How To Update WordPress Safely With Visual Regression Testing

One of the most important aspects of properly maintaining a website is making sure that it’s always updated so you can be at ease, knowing that you’re working with the most optimized tools you have at your disposal.

A lot of site administrators frown on any sort of changes to their site for one of two reasons.

  1. They prefer their site the way it is and don’t want to have to adapt to any changes that come with the updates;
  2. They don’t see any benefit to fixing something that isn’t broken.

While we do understand why a lot of people feel this way, there are actually a few very valid reasons as to why regularly updating your website can prove beneficial.

Why Should I Update My WordPress Site?

Compatibility With New Tools

As we just mentioned, people usually prefer to stick to the tools that they’ve grown accustomed to. This is usually out of convenience since once you’ve learned to use a tool at an optimal level, you’re not really looking to start using a new tool from scratch.

The thing is, any changes made to the functionality of the features that you’re accustomed to are likely going to be beneficial for everyone (both you and your site visitors) and may even help optimize the way that you interact with these same features (as long as you at least give them a chance, that is).

As for new tools or features, they’re usually included in any new update and often add a certain tool that wasn’t already present on your site. If you’re not willing to try them out, then you can simply ignore them. However, you might actually find that a lot of them were features that you didn’t even know you needed, but now can’t live without.

Staying Current

We all know how often the update requests come in on our PCs, laptops, and smartphones. Most of the time they’re optional, but the software usually goes through a few major changes at least once a month.

These updates and changes are a result of new optimization methods and code retooling that can really help make the system run a lot better.

While you don’t have to update your website at quite such a high frequency, there are usually certain changes that come with these updates that may affect how your site runs on the newer versions of the software. WordPress anticipates these changes and takes measures to prevent compatibility issues.

This means that updating your site is a good way to ensure that there isn’t any significant drop in speed due to incompatibility between the newest updates to any operating software and your site.

Increased Protection

And we finally arrive at the main reason as to why people need to learn how to update WordPress safely.

Firewalls become obsolete much quicker than people can even imagine.

At any given moment, someone out there is looking for a way to breach the security measures of an operating system and create a back-door entry point that they can use to gain access to all of your site data.

These hacker attacks aren’t specifically focused on your site. However, the methods that are developed in order to breach specific systems can usually be used in order to breach your site defenses as well.

WordPress updates ensure that any present vulnerabilities are eliminated one by one. Each new update provides a patch to a fault that was brought to light and fills a hole in the system that was removed or fixed.

Each security breach brings new problems and new solutions. Updating your website ensures that you aren’t susceptible to any already established methods, meaning that anyone trying to forcefully get into your site is at the very least going to have to try a lot harder.

How to Update WordPress Safely

Now that we’ve gone over the “why”, it’s about time we move on to the “how”, as in how to update your WordPress safely.

This is always going to seem a lot more difficult than it is the first time around, but you should get the hang of it pretty quickly, and we’ll be here to take you through all of the steps one-by-one.

  1. Backups

It’s always a good idea to make copies of your data before making any significant changes to your site. Regardless if we’re talking about site design or updates, storing your content somewhere safe is advised. We personally prefer to use Blogvault for these purposes.

For those of you not in the know, Blogvault is sort of like an online data bank. It’s designed to store your backups safely so you can easily gain access to them whenever you need to. The plugin comes with WooCommerce backup options, integrated free staging, uptime monitoring, and even the ability to manage multiple websites.

This plugin will appear on your dashboard as soon as you install it and sign up for the service. This will cost you between $7 and $20 a month. The more costly plans will provide a lot more services, such as the ability to archive 365 days worth of backups, instead of the 90 that the other plans offer, and the real-time backup sync frequency.

The costlier plans can really be useful for a variety of reasons, but we recommend simply starting off with the basic $7.4 a month plan. This will allow you access to an inbuilt staging site, WooCommerce backups, one-click staging, flawless migration, and a lot more.

Most importantly, this plugin will allow you to keep your data safe while you make the necessary adjustments to your site.

  1. Turn Off Caching

The caching functionality affects certain internal processes on your website. Without going into too much unnecessary detail, suffice it to say that turning it off before updating your site can really reduce the chance of any unforeseen issues cropping up.

Simply go into your plugins menu and make sure that all of your caching plugins are turned off for the duration of the update process.

  1. Updating Your Site

If you’re logged in to your site and there’s an update available, there should be a box near the top of the screen that displays an option to install the newest version immediately that says “Please update now”.

If the box doesn’t show up for you, or if you accidentally minimized it, then you can simply go to the Dashboard that’s located on the left side of your screen and click on the “Updates” menu that’s located near the top, just under the “Home” option.

While in the “Updates” menu, all you need to do is click on the “Update Now” option that you can see on the screen and the process will start automatically.

During this process, the site will be in maintenance mode, meaning that you won’t be able to make any edits or changes to it while the update is being downloaded.

You’ll receive a notification once the process is finished. The runtime of these updates will vary from site to site, but generally it shouldn’t take more than a few hours tops.

  1. Updating Themes

In order to update your themes, all you need to do is go into your “Appearance” menu and click on the “Update Now” option in the Themes section.

Keep in mind that this will remove the custom code that you might have and reset any customizations. If you’re looking to update a modified theme, then you’re going to need to use a child theme first.

  1. Make a backup, then create a child theme copy of your existing theme in a staging area;
  2. Locate any changes that you might have made to the functions, stylesheet, and files of the parent theme;
  3. Copy these changes to the blank child theme;
  4. Activate the child theme;
  5. Update the parent theme;
  6. Copy the customized data from the child theme onto the updated parent theme;
  7. Make sure that your site is running as it should;
  8. Make any additional modifications if there are issues after the update;
  9. Double check your site data;
  10. Go live.
  1. Turn On Caching

Pretty straight-forward. Turn the caching features back on again.

  1. Visual Regression Testing

After you finish with the updates and turn all of your systems back on, it’s time to run a check on your site. 

This involves checking all of the features, menus, even all of the font choices to your site text in order to make sure that there are no major changes that you didn’t approve of. This check also makes sure that all of the systems are as well optimized as before you started the update process.

You can do this manually, or you can use visual regression testing. We would recommend that you opt for the latter choice for a few reasons.

Those reasons are:

  1. Visual regression tools like WPboom and Diffy are much more likely to catch any small issues that might have come about as a result of the update, and they can provide immediate possible solutions to any such issues;
  2. Checking every nook and cranny of your site is time-consuming work while delegating it to the appropriate software can make it almost instantaneous;
  3. These tools provide excellent statistics on your site before and after the updates so that you can get an accurate picture of what’s exactly been changed.

Visual regression testing is essentially a before and after shot of your site. It’s an incredibly useful process, and it can really save you a lot of time.

We recommend WPboom and Diffy as our tools of choice simply because they both provide an excellent service, and while Diffy comes with a 14-day free trial period, WPboom has an entire plan that’s free.

If you aren’t interested in the free plan, WPboom has 4 other plans that range from $9 to $89 a month, all of which will provide you with an option to set specific pages for scanning, weekly alerts, and it allows you to use it on anything between 10 and 150 sites (depending on the package you chose).

Diffy also has some interesting features. These include the production, development, and stage environments, the team management options, the ability to remove certain elements from the screenshot, and even the ability to add custom CSS and JS code.

  1. Make Another Backup

You can never be too careful when updating WordPress, plus, if you already have the Blogvault plugin installed, you might as well get your money’s worth.

Making another site backup also has another more practical reason behind it than just using Blogvault as much as possible. That reason is that you’ll be able to put the most up-to-date version of your site somewhere safe.

This will allow you to use the backup if there are any unforeseen problems on the site itself, or even on the web hosting servers that might have caused certain issues to emerge. Plus, keeping an updated version of your site allows you to skip having to install the same new functionalities again if you ever do need to do a hard reset and reboot your site.


The safety of your site is a major contributing factor to the number of loyal visitors you get on a regular basis.

Standard blog or article based WordPress sites aren’t so bad. Site visitors won’t exactly be thrilled about going to an unsafe site, but as long as the content that you have to offer is in their interest, you’re likely to see a lot of repeat visitors regardless.

However, product-focused sites are another story altogether. This is where data safety is paramount and your security can’t afford to be lack-luster.

Luckily, as long as you make sure that everything is properly up to date, the chances of something like that happening go down significantly.

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