You backup your photos to iCloud, and the documents on your computer to your portable hard drive, but what about your website? If something happened tomorrow, do you have a copy of your website that you could restore before the end of the day?
As with everything in WordPress, backup plugins have changed over time. This article has been updated to reflect what we use and recommend for 2019/2020.
When it comes to backing up your WordPress site, there are a number of questions that I see time and time again, namely:
- Why do I need to back my site up?
- Can’t I just use the Export function on my WordPress dashboard?
- Aren’t the backups my host does enough?
- What should I use to backup my site?
- How often should I backup my site?
I’ll run through each of these questions quickly because if you’re not backing up already, you need to hustle and go and organise it right now.
Why do I need to back my site up?
Actually, a better questions is “if you’re not doing regular backups, why not?”
Any number of undesirable events can happen to your site:
- If you update the core WordPress files or a plugin, sometimes the update may not run properly and could corrupt your site.
- If you’re tinkering with your site (especially if you’re following a tutorial that updates functions.php) there is a chance you could break something. Worst case, your site could disappear altogether.
- Your site could get hacked.
A backup is your insurance policy – should your site disappear or get messed up, you can restore your backup & your site will be back online and ready for business again quickly.
Can’t I just use the Export function on my WordPress dashboard?
In your WordPress dashboard under Tools/Export – you can export all the posts, pages & comments on your site.
Running the export is better than nothing at all, but it doesn’t copy any images in posts, and it doesn’t even go near your theme files. The Export function is designed to move content from one site to another, not as a site backup.
Which means that while an export may help you restore your content, it can’t help you get the look of your site back when something goes drastically wrong.
Whether you’ve customised your site yourself or paid to have your site created for you, having to start from scratch to recreate your site is not a pleasant thought.
Aren’t the backups my host does enough?
Unless you’re using a top end managed host, the short answer is generally NO!
Yes, most hosts do run regular backups – and some even make a big deal about it in their marketing material.
But the reality is that restoring from these backups is rather hit and miss (and I say this from personal experience across a number of clients). And if you can’t easily restore from a backup, especially under the stress of your site being offline, then the backup isn’t worth anything!
It’s much better to manage your own backup system that you know works – and you know you can restore from if something does go wrong.
What should I use to backup my site?
For a long time, we have been using BackupBuddy on our sites. And there are still some compelling reasons to use it, especially the offsite automated backups (Stash Live) and the ease of restoring if your site is completely offline.
But lately we have been moving most of our sites, and the sites we maintain for our clients, over to WP Time Capsule. I’ll write a separate article on why we are moving, but one of the things I really love about WP Time Capsule is that it automatically backs up every time you make a change to your site (which means less chance of losing data if you have to restore your site).
Yes, both of these are premium plugins (ie, you need to pay for them), but this is one area that is certainly worth spending a few dollars on.
How often should I backup my site?
With the advances in internet speeds and the reduction in cost of cloud storage, there is no reason for not automatically doing a full site backup at least every day.
You should also run a manual backup before each major update you do to your site, just in case it goes wrong and you need to back out and start again.
In fact, with WP Time Capsule and it’s real-time incremental backup technology it’s possible to have every single change on your site backed up automatically.
That might sound like overkill, but consider the impact if you lost critical customer or sales data because you had to restore to a backup that was a week old (yes, I still see people recommending a full backup only every week).
Other Questions Worth Considering
What’s the difference between a database backup and a full backup?
A database backup will only backup your posts, pages, WordPress settings/options, post comments, etc – basically all your content, but none of the files and images used to style your website. A database backup can be useful if you want to restore the content of a post, but it’s of no use if you need to fix your site’s look or layout.
A full backup contains everything on your site – the content, the template files and all of the images. You need this type of backup if you need to bring your site back from the dead.
What about incremental backups?
These days, you may hear backup plugins talk about incremental backups. This basically means they take a full backup at some point, and then copies of only the changes that occur after that (think Time Machine if you’re familiar with Apple computers).
This makes backups much faster, and use much less storage space overall.
However, restoring to a point in time requires a combination of the last full backup and all of the changes since. Just make sure the plugin does this for you automatically and does not require you to manage it (and yes, WP Time Capsule does this automatically).
How many backups should you keep?
To be really safe, you should keep at least 30 days worth of backups. And these should be kept on a remote server, not on your website (something like Dropbox or an Amazon S3 account) so that they can’t be corrupted if your website is hacked.
Cloud storage is so cheap these days, so the investment required for offsite storage is no longer a limitation.
What if your site is hacked?
Having backups is the best insurance you can have if your site gets hacked.
Be aware though that just restoring the most recent backup won’t always fix the problem. Some hacks can involve code that doesn’t activate until a period of time after your site is hacked, specifically to ensure that your backups contain the hack as well.
This is why it’s also important to have security monitoring on your site. That way you know exactly when your site is infected, and therefore which backups you can use (and which are useless).
If the thought of having to manage your website backups and security scans feels overwhelming, then one of our Website Care Plans is essential for you.
Our Website Care Plans provide all of the support you need to keep your website up-to-date, backed up and secure. Read all about our plans here.
Got questions specific to your site? Send us a message.