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Mastering WordPress Staging: Best Practices for Website Testing and Development

Updated on September 21, 2023

9 Min Read
wordpress staging

Creating a WordPress staging website lets you test changes without affecting your live website.

For agencies and individual developers, this is especially relevant. The WordPress staging site environment lets you accelerate the development workflow and deliver mockups to your clients before the deadlines.

Once everything’s in place and clients approve the designs, you can push your changes to the live website with the click of a button.

There are various ways you can create a WordPress staging site. You can opt for a WordPress staging plugin like WP Staging, BlogVault, or WP stagecoach. Or you can look for the fastest WP hosting offering free staging services.

And if you are confused about picking the right hosting provider then you can find out by trying our free web hosting pricing calculator.

In this guide, you’ll learn both these ways to deploy a staging environment.

What is a WordPress Staging Environment?

A staging environment, also referred to as a staging website or area is an exact replica of your live site.

You can first test changes (and improvements) on the staging site without disturbing the live site. Once everything works perfectly, just “push” or deploy the changes to the live site.

Why Set Up a WordPress Staging Website?

You might set up a WordPress staging website:

  • To play around with the code and work on new site elements
  • Utilize it as a testbed for your server configuration

Staging environments mitigate the risk of coding or design mistakes getting pushed onto the live site. Plus, your live site will face no downtime when using a staging environment.

Troubled with pushing your changes to the live site?

With Cloudways one-click staging, you no longer need to worry about pushing and pulling changes between production and staging..

How Can You Build WordPress Staging Sites with Your Web Host?

Well, with Cloudways, you can use a step-by-step approach to creating a WordPress staging site.

Step 1: Log in to the Cloudways Platform

To build a staging website, you must have a WordPress site launched on a dedicated WordPress hosting server. I assume you already have an account with Cloudways. If you don’t, create it here.

If you already have a Cloudways account, log in to the Platform.

Log in to the Cloudways Platform

Step 2: Create a Staging Application

Now create the staging environment for the application you want to play with:

  • Go to the Application tab
  • Select the WordPress site you want to create the staging environment for. I am selecting Store 2
  • Click the vertical dots beside the selected application, and select clone app/create staging

clone app/create staging

Step 3: Select a Server for the Staging Application

  • Once you have clicked on clone app/create staging, you’ll be prompted to select a staging server
  • Select any existing server or a new server from the drop-down menu
  • Checkmark create as staging
  • Click Continue

Select a Server for the Staging Application

Note: creating a staging application can take some time.

creating a staging application can take some time.

  • Once the staging application is live, you can see the Staging tag beside the application’s name in the Applications tab.

see the Staging tag

Your staging website is now ready. You can now safely make the changes to your website without worrying about its impact on the live website.

Step 4: Copy Data from Staging to Live

Once you have made the changes to your staging website, it’s time to push these changes onto the live website.

For this, you need to follow a few simple steps;

  • Go to the Staging application
  • Click on Staging Management

staging management

You’ll now see three options:

  • Push: You can push the changes you made on the Staging application to the Live application.
  • Pull: You can pull the contents of the Live application to the Staging application.
  • Logs: You can view the deployment logs for all the Push and Pull requests.

Push and Pull

I’ll select push to implement the changes made on the staging version to the live or production environment.

select push to implement the changes

  • Since I want to push both web application files and database to the live website, I am check-marking both.
  • You also have a choice to take a file and database backup. I recommend taking a backup so that you can restore your original website in case of an unfortunate event.

P.S:  Here is a must-read guide about how to create a WordPress staging site environment on Cloudways.

Step 5: Restore your application

If you didn’t like the changes on your live application, you could always roll back, provided you have created the backup for it.

The process of restoring your application is fairly simple.

  • Go to your live website
  • Select Backup and Restore

Backup and Restore

  • Click on Restore your application now

Restore your application now

How to Build a WordPress Staging Site Using the WordPress Staging Plugin

The staging process becomes a lot simpler with plugins.

Several plugins, such as BlogVault, WP Staging, and WP Migrate DB, are popular choices for creating a staging site for your live website. Check the plugin before installation to avoid compatibility issues.

To create staging through a plugin:

  • Login to your live WordPress website using the admin credentials
  • Navigate to Plugins > Add New

Add new plugin

  • Search for either WP Staging or WP Migrate DB.

In this guide, I will use the WP Staging plugin. So to continue, install and activate the plugin.

install plugin

Activate plugin

The WP Staging plugin will ask you to get the pro version or just click the Skip – Start Cloning hyperlink. Before proceeding, do not forget to back up your WordPress site. Backup files are important to avoid risks.

skip and start cloning

  • Click the Create New Staging Site This will take you to the configuration screen.
  • Enter the Staging Site Name and explore the other options to choose what you want to clone.

start cloning

Do not forget to Check free disk space, especially if you have a large live website.

  • Now, click the Start Cloning

processing

The WP Staging site will be created in a few minutes, and you can log in to the dashboard with the admin credentials of your live website.

processing complete

You can test the changes without affecting the live website. However, the ability to push changes back to the live site is only available in the premium version.

If you do not want to pay for the Pro version, go ahead and take advantage of the complete push/pull website staging environment offered by Cloudways.

How to Delete a Staging Site

If you are on Cloudways, deleting a staging site is similar to deleting any other application.

  • Hover over the application and click delete staging

Delete Staging Site

Migrate WordPress Site

Want to try out the WordPress website staging environment?

No problem. Easily migrate a WordPress site to Cloudways using our free WP Migrator Plugin.

Common Staging Problems and Fixes

Here are few common staging problems that may arise and their solutions;

Problem Solution
Search Engine Indexing Use a robots.txt file to disallow search engine crawlers or use meta tags to prevent indexing.
Staging Sites Sending Emails You can fix this by redirecting all emails to a dummy account or developer’s account during testing.
Problems with Licensing Check with the software provider to see if they offer staging or development licenses.
Overwriting Live Data Use deployment tools or procedures that merge changes without overwriting newer data.

Our Recommended Best Practices for Staging Sites

You need to look out for a few crucial things before you take up the task of creating a staging environment. I’ll discuss each of these separately.

  • Take a Full Backup

A full backup includes all the files and databases backed up on either your server or an off-site location where they can be retrieved at any time.

A partial backup, by contrast, doesn’t include all the theme files, plugin files, media files, and the database.

Also, taking an immediate backup just before you start working on the staging is crucial. It might be days before the automatic backup happens. Be prepared for any eventuality that might necessitate reverting to the latest version of your site.

Backing up a site now is a lot easier. You can use backup plugins to create a copy of your site and upload them manually to a subdirectory.

  • Clear Your Cache

Even as someone who has worked with websites for a long time, the cache still bothers me with website changes.

We make website changes, push them to live, and see that nothing has changed. After hours of head scratching, we realize that the cache has been showing the previous version, and we need to clear it to see changes.

Clear your cache when you push your new changes to the live site to see your changes without delay.

  • Keep Your Production Database Separate From the Staging Database

Never interfere with your production database; it puts your entire website at risk of getting broken. This means you should never mix the staging database with your production database by overwriting the latter when working in a staging environment.

  • Don’t Give Public Access to Your Staging Site

Always consider your WordPress staging sites as controlled environments where you conduct your experiments. Keep them private and secure.

This means that you need to no-index and no-follow the sites so they don’t appear on the search engine. Also, make sure to password-protect your staging site for extra security.

Conclusion

To wrap up this guide, I’ll revisit the article’s main premise: staging sites are essential for WordPress development workflows.

If you have anything to ask about the Cloudways WordPress staging sites or creating a staging server, feel free to ask me in the comments section below. Our managed WordPress hosting provides a robust infrastructure for staging sites.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q. What do you mean by a WordPress staging environment?

The WordPress Staging environment is a dedicated environment for testing the codebase of WordPress websites. It is an independent replica of the production environment.

Q. What is the WordPress staging server?

The staging environment includes a staging server similar to the production server. You should always create the staging environment on the same spec server hosted by the live site.

Q. What is a WordPress staging site?

A WordPress staging site is a clone/replica of a live WordPress site with restricted access. You can test themes/plugins and any other code-level changes on the staging site. Once you are done, you can then push/pull changes to your live WordPress site.

Q. How do you migrate WordPress staging to the live site?

Pushing WordPress staging to the live site can be done easily through the cloning feature offered by WordPress hosts like Cloudways.

Q. What WordPress hosting providers offer staging?

A number of WordPress hosting providers, like Cloudways, offer a WordPress staging environment where you can easily test a WordPress site before making it live. And Cloudways is one of the best SiteGround alternatives, which provides fast hosting at such a great price.

Q. What is the advantage of using a WP staging environment?

The following are the benefits of using a WP staging environment:

  1. It saves you time and money
  2. You can test the changes before implementing them on the live website, ensuring a seamless user experience
  3. You can play around with the code without worrying about code disruption.

Q. How can you push a staging page live on WordPress?

Follow the steps below to push a staging page live on WordPress using the WP staging plugin:

  • Back up your staging site and live site
  • Go to the live site and click WP staging > Sites/start
  • Select the staging site you want to move over to the live site
  • Click Push Changes
  • Now select the data you want to push to your live site
  • Push to live site
  • Reload your website
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Mansoor Ahmed Khan

Passionate about technology, entrepreneurship, and marketing, Mansoor Ahmed Khan is in computing since he knows how to type on a keyboard. His daily life is rocked by his family, projects, and his screen. Probably in this order, he likes to be convinced at least. You can reach out to him at [email protected].

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