As your website grows, and the number of visitors you receive increases, making improvements on your live site isn’t sensible. Instead, you should consider creating a test site, where you can work on your site without the changes being affecting your user experience.
In this article, we look at what exactly a test site is. We then consider the different ways you can create a test site, and the benefits of these options. Once you have finished reading, you will be well equipped to set up your own WordPress website’s test site.
Why You Should Use a test Site
A test site is simply a copy of your WordPress website that isn’t available to the general public. Once created you can work directly on your test site, make improvements, trial plugins, and generally tinker, without it affecting any aspect of your live WordPress website.
If you don’t use a test site, then every time you want to make changes to your website you run the risk of greatly impacting your user’s experience. If your website visitors encounter frequent changes and interruptions, slow load times or even an unavailable or broken site, then this can damage the reputation of your business. And ultimately lose you leads, customers, and revenue.
Using a test site, or staging environment as it is often referred to, enables you to make changes to your website without time pressure. You can decide what tools and features work best on your site, without worrying that whilst you are working you are hindering the usability of your site. This will result in you being able to produce the best version of your website, which you can then ship to your live site when it is ready.
So now we know why you should use a test site. But how do you set one up?
How to Create a Test Site
There are a number of ways to create a staging area for your WordPress website. Let’s take a look at them…
Staging Provided by Your Web Host
A number of hosting providers offer a staging area as part of their hosting service. WPEngine offers managed staging with all their plans, enabling you to create a copy of your site in their staging area. Here you can test any code, design, or more, and then push changes across to your live site when you are ready.
If WPEngine prices are a little high for your liking, SiteGround’s premium plan ‘GoGeek’ also offers a ‘one-click’ staging environment. Here you can create a copy of your site in a staging area with just one click. Improvements to your live site can be sent with again just ‘one-click’, and SiteGround automatically backups up your site first, in case you want to reverse the changes.
These aren’t the only web hosting providers that offer staging options with their hosting services. Always check out what features are offered, and if staging is included, before choosing a web host and plan for your WordPress website.
Use a Staging Solution
If your web host doesn’t offer a staging feature, then using a hosting solution may be a good option for you. WP Stagecoach is a quick and easy way to create a test site. Working with any host, WP Stagecoach provides a staging environment where you can access and work on your test site. Then push your updates live with just ‘one-click’.
WP Stagecoach also uses a ‘database merge’ feature. This is not an ‘overwrite’ feature, ensuring that your data is never lost. Prices start from $10 a month, and a free trial is also offered, enabling you to be sure this is the solution for you before committing financially.
Using a staging environment provided by your web host or by a staging service, is by far the easiest way to create a test site. However, it will also cost you. Let’s next look at a few free way to create a staging area for your WordPress website.
Manually Set Up a Local Installation
Manually installing WordPress on your desktop, is an approach used by many. Although this may not be the best option for those with limited WordPress experience, once set up, this is a free and easy way to access and work on your test site. To install WordPress directly on your computer check out the WordPress Codex step by step instructions.
Manually Set Up a Subdomain on Your Web Host
Setting up a subdomain with your web hosting service is another straightforward and free option for creating a test site. Your test site will use a similar URL. For example, my personal test site for http://jonesblogs.com is wp.jonesblogs.com. Manually duplicating your site to your subdomain is relatively easy, and most hosting providers provide clear instructions on how to do so.
Use a WordPress Staging Plugin
There are a number of WordPress staging plugins that will enable you to clone and move a site from one location to another. Duplicator is a free WordPress plugin that will copy and move your site to any location you wish. You can move your site between domains on the same server, or between hosts, all with zero downtime. However, using this plugin does require some technical skills, so if you are looking for an easier way to create a test site then WP Staging might be a better option.
WP Staging is another free WordPress plugin that allows you to create a staging area for your website within a few minutes. Extremely straightforward to set up, simply migrate your website in just one-click, and then start working on your test site. WP Staging is great for those who don’t need all the extensive features of Duplicator, but still want to create a test site where they can tinker away in peace.
Final Thoughts on Setting Up a Test Site
As you can see, there are a number of ways to create a staging area – something to suit everyone’s needs. The importance of not working on your live site, and taking the time to create a test site, where you can trial changes and upgrades, cannot be underestimated. So now you know what to do, it’s time to get your test site set up.
Which method will you select to create your test site? Please share your thoughts in the comments below…