If the sight of the «updates available» notification in your WordPress dashboard fills you with a sense of dread, you’re not alone.
Updating your WordPress plugins and themes or WooCommerce and its extensions can sometimes be an easy process — just a few seconds of waiting and you’re set. But it can also involve backups, testing, additional updates, and even support requests. Basically, the hassles no one likes.
But avoiding or putting off these occasional hassles can put your site at risk, and even potentially affect your customers. So while you may not always like to go through the process of keeping your WooCommerce store 100% updated, there are many reasons to do it.
Let’s take a look at why it’s important to update your store in a timely manner, starting with some background on why we update WooCommerce and its extensions in the first place.
Why we update WooCommerce
Nothing is perfect on the first try, and that’s especially true of software and applications. Try as they might, developers can’t predict every possible use case for their platform, requested feature, or potential incompatibility.
Proactively seeking out and acting on feedback is one of the best ways any developer can move their product closer to perfect, bit by bit. It’s a process, and undoubtedly time-consuming. Done well, however, it can keep your customers happy (and increase your chances of gaining new ones).
That’s part of the reasoning behind our updates for WooCommerce. You, our customers, request new features or changes to the platform, and we act accordingly.
There’s also a need to keep WooCommerce reliable and secure, which requires regular maintenance and security updates. Our team is always on the lookout for not only bugs, but also conflicts with other extensions or plugins, potential security issues, and other factors that could affect the speed or stability of your store.
In short: we update WooCommerce because we want to keep you happy and your store and data safe. So while it might seem like an annoyance to keep everything current, it’s actually quite crucial.
How not updating your store could put you at risk
Although updating can be a time-consuming matter (say, if you have multiple extensions), avoiding the process for too long could put your store at risk.
As we already mentioned, no software or platform is perfect. New bugs are discovered all the time. And with each update and improvement applied to the individual pieces of your store, the chance for a conflict or newly discovered issue increases… even if only just a little bit.
A common way that avoiding an update can potentially harm you is when a new security threat is discovered in WordPress. These threats are often discovered by individuals and disclosed to the team of volunteers who build the software. They then release a new version that resolves the issue, and publicly state what has been fixed.
While the possibility of an unpatched security issue being exploited on your site is low, especially if you have taken other precautions, there are unsavvy individuals who will look for stores without crucial updates and attempt to break into them. This goes double for stores that are multiple updates behind, or have avoided updating their WooCommerce extensions, theme, etc.
With access to your store, someone could attempt to steal your private data, harm your store, or cause other unwanted trouble. And this wouldn’t just affect you — it would affect your customers, as well.
How avoiding updates could harm your customers
You aren’t the only one who could be affected by an unsavory individual’s attempt to access your insecure site. Although WooCommerce never stores full credit card information, your customers’ physical and email addresses might be stored — and could therefore be stolen.
While this might not sound like much of an issue, this information could be used in a case of reverse engineering to break into online accounts, sold to spammers, and so on. It’s also quite unnerving for customers to hear that their data has been accessed, no matter how in-depth.
Additionally, stores that run on outdated software might experience slowness, conflicts between extensions, or even bugs that appear during the shopping process. This can negatively affect your shoppers’ experience… and result in them abandoning your store for someone else.
Basically: avoiding updates can lead to a loss of trust. Even if your customers don’t know that a lack of up-to-date software is why your store isn’t working well, they will realize that they’re not getting the best experience.
How to ensure a smooth update process
By this point, hopefully you’re convinced: updates are critical and you need to get them done.
The key to success here is following an update process for your store that is consistent, repeatable, and relatively easy for anyone following the steps (whether yourself or someone else) to understand. Luckily, it’s not too difficult to establish a process like this.
Here’s what we recommend doing each time you encounter a major update to WordPress, WooCommerce, or a critical extension:
- Switch to staging, if you prefer. A staging site can help you better prepare for major updates, test for incompatibilities, and resolve potential issues before they make it to your live store. You can read a bit about creating one here.
- Get backed up. This might mean preparing a manual backup if you’re not using a back up service like the one from Jetpack, which automates the process for you. If you are using Jetpack or a similar solution, double-check that a recent backup is available.
- Update all (other) plugins and extensions. If WordPress core is updated, it’s not uncommon for other plugins to update with it. Keeping it all up to date will reduce the probability of conflicts.
- Run the update process.
- Check your store thoroughly. Look for potential issues with your theme, run through the purchasing process, and check on your product pages. If you spot anything strange, you can troubleshoot or roll back. If all looks good, go full steam ahead (and move from staging to the live store, if this applies to you).
Check out this post on preparing your WooCommerce store for a major update or release to learn more about creating backups, performing extension updates, and — finally — updating WooCommerce to the newest version.
A helpful tip: set aside time for updates, rather than doing them «when you get around to it»
One potentially helpful tip for your store updates: don’t do them sporadically or «when you have time» — instead, set aside a dedicated time weekly or monthly to make them a priority.
If you aren’t making the maintenance of your store a priority, you’re likely to neglect it in favor of things you consider more important. And this may not cause any issues initially, but in the long run, it could be very harmful.
If you need to, set a recurring calendar appointment for your updates. The occurrence and length of these update periods should be based on the amount of extensions you have and when updating is most convenient for you. (So if you have a few dozen extensions, an hour or two every two weeks might be better than fifteen minutes a month.)
While it might seem a little strange to make a process for something like this, you’ll quickly fall into a routine, and backups, updates, and other regular maintenance will no longer interrupt your regular work schedule.
Updating your store may seem like a hassle, but it’s truly a necessity
We know that it can be time-consuming — sometimes potentially annoying — to go through the update process with your store or its extensions. But this is all worth it, because it’s how you keep your data and customers safe, your store running well, and your profits increasing.
Have any questions about updating WooCommerce, or any thoughts about the process of updating your store? Leave a comment and we’ll get back to you as soon as we can.