Tech Talk for 15 Feb

Welcome to my first “Tech Talk” article for 2017.

I’ve been providing local charities, non-profits and small businesses with IT, web and digital advice and support for the past seven years, and we keep trying new approaches to providing that support.

We’ve not got much in the way of funded or subsidised IT support at the moment, but we do provide training, consultancy, analysis, advice and a range of IT support services on a chargeable basis.

But to keep you informed and up to date I’ll be sharing tips and ideas on a weekly basis now though this “Tech Talk” column on the blog and in our newsletter. Hopefully you’ll find some of it useful and perhaps change the way your organisation or group works with IT. Any questions that arise, or anything else you need support with on IT, simply give me a call (01472 361043, karl@vanel.org.uk). If you don’t ask, we can’t help.

So to start “Tech Talk” off I’m looking at the importance of keeping your website up to date…

Keep your website updated – it’s essential

If your website is hosted online as part of the service you use to create it – WordPress.com, Wix, Squarespace or similar, then you’ll not need to read this article. Your website will always be kept up to date and secure automatically as part of the service you are receiving. Lucky you.

However, if, like many, your website is ‘self-hosted’, i.e. It resides in hosting that you pay for separately, then you need to be considering the issue of keeping it up to date.

If you’ve got a website generated via HTML or created offline through a tool such as DreamWeaver, then again your site will be fairly static and the issues of updates will affect you less.

But if you use WordPress, Joomla, Drupal or any of the other tools used to generate websites, then updates should be on your ‘to-do’ list.

WordPress (probably the most popular web platform for non-profits) made the BBC news this month due to a huge worldwide hack exploiting a security flaw. Major news and a major headache if it affects you. Forewarned is forearmed, and preventing security gaps is a lot easier up front than it is to try and recover your broken website after the attack. Keeping up to date is probably the simplest security measure you can take.

Updates mean keeping the core code – the version of WordPress up to date. It also means all those add-ons – themes, plugins and the like.

So why bother updating at all? Why not simply leave your site alone once it’s built until it’s time for a refresh.

Well you could. Everything will tick along nicely. In fact, if you run updates then you need to do it carefully – take a backup first, update, check nothing fails (plugins are notorious for changing functionality, working differently or even introducing bugs in their updates), and be prepared to ‘roll back’ should an update cause problems across a site. In fact, updating should be done carefully and with some preparation. Your site potentially is also often unavailable to visitors whilst updates take place, so bear that in mind.

But the consequences of not doing the updates is potentially worse. Security is the main consideration here. The longer code – such as a particular version of WordPress or of a theme or a plugin – is out in the open, the more likely it is that ‘attackers’ will learn ways to infiltrate the code and potentially damage your website. So keeping up to date will lessons the security risks to your site.

It was a subtle flaw in WordPress that caused the problems recently, but a new version of WordPress (v 4.7.2) was soon out to fix the problem. So if you update to that, your worries should be reduced. But don’t update and the security risks remain.

There are of course other reasons to upgrade too. Improvements and efficiencies. Increased speed, reduced memory use, usability improvements or completely new functions and functionality. Updating can generally keep your website future proofed.

There are some downsides. A WordPress core update might now be incompatible with an older plugin causing you a different headache. But in general updating is the way to go.

So is your website up to date? Do you even know? How often is is updated? Who does it for you? Are updates done in a controlled and tested manner (just in case things go wrong)?

Go take a look now and make sure you have a plan in place. Keep that site up to date.

VANEL can help you with updates and maintaining your site. We can do it all for you – backups, security checks, regular updates etc – via our WebClub Gold support package which works out at around £10 per month. Or if you’re doing it yourself and need advice, suggestions or simple troubleshooting, then basic WebClub membership (for £25 per year) is here to support you. Either way, any questions, get in touch with Karl at VANEL and we’ll keep you on the straight and narrow…

NEXT WEEK: A quick masterclass on getting nearly free software if you are a registered charity.