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How To Setup A WordPress Staging Site

WordPress is among the most widely-used content management systems globally. According to W3Techs, 43.2% of all websites online use it in 2022. With such a huge community, there are a lot of updates, new tools, and upgrades coming out regularly.

The best way to test them out is a staging site. Otherwise, one might be taking a huge risk when applying changes right to the live site. In this guide, you’ll learn the best ways to create a staging WordPress site.

What is a WordPress Staging Site?

First of all, let’s define what a staging site is and when it is better to use it.

A WordPress staging site is a replica of your WordPress site but is only available to you. No one besides the admin can view or change it. And the changes you make to the staging site do not affect the live version.

Usually, WordPress developers use it for all types of tests before rolling the updates to the public platform. This way they can ensure that all the changes work fine and do not disrupt any crucial features. This is a safe method to try out new things for your platform.

Three Ways to Create a WordPress Staging Site

There are three main ways to create it:

  1. Set up a staging site through your web host
  2. Use a plugin to set up your staging site
  3. Create a staging site manually

You don't need to be a WordPress developer or a Perl developer to try the first two options. It can be quite easy. The third one is on a more advanced level and might require specialist assistance. But, let’s go over each one with this step-by-step guide.

1. Create a Staging Site with Your Host

It is the easiest option available. A lot of popular website hosts offer staging sites as a part of their service plan. This method is beginner-friendly and doesn’t require you to have any coding experience.

Some of the hosts that offer such services are Kinsta, Bluehost, WP Engine, as well as Flywheel. But we'll focus on the following two:

So check with your provider whether this feature is available. Please note that not every host can offer this but if they do, it is a perfect opportunity.

Usually, a host offers an automatic staging site. This is a comfortable option as you are not required to do anything. And this site will be placed on the subdomain.

Create a Staging Site on Kinsta

In Kinsta dashboard, click on the site you want to create a staging environment for, and then click on the Environment selector next to the site name. From the dropdown menu that appears, choose “Create New Environment”.
Next, you’ll be prompted to select the type of environment you want to create. You can choose to “Clone an existing environment” to the new Standard Staging Environment.

To summarize the whole process of creating a staging site with Kinsta, you can do it in 4 steps:

  1. Find your site on the Kinsta list
  2. Change the environment from “live” to “staging”
  3. Click to implement the staging site
  4. Wait for 15 minutes for all to be done

Now you have it placed on the subdomain. Also, it is easy to push the changes from a staging environment to live with one click on the MyKinsta dashboard.

It's worth noting that when creating the environment, you can choose the Standard environment. It is sufficient for testing purposes and doesn't need the resources as your live site.

Build a Staging Site on Bluehost

Another example is BlueHost. It is another globally popular host when it comes to WordPress. And it offers such functionality for all available plans, which is a huge benefit.

To create a staging site with BlueHost you need to:

Bluehost's one-click staging solution makes it easy for you to set up a staging site. You will notice the “Bluehost” option. From there, you can create your staging site.
  1. Log into the WordPress Admin area
  2. Go to BlueHost
  3. Choose the “Staging” option
After clicking the “Staging”, you come to a page similar to the above.
  1. Now you are taken to the creation page. Click “create staging site”
When your staging environment is ready, you can access it by clicking on the “Go To Staging Site” button.
  1. Wait for it to be done

As soon as the process is completed, you’ll get a link to the staging platform. Now you can work on it. The dashboard has a red indicator on top, so a user knows that they are working on a staging environment.

To put changes on your website live, go to the “Staging” page and choose one of three options – deploy files, deploy database, or deploy both files and database.

Overall, the process is quite similar to all web hosts.

2. Build a Staging Site with a Plugin

The second simple way to achieve this is to use a plugin designed specifically for the task. This is useful if you are not looking to change host providers and want a simple solution.

Several plugins might help with that. The three best WordPress plugins for this task are Duplicator, WP Stagecoach, and WP Staging.

Build a Staging Site with WP Staging

WP Staging is a good option for some simple changes as it doesn’t impact other WordPress features your platform might use.

To use this plugin, follow these steps:

  1. Go to the dashboard and open “plugin”
  2. Find WP Staging. and install it
To create a staging site, look for the WP Staging tab in WordPress admin panel. Click on “Staging sites”
  1. After it is installed and activated, open the plugin’s tab and click “create new staging site”
Give a name to your staging site.
  1. Choose the name for the copy
  2. Proceed to “start cloning”
  3. Wait a few minutes for all files to be cloned
  4. Open a staging site
  5. Log in with your admin username and password
After customizing your staging site, you can choose to push the changes to live.

Now it is ready. The only downside is that this plugin is free until you do not want to push changes directly into your live. If you want to do that, you’ll have to upgrade to a paid subscription.

3. Create a Staging Site Manually

This is the most complicated path but it has its benefits. You’ll get an open sandbox environment where you can do anything. For instance, you can even try code modifications and custom solutions to make your platform unique.

In many cases, businesses choose to find a WordPress specialist for this. Professionals have the experience and competencies to do everything safely, effectively, and quickly. Outsourcing your website development can be a smart choice if you want quick and quality results. Otherwise, it will take a decent amount of time to figure things out, depending on your knowledge.

However, it is possible to try and create it on your own. But make sure to create a platform backup just in case before you start.

To create an open environment manually, follow these steps:

Step 1. Create a subdomain

Go to cPanel and find the “Subdomains” button. Here you can create a subdomain where the replica will be placed. Choose the name for a subdomain and click “Create”.

Step 2. Create an FTP account

Your new subdomain needs a separate FTP account. This is crucial to keep things apart and not affect the live platform. Find the “FTP account” on cPanel and click on it.

Fill in the form with all details like login, domain, password, and directory. Make sure the directory matches your subdomain.

Step 3. Upload files

The next step is to upload all WordPress files into the FTP account. Start with downloading the latest WordPress version and uploading it there.

After that copy these folders Uploads, Themes, and Plugins from your existing WordPress site. And, upload them to the staging site next. You can locate these three folders under the wp-content folder.

Step 4. Export the database

Now you need to export the database of the platform and import it to the staging site so it is a replica. The easiest way to do it without much effort is to install a WP Migrate DB plugin.

It will export all the data with paths. After that, you need to import it to a staging one.

To import the database, open cPanel and find “MySQL Databases”. Create a new database and new database user. Give the user access to the new database.

After that, open PHPMyAdmin, find the database you’ve just created and select the “Import” option. Choose the right file and confirm with the “Go” button.

Step 5. Change wp-config.php file

To access the new database, you need to edit the wp-config.php file on the staging site. You need to change the database details and usernames to new ones.

Step 6. Log in

Now the staging site is ready. You can log in with the usual admin name and password from the live version. Make sure to restrict access to it in Settings. After that, you are free to use the environment for all types of tests and experiments.

In Summary

A staging site is a safe option to try out WordPress upgrades and features before moving them to the live platform. It can be created in three ways – via host, plugin, or manually. The last version is the most complex and might require professional assistance. But it also offers more functionality and freedom of experimentation.

Why Use a WordPress Staging Site?

A lot of professionals download WordPress on their PC and try new things in the local environment. Although it is a valid option, it is not ideal. As local environment differs and cannot predict all possible implications of a live environment.

Here are the main reasons to use a staging site instead:

  • It allows changing and upgrading different elements without any impact on the live version;
  • It ensures the creation or upgrade of specific elements without touching dynamic content of the platform like the comment section, for example;
  • It can serve as a testbed for configuring your server;
  • It ensures safe and secure testing of new functionality without the public eye;
  • There is no downtime for the platform.

The last one is particularly noteworthy as a new site out of the top 10 million started using WordPress. (W3Techs, 2021). The competition is high and any downtime causes risks of profit or audience loss.

Trying out new plugins or tools is a part of successful website management. With more than 60,000 WordPress plugins, it's hard to find the right one without testing it first. A staging site lets you update the core and change themes without messing up your live site.

You can run A/B testing, text semantics analysis, SEO optimizations, or any other processes necessary to evaluate and improve the platform’s performance. After you do it on the staging site and ensure there are no issues, the changes can be applied to the platform safely.

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Article by Anastasia Stefanuk

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