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 a live website.
Simply put, to stage a website is to clone the live version of that website. You can make as many edits as you wish in this clone, without affecting the main website. The public won’t have access to the staged site. Once you are done with the edits, you can push the changes you made on the staged 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
Here, we will show you some of the benefits of staging your WordPress site. In addition, we will list some of the drawbacks that may arise when you stage your 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 create a WordPress staging site 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. Thankfully, 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
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 the main aspect of this guide.
How to Stage a WordPress Website
There are several methods of staging a website, however, all these methods can be categorized into two. This means, there are basically two ways to stage a WordPress website.
The first involves cloning your live site locally on your machine, then exporting it to a web server, usually on a subdomain after testing and making any changes to your site. If all goes well – no errors or bugs – the site is moved from the 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 using your PC/Mac as a local server. To do this, you would need a localhost server app. XAMPP and WAMP 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.
To clone your live website, you need to download your site from the live server to the local server using an FTP client such as Filezilla. Please check this guide to learn how to use FTP.
After the download is completed, you need to also download a backup of your database file and then import the database to your local server through PHPMyAdmin. Read this guide to learn how.
Lastly, edit your wp-config file to reflect the new database on your local server.
We have written an article that explains, in clear detail, 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, you can now access your site locally and begin designing and testing new features. 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.
How to Create a Subdomain on cPanel
To create a subdomain, log into your cPanel, navigate to “Domains”, click subdomains.
Next, create a subdomain. Enter the name of your subdomain (eg staging). Next, select your website’s address from the Domain dropdown. Lastly, click on the Create button. The resulting subdomain will look similar to this: “staging.mywebsite.com”.
After creating the subdomain, install WordPress on it and import the website on your local machine. Plugins like All-in-one-WP Migration and Duplicator can help you export and import WordPress sites 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 the subdomain to the main domain.
The downside to using a subdomain is that duplicate posts will be discovered by search engines which may negatively impact your sites’ ranking. To fix this, you can discourage search engines from indexing your staging site from your WordPress dashboard.
For this, go to Settings >> Reading, scroll down and tick the box to discourage search engines from indexing your site. Click on Save Changes once done.
You should also hide your staging site so it is not accessible to the general public. For this, you can use the Hide My Site plugin to password protect your staging site.
Staging a WordPress site 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 the staging option from your hosting providers or use a WordPress 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 a 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 a 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.
If your hosting provider does not provide staging functionalities, do not worry, you can still achieve it using a WordPress plugin as we will see in the section below.
Using a WordPress Staging Plugin on your Site
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 three: BlogVault, WP staging, and Stage Coach.
1. WP Staging
WP Staging has risen in popularity as a go-to cloning and staging plugin for WordPress websites. It’s free, and fast – with it you can create a staging environment in a matter of minutes.
After installation and activation, go to WP Staging >> Sites/Start.
Next, click on the create new staging site button.
On the next screen, choose a name for your staging site and start cloning.
After the cloning has been completed – which typically takes a couple of minutes – click Open staging site.
You can start running tests on your website at this final stage, 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 are offered a 5-day 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 $99 per year.
Making changes on 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.
The option you decide to use depends on your budget and time. If your hosting providers support staging, then it is probably the best option for you. Also if you have the budget, you may decide to use a staging plugin and ease the workload of manually creating a staging site.
As you have seen in this article, you don’t have to be tech-savvy to create a WordPress staging site. 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.
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