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The Benefits of Using a Staging Site for Business Websites

Maximize your website's potential with a staging site. Test new features, avoid mistakes, and improve performance.

A staging site gives businesses a way to test new features, try out updates, and model new designs without touching the live production site. Your website is an incredibly important business asset, and you don’t want to do anything that might jeopardize its functionality.

However, sometimes it’s necessary to update, change, or otherwise modify a website for several reasons.

Unfortunately, making any changes to your website comes with a lot of risks, especially if your business website runs on a CMS like WordPress or Joomla. For example, a single WordPress plugin upgrade can sometimes crash your entire site.

Even a slight change to something seemingly innocuous can come with large consequences, which is why it's recommended to use a staging site to test out new features and updates. Continue reading to learn more about why staging sites are important and how to create a staging site for your business.

What is a staging site?

A staging site is a clone of your business website. You can think of it as a development site where you can freely apply changes and play around with features without affecting your live production site.

You can keep the test site closed off and out of the view of anyone else but you and your team while you experiment and fine-tune your website’s functionality.

Why should you use a staging site?

As a duplicate of your live website, you can use your staging site as a familiar sandbox to play around in. However, as a testing bed, there’s quite a bit more a staging site can offer you.

Find errors, bugs, and issues

While making changes in your staging site, you may come across errors, bugs, or other issues that would otherwise negatively affect your live site.

For example, a new design feature might cause issues with the custom CSS you use to style your shopping cart page, causing it to become unresponsive at checkout.

A plugin update might conflict with another plugin and render your site inoperable. You want to find these errors in your test environment, not on your live site, so you can make changes that won't affect a user's shopping experience.

Prevent downtime and data loss

Any errors or bugs that stall your testing site will probably do much more damage to your live site, as the live site uses live data and information. Equally, sudden crashes or conflicts can lead to data loss.

Find the problems first in staging to prevent those problems from causing downtime or data loss on your live site.

Mitigate security risks

You improve the security of your site by testing changes and updates on your staging site first.

Since you’re making changes in an environment that doesn’t allow outside access, you can make drastic changes to see what works and what doesn’t. In the meantime, you’re not exposing your website to any extra issues or risks in the process.

UX and UI Improvements

Website design is key to a positive user experience. So, you’re likely constantly testing new features and updates that will improve the user experience on your website.

However, making these changes on your live site can cause stalls and delays. Using a staging site can ensure that your live site offers the best in UX and UI for your users.

Keep your website up-to-date

It's very important to keep your website and all its components up to date. When looking into how to update a website, you’ll likely find that core and plugin updates usually address security and compatibility issues.

As vulnerabilities show up, developers patch them and release updates. As web standards change and grow, developers must keep up with them. So, it’s always a good idea to deploy these changes and updates on your staging site first to make sure they work properly.

Search engines also appreciate websites that keep up with the times. While your staging site won’t appear in any search results, your problem-free live site will adhere to many website SEO standards just by remaining problem free.

How to create a staging site

Creating a staging site is quite simple, but it ultimately depends on the hosting provider you use.

You don’t have to go too far out of your way to create a staging site in WordPress. The process is as simple as installing a WP staging plugin and going from there.

However, you can also set up a staging site through your web host. Here’s how that process works:

Choose a hosting provider

Choose a host that offers a staging site feature or gives access to one through control panel software, like cPanel. If you already have a web host, check the options to see if you have the feature. If you don’t, speak to your host about it.

While you can make a staging site within a CMS, it’s typically better to use the web host because your staging site will have the same server configuration and setup as your live site. If your host doesn’t offer the option, you can create a staging site manually on a subdomain.

Duplicate your live site to the staging site

Once you've chosen your hosting provider, you need to duplicate your live site to the new staging site. Your hosting provider's control panel should offer the option or even a one-click solution.

How you clone your live site will depend on the options offered by your hosting provider. Some hosts make the process easy with guided steps and a lot of documentation.

However, some other hosts may offer the feature but leave the rest up to you to figure out. In such cases, or if you’re creating the staging site manually, do some research on how to go about the process properly. Some quick searches will gain you the answers you need for best practices involving any web host.

Install a CMS

Layer a CMS on top of your staging site. The most popular CMS, by far, is WordPress. Other CMS solutions will follow a similar method. But, hosts that offer a WordPress website solution will often make it very easy for you to simply click a button and launch an install.

Configure the staging site

Make sure your staging site includes the same themes, plugins, URL scheme, and all other settings from your live site. If you can’t copy over the proper folders, then make sure to do a side-by-side comparison. You can use a WordPress staging plugin to facilitate all or most of this process.

Review and test the site

You should basically have a full copy of your live site at this point. Make sure it works like your live site and that all the features, designs, and updates are firmly in place.

Test everything and ensure it’s all working as it should, with some allowances for the fact that you’re not using your live data or information.

Best practices for staging sites

Here are some best practices when it comes to using staging sites and avoiding common accidents with them.

Keep the staging site private

Your staging site isn’t for everyone. Make sure only to grant access to those who absolutely require it.

Keep it far away from the public. Password protect your staging site and only allow authorized users. If you need a third party, make sure to rescind any access granted after they’re done.

Avoid data sync issues

Keep your staging website synchronized with your live site. Otherwise, you can suffer data loss when you try to make changes. You can use a plugin to keep the synchronization with your WordPress staging site, but you can also do it manually.

Don’t share databases

Your live site and staging website should not share a database. If you accidentally overwrite one with the other, you can have some serious problems on your hands, especially if you don’t do regular full backups.

Do regular full backups

Make full backups of your live site routinely, especially before pushing an update from your staging site to your live site. Even when everything goes well in the staging environment, there’s still a chance things could fail on your live site for various reasons.

Update the site regularly

Keep your staging site updated. You’ll want the latest software and plugin versions on your staging site. If your staging site operates properly with the updated software, you have a good indication that your live site will as well.

Build better business websites with staging sites

Staging sites help you build better business websites, increase user experience and retention, and offer up-to-date features. You gain a safe environment to test things and try out changes without disrupting your live site. You ensure site functionality, and your users will appreciate the lack of downtime from you trying out new things haphazardly on your live site.

However, this all starts with having a responsive, modern business website from the start, which you can create with Mailchimp.

Whether you are launching a new website or redesigning your existing site, Mailchimp offers various tools and resources for web development. Check out Mailchimp today and create a professional business website that showcases your brand in a positive light.

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