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I’m guilty of constantly using this “staging site” term with clients. I sometimes breeze over what it is or why I want it, but I just assume the reason a client should also want it is implied. If your developer wants something, shouldn’t you inherently trust that it’s for the best and that you should also want it?
No. No, you shouldn’t. I believe you should always understand (and agree) with the what and why. The how can totally be ignored. I mean, I really couldn’t care less how my accountant fills out my paperwork. I just know the what (filing taxes) and why (otherwise the IRS will take all my money).
A production site is your live, active, visitor-facing website. A staging site, then, is a completely separate version of your site that nobody except you and your developer sees. It has all the same content, users, settings, images, widgets, …well, you get the idea. If your production site is http://www.example.com, your staging site might be http://test.example.com. You can do anything you want to this site without impacting your live site.
Now, I don’t want to get into exactly how you go about setting up a staging site, but staging sites are set up (and destroyed) differently depending on your host. Some hosts have a button you click to set up a staging site (e.g. Flywheel or WP Engine), some will set up staging sites if you email their support team (e.g. Orange Geek or TechSurgeons), and others won’t help you set up a staging site at all (e.g. BlueHost).
I think this is the most important part: why are staging sites the best ever?
I love staging sites and you should, too. They’re a sandbox for experimentation and problem-solving. They allow us to do anything to our site without risk of disturbing everyday visitors, breaking everything, or tanking our revenue streams.
Just a few potential uses for a staging site:
- Run WordPress updates to test for bugs
- Install a new plugin and play with its settings
- Trial a migration from one recipe plugin to another
- Switch your theme with the perfect setup
Depending on why (and how) you set up the staging site, it’s content may differ. For instance, if you’re trying to see how changes in your site impact speed tests, you want your staging site to be an exact match to your production site. That is, the servers should have the same resources allocated to them and the site itself should be a complete replica. If you’re just trying to troubleshoot a few problems, your staging site might have less power and not include any of your images – because they just aren’t needed.
If you need to try anything potentially disruptive on your site, a staging site is your best friend. It is meant to save you from wasted time and headache. I definitely recommend learning how to use your staging site – and having a host that makes it easy to do so. 🙂