WordPress Site Backups

Most people think that a Website Backup is like Flood Insurance – something you should probably do to protect yourself from a large scale (and extremely unlikely) disaster but do not want to pay a monthly fee for. I want to challenge both statements – site backups serve many more purposes and you do not have to be paying for it.

What is a WordPress Backup?

A backup is a copy made at a specific point in time of the following parts of your WordPress site:

  • Database (Your pages, posts, user content and all the site configuration)
  • Plugins (The code for all the modular functionalities you added to your site – like ecommerce)
  • Themes (The code that determines your site’s look and feel)
  • Uploads (All your media files)
  • “Other” files (Custom directories in the WordPress setup that would not fall under the categories above.)

Why is the WordPress Core not on the list? That’s because you can download any previous release directly from the WordPress website.

The backup can be stored locally or “in the cloud”. Local backups are easier to manage but would be lost if the server hosting your site was to physically collapse or be wiped out.

How frequently should I back up my site?

This depends on how often the site changes and how frequently people interact with it. If you have a static site that you update a couple of times a year, a weekly or a monthly backup would suffice. If you have an e-commerce site with frequent orders, a daily backup is a must. You do not have to back up all the parts of your site with the same frequency. You should prioritize parts of your site that change most often. For e-commerce, the most important backup is the database. If you have a lot of media on the site – the uploads directory would be your priority.

You should also always back up your site before running any updates or making large changes on it.

How long should I keep the backup for?

The best approach is to decrease the frequency of your saved backups with time. If your site is saved daily, keep all the backups from the past week, and then weekly for the next month and monthly after. Going a year back you would probably only need one per year.

What’s the use of the backup?

So glade you asked! Yes, the backup is great to recover from a catastrophic failure. They also come in handy in lots of other situations that are far more frequent. When you unintentionally deleted something or clicked somewhere and things on the site suddenly all change. When you run an update that did not work or broke something. When you notice something on the site is off but cannot figure out why – the backup is like a time machine that let’s you track down when the change happened and what on the back end is different between the “working” and “broken” version. In that way backups can be very powerful tools for debugging mysterious problems on your site.

Do I really have to pay?

Most of the big hosting services use this as an opportunity to charge customers extra and will ask you to pay a fee for the backup service. It is, after all, taking up precious disk space. Though backup via your hosting company is generally the best option, there are some plugins that can manage this for you as well. The best free backup option available for WordPress is UpDraftPlus. It’s easy to install, easy to schedule backups, restore, and move content between sites. That said, you are always better off managing backups directly with your hosting company to take advantage of the built in safety of the cloud and redundancy that is usually present on these more robust backups systems. If you host with Watermelon three backups per day are included at no extra charge, because it’s an integral part of keeping your site well maintained, and it’s the right thing to do.

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