What the #&@! is a Staging Site?
A stage or staging environment is an environment for testing that exactly resembles the production / live environment.
Many users are reluctant to set up a staging environment. For different reasons. These can be:
It takes a lot of time to do. – This is not true. A lot of hosting providers already provide one-click solutions for setting up a staging site from your live one. Even if yours doesn’t there are other solutions.
I don’t know how. – It takes a bit of time to learn. But it’s absolutely worth it. There are plenty of resources (like this) and utilities (see below) that can help you with this.
It’s superfluous / I don’t need it. – There are definitely cases where it is not necessary. For example I do not have a staging version of this current website. This site is a hobby and if it goes down for a day because of something going wrong I will not be nervous and I will not lose money. But if we are talking about a website that puts bread on the table, then a staging site is a must!
I have a backup. – Backups are great and everyone should have them. If you want to keep your website up-to-date, and especially if that website brings you money, then having a staging site can ensure you (almost) zero downtime. A backup cannot.
And I’m sure there are other reasons as well.
So why should I have a staging site?
First and foremost, a staging site is for testing any changes that you want to do on your website.
You can do it on the staging site undisturbed. While you’re working on the staging site your live (production) site is unchanged and your visitors undisturbed. Content can still be accessed, comments submitted, purchases made.
Second, if you are testing a change and something goes wrong – a plugin update breaks your site for example – then you can show it to the support people, they can log in and check what the issue is much faster. They don’t need to ask you questions, and spend precious time setting up the same kind of environment.
How can I set up a staging site?
You can do it manually. But I don’t recommend that. It’s free, but try to do it once and you’ll know what I mean. I only recommend this if you’d like an “adventure” and you have lots of time on your hand.
You might already have a 1-click staging site option within your hosting package. If you don’t know whether you have that or you cannot find it, reach out to your hosting provider.
Or you can use a plugin like WP Staging that can create a staging site for you or a plugin that can migrate your site to a new domain. Usually pro versions of backup plugins offer that.
If you’d like to learn more about how you can create a staging site, I had a talk about this in 2018 at WordCamp Lausanne. You can check out the video on wordpress.tv.
This year (2019) in September I participated at WordCamp Zürich in Switzerland. I applied with a talk about how a support exchange, and thus reaching a resolution can be made faster. And I thought it would make a great blog series.
This is the sixth set of tips for Clients in the Faster Support – For Both Sides series.