How To Upgrade WordPress on an Older Website

A client for whom I built a site years and years ago contacted me recently (as they do every 4 to 6 months) and asked for some help with a link to a PDF and some formatting issues. I had been helping them with these little things for a while now without charging them because they were few and far between and not a big deal.  But this time I realized that they are pretty out of date on their WordPress version and that perhaps I should get them on a yearly retainer so that I can get paid for my time.

SIDE NOTE: My time has recently become very precious.  Primarily because I have an infant son and a 4 year old daughter who attempt to demand every last second of it, but also because I have 3 jobs that I also love: PMC, Teaching at Sac City, and helping to run Sacramento Beer Week.  This time crunch has led me to say things like “triage”, “we can do this” and “just get it done” while thinking about efficiency and how to carve out moments to complete chunks of tasks.  Like right now everyone is sleeping and I’m having coffee while blogging.  I decided that spending my time blogging would be more valuable than spending it reading People magazine… for now at least.

Anyhow.  I got the client on contract for an annual retainer and charged them a flat fee to upgrade their website.  I finally completed the upgrade yesterday and I realized that it would make a good blog.  So here’s what I did:

  1. Surfed around the site and refreshed my memory as to what their situation is.  
  2. Logged in to their server via FTP on Dreamweaver.  (I recently upgraded to Windows 8 and before doing so I backed up everything to Dropbox including the .ste files with all my clients FTP access routes and passwords.  Blessedly, reconnecting on my fresh setup has been a breeze!)
  3. Once logged in I downloaded the entire wp-content folder because it holds all the theme and plugin files.  I had used a free theme and customized it a bit so this would allow me to re-upload the theme if the upgrade changed it.  The better way- which I use now- is to create a child theme.
    • If you don’t have FTP access for some unfortunate reason you can laboriously copy each theme file that you had changed via the Appearance> Editor window.  But you’ll have to open each file and copy all the text then paste it into a text file and save it with the same or similar name.  Then you’ll need to repeat the process if something breaks.  It will take a long time this way.
  4. Next, I checked the plugins for creating a backup – I like WP DB Backup but I’ve also used Simple Backup.  I have to add here that I’ve not yet had to re-install a site so I’ve put a lot of faith in these plugins- but they’ve been around a long time and had a lot of good reviews.  So I hope they don’t fail me.  I ran a backup and saved the zip file to my desktop folders which I backup to Dropbox or Google drive.
  5. Run the upgrade.  I use the link at the top of the dashboard and have the system do the upgrade itself.  Over the last few times I’ve done this it looks like it breaks- I get a weird error screen, then on refresh one that just eerily says “Are you sure you want to do this?” with no buttons or anything.  I refresh the site and amazingly the upgrade took effect.  Magic.
  6. Next I upgraded all the plugins or remove the ones that are not active.  In this case I removed Hello Dolly and Akismet.  The upgrade of a plugin called Connections warned me that I would need to redo my settings so I took a screenshot (with the Awesome Screenshot Chrome plugin I use) of the existing settings which looked to be pretty much the default.  After the upgrade I had to change the shortcode on the page but thankfully it worked just fine.
  7. Then I paged through the site to make sure nothing was broken.  It all looked pretty good except for a few weird pages that I think the client made and isn’t using.
  8. At the same time I looked at their analytics and configured a report to email them quarterly with very basic use stats.
  9. Report back to the client.  I let them know that I completed the upgrade and asked them to take a look at it and ensure that all is well.  I mentioned the weird pages and the Google analytics report.
  10. Done!