Updating WooCommerce – A Comprehensive Guide

Understanding WooCommerce updates

Here at Design for Digital we assist many clients with their website updates. Often with eCommerce stores like WooCommerce this can be a complex journey, especially if your website is mission critical. On the very small occasion a new feature or bug in the software can catch you unaware without prior testing, just like any other software platform. Therefore we’ll now walk you through our recommendations when updating WooCommerce so you’re never stuck in a tricky situation.


Why WooCommerce for eCommerce?

Considering that ~30% of the internet’s websites run on WordPress, the official eCommerce plugin for WordPress (WooCommerce) is a natural choice for millions of site owners. Store owners like the familiarity of the WordPress system and WooCommerce’s open source nature ensures that they remain in control of their data, not another 3rd party like Shopify or Magento’s hosted plans. The customisation and presentation of a WooCommerce website can be tailored to your liking. There’s also a growing community to help provide solutions and designs to enhance your site – just like Design for Digital.


Backup, backup and then backup WooCommerce

Like any update on a website (or even on your computer), it’s sensible to create a backup of the entire WooCommerce and WordPress website for peace of mind should anything go wrong. However don’t just rely on one backup solution. Often we find some automated backups can fail due to various circumstances. Therefore ensure that you have several backup solutions available such as these 3 recommendations:

  1. Server backups
  2. 3rd party automated backups
  3. Manual, periodic backups

This way, you can be sure that should one backup fail to be reinstated then another backup can be used. Nevertheless, you should always test these backups work on a separate test server and acquaint yourself with the process. If that all sounds too daunting for you, then get in touch with us to discuss a website maintenance plan with us to take care of this or you.


Run WooCommerce updates on a staging site

When we’re asked to carry out WooCommerce software updates for a client, we always do this on what is called a ‘staging site’. Essentially this is a copy of the live site but placed on to a separate domain and database. This allows us to test the updates without affecting the live website – just imagine how horrified you’d be if a bug corrupted your live order system! Then should any update cause issues we can investigate the problem thoroughly and code a solution to correct the issue. Depending on the problem this could take some time to resolve, which isn’t ideal if you’ve encountered the issue on the live site. Hopefully you’ll now agree using a staging site is the way forward.


Creating the WooCommerce staging site

You can usually create a staging site on most hosting platforms if you have a suitable hosting plan. This could be placed on a subdomain (e.g. subdomain.woocommercestore.com), with a new database and hidden from the web behind .htaccess password protection so no-one can find this copy of your live site whilst you carry out the updates. Then import a backup of your database and files from the live website into the new subdomain, amending the wp-config . php file to point at your new database – so you don’t affect the live one. Consider a separate SSL certificate too if you’d like to keep this staging website secure. Next you’ll need to change all URL references from the live site to the staging site URL within the database. PHPMyAdmin is usually installed on most servers and can enable you to change the URLs in the database. Now whilst it sounds complex, doing this right ensures that there are less headaches in the future. You can also start using a separate copy of the site for new development features or a new design whilst the current live site stays online.


Test and test WooCommerce again

Now that you have your staging server ready for testing the updates, it’s time to start updating. Make a reference to all of the plugins which need updating and their version numbers as these could change during the time you test on the staging site and then update the live site. Once updated, visit your website as normal and look for any obvious errors or issues. Check the back-end works correctly too. Another good plan is to check your server for errors in the log which can help you diagnose any potential issues with the website. Going another step further and you can enable WP_DEBUG in your wp-config file which will print out any errors on the website within the browser but be warned this will show all types of warnings, not just serious ones.

WooCommerce Update
Checking the WooCommerce status report can help identify issues


Updating the live WooCommerce site after testing

So at this stage, the WooCommerce updates should have been successfully tested on the staging site and you’re happy with the results. Before you get the live website updated, it’s always nice to use a ‘maintenance’ page whilst updates are occurring. This helps to prevent visitors placing eCommerce orders during the updates so they aren’t presented with any error or warning messages. Next backup again your files and database, ensuring that you’re happy they all work. Then begin updating the live site during maintenance mode. Carry out one final check of the website to see if there are no issues present which you could have missed. Then once you’re satisfied everything went smoothly, exit out of your maintenance mode and get the live site back online again for your visitors. Phew!


Get WooCommerce experts involved if it’s too much to handle

Should this all sound too complicated for you or one of your team to carry out, then it’s highly recommended that you get a professional website maintenance plan in place with a website agency – like Design for Digital – to assist with these monthly update tasks. Here at Design for Digital we offer affordable monthly website maintenance packages. These assist our clients with these updates, as well as WooCommerce design and development support when they need it. Get in touch for a quote today so we can help you concentrate on driving sales, not steering through WooCommerce updates.

Google Ranking HTTPS Websites Higher in Search

You may have heard on the news over the last year plenty of articles about cyber security and keeping your details safe online. Well Google has been pushing for years that it wants all websites to become secure using encryption regardless of whether they take payment details or not, in a bid to keep web visitors safe. Google has also admitted that HTTPS (the secure version of HTTP) is now a ranking factor in it’s own search algorithm, so it’s not something you should ignore. This is a big change and one of the biggest since Google’s algorithm change to rank responsive websites higher in search for mobile visitors.

Aside from the search ranking effects for HTTPS, Google will soon display a ‘site not secure’ message or similar if it deems your website needs an SSL certificate (the service that encrypts this data) but doesn’t have one in place. This could put off potential visitors, affect your brand and harm sales.

So, how can you get ahead in Google’s new secure website search update? Well, first you need to consider costs. Dedicated SSL certificates are usually more expensive than domains, need renewing every year and without technical knowledge, can be difficult to setup with your domain and hosting if you’re not familiar with the process.

Let’s look at the benefits of a dedicated SSL certificate first. Having a secure website gives your users:

  • Peace of mind when browsing your website that they’re connection is safe.
  • Payments or personal details will be encrypted between their computer and your server using 2048-bit key encryption.
  • Browsers will display a ‘padlock’ symbol and sometimes a ‘Secure’ message with a green highlight in the address bar, giving extra peace of mind.
  • As the website owner, you will also get varying levels of insurance covering you for interception by the SSL certificate provider. Usually this starts with a minimum of $10,000 and of course the higher the payout the more you pay each year.

On the flip side, there are some important points to note about SSL certificates:

  • Having an SSL certificate on your website doesn’t necessarily secure it from hackers. Don’t forget to update your website frequently and adhere to all security protocols when handling sensitive data.
  • Your website will load ever so slightly slower. Encryption usually takes longer to process and therefore page speeds will be slightly longer. The added security will help improve peace of mind for users though.
  • You will need to change all URLs on your website to use the new HTTPS URL, otherwise you will get browser ‘mixed content’ warnings and your browser and possibly search engines won’t give an improved ranking.
  • Renew the SSL certificate every year or risk losing your secure website status. Forgetting to do so could also mean your website may not load correctly. Each certificate is uniquely generated and therefore needs to be reinstalled on renewal.

If setting up an SSL certificate on your website all sounds too complex, we can help you set it up and provide hosting as well as domain registration. We provide dedicated SSL security certificates and will ensure they’re fully configured with you website. We’ll even check for old URLs so you don’t get ‘mixed content’ errors in the browser. Contact us today if you need an SSL certificate or would like some general web design advice.