::by Michael Penner

For WordPress website owners, the frequent system updates are opportunities for something to go wrong. The same is true when it comes time to enhance some aspect of the website visually or through code. In these situations, performing changes on a clone of the website first lets you confront problems in a test environment. This clone is called the staging website. Once any issues are resolved, you can then repeat that success on the live website.

Many web hosts offer a staging website as part of the hosting plan, and use automated methods to clone your live website. For complex websites such as custom job boards or document libraries, a web designer might have to get involved. If a website is that complex, having a clone of it running as a staging website is good insurance against unanticipated downtime and additional costs.

If your web host doesn’t offer a staging website, consider purchasing additional web hosting to get one setup. However, do so only if:

  • Your website is complex. It has user registration validation for membership, e-commerce, portal functionality, or some other specialized feature set.
  • Restoring your website quickly from a backup is difficult or time consuming. If you can click a button and get your website restored to the previous stable state, then most of the time that’s sufficient.
  • Your website is simple, but has custom code that augments a plugin or modifies its behavior in some manner. Updates to that plugin can disconnect it from the custom code. This is a very common scenario in the WordPress universe, and one responsible for most of the breakdowns of a website after an update in my experience. Updating a staging website first in this situation is highly recommended.

There are three benefits to having a staging website:

  • When third party programmers or code authors need Administrator level access to your website to help troubleshoot a problem, you can give them that access on the staging website. You’re not giving access to the live website for a technologist to start poking around in, so anything they do that might make things worse is confined to the clone.
  • The technologist can run very invasive tests, such as deactivating all of your plugins and themes, without impacting your live website.
  • It provides an excellent place for marketing to try different content and layout ideas.

If you think a staging website would benefit your organization, ask your web designer about it. They will be able to tell you the best way to get this done.