How to Backup Your WordPress Website the Right Way

by | Dec 29, 2015

I’ve been there – we’ve all been there. When I was starting out in the web design game years ago, I would just dive into a project. I didn’t have a set process or list of procedures to follow when creating a new website. I would haphazardly dive in… Whatever will happen, will happen. And, well, it happened – more than once. Hours, days, weeks of working on a project – Gone! Forever. Why? Because I didn’t make regular backups.

The doom-and-gloom mention previously is the feeling you get in your gut after losing everything! All of it!

It was through one of these massive screw-ups that I discovered something kind of great. One night – many, many years ago, remember – I “accidentally” deleted the public_html folder from my hosting account. Even many novices know this means I deleted my entire website. “Not really,” you’re thinking? “You still have the database,” you say? In frustration, I immediately deleted the database, ready to start over from scratch, with nothing – Only seconds later, thinking to myself, “there must be a way to recover everything.” Seriously.

There was (and is). I quickly got on live chat with my web host (I think it was Hostgator, back then). I explained to them that I am an idiot. Begged for help. Fortunately for me, and you (since you now have the same knowledge), many web hosts makes regular snap-shot backups of each account! Hooray! They restored my website (although the backup was from nearly a month ago) and I was back in business (not actually my business website – I didn’t have one back then – but you know what I mean, the website building commenced).

If you get nothing more from this blog post, make sure you use a web host that makes regular backups of your hosting environment. Many hosts will make a weekly and monthly backup, and save backups for a period of at least a few months.

Backup your WordPress website yourself!

Yep, the rest of this post focuses on WordPress websites… But at least you learned something from the first half, no matter how you’ve built your website.

Earlier this month, I gave a presentation for WordPress KC about New Year’s Resolutions for WordPress website owners. Backing up your website should be your #1 website-related resolution if you don’t currently make backups. Sure, many web hosts make scheduled backups, but really, that’s not enough. Back-it-up yourself to be sure.

What WordPress backup plugin should you use?

Naturally, the first question…

I use BackupBuddy. BackupBuddy is a premium plugin from iThemes. I use BackupBuddy mainly because I have an iThemes Plugin Suite membership plan. That’s a boring answer, right? A true answer, though.

If you’re looking for a free option, I recommend BackWPup. For my criteria (detailed below), there’s not really much difference between BackWPup and BackupBuddy.

If you want a different option, look for these features in a WordPress backup plugin

  • Scheduled backups. Make sure you can set an automatic schedule for the plugin to perform backups.
  • Failed backup notifications. If you’re backing up on a schedule and the plugin runs into a problem, it better let you know there was a problem, or it’s worthless.
  • Backup of ALL files, not just WordPress files. Also, the plugin needs to be able to exclude certain files and folders. If you’ve uploaded files outside the WordPress media uploader, you still want to backup those files, right? Not all backup plugins will backup all files. On the flip-side – You don’t need to be backing up all the cached files created by your caching plugin, and you’ll probably want to exclude any extremely large files (videos, mostly, probably).
  • Backup of ALL database tables, not just WordPress tables. It’s not super-common in the WordPress world, but you may run into instances where you want to run multiple types of software within a single website (separate forum, maybe), and using a single database. You’ll want your backup plugin to backup your entire database, regardless which software created the tables.
  • Redundancy. You’ll want a plugin that can save your backups to an external source (such as Dropbox or Google Drive), or automatically download them to your local machine. For my sites and my WordPress maintenance clients, I save backups in four separate locations.

How often should you backup your website?

As a simple rule, I recommend backing up your website more often than you produce new content. If you publish a new blog post every day, backup twice each day. If you publish weekly, backup every 4 or 5 days. At very least, I recommend backing up once per week. This way, if your website gets hacked or crashes, you won’t lose more than one week’s worth of work.

How long should you keep website backups?

I recommend keeping backups for at least 3 months. Many times when a website is hacked, you may not notice for a week or more, so you’ll want to be able to find a backup that is clean – before the hack.

Get started with New Year’s Resolution #1

If you’re not backing up your website regularly and you’ve never had a problem – you will! Do yourself a favor, spend 30 minutes, and setup a plugin to take care of your backups!

If you have a backup horror story, share it in the comments!


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