Your website should be regularly backed up, backups should be part of your daily digital life, from family photos and music to emails and office documents, it’s important that all digital files are safely and securely backed up – your website is no different! It may not live on your device but it’s part of your business’ digital assets and like all others is at risk without a backup plan in place.
This plan will enable you to restore your site in the event of failure or other issues with minimal effort and reduce the length of costly downtime.
What are the threats?
Website hosting consists of a combination of hardware and software, much in the same way as your device; and, as such, has common threats to protect against. This includes physical damage or hardware failure as well as software corruption. Good quality hosts have various systems in place to protect against this.
More common than hosting errors, this could cover mismanagement of the hosting, either by yourself, or by your hosting provider, to mistakes made in editing the content on the website. Having a backup in place will let you roll back the changes and save countless hours of effort.
Having the only copy of your website on a supplier’s service could leave you stuck should something happen with the supplier; this could also be true if the supplier acts to limit access to your website. Suppliers sign users up to attractive new customer deals that end up tying them into ongoing costly contracts after the initial deal ends, locking you in without full access to your site/domain.
Having a backup of your website independent of your supplier means that you will have more control over your site should something go amiss. This is especially true of open source Content Management System(CMS) based websites such as WordPress which give you a wider range of options.
What to Back up?
When backing up your website you need to make sure that you are covering the whole system. For some simple sites this may just be the files on your hosting, for other more complex sites it will also include the CMS and database.
Making sure you know exactly what makes up your website will ensure you back up everything, so you will be able to restore a complete website should you need to. If you miss elements out, it could leave you with large parts of the site missing, if you can restore anything at all!
Talk to your developer to ensure all areas are covered, no two websites are the same and taking the time to review it now will make all the difference.
There are several types of backup systems you could put in place, some of these may already be set up depending on your provider and CMS. With CMS based options the first is ‘version history’ which lets you roll back copy changes to pages and posts, next we have ‘trash’ systems that will help to temporarily keep copies of deleted content which lets you recover accidentally removed pages.
Moving on from your CMS, you then have standalone website backup systems, these can range from backing up just the database, which is edited more often, to backing up the whole website: database, uploads and the CMS itself.
Having multiple layers of protection in place will give you options when dealing with issues, the CMS built-in options are brilliant for small quick corrections that happen on a day-to-day basis. The standalone options come into their own in the event of something more fundamental going wrong enabling the whole website to be reverted to a previous point in time, this can take some time especially for larger websites. By using the two systems together you can use the best tool for the job and limit the disruption that restoring content can have.
One of the benefits of using WordPress is the focus on usability and helping customers to update their websites. A key feature to have come out of this is the revisions system. This system keeps copies of pages and posts every time you edit them, this means that if you make a mistake while editing a page and save it to your live site you can edit the page again and select revisions to restore it to its previous state! For more information on using this system see: wpbeginner.com/beginners-guide/how-to-undo-changes-in-wordpress-with-post-revisions
There are a few important things to note. First is to make sure the system is enabled now before you find you need it and that it’s not there; it should be by default but in some cases it may have been disabled. Secondly, it should not be used as any sort of storage. It’s a fallback to correct editing errors and not a long-term solution. This feature can generate a lot of data which, in turn, could slow down the site, because of this, many optimisation tools will automatically clear out revisions at set intervals.
If you do have content you want to keep long term look at copying it out into another page or another tool altogether such as Notepad or Word, this will let you file away the content outside of the CMS.
WordPress Deleted Pages/Posts
Similar to the revisions system WP has a trash collection feature when you delete pages/posts, this comes into its own if you accidentally delete a page from your site. The system lets you jump back in and restore pages in minutes getting the page back to its previous state without having to manually rebuild the content.
As with the revisions system, this creates additional content in the database which will get cleared out with optimisation tools so, again, use the same strategies to store content long term and don’t rely on it being saved in the trash system.
Database Only Backups
With many CMS systems, the database gets updated daily; content changes, comments, product orders etc are all stored here – this makes it the beating heart of your site. With a database that’s updated so regularly, database backup systems should be put in place to regularly back it up. This works well as typically the database is a fraction of the size of the whole website which means it can be quickly backed up and multiple versions saved. Depending on how often your site is edited you may have weekly, daily or even hourly schedules in place. The more often you update content or users generate content (orders etc) the more often the backup should be scheduled.
Taking a complete snapshot of your website, database, upload and the CMS itself will give you standalone copy of your site that you can then use to restore it to the point in time the snapshot was taken. This is used alongside database only backups to give a good balance between speed and total file size of your backups. Snapshots can be very large depending on the size of your website.
Snapshot backups are also key when doing any fundamental work on your site, this could include running updates or large site changes. By backing up before anything might go wrong, you will have a copy of the site to roll back to before you started.
Having all areas of your website backed up with a regular schedule in place will safeguard your website against all forms of loss, from simple mistakes when editing content to more fundamental issues. Taking the time to ensure this is set up now could save you a lot of hassle down the line, talk to your developer if you need assistance getting the right systems in place for your website.
Solutions could already be in place, so it’s always best to check. We have several systems in place by default for our clients, taking care of what can be a technical process.