Ever wondered what you would do if you update a plugin or a theme on your WordPress website and suddenly you get the white screen of death? If you’re smart you have backups of your website, however you’re now in a situation where you can’t update your plugin and theme without your website being down until you fix it. And can you imagine the level of difficulty or confusion your visitors will face in the meantime? All this will end up bad for your visitors and even your SEO as your website is basically useless until you’ve fixed the issue.
It is expected that after updating any plugin, you might face some problems because you don’t know how this plugin goes with your WordPress website. The main question is, how would you overcome this problem? Or is there any solution to this problem?
Luckily, creating a staging environment for your WordPress website is the best solution to this problem. Many smart website owners use this process to avoid mishaps with their website. At the same time, this might be a new terminology to you. To make it a little clearer, let’s briefly take a look at what it means to have a staging environment for your WordPress website.
WordPress staging environment
A staging environment is an environment where you test and experience any new updates on your website to check how it will work with your original website. More often it is done on an offline clone website that doesn’t affect your original website and is commonly called staging website. Basically it’s a clone of your live website, this is just placed on a different server hidden away from the public.
For instance, if a plugin on your website shows you that a new update is available and you want to update it, but without creating any hassle for your visitors. Then the best way before updating any plugin is to follow an extra step, that step is to update the plugin on your staging environment to see the effect of this update. This will show you what other changes you need to make, in order to make your website work with this new version of the plugin. The same applies for a theme update.
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Who needs WordPress staging?
Everyone who is serious about their website or business should be using a staging website. You can always safely build pages and blog posts without a staging website, but everyone needs to update their plugins to stay up-to-date and secure. In this case you need WordPress staging. Remember a plugin with a bug in it, can lay down your whole website.
Being humans, we are always prepared with a backup for such situations, but you still need to solve the issue as not updating your plugins isn’t an option.
Shutting down a website (even for a few moments only) to restore a backup will badly affect your traffic. We have many famous e-commerce websites like WooCommerce, WP Rich Snippets, and others. These are the one of the top e-commerce websites, and research shows that WooCommerce powers around 42% of all the e-commerce websites.
Websites like these who face millions of visitors at the same time face many crashes but what is the reason that we never heard any complaint or reviews about their crashes? Why do these websites never go offline?
Most probably, the reason is that the developers of these websites might be using a staging environment along with a frequent backup to make an easy experience for their customers. Because without any staging environment they can’t experiment with new updates, as sometimes new updates will result in a bug and might turn away your visitors.
Should you use a staging environment for your website?
It depends on the complexity of your website if you need a staging environment or not. Besides, it also depends on how often you update your plugins, themes and more. Moreover, the more visitors you have on your website, the bigger is the recommendation for you to use a staging environment to make changes.
If you are running a small website or a blog, then it doesn’t ruin you if your website is down for a couple of minutes. However, if you want to add some additional features, which will make your website more complex, you should think about doing this in a staging environment. E-commerce websites are one of the examples of complex websites. So, in that case, it’s highly recommended using a staging environment.
So far, I have briefly discussed the WordPress staging and who needs it the most. Now let’s see why you need to create a WordPress staging site.
I show you the important things in a short format.
Reasons why I use a WordPress staging environment
As discussed above, staging sites are mirror websites. It is widely used while updating the pre-existing sites to ensure that your visitors won’t get affected while you make changes to your website. You can also use this feature while creating a new website to check how it looks when the new website goes live.
I have always used a staging environment for my projects. While working with WordPress staging, I have come across to different experiences which I am sharing below:
- It gave me the area to troubleshoot the plugin’s issues without affecting my live website.
- This allowed me to make many major changes without taking any risks and putting my website in maintenance mode.
- The best part is while updating my website I am not worried about my website’s SEO because I am experimenting on my clone website, so my original website is still live and accessible to the visitors hassle-freely.
- In the end, I always come up with a better version of my website, as I have been able to work in peace.
Besides, offering so many benefits, I want to highlight a few things using a staging website which I don’t like:
- The staging site is not always an exact copy of your live website. However, it gives you the closest results.
- When you push your changes from staging to live, you often override if you’ve made any changes on your live site.
- If you have comments or subscribers on your live site, you don’t have on your staging site, then remember to export them first.
- Some hosting companies charge extra for staging websites.
Fortunately, I know how to alleviate these potential issues, so I consider them minor and have methods to get around them, as explained above.
I hope you are all clear of how a staging environment works. Now let’s talk about the ways you can create your own WordPress staging.
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How to create a staging environment for your WordPress website
Before I proceed further, please keep in mind that the creation of a WordPress staging depends on the purpose and your hosting. If you want to use it for testing or training, you can create it in any way you want. But, if you want a WordPress staging for higher purposes like adding new pages, revising code and design changes, or implementing WordPress updates, you have to be more specific about selecting the method as in that case you want an identical copy of your live website.
Here I am going through 3 different methods, on how you can create an identical version of your WordPress website:
- Manual method.
- Work with your managed WordPress hosts.
- Use a WordPress plugin.
Setting up a WordPress staging website manually
Pro-tip: If you are a beginner, then this method is not for you. However, this method works better with advanced WordPress users because of having knowledge of MySQL database operations.
I usually prefer the manual method because it gives me total control of the staging setup. Let’s see how this method works:
- For doing, it manually, I first create a subdomain via my cPanel, if you don’t have a cPanel you have something similar, cPanel is just the most used. This subdomain allows me to create a staging website in a separate folder without affecting the primary databases and other contents.
- After clicking it, I name that subdomain and then click create.
- The next step is followed by creating a dedicated FTP account which will restrict me to only staging environments and prevent accidental modifications to the live site.
- A new FTP account is a single step away, fill all the required fields and click create but remember keep the directory same to the sub-domain to get direct access to the specified directory only.
- Now, I am all set with a sub-domain. I start copying data from the original website to the staging environment.
Note: this is an additional step and is optional. I follow this step to avoid any accidental changes for the original website.
Once I finish, my staging website is ready for all types of testing and changes without affecting the original one.
Tip: Remember to discourage search robots to index your staging website as you will be hit by duplicate content by Google.
Setting up WordPress staging using managed WordPress hosting provider
If you are a beginner and want a quick and easy process for creating WordPress staging, then managed WordPress hosting is the best fit for you.
If you want to know more about managed WordPress hosting, I have analysed the top tier, you should check it out.
- WP Engine
Above mentioned are some of the best managed WordPress hostings that offer you a one-click staging or pre-made staging areas. All you have to do is log in to your hosting account and create a new staging website on your account.
Here your WordPress host also keeps a backup for your staging website, so you never have to worry about breaking the staging website, and have a quick way to reset it.
Unlike manual settings, you don’t have to create folders and do a lot of manual work. All the things are pre-set with managed WordPress hosts. You just have to copy the original website’s data, test your new changes, and then instantly push your changes to your live website with just a single click.
I am a frequent user of Kinsta, so here I am sharing the procedure on creating a WordPress staging with Kinsta:
- I select the website first that needs to be cloned then click on the change environment button in the drop-down bar, and then I select “staging environment”.
- Click on the “create staging environment” button, and then wait a couple of minutes for Kinsta’s system to create your staging environment.
- I have enabled SSL on my live website so it will also enable the SSL on my staging website. Then I have to wait 10-15 mins while my staging website is creating. After that, I have my separate control panel with my connection information, backups, DNS, tools, and plugins for my staging environment.
The URL of my staging website will be something like this: https://sitename-staging.kinsta.cloud.
Now I can get started working on whatever changes I want to do, and when I’m done, I simply press “Push Staging to Live”, and after a couple of minutes, my changes are live on my live website.
Create a WordPress staging website by using a plugin
This is one of the easiest methods compared to the other 2. The WordPress admin area allows you to install a plugin that will automatically handle copying the data and information between your live website and your staging sites. Here are the 3 best, I’ll dig into each one of them:
- All-in-one WP migration
- WP staging
- WP stagecoach
All-in-one WP migration
This is a simple plugin that allows you to export a copy of your website. Steps followed for this are mentioned below.
- Download and install the plugin
- Go to the plugin in the admin menu
- Export from the admin area
- Save the export files
- Import them to a newly installed subdomain, as described earlier in this article
It is a go-to staging plugin for creating WordPress staging sites. WP staging makes it easy for everyone to create access to their staging site. The procedure is as follows.
- Download and Install the staging plugin
- Click staging
- Create a new staging site
- Name your staging site
- You will see a sub-directory for it under your WordPress website.
- Click on “start cloning”.
- Once the process is done you can use the admin credentials to log into the staging website.
WP staging is one of the fastest ways of creating a WordPress staging website.
This plugin will allow you to create the staging web within no time. WP Stagecoach is great in their communication and is extremely simple to use. I’ve made a small guide for using WP Stagecoach, as a great WordPress staging plugin, the step by step guide is as follows:
- Install the plugin
- Click on ride the stagecoach.
- Select which changes you want to import.
- Wait for the staging website to come into action, and WP Stagecoach has done it’s job.
With this plugin, you can also secure your staging sites by setting a password.
Note: This plugin runs on its own server. So you might encounter a difference in the environments of both original and the staging website which might lead to technical difficulties.
It’s evident that everyone wants a stress-free experience while working on their website. That’s why many website owners use WordPress staging, where they can experiment and test many new changes and updates without affecting the live website. In my opinion, using WordPress staging is a smart choice, and I am personally using a staging environment for my website. Overall you will also see a peak in your quality for your website, the reason being you can work more calmly with your website knowing that whatever you do, doesn’t affect your website poorly in any way.
So if you don’t use a staging environment for your website today, I would strongly recommend you getting started. And it’s not only WordPress websites, any type of website requires a staging environment to keep the quality up. If you have any questions on how you set up your staging environment let me know.