When was the last time you made a minor change to a file of your website only to find that it has now messed up your homepage? Or you upgraded a theme with your own customizations only to end up crashing your website?
If this has happened to you, we’ve got you covered. If this has never happened to you, we can help you stay cautious and avoid it in the future. In this article, we shall explore what a staging site is, some of its top advantages and why you should use one.
What is a Staging Site?
A staging site is an exact copy of your website. It is a testing ground to experiment with new themes and plugins, even content, before making them live.
The purpose of such a clone is to help you carry out certain changes to a website and test them for feasibility and compatibility. It can be a minor tweak of how a menu looks, a design revamp for an entire page or the creation of a new landing page. Since a staging site has the same setup and settings as the live site, you can mimic the effects of these changes in real-time without risking your actual site.
Staging also helps in reducing domain downtime, preventing mock-ups from going live and allowing all the involved stakeholders to review changes before making them live. This is especially useful for websites with huge incoming traffic.
A staging site should ideally be visible only to the web developers and other stakeholders. This means that it should not be open for search engine indexing as that could increase the danger of duplicate content. It should not be accessible to potential visitors as that could lead to higher bounce and exit rates.
Why Do You Need a Staging Site?
One of the biggest advantages of using a staging site is that it allows you to install site updates without a hassle. While creating a WordPress site is relatively easy, managing the backend needs effort. WordPress Core and plugin updates have been known to sometimes cause other elements of the site to malfunction. But you cannot avoid the updates altogether as the site’s security and your ability to use new features depend on it.
This is where a staging site comes to the rescue. When you run such updates on a staging environment, you will know if a particular update causes any problems. If it doesn’t, you can safely run it on the live site.
Same goes with the installation of plugins where you can test them out on the staging site before installing them on the live site. WordPress is rather popular for the incompatibility between plugins developed by different publishers. As you may have experienced, sometimes when you fix a small issue with one plugin, something else goes for a toss in another plugin. This situation is a bit more complex in sites that have thousands of pages. It can take a long time before you zero in on the fault.
A staging site can also be used for testing out your backup data to see if your site successfully restores to a previous checkpoint. Suffice to say, it ensures that your live site never gets affected whether it is a platform update, an experiment with a new theme, or installation of a new SEO-enabling plugin.
How Does a Staging Site Work?
Wondering how a staging site does all the magic? Well, the easiest way to learn that is to look at the workings of a staging plugin.
When you install a staging site plugin like WP Staging or BlogVault, it creates an exact copy of your website. You have complete control of this site and are free to do all types of experiments. Since it is not visible to the public, you can test out anything that you like.
Depending on the plugin that you use, you can create multiple staging sites. This means if you mess up, you can always delete it and create a new one.
Happy with the experiments you tried on your staging site? Push them live to your actual site through the merging feature – so you don’t have to replicate the process. This nifty feature can be an absolute timesaver. If you are doing this manually, merging all the changes can become tedious. Additionally, you may not remember all the changes that you made, thereby making it a time-consuming and irritating task.
Manually creating a staging site:
Alternatively, if you have the technical expertise you can manually create a staging site through your chosen web host provider like Bluehost or GoDaddy (using cPanel). It involves setting up a subdomain and creating a mirror of your site. As you can assume, it is a complex process and requires a lot more work both during the setup and deployment.
The biggest disadvantage of manually setting up a staging site is that your website will be temporarily unavailable when deploying changes.
Key Benefits of a Staging Site
To summarise why a staging site is a boon to developers, let’s go over the key benefits below:
- Create better versions of your website
- Keep your website updated and up with the latest web trends
- Detect errors and security loopholes
- Experiment with new designs, plugins, and content
- A/B testing
This last feature is especially useful in organisations with multiple stakeholders. You can set up different versions of the website and get different stakeholders to test or use them. This allows for internal brainstorming and often enables designers and web developers to come out with better versions of the website.
Now that you have a fair idea about the basics and importance of a staging site, let’s take a look at creating and using it. There are three major ways to do so:
- Using the in-built staging feature by web host providers (e.g.: Bluehost)
- Using WordPress plugins
- Manual setup
Here we will focus on the most recommended and hassle-free way: using a third-party WordPress staging plugin like BlogVault.
How to Stage with BlogVault?
When you use a WordPress staging plugin, setting up and using a staging site becomes easier. Here are the steps involved in creating a staging version of your site with the help of the plugin:
- Register on BlogVault and add details about your website
- Create a staging site i.e. clone of your website from within the dashboard
- Select your Backup and PHP version from the menu of the dashboard to clone your site
- Wait for a few minutes as the tool creates a mirror of your site
- A login ID and password will pop up in a dialog box. This is the credentials to access your newly-created staging site.
- Click on ‘Visit Staging’ to get redirected to another tab or window where you will be able to access the staging site. You will have complete control over this window.
Also you can check this guide on how to create a WordPress staging site. It will show you how to set up your staging website step by step.
Advantages of Using a Plugin
Compared to other methods, a plugin has the following advantages:
- Easy setup and complete control to edit your staging site
- Easy merging where you can push changes directly from the staging site to the live server.
- Some solutions also offer the option to select changes that you want to take live
- The staging site has no influence on the live website.
- Available as a free trial for first-time user
- Plugins like BlogVault also allow SSL encryption and do not have size limits
Third-party staging plugins provide an easy and efficient way for staging compared to manual self-hosting or using in-house staging functionality provided by web hosts.
Either way, some of the important factors to be considered while choosing a method is to look at the total costs involved, security, and level of control that you will have on the staging site.
A staging site is a safe zone for developers. It not only allows for experimentation and critical maintenance but also enables web developers to innovate in terms of design and technology. The ability to test changes and preview them before taking them live is certainly convenient. It also contributes to the website security. Hence, developing and upgrading your site securely is a wise move.
If you are a WordPress website owner who gets anxious at the idea of even a few minutes of downtime, you should consider creating a staging site. There are multiple must-have WordPress plugins and a staging solution is definitely one of them. In this world of internet-powered businesses, you’d surely agree that it is always better to be safe than sorry!