking their sites. Now, that's not to say it still can't happen. Conflicts and bugs are part of this gig.
This is why I keep tabs on developments and future updates. I check in with the theme developers that I trust and my clients use to make sure we know what they are up to. I don't update immediately (please, turn OFF auto-updates) and always let WordPress updates marinate in the wild for a bit to see that the coast is clear.
There is no way to avoid issues entirely as we don't know with 100% confidence what happens when updates are out in the wild. Subsequently, there is no way to compensate for every website's possible combo of themes and plugins combined with additional user customizations.
How to Minimize that Risk?
It's pretty simple. Don't go off the beaten path. Site owners get their heads turned by themes, builders and whiz-bang plugins. Many times gravitating to free when premium would guarantee future updates and support.
I get that. Budgets are important and there is a lot of neat stuff out there. However, sometimes free costs more that it's worth. Then, by adding plugin after plugin after plugin without a thorough vetting opens you up to conflicts.
Especially considering that, and I see this a lot, not all those plugins functionalities are necessary to your website's success. Many can be duplicative and strain resources and performance.
When you take the willy-nilly approach, you also need to understand that will necessitate you monitoring all those products to make sure they keep up. Many do; some don't.
That's why I gravitate to the K.I.S.S. principle (keep it simple silly).
- I only use and recommend themes I have confidence in, have used for my own sites and that have proven the test of time.
- The age, usage, update history and ongoing review of plugins is crucial.
- Keeping on top of WordPress future updates and then planning accordingly.
And when you do go off the beaten path, you need to have best practices in place. What do I mean by this?
- Keep tabs on your theme developer's website for updates and issues that may impact your site in the future.
- Set your calendar to review your plugins every quarter to make sure they are keeping up. If they aren't replace them.
- If you can't keep up with WordPress developments and best practices, partner with someone who does.
Don't want to deal with the constant back-ups, updates, security and performance analysis required for a healthy WordPress website?
White Glove Support to the rescue.
The online world has not slowed one scintilla since I dove-in back in 1995. And the thing is it isn't going to slow or stop for any one of us.
This is where you have to have an open mind and realize it is what it is. You can't control it, you can't change it and you can't expect smooth sailing or any level of success if you don't embrace certain realities.
To sum it up, having a website is an ongoing every-day keep-up, check-up and update as needed environment. Then, with that information at hand, evolve.
Evolve as if your success depends on it. Because it does.
At your service,