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Should I Upgrade to the New Version of WordPress? Testing Plans for Success

As I wrote about yesterday, One of my projects is helping out a small non-profit with online presence and social marketing. Their simple site is in WordPress, so when WordPress.org let them know that a new version was out. Of course, they recommended upgrading just days after the release. So the executive director asked the natural question: Should we upgrade our site to the new version? Seems logical, newer is better, right?

Well not so fast.

WordPress 3.3 was release 4 days ago. My short answer was not now. It is probably best to add this to the list of todo’s for next year. But I was not in a short answer mood. A big part of the issue was risk management, and the software layers involved like the layers on a wedding cake.

In one of my former lives, I was an event photographer. I always vowed (pun intended) to not do weddings. The reason – the expectations are unreal.

A similar situation exists with a ‘simple’ WordPress website and its’ many layers of software that are used to let someone see our site. Tomorrow I will run down the different layers, but for now, here are the reasons that most jump out to not upgrade.

Now don’t get me wrong, I feel WordPress is a great tool for most websites (since most websites are simple in objective and construction). Those that is is not (more complicated) the conversation becomes far more nuanced.  And I recommend WordPress as the 1st consideration for a site. Even if it does not belong on WordPress, it becomes a great prototyping tool and scrum development platform for at least a place to converse with key stakeholders about how to meet the site’s goals.

Recently I was asked ‘should we upgrade to the latest version of WordPress?’ So my reactions were:

  • New releases are best tested by others. Unless they are fixing a core issue that is not working today. I am so appreciative of the thousands in the Internet and in the WordPress community that will find all the other ways a new release does not work on all configurations all the time. They will share with all the different layers and get those problems fixed. Hopefully before we upgrade.
  • This release does not really improve our world today. This new release does not really change the limitations of the template, it may make new templates easier to build or old templates easier to improve, but it will not ‘fix’ the limitation of the existing template. So this is another reason not to upgrade right away. Tomorrow I will go over all the different layers and what risk I estimate they add to such an upgrade, but here are a couple of highlights:
    • Whenever changing software and its many layers, it is important to have a testing plan and program. We have not had the time to develop that, and it should be done before we upgrade releases.
    • Add all the risk up (sorry the risk is cumulative), and the potential risk to upgrade is around 1 in 18 upgrades will have some challenge. This is where a testing and roll-back plan (the ability to undo the changes in case they make it worse then the ‘upgrade’) come into play.
  • There is no testing plan in place yet. A testing plan minimizes these risks by being able to duplicate the above issues as close as possible, and determine if in our specific circumstances, if there is a problem. For usually very few dollars, a test bed can be set up (usually less then $50 per year). Costs usually include:
    • ‘testing domain’  – $10 per year
    • setting up a 2nd domain/website – $10
    • Reinstalling WordPress, plugins and all the other layers listed above. The key is they need to be all the same version and configuration except the one change/upgrade (in this case new version of WordPress).
    • Possibly some testing software (although there are many low volume free versions) to thoroughly test a site, and some monitoring software to see how the ‘new’ version works.
    • This does not include the extra time on various peoples part to:
      • Define a testing plan.
      • Set up the testing platform.
    • But, once a process is defined, it will be much easier for all future upgrades, and far less stress before, during, and after (if there is a problem, there is a test bed to go see what is happening, and how to troubleshoot it, especially if the site is not fully down, but only ‘damaged’.)
    • This of course assumes a low volume, simple site. Issues, and solutions scale up as the sites objectives and complexity scale up. However, these fundamentals still apply, we have to add other considerations.
  • Other questions to consider:
    • Has the hosting company added the new release to its auto install packs?
    • Have they tested the new release on their servers (at least on one of them, they should all be the same, but as you can see from above there are a lot of areas where variations can be introduced)?
    • Has the theme tested itself on the new release?  Their site or page should list comparability with the current release.
    • Have all the plug-ins (or add-ons) been tested as compatible with the new release? According to the page http://www.projectrace.com/wp-admin/update-core.php it has not yet be tested.
    • These three ‘pre-tests’ will be very helpful in determine when to start considering when we should install the new release. Relatively speaking this is not a major release and does not seem to add much.

Sorry for giving a long answer to a short question, I got on a roll and wanted to map it out to share with others. Even if you don’t set up the testing platform, just thinking through the issues and steps to test them will improve your ability to resolve issues once they do occur. Not if, but when. So this exercise in risk management has value in many different ways. And yes it is a pain in the productivity to getting it all out.

What are your thoughts on WordPress 3.3 and upgrading software?

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December 16, 2011 - Posted by | Definitions, hosting, How To, HTML Issue, Uncategorized | , , , ,

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