What is a Staging Site?
A staging site is a copy of your live site where you can make changes and not worry about breaking your site. It can either live in a sub domain on your hosting, or on your own computer, or you can use plugins that will let you setup a staging site on their server.
Many hosting plans also provide a staging site. Staging sites are usually not indexed by the search engines. So, that means your content/new features won’t be public until you are ready to release them.
Why do I need a staging site?
1. Website Maintenance
If you are using a WordPress site, you need to regularly check (at least once a month) for WP core, plugins, and theme updates. These updates are essential for the smooth running of your site. Sometimes, these updates cause issues on your site. If you test the updates on a staging site first, you can make sure that none of the updates caused issues on your site and that the site is still working like it should. If something does break, you do not need to panic since it is on your staging site, not your live site and won’t affect your users. You can first fix it on your staging site and then push it to the live site.
2. Site edits or adding new features
Websites are always changing. You might want to add a cool new feature to your site, edit a page layout or perhaps add a landing page for the holidays. Staging sites help you do this without affecting the user experience. You can work on your new pages on your staging site first. If you are experimenting on page layouts for your new product or your holiday landing page, you obviously do not want your users to see it yet. So, you can do all of that on the staging site and when the page layout is complete and ready for release, you can push everything to the live site.
3. Check for theme or plugin conflicts
As mentioned above, WordPress core, plugin or theme updates can sometimes cause the site to crash or cause issues with some features of your site. In those cases, you will need to figure out which theme or plugin is causing the issue. Usually the way to check this, is to deactivate all plugins and themes and switch to the WP default theme and then check one-by-one to see which one is causing the error. If you do this on the live site, it might completely break your site as many components of your site depend on themes and plugins. So, a staging site provides you with the safe environment to test and fix issues. You can read more about checking for theme or plugin conflicts here.
We strongly recommend always backing up your site before changing or making any updates on your site.
Setting up a Staging Site
There are many different ways to set up a staging/testing site. Below is a list of pro’s and con’s grouped from the most technical options to the least technical options.
Option 1: Setting up a staging site on your own local computer:
One of the best ways to set up a staging site would be to set it up on your local environment i.e. you will be setting up a copy of your site on your local computer. Here are the pros and cons of local setup:
- It is free. You do not pay anything.
- You can work on your site offline. This is not an issue these days, but it does come in handy for me sometimes.
- Since this is not online, nobody can see your content. Best way to test themes or plugins or work on that cool new landing page.
- You have to manage everything – setting it up, fixing it if it breaks.
- Requires some level of technical knowledge or you need a developer to set it up for you.
- This kind of setup is not usually exactly like your online site. Sometimes the server configuration varies (although you can set it up exactly how you want it).
Here are some links to help you get started:
- Setting up XAMPP (for PCs)
- Setting up MAMP (for Macs)
Option 2: Using hosting that provides a staging site
Many hosting companies provide a staging or testing site for you. These are pretty easy to use – usually with a single click of the button.
The downside is that these hosts can be very expensive.
- Wp Engine
There are some other hosting companies offering managed hosting as well. But the above mentioned are few of the best ones. Learn more about managed hosting options here – https://www.wpkube.com/best-managed-wordpress-hosting/
Option 3: Using plugins to create a staging site
There are a number of plugins that will help you with creating a staging site or a copy of your live site. There are free and paid version of plugins depending on the features you need. Here are some of them;
Duplicator does exactly what the name says. It duplicates your site files and the database. You can download the files and install them on a new server. This has a free and a pro version and does a pretty good job. I have used the free version on many sites.
But, this also requires a little technical knowledge so that you understand what you are doing.
Wp staging creates a staging site with the click of a button. You can select which folders you want in the copy (if you have sub folders on your site, you can choose not to include them). It creates a staging site in a sub-folder on your site.
The plugin is free and is very nice if you just want to deactivate themes or plugins to check for compatibility.
If you want to make changes to your staging site and push them back to the live site, you’ll have to get the pro version. (Note: If you are out of space on your server, then this might not help.)
Wp Stagecoach also creates a staging site with the click of a button. Here the staging site is created on the WPS server.
The plugin does not have a free version, but the price is reasonable and definitely worth it. You can make changes to your staging site and push the changes back to your live site with a single button click.
If we missed your favorite staging option, let us know in the comments!