Latest posts by Ahmad Imran (see all)
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July 2017 update – SiteGround still offers the staging feature to its GoGeek customers on shared WordPress hosting package. After spending two years with SiteGround, I feel that it is a great feature which SiteGround offers to its customers.
However, as I am gaining more experience with WordPress, I am taking a lesser adventurous approach in trialing and testing many plugins and changes in my theme. This means that I am not using the Staging feature as much as I used to be. I still feel that it is important to have that option available and I don’t hesitate to use it when I feel that the risk factor is high to mess up the things.
The rest of this article is not updated since December 2015 except two individual updates in April and May in 2016.
Have you ever broken or significantly dis-functioned your blog while trying to carry out a maintenance task on it?
Perhaps while trying to update your theme.
Or installing and trying a new plugin.
The net result can be a few minutes of suffering to a few hours or possibly days of hassle to bring everything back to normal. Your site visitors see error pages and Google “the boss” is not happy either if the visitor’s experience is significantly impacted.
I have done it before.
I hate it because as my blog is growing now, I don’t want my website to be down or showing errors even for a minute to my readers.
It just feels unprofessional.
If you are in the same boat as me, there is a solution to overcome this situation.
The solution is called as “staging”.
I am going to tell you my simple definition of staging your blog. If you want a detailed explanation, try Brandon Yanofsky’s article on TorqueMag.io where he explains why you need to start using a staging environment.
In my language, staging is when you create a parallel (separate) copy of your live site to carry out maintenance or other tasks on it. Once you complete your work and are happy with all the changes, this amended copy can be pushed back to become the live site again. Your visitors don’t normally see your staging copy as it is intended for you to work on it.
The concept is simple but the key is how easily you can get this done.
You can do this manually, it is trickier but possible. Have a read of WPBeginner’s article on manual staging in detail.
Or you can do it using tools.
I like this option as you can tell that I am not a coder, developer or a programmer. I rely on a “staging tool” as a package available to me so I can complete the task with simple clicks and a bit of common sense.
I am going to tell you in this article how I carry out this task in a step by step guide using my web host SiteGround’s staging feature.
I must apologise if you are not with SiteGround. Your host may have provided the same function (staging) in a slightly different way but the rest of this article will not be strictly relevant if you are not with SiteGround.
If your host does not provide staging at all, you can try an independent service like WP Stagecoach. I have not tried it personally but have read good reviews about it. So proceed with caution.
For those who want to know how to stage your WordPress blog with SiteGround, stay tuned.
I recently needed to update my theme version and install a “heavy-ish” plugin on my blog and hence needed to create a staging environment. In this process, I took a few snapshots and notes which are going to assist me in writing this tutorial for you.
SiteGround Offers Free Staging for WordPress Blogs on Go Geek Plans
I am not going to write about the SiteGround’s quality of service and performance in this article. I have been with them for over 7 months now and all I can say is that they are excellent.
06.07.2017 update – I have completed my 2 years with SiteGround now. See my review of their performance in this article here.
In the meanwhile if you want another authentic review of SiteGround, head over to Jon Morrow’s (BoostBlogTraffic/SmartBlogger) article where he thoroughly recommends using them. He is an authority in blogging and his recommendation certainly weighs more than mine at this stage.
Back to the original topic – staging.
At the time of writing this article, SiteGround offers 1-click-staging on their “GoGeek Plan” and I am having this plan for my WordPress site with them. I automatically get this staging feature included in my CPanel.
Note that if you are on their “StartUp” or “GrowBig” shared hosting plan, you will not be eligible for the “staging” feature as default.
How to Create a Staging Site?
I am going to show you the step by step process with the help of snapshots that I took when I created a staging copy a few days back.
When you click on “Staging” icon under “WordPress Tools” you are presented with a list of your sites which you currently have with SiteGround. At the time of writing this article, only Joomla and WordPress sites are offered staging feature.
You select your website from the list and click on “Create Staging Copy” to start the process of creating a staging copy of your existing and live blog. The next screen gives you an option to restrict access to your staging copy by password-protecting it.
This is useful for two reasons.
First you want restricted number of people (most probably only you) to see your staging copy. Secondly, you don’t want search engine bots etc. to find and index your staging copy either (risk of duplicate content etc.). Hence by specifying a user name and password at this stage will ensure that only people with these credentials can access your staging site.
I always password-protect my staged blog copy.
When you press “Continue”, creation of the staging copy starts.
The whole process of copying your “live site” to create an exact clone in a form of a “staged copy” may take a couple of minutes depending on the size of your website/blog.
Once it completes, you are presented with a screen like below confirming the creation of your “staging copy” (Staging1). This staging copy is created as a sub-domain with a URL of staging1.yourdomainname.com.
One thing worth mentioning here is the location of this “staging copy”.
Staging copies (1 or more) are created and stored under “staging” folder of your root directory. You can access the contents of this staging site via “file manager” and browsing to “staging” folder followed by /1, /2 and similar depending on number of staging sites you have created.
You have successfully created a copy of your live site.
In my case it only takes about 2 to 3 minutes with a blog of approximately 1GB size.
How to Access and Work on Staging Site?
Now that you have created your staging site which is a copy of your live site at this stage, you are ready to work on it.
You access the site by typing “staging1.yourdomainname.com” and because it is access-restricted by you, it will offer you an authorisation box to fill in and continue. Enter the username and password you set up at the time of creating this staging copy and you will enter your staged website.
Have a look around in your staged website. The best check that you are in your staged site is that every URL will be prefixed with “staging1.”, “staging2.” and so on.
Now the real task – to make changes in your website and carry out the maintenance tasks. Just access the WordPress admin panel as you do on your normal site but this time with “staging1.” attached to it.
You type in your address bar “staging1.yourdomainname.com/wp-admin” and you will see the following screen on your display. Ignore the third box (Google Authenticator) as this is an extra which I always use for extra security.
Enter your credentials as you do on your normal website and you will be inside your WordPress back-end (Admin Panel). I repeat here that as you are in your staged website, any changes that you make in this admin panel will not be reflected in your live (main) website. This is valid as long as you don’t physically interfere with any of your main site’s files on the network.
Now you can complete your planned tasks on this staged copy.
In my case, I had to upgrade my Avada theme from existing version (3.8.8) to the latest version (3.9.1) which I completed successfully.
My second main task was to install a robust security plugin for which I installed the iThemes Security plugin first. I then tried the two other alternatives, the Bulletproof Security Plugin and Sucuri Plugin as well. I eventually settled with Sucuri.
The point I am trying to make is that in changing between these three plugins, there was a likelihood that my visitors would have faced errors and blank screens had I been working on my live site. Due to complex nature of these plugins and working with cache system, there was a chance that I could cause the website to break or show error messages etc.
By keeping all these tasks to my staged website, I was confident that any changes, crashes or errors will be insignificant and I can sort them out in isolation before pushing it live for my visitors.
A huge peace of mind and relief.
Once I completed my intended tasks, I came out of the WP Admin Panel and checked my staging website as a normal user to make sure that all changes are accurately picked up and the user experience is smooth and normal. I spent about half an hour checking various elements and once I was satisfied that all tweaks are successful, it was the time for me to push this staging copy back to live status.
Known Limitations of Staging with SiteGround
16.04.2016 update – through my own testing and a further confirmation by Debie Fehling of TECHBOTS via comments, it is confirmed that some security and cache plugins can interfere or do not work properly in staged environment. To turn them temporarily off before creating a staged copy and then making them live again once staged copy is pushed live can be an easy solution in these circumstances. See further details in comments below.
16.05.2016 update – Patrick Connors via his comment on another article about SiteGround’s hosting review has confirmed that the “Avada Fusion Builder” does not work completely in the staged environment. For full details, please refer to “comments” section of the article. This limitation only applies to Avada users running their website with SiteGround and wishing to use the Staging feature.
How to Push Staged Website Copy Back Live to Public?
Once you are finished with your tasks, go back to your “Staging Admin Panel” from CPanel and pick up the option “Push to Live”.
Make sure that you select the correct version of the staging website you want to go live with. In my case, it was the only staging copy that I made hence I selected it to push to live.
There are two ways to push your staged website back live.
Easy Push is simple and with one click the system does the rest for you. I like it and use it frequently. It mirrors the staged website to a live website in a matter of minutes.
Advanced Push is for intermediate and advanced users. It gives you options to choose what changes you want to push (implement) and what changes you don’t want to make public. In essence, more control over your changes in staged environment.
Depending on your level of expertise, choose one option. I am well-happy with the Easy Push option.
It then asked me for a confirmation with a note that my existing “live copy” will be backed up just prior to pushing this “staged copy” public – another added layer of security and a peace of mind.
I can’t complain. Ideal.
Confirming your choice will start the process of making your “staged copy” go live. Again the process is only going to take a few minutes (in my case 3 to 5). Once completed, you will get a confirmation.
Your changes and “staged copy” have now replaced your existing live site.
I have been using WordPress Staging with SiteGround for a few months and have used staging for more than 10 times now. I never had any issues or glitches that left a bad taste for me.
It looks and performs like a robust feature and SiteGround deserves praise for that.
What to Do with Your Staged Copy?
Depends on your circumstances.
If you want to use it further for future tweaks, keep it and keep working on it as you have done above.
In my case, my changes are defined and I like to create a new “staged copy” every time I want to make significant changes. Hence I chose “Destroy” option and deleted the staging site completely.
Whatever you do, just make sure that a staging copy is more or less the same size as your main site and taking up space from your allocated quota on your web hosting. If you don’t need it, there is no harm in removing it.
You can also replicate the staging copy as well. This will create an exact copy of your staged website and will be named in sequential order (example – staging2 if staging1 is your main staged copy). You can use this feature to create more than one staging copies of your website with different credentials and allow different parties to work on their allocated staging copy.
All without affecting your primary and live website.
WordPress Staging with SiteGround – Wrap up
Staging is a great tool and it took me a few months to fully understand its importance and use it for my benefit.
I don’t know at what stage is your blogging journey.
Sooner or later, you will find that you need to use staging to make sure that your live site and its experience is not affected due to your maintenance and other WordPress related tasks. Everyone makes mistakes and you will too.
It is always better to play safe and use this tool to keep those mistakes to yourself and not let them impact your visitor’s experience and your overall brand image.
If you are with SiteGround, I hope you are going to try this feature.
If you are not with SiteGround, investigate if your hosting provider offers “staging” as an option. I know a few reputable hosts provide staging as a built in offer for its customers.
And if it does not, a third party option such as WP Stagecoach can also be a consideration.
Let me know what do you think about Staging in general and if you believe it is a useful tool?
Have you had any experience with staging before?, if so, which company did you use and how was the overall experience?