Making changes –even the most moderate – on a live website is risky. You could crash your entire website. To avoid such a messy situation, it’s best to use a WordPress staging site before making edits to live website.
Simply put, to stage a website is to clone the live version of that website. In this clone, you can make as many edits as you wish, without affecting the main website. The public won’t have access to the staged site until all changes are done and uploaded to live. Once you are done with the edits, you can push the changes you made on the stages website to the live website.
In this article, you will learn the benefits of staging a website, and how to go about it manually or with WordPress plugins. Even if you are relatively new to WordPress, you should follow along quite easily.
- Benefits of staging a website
- How to create a staging environment
Benefits of staging WordPress website
You build trust amongst your visitors
If a visitor comes to your WordPress website for the very time and sees, “WordPress under maintenance”, that may be the last of that visitor. To avoid such a situation, it’s best to stage the website before running any maintenance routine on it.
Minimizes the chances of hurting your SEO
A website with broken links littered everywhere will certainly not perform well on search results. Google hates broken links. Broken links can be easily and quickly fixed in a staged website. Whereas in a live /production website it can be more difficult.
Easy to set up
You don’t have to be a guru developer to stage your website – basic understanding of WordPress, hosting and c-panel is enough to get the job done.
On the downside, website staging cost time and money depending on your hosting provider. But when you think of it, you would be better off sacrificing the time and the money than losing your audience.
Now you’ve seen why staging a website is needful, let’s get into it – how to stage a WordPress Website.
How to Stage a WordPress Website
There are basically two ways to stage a WordPress website. The first is creating the website locally on your machine, then exporting it to a web server, usually on a subdomain. If all goes well – no errors or bugs – the site is moved from subdomain to the main domain.
The second technique is to create a staging environment directly on a web server. This can be done, as we shall see later, using a plugin or through the help of your host provider.
Staging a WordPress Website Locally
This technique involves turning your PC/Mac to a local server. To do this, you would need a localhost server app. XAMPP and Bitnami are some of the popular ones out there. Both are open source, and for the basic package, you can start for free.
So, go ahead and install your preferred local server on your PC. Once the installation has been completed, install WordPress and start developing the website.
We have written an article which explains, in clear details, how to install WordPress locally. Go check it out if you don’t know how to install WordPress on your desktop computer.
Once you are done designing and developing, test the finished work. Testing a WordPress website on a local machine is counter-intuitive. Reason: you won’t catch potential errors and bugs that may arise when the website eventually goes live. For this reason, it’s always recommended to test the site online.
To start, create a subdomain on your hosting account where all testing will be done. To create a subdomain, log into your cPanel, navigate to “Domains”, click subdomains.
Next, create a subdomain. It could be something like this: “test.mywebsite.com”
After creating the subdomain, install WordPress on it and import the website you created on your local machine. Plugins like All-in-one-WP Migration and Duplicator can help you export and import WordPress site at the click of the button.
Test all links, check all pages and ensure all plugins are working as they should. Something that worked offline on your local server might break on a live server. If all goes well, make the site live by moving it from subdomain to the main domain.
Staging WordPress Website on a Server
Going from local to live server can be time-consuming. Staging your website directly on a live server can save you a lot of time. You can go about this in two ways: use a staging service provider or use a plugin.
Using a Staging Service Provider
Many host providers offer website staging services to their customers, some for free and others for a little token. For such providers, staging can be done at the click of the button. The only drawback to using a host for staging is that your options might be limited. Unless you are building a massive enterprise application, this won’t be much of a problem. Even more, if you are not a tech-savvy person this will work fine for you.
Popular host providers that offer one-click staging setup include Kinsta, WPEngine, and Siteground. Of course, there are lots more out there, but it’s up to you to find them.
Using a WordPress Staging Plugin
If your host provider doesn’t offer staging service, the next viable option is to use plugins. Some plugins make it easy to set up a staging environment, and we shall be looking at two: WP staging and Stage Coach.
1. WP Staging
WP Staging has risen in popularity as a go-to cloning and staging plugin for WordPress website. It’s free, and fast – with it you can create a staging environment in a matter of minutes.
As always, you will first have to install and activate the plugin from your WordPress dashboard.
After installation and activation, click Sites/Start.
Next, click create new staging site.
On the next screen, choose a name for your staging site and start cloning.
After the cloning has completed – which typically takes a couple of minutes – click Open staging site.
At this final stage, you can start running tests on your website, without the live site being affected.
To push changes to the live site, you would have to upgrade to the pro version of the plugin. For personal use, the lifetime purchase of the plugin starts at €89. If you have the budget, by all means, go for it.
2. BlogVault WordPress Staging
Another option is BlogVault WordPress staging which comes with more options like backup, and restore. The only downside is, it is a paid plugin. If you are using a premium managed WordPress hosting like WP Engine you can access their wp engine staging environment which is also a part of BlogVault.
BlogVault starts at $7 per month for 1 website or $89 annually.
3. WP Stagecoach
WP Stagecoach is yet another beginner friendly, WordPress staging plugin. However, it works on a freemium model – you offered a one-month free trial and then pay afterward.
Not only is it easy to use, but you can also push changes to your live website at the click of the button. Even more, the plugin comes with extensive security features to protect your website from the reach of a hacker.
So, if you are working on a large project and need a lot of flexibility and security, WP Stagecoach is your best bet.
WordPress Stagecoach starts at $120 per year.
Making changes to a live website is never a wise thing to do. Even the most experienced developer could make a costly mistake. For this reason, it’s always best to find a way of testing implemented changes without affecting the website in any way. That’s exactly what website staging is all about.
As you have seen in this article, you don’t really have to be tech-savvy to stage your website. Neither do you have to invest thousands into it. You can stage and test your WordPress website on zero budget. For more step by step WordPress tutorials check our WordPress blog.