Why WordPress Professionals Use a Staging Server

You have auto WP updates turned on or you see a update notice on your dashboard asking you to update your WordPress site.

With WordPress being so accessible, lot’s of beginner tutorials available, free and premium themes available at $40 – $50 we are seeing a lot of sites being run in a less than professional manner.

It’s great that WordPress allows small businesses and entrepreneurs to get a website when their budgets are very small. I love to see friends and family using their talents and opening up small businesses and WordPress allows that to happen.

Starting out with WordPress is not too hard. It takes a little time to get familiar with and you’ve got yourself a site for next to nothing with little technical skills. Unfortunately you also have a number of people at this stage where they can set up a site and are ready to take customers money and set up your site for very little money.

So you or who you have employed has clicked update and bam your site is site is down and panic begins to set in. At this point usually someone gets blamed and some angry emails are fired off to the person managing your website, to Visual Composer, to your theme author etc etc.

I completely 100% understand that panic and anger. Your site is important. It’s your livelihood.

But the harsh truth is that it should never have happened and it shows a lack of understanding of WordPress and professional practices.

But not to worry. We all start somewhere the great thing is you’re reading this article which means you’re happy to learn.
If this has already happened to you then this is how you stop it happening in the future.

But first, lets understand why it happens

The best way to think of WordPress is like an ecosystem or a machine which lot’s of interacting parts. All those cogs need to work together WordPress, plugins, themes, hosting server, PHP, CSS, Javascript, 3rd party php & javascript like tineyMCE and jQuery. Honestly when you really think of the hundreds of small parts all working behind the scenes to power your website it’s incredible that it runs as smoothly as it usually does. And why does it? Amazing developers coding hard.

You may think it all starts from WordPress, they release an update, then the plugins update, then the themes update. But actually the chain starts before WordPress. WordPress is an ecosystem by itself. It’s comprised of not just it’s own code but it uses lot’s of other open source projects that get integrated into the WordPress Core. Occasionally a plugin gets absorbed into the core, like the rest api did.

So when WordPress release a major update I can guarantee there will be teething problems. If you immediately update your site LIVE you are taking a risk.

When your make changes to your site live we call it cowboy coding. This is bad thing because if something goes wrong your customers see it – this undermines your professional image and your site may be down for hours, even days. Resulting in lost revenue. I think we can all agree, this is not a good thing.

If you take a good look at this WordPress thread it gives you a very good idea of what happens on a WordPress update: https://wordpress.org/support/topic/read-this-first-wordpress-45-master-list

So how do you handle this?

How any real WordPress expert does. Not just a WordPress expert but any professional website developer. You use a staging server.

A staging server in wordpress terms is another WordPress installation that customers don’t see which is a duplicate of your real WordPress site. All the same plugins, content and theme.

There are many ways you can do this but the simplest way is just to to run a second WordPress installation. Often this is will be “staging.domainname.com”. You could do the same thing with a locally installed WordPress site but this is not the ideal way because your remote host is not identical to your local one and even though things may be ok on your local site it might not be ok on your remote site. But it’s better than nothing.

Now before you hit that update button on your live site, you do it on the staging site first and you don’t make those changes to your remote site until you have checked everything is OK and nothing is broken.

What to do if you do find a problem?

The first thing would be to make sure that everything, including bundled plugins, is up to date. The plugin and theme devs may have already fixed it so always do this first ( on the dev site! )

Then look into it, go to their site/support system and see if they are aware of the issue. Most of the time they are and if so be patient as any good dev is prioritising the issue and it may take some time.

But if it does, it doesn’t matter, because you haven’t updated your live site yet. You only update your live site when you’re happy that nothing broke.

How to set up a staging site

One way to run basic a staging site is to setup a new WordPress installation the same you set up your first. Ideally you would want to import all your data from your live site so you can see if any updates visually break your site. You can do this with a backup or migration plugin like updraft or you can export your site as an xml and import into your stating WordPress installation using the WordPress Importer plugin.

But if you want a really simple and easy way to managing a staging site is to use a managed WordPress host. Often they have a simple to use staging feature. For example WP Engine has a staging option: https://wpengine.com/support/staging and so does https://getflywheel.com/why-flywheel/staging-sites

Need help?

If you need help then you can contact me via my hire page for a quote.

Have any other good recommendations for a staging server? Let me know in the comments below. If you found this blog post useful please share it.

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