Upgrading: The zeroth step

WordPress updates: Which to do first?

If you haven’t been inside your WordPress dashboard for awhile, you may be confronted with multiple update notices when you log in. You probably have a handful (or more) of plugins that need updating, and perhaps your theme or theme framework has come out with a new version (yep, those are affiliate links), and WordPress itself might need updating.

WordPress is famous for its easy one-click updates, so even if all three of these things need attention, you can probably do them pretty quickly, probably within minutes.

So which part should you update first? The plugins, WordPress software, or your theme? What’s the first step?

Backup backup backup

The best answer is actually “none of the above.”

Before you update, especially if you have multiple updates, you should back up your site.

The backup step is so important, it should come before the first step. It’s the zeroth step (hat tip to Asimov’s Laws of Robotics here).

Which means that backing up needs to be easy and quick. So easy and quick that you can do it in one or two clicks and know you have the ability to restore your site just as easily. “Drat, I have to make a backup first” should not be a barrier to updating.

BackupBuddy to the rescue

My favorite backup method is a premium WordPress plugin called BackupBuddy. It’s not free, but as a paying customer, you get access to a support-ticket system that’s very helpful. I now use this plugin for all my own sites, as well as all my Website Tune-Up and Peace of Mind Program clients.

I’ve used it to migrate (move) WordPress sites from one host to another, and from staging sites to live. Once it’s installed, it really is one-click easy to run a backup (zero clicks if you set up automatic scheduling, which I highly recommend).

What about that update order?

Once you’ve got your backups created and safely stored in case you need to roll back your site, you are cleared for updating. If you need to update multiple parts of your site, think about it in order from large to small.

When you update multiple pieces of your site, be sure to do it in this order:

  1. WordPress (the biggest most important piece, because it runs your whole site)
  2. Your theme (gives your entire site its look and feel)
  3. Plugins (smaller pieces that affect particular site functions)

If you update a plugin before update WordPress, and that plugin requires a later version of WordPress, you could end up breaking your site (or at the very least, losing the plugin’s functionality). Same with themes.

I’ve seen both things happen, and fortunately with BackupBuddy and FTP access, I’ve been able to fix things up pretty quickly, but it’s easier to just avoid breaking them in the first place.

So make a backup first, and stick to a safe update order. And may you never need your backups!

Fun fact: March 31 is World Backup Day! But regardless of the calendar date, the best day to start a new backup plan is today.


  1. Great post, Wendy. LOVE BackupBuddy and appreciate your review and recommendation. Didn’t know about the PDF tutorial–thanks for the link.

    Site Setup Kit is MARVELOUS. Kudos to you and Pamela Wilson!

  2. Hi Wendy
    Great way to remember the order of updating:

    “When you update multiple pieces of your site, be sure to do it in this order:

    1.WordPress (the biggest most important piece, because it runs your whole site)

    2.Your theme (gives your entire site its look and feel)

    3.Plugins (smaller pieces that affect particular site functions)”

    From the biggest to the smallest – even I can remember that.

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