As any new—or in some cases, experienced — web developer will tell you, launching a website or making changes to a live site can be ridden with anxiety.
There are moments spent hovering over the ‘Update’ button, checking off steps, going through protocol, double and triple checking your thought process. And then, you take the leap and click.
If you’re developing a website on WordPress, you’re probably all too familiar with these feelings, especially if you don’t have the comfort (or know how) of a WordPress staging site. Luckily, it becomes much easier not to fear the ‘white screen of death’ when you know there’s a place for practice rounds and testing.
This place (also known as a staging site) allows you to tweak aspects of any established web design to your heart’s content—without ever impacting the final product (until you’re ready).
In this article, we’ll walk you through the ways in which you can go about staging WordPress sites from beginning to end.
Why Should I Bother Setting Up a WordPress Staging Site?
Staging WordPress sites provides a regular sense of relief when in development. Think of it essentially as a ‘clone’ or copy of your website that is totally inaccessible to the public. It’s a playground (some people even refer to it as a sandbox) for every new vision you may have of what your website could be.
Rather than upload every single change made immediately to your live site, this can first be done through your staging site that lives on the same server. It’s its own space for development with limited access and an endless array of possibility.
The benefits behind establishing a WordPress staging site include:
- As opposed to putting up a maintenance mode page, having a staging environment allows you to test and make changes without feeling pressured by recurring downtime.
- You’re at less risk of pushing errors to your live site, causing downtime, and negatively affecting the experience of your visitors.
- You’re at less risk of negatively impacting other initiatives working in tandem with your website, such as SEO, sales, lead conversions, etc.
How to Approach Staging WordPress Sites
There are a number of methods to consider when staging your WordPress site. And what works best for you will probably be dependent upon your website development comfort level—and the tools provided by your web host.
From the more automatic to the manual, let’s explore the available options.
Work Through Your Web Host to Create a Staging Site
From WP Engine to Flywheel, Kinsta to SiteGround, there are a number of WordPress hosting sites that simplify the day to day management of your website. They’re user-friendly and often take care of much of the heavy lifting that can be required when it comes to ongoing website maintenance.
Best of all, many of these web hosting solutions offer one-click staging site solutions. This makes setting up staging for your WordPress websites a breeze and empowers even the most non-technical users to find success. As with any built-in functionality, however, there will be some limitations on what you have control over, with regards to your WordPress staging environment.
Utilize WordPress Staging Plugins
There’s a plugin for just about everything when it comes to your WordPress site.
Accepting donations as a non-profit or upcoming fundraiser? Donation plugins to the rescue. Adding an extra layer of security to your logins from potential hackers? Consider a plugin for two factor authentication. Embedding a ‘What flavor jelly bean are you?’ quiz onto your homepage? Well, if you must, then there are plenty of polling and voting plugins to get the job done.
Staging your WordPress site is possible through a handful of WordPress staging plugin options, as well. While they may not allow you to really dig into the backend code of your website thoroughly, they will provide a means for testing basic changes without negatively impacting your live site.
Using a tool like WP Staging or Duplicator, you’ll be able to ensure the functionality of your site is in working order and verify whether other plugins or themes are compatible with little to no configuration required.
Manually Create a WordPress Staging Site
For the ultimate control of your WordPress staging site end result, you’ll inevitably need to create the environment via manual setup. This will require a fair amount of technical know-how, or at least a strong desire to learn, in order to achieve. Once complete, however, you’ll have a customized sandbox environment for thorough testing to your heart’s desire.
At their most basic, steps to set up your staging site manually will include:
- Setup WordPress locally, or create a subdomain through your web host.
- Generate a copy of your website — the files and database.
- Import the copied data into your new WordPress installation and ensure that any URLs and links point back to your database.
If you are fairly comfortable with MySQL database operations, this manual option will be relatively straightforward. Otherwise, utilizing either a plugin or working through your WordPress web host will certainly be the best options for beginners.
Pushing Your Changes to a Live WordPress Site
Once you’ve done your necessary quality assurance through a staged site, for upcoming changes to your WordPress site design and functionality, it’s time to make them a reality. If your staging environment is established through your web host or a plugin, pushing changes live is often just a matter of clicking a button!
If you’re going about testing website changes through a manual system, the live push will require a little more manual labor. There are ways to set up automated deployment functionality from staging to live, but doing so allows for greater risk of something going wrong during the transition.
As a general rule of thumb in these instances, opt for rolling out tested changes manually to your live site once everything is said and done on the staged end.
Final Thoughts: Staging WordPress Sites for Beginners: 3 Ways
Staging your website changes through a separate environment may seem like a hassle, but the amount of time it will save when it comes to fixing potential errors is irreplaceable.