How We Updated 700K+ Sites to WordPress 5 and What We Learned in the Process

Over the last week, we gradually rolled out WordPress 5 through our auto-update system. We took a different approach for this update as this version introduced one of the biggest changes in WordPress so far: the new block-based editor also known as Gutenberg. Updating hundreds of thousands of active WordPress installations, especially when such an anticipated and, at the same time, feared change is happening, can be a serious challenge. Today, we’re happy to report that less than two weeks after its release, most of our WordPress clients are already using the latest WordPress 5 version. The process has been quite smooth and we wanted to share our insights and encourage more people to make the move to a great block-based editing experience.

Our Gradual Auto-Update Schedule

After the first WordPress 5.0 release, we temporarily switched off our auto-updater so we could carefully test, monitor, and analyze how the new version performed. As soon as we saw that the few thousand manual upgrades, done by the most enthusiastic early adopters we host, resulted only in very isolated issues, we switched to a controlled, batch-by-batch auto-update.

We first switched the auto-updater function on for 10% of our WordPress users, under the supervision of our WordPress dev team who were in constant communication with our customer care and tech support teams. We did hourly reports on how the process was going, the results we were getting, and any repeat issues reported that could potentially affect users on a larger scale.

Again, after the update, we were seeing only isolated issues, so we proceeded to increase the number of servers updated each day until they were all updated.

Our Most Common Support Requests

1. Concerns that the site may break

The top reason people contacted our support team wasn’t for an actual issue, but rather a concern that the update may somehow break their site.

We addressed this issue by sharing our experience from the first phases of our gradual update and the fact that there was no increase in the percentage of website issues with this version than any previous WordPress version rolled-out at scale.

2. Concerns that the new editing experience would be too difficult

The second most common fear was that changing the editing experience would make managing a website harder.

Actually, the WordPress team has addressed this concern in quite an elegant way. All existing posts are converted in a single block called the “classic block”. Editing your posts in this block does not dramatically differ from editing them before the update. As our WP ambassador, Joe Casabona, explains very well in his video, editing your posts in multiple blocks is opt-in. The update itself does not automatically apply multiple blocks structure to your existing posts.

On top of that, we have added the Classic Editor plugin as part of the update process. With our settings, the new block editor is the default while the old classic editor is also provided as an option for each post. This plugin can also be used to convert the WordPress editor back to the old experience while still receiving all the important security and feature benefits of each new WordPress version.

3. Issues with accessing the wp-admin after the update

After the update, we received several complaints that people were getting a blank page when attempting to access their wp-admin. The vast majority of them were solved by clearing the cache for their website and were not related to the new WordPress version in any specific way.

A very small percentage of these cases were due to an incompatibility of the new WordPress version with an installed plugin or theme. Often, the plugin in question was non-critical and could easily be disabled. However, for the few sites that were really not ready for the update, a one-click restore using our auto-update tool was an option to revert the site to its state before the update.

4. Issues with accessing the site itself after the update

We’ve had an insignificant number of such issues reported. This is also due to the fact that our auto-update system checks automatically if the update has not resulted in an error and reverts back to the previous version if such a case is detected. However, the percentage of such “failed” updates was not significantly bigger for WordPress 5 than for any other major version.

As a whole, we can safely say that the mass update we did was smoother than expected. Once again, congrats to the whole WordPress team in charge of this new version for all their hard work on shipping safely one of the most notable releases in WordPress history. As a bonus, here is the lovely release video for the new WordPress version, named after the pioneering Cuban jazz musician Bebo Valdés:

The SiteGround Soul Giver

If something's cooking in any of the following areas at SiteGround: website user experience, marketing, advertising, public relations, sales, accounting or billing, the chances are that I have been involved. Being the most advanced non-technical person in a highly geeky company is definitely quite an interesting challenge.

17 Comments

  1. Reply December 20, 2018 / 08:25 KristiSiteGround Team

    Half of my portfolio with you guys is auto-update, and the other half is manual. I agree with this article, and you all are spot on! Thank you for the super communication throughout the process.

    • Reply December 20, 2018 / 08:31 Angelina MichevaSiteGround Team

      Hi Kristi,

      Thanks for sharing your experience. Great to hear you found our approach helpful and informative.

  2. Reply December 20, 2018 / 09:37 Mike MaxsonSiteGround Team

    I manually updated all 15 of my sites to WordPress 4.9.9. By mistake, Siteground updated my site to 5.0.2. Rolled them all back very easily. Will leave 5.x alone for a couple of years. If I wanted a page builder, I would have purchased one.

    • Reply December 21, 2018 / 07:20 Angelina MichevaSiteGround Team

      Hi Mike,

      We checked your account and we can see that you have chosen to skip the updates to WordPress 5. In case you want to continue to delay the updates you can keep selecting the skip option until you are ready to use the new version. Reach out to us directly if you need further assistance.

  3. Reply December 20, 2018 / 13:09 Premier Web DevelopmentSiteGround Team

    We've updated our site to WordPress 5.0.2 using the latest version of Pro from ThemeCo and have had absolutely no issues with SiteGround in the process. Thanks for being awesome!

  4. Reply December 20, 2018 / 14:45 KevinSiteGround Team

    Hi. The update broke my site; it would no longer load. The customer support person was unable to fix the issue, after de-installing plugins and changing themes, so I had to revert to a previous version of my site. Do you know if this issue may be rectified in subsequent updates?

    • Reply January 2, 2019 / 01:35 Hristo PandjarovSiteGround Team

      Not sure what exactly caused it. Make sure you keep your partent theme and plugins up-to-date. Good theme and plugin developers all release updates for full WP 5 support.

  5. Reply December 21, 2018 / 15:16 Franck SilvestreSiteGround Team

    I've just noticed that my staging blog has been updated. I use Thrive Theme and plugins, and I have no issue so far. I've disabled the auto update for the production blog, but now I feel good about updating it.

    Will do that after some times though.

    I'm new to SG, but I'm delighted to see how you handled that major update.

    Great work.

  6. Reply December 22, 2018 / 00:55 Gert-Jan DorenbosSiteGround Team

    Excellent job, excellent communication!
    I knew from testing that I would have issues with some of my sites. So I manually did the ones that required changes, and let the auto update do the rest.
    I made the decision earlier this year to move all my sites to SiteGround and I did not regret that one single moment!

  7. Reply December 22, 2018 / 04:55 James KaseSiteGround Team

    Siteground is wonderful. I was away for some time and my website (www.mediangr.com) was successfully updated automatically by Siteground. I'm happy to have my web contents on your platform.

    More grace Siteground team and myself.

  8. Reply December 23, 2018 / 01:52 Kaal Satyanarayan JISiteGround Team

    Yes everyone will be reading this list, but not everyone sticks with it. 98% will do some of these for a few days/weeks then give up. The trick is to keep at it and never to give up.

  9. Reply December 24, 2018 / 05:55 Zee AitchSiteGround Team

    Thanks for being awesome! I was thinking if you can help me update my site linkpak.com.

  10. Reply December 29, 2018 / 07:28 bungazahraSiteGround Team

    I thank you so much for those who wrote the article above that the information is very useful

  11. Reply January 3, 2019 / 14:18 Susanna PerkinsSiteGround Team

    I have several sites hosted with you, some on auto-update and some not. I have to say I was pleasantly surprised by the auto-updating. It went without a hitch.

  12. Reply January 10, 2019 / 13:43 OscarSiteGround Team

    I had to do updates manually on my sites, since the new Gutenberg editor broke the sh*t out of the template I am using that has its own page block editor on top of it. So I needed to rollback the backup and do different tweaks before I would accept wp 5.0

  13. Reply January 25, 2019 / 19:19 RianiSiteGround Team

    Thank you for the post, it's very useful

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