“Don’t update your WordPress site
or all of your customizations will be lost.”
If you ever hear these words from the person who designed your WordPress website, alarms should go off in your head. And I mean big, ”evacuate the area because disaster is coming” alarms.
In the past few weeks, two new clients have come to me because the person who developed their site told the not to apply any updates or their site would be ruined. Both sites were originally built in 2013. Less than two years later, one was broken due to a plugin conflict with WordPress, and the other had been hacked.
What’s the big deal about updating WordPress?
Updates happen for a variety of reasons. Sometimes you get better functionality. Sometimes it’s a bug fix. But more often than not, some hacker found a way to break in to your site and the update is a security release that plugs the hole.
Do you really want to leave your site open to attack? I didn’t think so.
That’s why you need to apply updates.
Because while WordPress does push out and apply mandatory security updates to the core WordPress files, that doesn’t happen for themes or plugins. So you have two risks – unsecured themes and plugins, and themes and plugins that might break when the WordPress core mandatory security update is applied.
Why would a designer build a site that can’t be updated?
That’s a great question! If a designer builds your site without having to make modifications to the theme code, then updating should be no problem. The problem happens when your theme code or CSS gets customized. The theme files get replaced with a new version during an updates. And those customizations get wiped out.
There is a solution. WordPress offers an easy way to protect site customizations from being lost when updates happen. It’s called a Child Theme. The developer makes a copy of any files they modify and puts them in a special folder. That’s pretty much it.
I can only guess at why someone who is taking your money to build you a customized website wouldn’t make a child theme to ensure that your site is as protected as it can be. Maybe they’re not very skilled at WordPress and don’t know how to make a child theme (it’s super easy). Maybe they’re lazy and don’t want to take the time. Or maybe they just don’t care about what happens to your site once they’re done with it. There really is no “good” reason. Just bad excuses.
When don’t you need a child theme?
If you’ve looked at Appearance>Themes and you don’t see a child theme there, you don’t necessarily need to panic. If your theme doesn’t have code customizations, you don’t need a child theme. If your theme includes a special area for CSS code, then you don’t need a child theme. And, many developers don’t actually label their child themes with the word “child”. So you might have one and not even know it. If you’ve updated your website in the past without any issues then you are probably fine.
What to do if you’ve been told not to update.
You’ve been told not to update your site. What do you do now? If you have a good relationship with the person who built your website, talk to them. Ask them if it’s possible to build a child theme to protect the customizations. If they don’t know what you’re talking about or are unwilling to do it, then it’s time to find a new website designer who can add a child theme for you. If you wait until your site breaks to address this issue, you’ll be scrambling to find someone who can fix it. Start now and take the time to interview web designers. Choose someone who has your best interests at heart and is a good fit for the way you like to do business.
One last thing, and I don’t mean to get preachy… no, that’s a lie. I do mean to get preachy.
There are a lot of crappy, unethical web designers out there. I like to think that most of them don’t purposefully build poorly constructed websites or run off with people’s money.
I think a lot of people build a site or two and then decide to call themselves a web designer. They quickly get in over their head and instead of admitting the issue and refunding the money, they walk away and hide.
Designing beautiful, secure and lasting sites with WordPress takes a LOT of knowledge and a lot of willingness to troubleshoot and problem solve. Do your research before hiring any web designer. Talk to former clients, look through their portfolio and make sure that most of the sites are still standing. Get a contract and read it carefully before signing it. Do your homework and protect you’re the very important business asset that is your website.