The Importance of a Staging Environment for any WordPress eCommerce Site

This post is a collaboration with BlogVault.

If you run a successful eCommerce business, one thing is for sure – your website is always active and changing. New products, new shoppers getting registered, daily campaign pages and banners, new website layouts – there’s always something happening. However, if you keep making these website modifications directly on your website, you run a couple of risks –
1. Inconveniencing your customers as they need to wait until you complete the changes
2. Changes can crash your website and the resulting downtime can cost you some substantial revenue

The best way to mitigate these problems? Website Staging.

What is Website Staging?

To define it in simple terms, website staging is an exact copy of your live website, including the backend files and database records, in a safe and independent environment. This copy is the perfect temporary alternative to your live website – with all the features and none of the risks.

In the case of your eCommerce site, this replica site allows you to try out all your website changes or updates with zero effect on your live website. Once you have tested and approved all the changes on the staging site, they can be merged and integrated with the live site.

Website staging eliminates the risk of a crash or a sub-optimal user experience for your visitors. This makes it so critical for an eCommerce business – where you cannot afford a minute’s downtime or a single disgruntled customer.

But, what happens if you choose to avoid this? Let’s find out.

What Can Happen if You Don’t Use Website Staging?

As an eCommerce business owner, your website is central to your business success. Imagine if your site goes down even for a few hours – you could face monumental losses in the form of lost orders, shoppers unable to access their orders, and a loss of revenues and reputation.

Here are five consequences of not using staging for your WordPress site:

  1. Your website could break or have compatibility problems when installing or updating a WordPress plugin/theme on your website.
  2. You may want to try out a website redesign or customize your current theme to create a new look, only to find that these design changes are not compatible with your website code – resulting in increased webpage loading time or malfunctioning.
  3. As a WordPress user, you need to regularly update your website components, including the Core WP, along with plugins/ themes. Applying these updates directly on the live website can sometimes break or crash your site, causing inconvenience to your online customers.
  4. Any online shopper goes through a series of steps which include product browsing, selecting, adding it to the shopping cart, and finally making a payment. Changes made on a live website can disrupt their journey and frustrate them enough for them to abandon your site.
  5. Finally, a website crash or downtime can seriously damage your user’s overall experience and create a negative perception of your business. In the long run, this can lead to negative customer reviews, lack of online referrals, and low customer engagement and conversions.

A safe and reliable WordPress staging site can easily prevent each of these negative consequences. Let’s look at the ways to create one for your site.

How Can You Create a Website Staging Environment?

You can create a staging environment for your website using any of the following three methods:

1. Website Staging using a WordPress staging plugin

This is probably the easiest method of creating a staging environment for your site. Like any other plugin, staging plugins like WP Staging or Duplicator are easy to install and configure on your website installation.

On the flip side, staging plugins can consume your local server resources during the staging operation, overloading your server. Additionally, some plugins do not support multisite WP networks.

If you don’t want to invest separately in a staging plugin, you can opt for the BlogVault backup plugin that includes inbuilt WordPress staging as part of its core features. The best part is that it performs all staging activities on its dedicated servers minimizing the load on your server.

(Source: BlogVault)

Here’s how easily you can create a staging site using BlogVault:

  1. Install the BlogVault plugin on your site. Upon successful installation, the plugin takes a complete backup of your entire website.
  2. Next, sign in to your BlogVault dashboard and create a staging site from the “Staging” section.
  3. Once your staging website is created, sign in to your staging environment and make all the changes to your website files.
  4. Once you have tested all the changes on the staging site, click “Merge” to merge the changes to your live website. All your website changes are now safely tested and merged with the live site.

2. Website staging using your web hosting company

If you don’t want to use a staging plugin, you can opt for staging services from your web host. Managed WordPress hosting companies like Kinsta and Bluehost offer staging environments as part of their hosting packages that are user-friendly and easy to configure.

With a single click, you can easily create a staging environment for your live website. Just like staging plugins, this is fast and does not require any advanced technical knowledge.

But what if your website is not hosted on a managed web host? In this case, you can create a staging site yourself from your web hosting account. Typically, this comprises the following three steps:

  1. Create the staging subdomain website (example, staging.yoursite.com).
  2. Copy all the website files from your live site to your staging site.
  3. Create a duplicate of your website database on your staging site.

Most of the standard web hosting companies offer the staging feature accessible from the account dashboard. Additionally, you can also push the changes from the staging to the live site.

The flip side of staging through your web host is its time-consuming nature and the additional load on your web server. Also, other web hosts may only offer staging with their premium subscription plans.

3. Website staging using manual methods

If you do happen to have complete knowledge about WordPress and FTP tools, you can manually create a staging website. Typically, any WordPress site comprises multiple backend files and a database.

For your staging site, you first need to download all these installation files and database tables and then upload them to the staging site.

Here are the steps you need to perform to create a staging site manually:

  1. Sign in to your web hosting account and create a subdomain for your staging site (example, yoursite.com/public_html/staging).
  2. Using the cPanel tool, create an FTP account for your subdomain – using which you can upload your website files to the staging site.
  3. Next, using File Manager or an FTP tool like FileZilla, download your website files from yoursite/public_html root folder containing your WordPress installation files – to your local computer.
  4. Next, download your WordPress database files using the phpMyAdmin tool of your hosting account.
  5. Using the FTP tool like FileZilla, sign in to your staging site with the FTP account credentials that you created in Step 2.
  6. Once you have established the connection, upload your website files to your staging site.
  7. Next, create a new database using the “Databases > MySQL Databases” section of your hosting account. Additionally, create a new MySQL user for this new database.
  8. Using the phpMyAdmin tool, select the new database (that you created in the previous step) and import the database files – that you had downloaded in Step 4 – to this new database.
  9. Finally, modify the wp-config.php file to connect your staging site to the new database.

However, we only recommend WordPress experts to follow this process as manual staging methods are very technical and may require detailed troubleshooting if things go wrong.

In Conclusion

We understand how important your website is to your business as an eCommerce business owner, and how the thought of risk to your website and its performance can be frightening and stressful. Staging is a simple and effective way to put these worries to rest.

With the help of a staged site, you can test:

  • New plugins and themes including their latest updates and functions
  • Website design-related changes like a new layout or customized theme
  • Any major website bug fixes or code-related changes that could break your live site

If you’re a novice tech user or even someone with very little time on their hands, we highly recommend using a staging plugin. Tools like BlogVault offer immense value as they combine backup and staging-merging functions within the same package.

We’re curious to know how you manage changes on your eCommerce site. What has your experience with live changes been? Drop us your comments and views in the section below.