The RIGHT Way to Back Up Your WordPress Site

You’re excited. You’ve spent hours tweaking and editing your site and it’s ready to launch. You may have paid a designer or developer hundreds or even thousands to create the perfect website to represent your company. If you paid someone else, they probably spent very little, if any, time telling you what to do for good housekeeping after the sites goes live. It’s strange to me, but I see that many web companies fail to provide their customers with proper instruction on how to care for their site after the project is completed. Suddenly, one day you get a call from a customer telling you they can’t see your site because it’s down. You panic and race to open your site. Then, you see a big, ugly message where your site should be saying, “You’ve been hacked.” Your stomach sinks.

Never fear, though. You’ve got your WordPress core files AND database completely backed up, right?…right? If you don’t know what I’m referring to, read on.

First, if you need convincing, let me make the case for why you should back up your site. You need to be aware that WordPress sites are especially vulnerable to hacking. It’s one of the most popular CMS (Content Management System) platforms out there, so naturally, hackers are going to spend more time trying to hack the most prevalent types of sites. Hacking is only one reason why your site should be backed up. Another common one is user error. Sometimes even the best tech people (myself included) can make a fatal mistake when working on a site and the easiest and quickest solution is to restore a backup to undo the error that was made. If for no other reason, backups are necessary to protect yourself from, …ahem, …yourself.

If that hasn’t lit a fire under your feet, then I can’t help you. Now for you and the other good students out there who say, “but I installed a backup plugin, I’m good to go.” Not so fast. Did you know that many backup plugins are only backing up half of your site and if you needed to restore it, you might quickly discover that your images and any theme customization would be lost? Wah, wah.

Let’s look at the inner workings of WordPress, shall we? One of the coolest functions of a CMS is the fact that the content in your site and the decorative elements, the robotics, and brains of the site exist independently of one another. Think of it like your house. What makes a house a home? Is it not the people, personal accoutrements, and things that go on inside the house? Take away the people and furnishings and you still have a house,  and the content can be moved into a new house (with minor modifications) fairly easily. Your WordPress site is the same.

All of your content sits inside a database connected to the site. The site, itself, sits on the hosting server in the form of core files and theme files. The core files are the framework, nails, shingles, etc. of the house along with the instructions of how it should operate and the theme files are the decorative elements like wallpaper, paint, carpet, flooring, etc. It’s not until the database (content) are put together with the core and theme files, that you have a complete site. It doesn’t make much sense to only take preventative measures to protect the furniture in your house but not the structure itself, right?

You might be surprised to know that many WordPress backup plugins only back up the database portion of your site. If you already have a backup plugin installed, I encourage you to check right now…I mean, right…now. Stop reading, log into WordPress and look. It’s that important. You don’t want to wake up tomorrow morning to realize your site has been hacked. Check to make sure your plugin isn’t one that only backs up your database and not the rest of your site. Your plugin needs to back up the database, the core files, theme files, plugin files, and uploaded media. Look for a plugin that will back up all of those things and do it now. That is the only way to be sure you are protected against the unknown.

One of my favorite backup plugins is Backup Buddy. It not only backs up the entire site, but also helps you restore it, should the unthinkable happen. It also helps you migrate your WordPress site to another host if you ever decide to change. It comes at a price, though ($75, I believe). But, it even lets you automatically send your backups to a Dropbox account. There are other complete backup plugins available that are free, such as Online Backup for WordPress and EZPZ One Click Backup (not compatible with Windows Servers), but I have not tested either of these, so I can’t say how well they work.

If you’re like many business owners who are strapped for time and are likely overwhelmed, and frankly, don’t care about comparing the different backup solutions available, you might just want to hire someone to take care of it for you. Good web development firms will offer a maintenance package where they will back up your site for you on a regular basis. How regular depends on how frequently you are updating your content. They may or may not use one of these backup plugins, or they may do the backup manually. In many cases, they can set it up to back up automatically and only keep the 2 or 3 most recent versions, so you aren’t using lots of disk space. Often times, they’ll offer a maintenance package where they’ll back up your site, update software, scan for broken links, perform SEO analysis, and other miscellaneous things that really ought to be done on a routine basis, but many don’t realize need to be done.

I don’t know what’s in the water, but I’ve seen a few sites get hacked recently. Some had backups and they were sure glad they did. They saved between $400-1,000 in fees, should I have had to restore their site for them without a backup. I can’t make the argument enough that a good site backup is essential if you plan to be online.

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  1. stephen h on January 26, 2012 at 12:33 pm

    I highly recommend the WordPress Backup to Dropbox plugin:

    Customize which folders get backed up, plus backup your database, all to your Dropbox account on a schedule. Bonus: free plugin!

    • Kelly Garrett on February 2, 2012 at 2:19 pm

      Thanks for the recommendation.