I wish I knew why, but over the last month and a half or so I've noticed far more WordPress plugin updates than usual being pushed through. Perhaps developers are getting ready for the WordPress 3.9 core update. Whatever the reason, more plugin updates equals more risk for your website or blog.
Plenty can go wrong when you update a plugin. Sometimes the updates will cause incompatibilities with other active plugins on your site. And sometimes a plugin update is released before it's really ready, causing a variety of blog features to break.
Fortunately you can prevent most mishaps with a simple three-step process. Here's what you can do:
1. Backup your plugins folder.
Log into your hosting account and go to your file manager application in your control panel (or access your files via FTP if you prefer). Ideally you'll be able to zip / compress a copy of your Plugins folder (found within the /wp-content/ folder). Then you can just download the compressed folder to your hard drive as a backup.
I always backup the entire Plugins folder if I'm running multiple updates. If you only have to upgrade one plugin, you might want to compress and download just the folder for that plugin.
If something goes wrong after a plugin update, you can restore your backup by deleting the old Plugins folder, uploading your compressed backup version, and decompressing / extracting it. This simply replaces the updated folder with a copy of the original you backed up when it was working.
2. Backup your database.
Your plugins can also impact your WordPress database, so it's equally important to back that up. You can do this through your hosting account (such as through phpMyAdmin) or using a WordPress backup plugin such as WP Database Backup.
It's a good idea to backup your database frequently, plugin updates or not. I generally do weekly backups for sites I don't update frequently, but sites like this one I try to remember to backup daily. If you can have automatic scheduled backups done, all the better.
3. Check the support forums.
The most important thing I've learned (the hard way) over the years is not to rush into updates uninformed. I suggest checking the WordPress.org support forums for your plugin, or the developer's support forum in the case of premium plugins.
Unless there's a major security update, I generally wait at least 24 hours before updating. This gives me a chance to find out what other problems and compatibility issues the update is causing for others so I can take appropriate precautions and do extra testing where needed.
Do you have other tips to help WordPress users get through the never ending plugin update process more smoothly?