How to Test WordPress Changes with SiteGround Staging

Last updated on

The SiteGround GoGeek package has an amazing feature called “staging” which allows you to test changes on your site before publishing them. I’ve been using staging for years, and I can’t recommend it highly enough. Unfortunately, it’s not available with the “StartUp” and “GrowBig” plans – only GoGeek. Here’s a complete list of all current SiteGround offers.

Making changes to a live site is for amateurs, or when your blog is new. If you’re just starting up, then the cost of breaking something isn’t that high – and you don’t have that many visitors anyway. But as soon you start making money, then there’s a price tag attached to a misconfigured change. Ideally, you test your changes on a development site before making them live.

But setting a test environment is hard.

Trust me – it’s no joke creating a duplicate copy of your site on a local or remote machine, and then finding the right way to push the changes to production. It requires familiarity with version control, a range of development practices, and a lot of other technical skills that the average business owner simply does not possess.

SiteGround Staging Makes Things Simple

One of the reasons I love SiteGround is that they have a whole bunch of geeky features that erase a lot of the hassle of running a site. Setting up a development environment is one of them. The staging functionality lets you create a duplicate copy of your site with which you can safely mess around. You can test all your changes, plugin and theme updates, appearance tweaks and Javascripts without worrying about your site going down.

Here’s what you can do with SiteGround staging:

  1. Create numerous copies of your site
  2. Make changes to the copy and push them to production
  3. Revert a push if something goes wrong
  4. Create copies of existing staging copies
  5. Destroy staging copies

Let’s see how to do this step by step without any code or technical knowledge:

Step 1: Log into cPanel and Find the “Staging” Icon

Log into your SiteGround’s cPanel account. You can get instructions on how to do that here. SiteGround provides staging services for WordPress and Joomla sites. So once you’re logged in, scroll down to the “WordPress Tools” or the “Joomla! Tools” section and click on staging as shown here:

SiteGround Staging in cPanel

This will bring you to the staging area.

Step 2: Choose Your Site and Create a Staging Copy

If you have multiple sites on the same hosting, they’ll all be shown here like this:

Create Staging Copy

Your site won’t be there if you didn’t create it using the SiteGround installation process. But you can click the “Add WordPress” button on the top right. This will take you to a page where you can specify the folder of your installation and add it to the list.

Select the site you want to clone and click “Create Staging Copy”.

Step 3: Confirm List of Files to Exclude

Many WordPress sites have stuff in their root folder that’s not part of the default installations. One example is the Bing webmaster tools verification file. There are plenty of others. By default, SiteGround will leave these out of the staging copy:

Excess files Not Part of WordPress

If you want, you can place a checkbox next to the files you want to include. In general, you can ignore them, so leave them blank.

Step 4: Choose a Password (Or Not)

Next, you’ll be asked whether or not you want to set a password for the test site:

Password Protection if Necessary

It’s up to you to decide whether or not you want to protect your staging site with a password. There are pros and cons:

Pros:

  1. More secure (obviously) – no one can access your development site
  2. Won’t be indexed by search engines since it’s protected by a password

Cons:

  1. Can be a pain if it’s just a short-lived copy (and it should be)

As a rule of thumb, if you feel that your staging copy is going to be around for a while, it’s a good idea to protect it with a password. But in general, these copies don’t last for long so a password might be overkill. In either case, set a password or move on.

Step 5: Create the Staging Copy and Test the Site

Once you’ve set your password, the SiteGround staging copy will be created. There’s a lot to do. All databases, and files need to be mirrored to the new location so give it some time to complete. Once it’s done, you’ll see the staging copy screen like this:

Push Staged Changes to Live

Staging copies are numbered, starting with 1. You can access the admin panel of this copy by clicking the “Admin Panel” button. The staging copies have URLs that look like this:

staging1.example.com
staging2.example.com
staging3.example.com
etc...

You can see here that I’m able to access my site via the first URL:

Staging Copy is Live

Also note how the SSL certificate is carried over!

Warning: I recommend accessing the staging copies in your browser’s “Incognito” mode. If you don’t, you might face some SSL conflicts and CSS problems as your browser’s local cache conflicts with the new staging site. SSL in particular seems to be an issue – so make sure everything is clean before you proceed!

Now you can make as many changes as you want to your staging site without worrying about how it’ll affect your main site.

Step 6: Make Changes and Push to Live

After you’ve played around with your SiteGround Staging copy, you can push the changes to the live site. To do this, just go back to the staging screen you saw above and click the green “Push to Live” button. This will prompt you for a confirmation:

Confirm Staging Changes Deployment

Click “Yes”, and your live site will now mirror the staged site with all its changes. It’s that easy! Once the deployment is complete, you can roll it back as well from the same screen. You can also destroy the staging copy if you want.

And that’s how to use SiteGround staging to safely make changes to your site by testing them first. Now some caveats.

Location of the SiteGround Staging Copy

If you want to access the snapshot via FTP, you need to know how to reach it. The “staging” folder is located at the same level as “public_html” as shown here:

Staging Copy is at the Same Level as public-html

Each staging copy has its own folder named as a number. For example, here are the files inside the staging copy numbered “1”:

Staging Files Inside Numbered Folders

So if you need to make changes to the staging copies plugins etc, this is where to find it.

Warnings and Caveats for the SiteGround Staging Tool

The staging tool is easy to use. Perhaps a bit too easy. Here are a few things to keep in mind.

Don’t Make Changes to your Live Site while a Staging Copy is Active

Remember – a staging site is a snapshot of your live site at a given time. While you’re working on it, make sure to leave your original site untouched! Don’t even publish a post or add a widget.

If you do so, then you’ll lose all updates to your live site when you push the snapshot  to live! All the posts you’ve made since then will vanish. So remember – while the staging copy is active, leave your site alone!

Keep your Staging Copies Short-Lived

Related to the previous warning, make sure that you don’t have copies of your site hanging around willy-nilly. Destroy them as soon as your work is done – and make it fast. Remember that while your staging copy is active, your live site shouldn’t change – including things like user comments. Websites are dynamic entities, and don’t stay static for long.

Keep your snapshots time bound.

Make your Staging Copy Non-Indexable

Ideally, your snapshot won’t be around long enough to get found and indexed by Google. In fact, there’s no way for search engines to find your staging copy without a link pointing to it. But if for some reason your staging copy lasts a little longer than usual, make sure to hide it from search engines.

You can do this by logging into the staging site’s dashboard, and going to Settings -> Reading and placing a checkmark next to the box labelled “Discourage search engines from indexing this site”. That should do the trick.

With these warnings out of the way, you’re ready to go nuts with this amazing tool from the good folks at SiteGround. They’ve taken what was previously a complicated and messy process and made it as foolproof and easy as possible. A pity it’s only available with the GoGeek plan, but at 11.95/month with a 66% discount, it’s still a pretty attractive deal!

About Bhagwad Park

I've been writing about web hosting and WordPress tutorials since 2008. I also create tutorials on Linux server administration, and have a ton of experience with web hosting products. Contact me via e-mail!

Speak Your Mind

*