There are two meanings for the phrase “Updating your website”:
- Update the Content: Change the content to be more accurate for today’s situation or add more content, written and/or images. I will discuss this later.
- Update the Software: Install new versions of the software that is used to create your website.
This post is about Software updates to your website.
Distracted and Unaware Makes Your Website Vulnerable
Most businesses, by a HUGE margin, are small businesses in which the leaders are wearing many hats. Most owners or top executives of small businesses are not super savvy about the business website. It is very, very, … very… common for a business to allow their website software to become out-of-date from the most recent versions of the software used.
So, there is a nefarious horde of malicious people in the world.
This is not news, but it is both depressing and worth being reminded that there are people who scheme about ways to steal from your business. Imagine your website sits in a dangerous land with marauding hordes running across the landscape, searching for websites with open doors. They rush in wherever access is discovered and steal whatever they can. They look for cracks in the software that will allow access to your business website. Then they put their own lock on the door, keeping you out! Oh, no! If you want back in to your business website, you have to pay… lots of money,… sometimes like $$thousands…
Better to keep them out before damage is done. Updating your website software is like locking out the criminals.
Scary Stories of Out-of-Date Websites
A client came to PWD after discovering their domain name had been hijacked. They had allowed it to expire, just busy with running their beautiful, successful business… Somebody bought the domain name and put up a hijack page. If you used the domain (for this prominent business), the page presented took over the user’s computer, disabling the ability to use it, presenting a message with big, red letters saying the user’s computer was now infected with a virus (it wasn’t…). You had to shut down the computer and reboot to regain control. Very bad publicity. Would you go back to that website???!!!
Another client contacted us, saying he discovered posted blogs on his website of unrelated topics. A new User had been added as Administrator, and his User ID was deleted. He had no access to his own website. This is not how we like to meet new clients.
Another person contact us because their website would not allow customers to book excursions through the site. Some forensic exploration (time consuming and therefore costly) showed us the website had been overtaken, and was now open to the entire internet for anyone to access the backend to install pages. These pages were accessible for all. Essentially, the website was no longer serving the business, but being used by strangers from far off lands for their own purposes.
It’s all very sad and miserable. What was once a perfectly functioning business asset has been usurped, and you have to pay to fix it.
The lesson here is: an ounce of software update prevention is worth a pound of website recovery.
Get the Latest Updates Installed
Software updates are commonly released to patch a vulnerability to hacking which may have been discovered. It is in the interest of the software author and publisher to fix the hole and publish a new version with the patch in place. For all the users who install the new version, this risk is avoided—more happy users = more happy purchasers of the software. Any publisher that allows a vulnerability to persist gets a bad reputation, and the online reviews reflect it.
So, what are the software pieces that need to be kept up-to-date?
Platform—For Peninsula Web Design, this is WordPress
Everybody uses WordPress… which is like saying “everybody uses MS Word.” Actually, most everybody. WordPress has over 74 million users, and 22% of new registered domains are using WordPress. That’s enough of a saturation that it draws the criminals who only need to find one point of access to make a very profitable infiltration. WordPress stays on top of this, and puts out new versions as needed.
Take the free update. It is really important to have the latest version of WordPress.
Theme—This is the structure used to create your website
The theme can be configured, or, as in the case of PWD website, heavily configured and customized, to make your pages look and function the way you want them to. A theme is a set of pre-written code. Typically, a theme comes with a bunch of options and settings.
PWD only uses themes with huge user pools, like over 10,000 happy installations with predominantly good reviews, and a track record of publishing timely updates. The review chats online will tell us a lot about how trustworthy a theme has proved to be over time: are they staying current, functional, with great features, and user-friendly? Do they offer updates that are universally embraced?
Take the free update, or pay the new license fee! It has been published for a reason.
Plugins—These are important add-ons to your website
These are short codes, or elaborate codes, which add a focused and significant additional functionality to your website which your theme has not provided. A well known example is WooCommerce, the most commonly used plugin to add eCommerce to your website. This gives your website an online store with full shopping cart features. There are plugins that give you beautiful Event functions, or allow us to add Custom Forms, or all sorts of useful additions for your customers and clients benefit.
Once again, PWD only selects plugins with strong and deep track records of success over time.
Take the updates when they are offered. These can be very important.
Everybody Needs to Play Nice
There you have it: a blend of software from a variety of authors and publishers, which was selected at the time your website was created to work smoothly together.
What could go wrong???
A word of caution: Time passes. A new version of one or more of these software pieces is published. Sometimes we get notes with the reason or motivation of the new version, and sometimes it simply appears. On the backend of your website, you will see a notification that an update is available.
To push the button… or not…?? Someone very close to me says, “Anybody can click a $!#@$! button… You need to have some measure of caution and experience to know how to avoid breaking your website.”
Here is the rub: Will this version of that vital software by that author still play nice with all the other pieces of software? Before you perform the update, your website is in good working order. Will it still be, after you take the fresh update?? What if this author’s new code no longer works smoothly with your theme’s code, or with WordPress? Crunch. Broken website. Bla.
PWD has a simple process to mitigate this risk. We process updates on an offline version of your website. Then test to see if all pages and functions work. If yes, the update is processed to your live website. If no, if we discover a conflict or dysfunction, we can work at solving the problem, by contacting the author for help, or finding a better solution. This task is done offline, keeping your working website in place until a solution is found and approved. Then we perform the updates to the live site, and your website is up-to-date.
Back it Up!
You must, must grab a backup copy of your functioning website BEFORE you start making any changes to your website, ever. Ideally, you are taking periodic backups to keep a recent copy on hand… just in case… something. Our clients who elect to purchase web hosting through Peninsula Web Design receive the service of daily automatic backups. This has been a simply wonderful thing to have.
PWD Valued Client, “I tried to work on my website myself…” or “Somebody logged on and tested a new font, and I hate it” or ” I was working on the Home Page slider, … super broken now” or “I processed an Update, and it’s broken!”
PWD: “No problem. Give me a moment…” Poof—pristine previous version of website.
Verify you have access to the most recent backup version or your working website BEFORE you start pushing Update buttons.
How Often to Update? Every 3 Months
That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it. There’s quite the spectrum of opinion about how often the software of your website “should” be updated. The publishing of new versions of software is random, as needed, by each separate software author. At any moment, you can view the backend of your website and see a notification: Boop! New Update Available. We recommend at least every three months to assess what updates are pending, and have them processed. On the same lines as servicing your car on a regular basis, looking after updating your website frequently can prevent dysfunction and misery down the road.
If you allow your website to become shockingly out-of-date,… if too much time passes and too many updates have been published, and now your website has to jump forward across too many versions… it just may not make the leap. Sometimes when website owners have neglected updates for too long, the new versions have become too dissimilar and no longer can work together, forcing decisions about sourcing different plugins, or scrapping the function from your website. Very sad and time consuming to resolve.
Think of it as an “oil change” for your website: out with the old, and put in fresh new to keep all the parts working smoothly together. As with an oil change for your car, you can do it yourself, or hire a professional.
We are here to help!
If you want help with updating your website, let us know.
Stay fresh. Stay online. Stay Awesome!