Are you wondering how on Earth you can backup WordPress? If you don’t have a backup system in place for your website, I want you to stop everything you are doing and set one up right this minute. Having a reliable backup for your site is absolutely essential to your website’s success and your own peace of mind.
Why Backup WordPress?
In case you aren’t convinced, here are true horror stories that I’ve personally witnessed:
- About 3 years after I built a series of websites for a real estate client, they emailed me frantically asking if I still had any backups lying around. Turns out they had changed their email address and missed repeated renewal notifications for their web host. After the web host was unable to contact them, all 8 of their websites were deleted. Forever.
- Another client of mine took a DIY website course and decided to use her new skills to add e-commerce capabilities into her site. In doing so, she accidentally re-installed WordPress over her existing site, erasing several hundred blog posts permanently.
- I got another desperate email from an old client just a few weeks ago. Her site was hacked, and all of her content was replaced with Viagra ads. She lost everything and is in painful process of rebuilding her e-commerce site.
None of these situations is particularly unique or uncommon. If any of these clients had a recent backup, restoring their site would have been relatively simple. Unfortunately, without a backup, you are at risk for losing all of the valuable content that you’ve poured your heart and soul into.
Here’s my point: you must, MUST backup your site!
If anything happens to your site, I want you to have a recent, reliable backup that you can utilize immediately.
Convinced? Good! Now let’s walk through exactly how you can go about backing up your site.
First, a quick explanation of how backups work in WordPress.
There are two main component of a WordPress site: the site files and the database.
The site files are just like the files you see in the file manager program on your computer. Themes, plugins and uploads all have files that contain code, images, etc.
The database is where the majority of the actual content on your site is stored. Things like the content of posts and pages, theme settings, menus and user information are all stored in the database.
The point being, you need to ensure that you backup both the files and the database of your site. I’ve seen several people set up FTP and backup only the files of their site. Without a database, that won’t really get you very far. Be sure you have both.
Elements of a Strong WordPress Backup System
In order for a backup system to be truly reliable and foolproof, it needs to have three key elements.
- Automatic. You should not have to lift a finger to run your backup. If you are running manual backups, I can ensure you that they will fall by the wayside eventually. We are all busy, and running a backup is a boring process that many people push to the back burner. I’m writing an article about backups, and I just got a notification this morning that my Mac has gone 34 days without a backup. I’ve been too lazy to plug the external hard drive in to run it. It happens.
- Stored in multiple locations. You really want to have three backup locations (four if you’re an over-achiever):
- Your host. Most backup systems will automatically upload a copy to your host. This is great, but if your site is deleted or hacked, this won’t do you any good.
- Your computer. Have at least your most recent backup available directly on your hard drive.
- The cloud. You definitely want to store your backups somewhere online. I personally use Dropbox, but any storage system will work (Google Drive, Amazon, etc).
- BONUS: an external hard drive. If you are regularly backing up your computer, as you should be, your hard drive’s copy will also be available on an external hard drive.
- Multiple versions available. Backups take up space. The larger your site, the more space your backups will take up. Even so, you should keep at least the three most recent backups of your site before you delete them. Say you go on vacation. Your site is hacked on the first day of your vacation. You are obliviously happy on the beach, and have no idea what is going on. Your automatic backup runs and overwrites your most recent backup. Now the only backup you have is a backup of a hacked site, which isn’t going to do you any good. Keep multiple versions just in case.
How Often to Backup Your Site
How often you’ll need to back up your site really depends how often you are making updates to it. If you are a power blogger, or have many authors adding content to your site every day, you’ll definitely want daily backups. If you have more of a static site that doesn’t really change much, you can get away with monthly backups.
If you aren’t sure, here’s what I generally recommend:
- Weekly automatic backups. Keep in mind that if you do need to restore your site, you could lose up to a week of work. If that terrifies you, consider backing up more frequently.
- Manual backups before major updates. If you are updating plugins, adding plugins, or switching to a new theme, do a manual backup so that you have a restoration point if something goes awry.
How to Setup WordPress Backups
With that background in mind, there are three primary ways to backup your site:
- Via a WordPress plugin
- Via your web host
- Via a maintenance package
Via a WordPress Plugin
If you’re reading this article, I’m going to go ahead and bet you are looking to DIY your backups. If so, installing and properly configuring a WordPress backup plugin is the way to go. It’s super easy and will likely take you less than 15 minutes.
Since I personally use UpdraftPlus, that’s what I’ll be walking you through here. Bonus: it’s free! You can upgrade if you need additional features, but I’ve found that the free version works perfectly fine 95% of the time.
Here’s how to install and configure UpdraftPlus.
Once installed, you can navigate to UpdraftPlus by going to Settings -> UpdraftPlus Backups.
Now we need to set up automatic backups and set up a remote storage location for the backup files.
Click on the “Settings” tab.
At the top of the Settings page, you’ll see options for a File database schedule and a Database backup schedule. As mentioned previously, you can set these backups to run as often as needed based on how frequently you update your site. Let’s assume you write a blog post or two a week and are fine with weekly backups.
In both the Files and Database dropdown menus, select Weekly. Change the number of stored backups to whatever works for you. I like to retain 3 backups, but you can retain more if you have the storage space.
Now it’s time to set up a remote storage location. Personally, I use Dropbox. Click on the Dropbox icon (or whatever remote storage solution you choose).
Next, scroll to the very bottom of the page and click Save Changes. A popup box will appear with a link to authorize your Dropbox account. Click on the link, and you will be taken to Dropbox to log in and authorize access.
Eventually you should see an orange screen similar to the below screenshot.
Click the Complete Setup button. That’s it! your backups will now run automatically and be uploaded to Dropbox. Typically, they will appear within the Apps -> UpdraftPlus folder within Dropbox.
If you need to change the folder that the backups are sent to, or you want to use more than one remote destination for your backups, check out the premium version of UpdraftPlus which has some awesome additional features.
By the way, If you ever need to make an on-demand backup, such as right before updating WordPress or any of your plugins or themes, click the “Backup Now” button on the main UpdraftPlus page in your WordPress Dashboard.
Via your web host
Most web hosting plans will offer some sort of backup system. Cheaper shared hosts tend to charge extra for this service. If you are going this route, be sure to ensure that the backups are automatic, and that your host backs up both the site files and database. Ideally, your host will also provide a way for you to automatically upload backup files to a cloud storage system such as Dropbox or Google Drive.
You’ll also want to ask if there is a way for you to request a backup if needed, such a prior to a redesign or major update.
SiteGround offers Backup Services starting at $2.50 per month. This is not included in their base GrowBig plan and needs to be added on to the hosting package.
WPEngine hosting includes an awesome backup service. Daily backups are included in all hosting plans. You can also make an easy one-click backup of your site if you’re planning on doing any major updates. Restoring a site is a matter of clicking a button.
Via a Maintenance Package
If you aren’t particularly tech-savvy, you can sign up for a maintenance package for your website that includes backups. The nice thing about this is that you also have a point of contact if you need further development help or need to restore a backup.
There are quite a few WordPress maintenance companies out there, but I personally use and recommend GoWP. In addition to daily backups, they offer malware scanning, theme/plugin updates and unlimited small (30 minutes or less) WordPress tasks.
Whew, that was a lot! To summarize:
- If you don’t have a backup system in place, set one up ASAP!
- Make sure your backups are automatic, stored in multiple locations, and that multiple versions are available
- You can easily set up backups in WordPress with the UpdraftPlus plugin
- Other options for backups include your hosting provider or a WordPress maintenance provider like GoWP