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WordPress Updates – Distracting But Essential

WordPress Updates – Distracting But Essential

WordPress is a software package that makes it easy (well, easiER) to build, manage and maintain a website. About a quarter of the world’s websites are powered by WordPress. If your website is powered by its own independent WordPress package, then someone needs to make sure that software is kept up-to-date. Some frequently-asked-questions (FAQs) about all this;

How Do I Know If My Website Uses WordPress?

Ask whoever built your website for you – “what content management system does my website use?”. This is something you ought to know, as a bit of background info. There are lots of other systems around, of course – some are for building ‘independent’ websites where you are free to do as you please with it eg. add whatever bells & whistles you like – some are ‘umbrella’ systems, where you get a set of facilities and tools but can’t add your own eg. Wix, Weebly, Shopify, Squarespace and many more.

One clue though is what you see when you login to manage/administer your website (and if you don’t login, then either someone else is looking after your site for you OR you aren’t maintaining it at all. Get in touch if it’s the latter, because someone needs to. Read on!). The typical WordPress Dashboard looks something like this;

What’s an “Update”?

There is a very high chance that your WordPress-powered website has more than just the base WordPress system installed. The WordPress package by itself definitely provides all you need to build and launch a website – but you really, really shouldn’t. It’s a bit like buying a new computer with the latest version of Windows or Mac OS and no other software packages installed. You just need more tools and facilities for it to be really useful. For WordPress, essential extras include things like security (much like a PC has to have internet-security software), search-engine-optimisation boosters, webpage speeder-uppers (nobody will wait 10 seconds for your images to load). These extras are called “plugins”.  There are THOUSANDS of plugins to choose from. If you want your website to do it, there is bound to be a plugin to make it happen!

So we have this WordPress software package (the “content management system”). And we have these extras on top of it (the plugins). Like any software, the developers that created them are constantly improving things – fixing errors or bugs, adding new or better features, preventing the bad guys from doing bad things. So an “update” is simply a newer version of WordPress or a WordPress plugin that has been improved in some way.

How Do I ‘Do’ An Update?

Nowadays, you can set your WordPress to automatically update itself to the latest version of the package whenever a new one comes out (every couple of months or so). Alternatively, when you login to your website as an Administrator, you can click a button or two and make it upgrade. It’s really that easy.

Likewise the plugins – when a newer version is available for your website to retrieve and install – click a link or button, and it gets done. Easy. You will probably find updates for your various plugins several times a week.

Do I Have To?

Of course not. You don’t have to have internet-security software for your computer. You don’t have to have home insurance. You don’t have to put petrol in the car. But if you want to avoid potentially BIG trouble, you should. Really should. A website that gets built and published and then left is a website that;

  1. will sooner or later stop working – reflecting badly on your business and you as its owner
  2. could well be abused by hackers, to attack other computers and/or websites, spread spam, or publish nasty stuff on your website
  3. threatens the other websites that share your webserver (you are very unlikely to be the only website on a webserver) – because the many blocking services protecting people from bad websites will block the entire webserver
  4. will cost you an arm and a leg to fix when things do eventually go wrong, and you’re in an emergency-repair situation

What A Pain…

It is. Looking after WordPress updates is probably not what you regard as a core activity for your business. Luckily, it IS a core activity for Winch Websites. We will not only make sure that your WordPress system and its plugins are all kept up-to-date, we do a few more things too (like take backups every day, perform security scans, monitor your site 24/7, and more). Get in touch to find out more, or see our Websites Care page.

Interested in working with us?

PHP – What it is (and why you care!)

PHP – What it is (and why you care!)

PHP is a bit like the petrol in a car engine. Without petrol, it stops. Dirty petrol, it stutters and stops. Stale old petrol, it stutters.

For another way to look at it, PHP is like the interpreter between your website’s coding and your webserver. The webserver actually carries out the gruntwork for your website, receiving requests from your visitors (“send me the Home page again”) and doing what’s necessary to retrieve everything that your website says makes up the ‘Home page’, then sending it all back to the visitor’s device. Your website is highly likely to be a software package that assembles pages and carries out functions as and when requested. It will be passing instructions to the webserver computer (“get me that logo image”). However, the webserver needs something in between that understands website-speak on the one hand, and webserver-speak on the other. Enter PHP.

Your website has a webhosting account, like its own apartment in the overall skyscraper that is the webserver. It shares many resources with all the other occupants – PHP is one of those resources. So your PHP translator is also being used by other websites simultaneously. PHP is a busy bee.

Now as is always the case with any software, new versions keep coming out. PHP Version 5 has been around for a long time, gradually moving from 5.1 to 5.2 to 5.4 to 5.6… Well, there’s a big jump happening at the moment, up to PHP Version 7. Does this matter to you? Absolutely!!

PHP 7 is twice as fast as PHP 5. That by itself is plenty good enough reason to make the move. However, just as importantly, at the end of 2017, PHP 5 is no longer supported (in other words, won’t be fixed if the bad guys find a hole or if it stops working in certain situations). Odds are, PHP 5 will keep going for a bit longer, BUT it is definitely a good idea to move to PHP 7 as soon as opportunity permits.

How easy is changing to PHP 7? Sorry, but it’s that old chestnut, “it depends”. It can be very easy if you have up-to-date webhosting, and your website is up-to-date. Simply change a setting in your webhosting, and you’re done!

  • If your webhosting is a bit behind or restrictive, you will probably need to change webhosting service (it’s worth asking them if you can be upgraded, you never know).
  • If your site is a bit behind, there’s a good chance it will stop working when you move to PHP 7. A test is definitely on the cards. At least it is usually easy to immediately change back to PHP 5 and carry on as normal.

So to summarise, your website is highly likely to be using PHP, and you will need to change to PHP 7 in 2018 or risk a broken website and a panicked reaction to fix it. The good news is changing to PHP 7 gives you a more secure and noticeably faster website. Look into it sooner rather than later. If you need any help, Winch Websites is here.

Interested in working with us?

Just quickly send us your contact info and what you’re looking for – eg. why you want a website (starting from scratch, remaking an existing one, etc) and any particular features or questions you have in mind.

















Website maintenance – Why & What

Website maintenance – Why & What

Keeping Your Website Going

Websites need care & attention if they are to continue providing value to you (the website owner). Just like owning a car, a house, a computer – if you don’t maintain it, gradually things degrade. Small problems become big problems. And sooner or later there will be a failure, which of course is bound to happen at the worst possible time…

So the question is, what needs doing and why? (NB. the “how” very much depends on what you’re website has been built with, and can vary hugely).

1. The ‘Content Management System’

It is a rare website these days that is not powered by a content management system (CMS) of some sort. WordPress, Drupal, Joomla, Wix, Weebly, Squarespace, Shopify and on and on. They are all basically a software package that assists you in creating and managing a website without having to do coding or computer programming. Some of them allow you to run your own independent system (WordPress, Joomla, Drupal), some of them are large umbrella systems managed on your behalf (Wix, Weebly, Shopify, Squarespace).

So you need to know if you are responsible for keeping this underlying software package up-to-date, or if someone else is. If it’s someone else, all good – just make sure they’re are doing what they said they would. If it’s your job – make sure you are checking for updates on at least a weekly basis. The content management system is like the engine for your website, it powers it and drives it and makes it work. A stuttery engine will give you stuttery website performance.

Why update the core CMS? Because there are frequent fixes and updates that address security issues (people breaking into or abusing your site), bugs (things that don’t work properly) and improvements (making things work better and more smoothly).

Website maintenance

2. The Add-Ons & Extensions

You are quite unlikely to be using the base-level CMS. For a website to be useful to you and what you want to do with it, you are going to add extra functions to the site – called ‘add-ons’ or ‘extensions’, or maybe ‘options’ in the big shared systems. For an independent website, these add-ons also need the same upkeep as the underlying website system. Again, is that your job or is someone else doing it? You need to know or you could wake up one morning to a day that is going to be wasted on fixing a broken website (not to mention the potential loss of business while it’s down, and the cost of repair).

Why update the add-ons? Because there are fixes and updates that address security issues (people breaking into or abusing your site), bugs (things that don’t work properly) and improvements (making things work better and more smoothly).

3. The Webhosting Account

Often overlooked, the webhosting is where the website ‘lives’. Think of it as renting office space in an office block – there are multiple businesses not connected to you all sharing the same office block, and you have rented one corner of one floor. Your rented space is your own webhosting account, and the other businesses are other independent websites.

What if the owner of the office block never did any maintenance? And worse, you can’t do it yourself even if you wanted to because your contract forbids it? Now you’ve got a beautiful office in a shabby building with poor security. Not good.

So it’s important to know if the webserver that manages your webhosting is being maintained and managed for you. Once more, there are always ongoing changes, fixes, updates to the webserver software – and you are nearly always not allowed to do anything to the webserver (because you would affect all the other inhabitants too). Ask the question of your webhosting provider – “do you managed and maintain the webserver, and keep it up-to-date?”

Why update the webserver? Because there are frequent fixes and updates that address security issues (people breaking into or abusing the entire system), bugs (things that don’t work properly) and improvements (making things work better and more smoothly).

Effective and ongoing website maintenance is as optional as business insurance. You might not want it or have it, but you are exposed to serious business and financial risks without it. Prevention is definitely better than cure in this situation.

Winch Websites manages its own webservers and definitely keeps them up-to-date with the latest recommended systems and software, and follows industry best-practice to provide high-functioning, roomy webhosting with lots of bells & whistles.

We also offer a ‘Website Care’ service – you have a website, we’ll look after it. Updates, backups, monitoring, security and more – and we’ll even make changes to the pages for you. Saving you time, hassle and mental energy so you can get on with your business and leave the web stuff to someone else.

Interested in working with us?

Just quickly send us your contact info and what you’re looking for – eg. why you want a website (starting from scratch, remaking an existing one, etc) and any particular features or questions you have in mind.