A Guide for Accidental Techies: Updating Website Software

This is exactly the same chat you and I would have if you were my client or a student in one of my trainings.

So grab your coffee or your tea and settle in for a quick, important lesson in managing your nonprofit website.

An accidental techies guide to updating nonprofit website software

If you’re an accidental techie, if no one ever gave you the website manual, you might have a few gaps in your knowledge.

A common (and critical) gap that I come across with my clients and students is about the importance of updating their website software.

Some peeps think they don’t have to keep their website software updated.

That’s scary.

Scary things can happen when your website’s software is out of date. I’ve seen it over and over again. A summer camp site becomes an adult site. A homepage starts loading viruses on board members’ computers.

You can also miss out on important cool features like better search engine optimization.

Here’s what you need to know as a communicator/fundraiser/executive about your website software.

Lesson #1: You must keep your website software updated

Your organization is responsible for keeping your website as secure as possible. Keeping your software updated is a core component of this responsibility.

Bonus, you get more value out of your website and out of your content when you keep your software updated. New features can improve your search engine optimization, your analytics tracking or your visitors’ overall happiness while browsing your site.

You must either learn how to handle the website updates yourself, or you can hire a vendor to handle the updates on your behalf. I handle software updates for my clients via my Quarterly Updates service and you can read all about what you get and how much it costs.

Lesson #2: Know the difference between critical updates & normal updates

You know what I mean – especially if you have a WordPress site. It feels like every time you login to the backend of your site, there’s a new update notification!

Some updates are critical, meaning there’s a known security issue. These should be applied ASAP.

Some updates are normal, meaning there’s a new feature or a small bug fix. These can wait.

If you need help keeping up with critical WordPress issues on your own, check out their official “security” posts.

I keep an eye on security updates for WordPress along with the most popular plugins that I use on my client sites. It’s only a few months into the year and I’ve already sent two “security alert” messages to my 2017 clients to let them know about issues that might affect their sites. The struggle is real, y’all.

Lesson #3: You need a safety net for your website

Having a safety net is what sets the website amateurs apart from the website professionals. You need a way to “roll back” the site, just in case a software update breaks a feature.

The WordPress developer team extensively tests the core updates before they push the software to millions of websites. Reputable plugins also test their software before they roll out an update.

But your specific website might be using a less reputable plugin, a plugin that is no longer maintained or custom feature that WordPress doesn’t even know about.

Death, taxes, and breaking the website. It happens.

A valid backup is the safety net we all need – even someone like me who’s been building websites for almost 20 years.

How can you backup your site? There’s tons of options and your perfect solution will depend on what your site and your organization needs.

I have a free plugin and configuration that I recommend as a starting point. It’s the same basic plugin and configuration that I use on my own site and many client sites. You can grab a handy tutorial here and follow along as I demo a sample backup configuration.

(Or you can go here and learn more about my Quarterly Updates program and just let me worry about the backups)

Wrap Up: Here’s your homework

  • Update your core website software and all plugins/modules/extensions at least every three months
  • Monitor for critical software updates all year long
  • Make sure you have a recent backup of your website before you apply software updates
  • Need help getting started with backups for your site? If you have a WordPress site, watch my tutorial here →

If you’d like me to take this headache off your plate…

Learn all about my Quarterly Updates program, which also includes a customized Google Analytics report and a one-on-one strategy meeting with me – every three months!

Make sure you’re subscribed to SmartCause Digital Updates. Just scroll down and enter your name and email address. You’ll receive a handy website resource from me every week, as well as invitations to free and paid digital skills trainings.

yesenia sotelo

About Yesenia Sotelo

Yesenia Sotelo is a digital skills teacher and web developer.

She elevates ambitious nonprofit professionals by teaching them how to use the technology tools of modern marketing.

Yesenia can teach you how to use website analytics or improve your online marketing results.

Her SmartCause Method for building websites is especially designed for the way nonprofits collaborate, make decisions and grow.

She won the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Nonprofit Technology Network (NTEN) for her work teaching digital skills to nonprofit professionals.