Keeping your WordPress up & running with Updates: A step-by-step guide

For many of us, WordPress is our go to content management system (CMS) to jump-start our websites. It’s user friendly, flexible, and has a large collection of themes and plugins to help us make our sites uniquely our own. However, in order to use WordPress to its fullest and create the best websites we can, we need to make sure we keep WordPress up and running with routine software updates.

The Importance of Updating WordPress

No matter what you are using to run your website, all software products need updates at times. Whether it be fixing bugs, adding new features, or patching security vulnerabilities, these software updates help your site run safely and smoothly. Using older versions of WordPress leave your site susceptible to hackers, poor performance, and compatibility issues with newer themes and plugins. Overall, keeping WordPress updated will help you keep your site running to its fullest potential!

How do to tell when WordPress needs updated

When you log into your WordPress admin panel, you may notice some numbers circled in red sitting in your navigation list. For updates, red circles may be seen next to “Updates”, “Plugins”, and our “Themes” tabs. These notifications inform us that parts of our site have updates available. For major WordPress updates, you can often find a written notification at the top of your WordPress admin panel as well.  

How to Update WordPress

In WordPress, there are multiple parts of your site that require occasional updates. Your WordPress database, media content, plugins, themes, and core files all will need updated over time. WordPress can automatically run some updates in the background without needing your input, but bigger updates may need your approval.

While updating may sound intimidating, WordPress incorporates the updating process seamlessly into the admin area of your WordPress site. In a click of a button, you will be on your way to having an updated WordPress! However, there is one step you should always take before updating.

Step 1: Backup your WordPress site

While updating WordPress is necessary to keep your site up and running, many website owners hesitate due to the risk that updates can bring. Updates, especially large ones, can at times cause parts of your site to break or stop working correctly. Due to this risk, you should always have a backup of your most current site before performing a major update.

WordPress offers plugins that automatically backup your site for you. However, WordPress documentation still encourages users to manually backup their WordPress sites before running major updates just in case the automatic backups don’t work. It’s better to be sure that you have a current, working copy of your site than to update and scramble to fix new bugs or recover your existing content with an incomplete backup. To learn how to backup your site, visit our step-by-step guide on backing up your site.

Step 2: Updating your WordPress site via the admin panel

Once you are sure you have a backup or your site, you can start the process of updating WordPress. For this guide, we will be referring to WordPress version 6.2.1. To update WordPress, follow the following steps:

  • Log into the Admin of your WordPress site. You would visit To log in, you will need admin access via a username and password.
  • Once in, click the “Updates” tab. Here, we can see everything that needs updated, including themes and plugins.  

Updating WordPress

Under “WordPress Updates,” you will see a message notifying you of a new update. Click “Update Now. When updating WordPress, your site will be in Maintenance mode, so consider updating when your site has little traffic to avoid interrupting users. After updating, a page with details about the update will appear, confirming the completion of the update.

NOTE: If WordPress notices that your database needs updated during this update, a request to update your database may appear. Simply click “Update WordPress Database” to update.

Updating WordPress Plugins

Scroll down to “Plugins” in your “Updates” page. Select the plugins you want to update and click “Update Plugins.” Once done, you will arrive at a page that details the updated plugins.

NOTE: If you find that there are plugins on your list that you don’t use anymore, consider deactivating them or uninstalling them entirely. Unused plugins can pose security and performance threats to your site.

Updating WordPress Themes

Scroll down to “Themes” in your “Updates” page. Select the themes you want to update and click “Update Themes.” Once done, you will arrive at a page that details the updated themes.

NOTE: If you have themes that you may not be using now, but want to keep nonetheless, make sure to keep them up to date. If you don’t plan to use certain themes again, consider deactivating or uninstalling them just as with unused plugins.

How to have WordPress automatically update

WordPress offers automatic updates to their users. However, there are pros and cons to turning on WordPress’ auto-update feature. The benefit of auto-updates is that your site will almost always be up to date with the latest versions, security patches, and so forth. On the other hand, if you use WordPress’ auto-updates, especially for new WordPress versions, you will have less control when it comes to updates breaking your site. Manually doing version updates allows you to ensure that 1) you have a backup available, and 2) you are ready to deal with any errors or bugs that arise.

By default, most sites are set to automatically update your WordPress for minor releases such as security updates. However, you can enable automatic updates for major releases, themes, and plugins, in a few steps.

Enabling auto-updates for core WordPress updates

Log into your WordPress Admin panel and click to the “Updates” Tab. Under your current version, click “Enable Automatic updates for all new versions of WordPress” and auto updates will be set!

NOTE: If you ever want to return to just minor automatic updates, return to the “Updates” tab and click the “Switch to automatic updates for maintenance and security release only” link under the current version of your WordPress.

Enabling auto-updates for WordPress plugins

Log into your WordPress Admin panel and click the “Plugins” tab. In the tab, you will see a list of your installed plugins. For the plugins you want to automatically update, look under “Automatic Updates” and click the “Enable auto-updates” link. Automatic updates will now occur for your plugin!

NOTE: If you ever want to return to manual update for a plugin, return to the “Plugins” tab under “Automatic Updates” click the link “Disable auto-updates.”

Enabling auto-updates for WordPress themes

Log into your WordPress Admin panel and click the “Appearance” tab and click “Themes.” In your list of themes, click on your desire theme. Under the title and creator information, click the “Enable auto-updates” link. Automatic updates will now occur for your theme!

NOTE: If you ever want to return to manual update for a plugin, return to the “Appearance” tab and click “Themes”.  In the desire theme, click the link “Disable auto-updates.”

Want to learn more?

Keeping your website healthy and running is imperative to creating quality user experiences. Read our blog or listen in to our podcast for more tips and guides on making your site the best it can be! If you want more hands-on guidance for improving your website, join the waitlist for Carrie Saunders’ upcoming course, “The Converting Website.” In this course, she will dive into a variety of important factors that aim to optimize your website.