What exactly is a staging site, what are they for, and should you have one? Let’s jump in.
What Is A Staging Site?
Sometimes called a staging server, clone site, or test server, a staging site is a bit like having a wedding rehearsal. You have a dummy version of the day, to iron out any issues and identify anything that won’t work (like sitting Aunty Betty anywhere near Uncle Gareth!)
It’s a near enough an identical duplicate of your live website, which preferably lives in another location (ie. on a seperate server).
It means that you can test any code changes, plugin or theme updates, or WordPress Core & PHP version changes without the risk of breaking your live website.
As your staging site is essentially a duplicate, it should behave in the same way, and help you identify any bugs, clashes or issues, before you make any changes to your live site.
Why you should have one
Whenever Impact carries out any WordPress updates, plugin updates or new development updates for our clients, the staging site is used and thoroughly tested, so that it does not interfere with the live/production website.
The aim of the staging site is to help minimise issues or downtime that could occur with any minor or major updates.
If a problem occurs it can generally be solved on the staging site allowing less chance of downtime than if updates are carried out on the live site. Downtime can be very costly for a digital critical business.
Once the testing has been completed and either no errors occur, or errors are identified and fixed, only then are the changes pushed to the live site.
In extremely rare cases issues can still happen once tested and pushed to the live environment, due to live 3rd party systems, caching, firewalls and optimisation.
However, if your web team ensures that visual or automated functionality tests are carried out, this will help minimise or resolve issues.
Your live website remains operational and untouched whilst changes are made to staging environment
Safely test changes
Test version upgrades for things like WordPress Core & PHP
Make sure plugin updates, theme changes, or code updates don’t cause conflicts
Provide you with the opportunity to catch errors and bugs without putting your site at risk
Can be set up locally or online (depending on your preferences)
It takes longer to update your website (as you need to test changes first).
Potential additional costs associated with additional servers (although we include a staging environment within our support plans)
Staging sites may not be exact replicas of a live website (caching is not usually enabled on a staging site, for example).
Who should have one
Ideally every business website, and particularly every digital critical business. If your website going down or having broken functionality would be costly, in terms of revenue or lead generation, then having a staging site to test all changes on is key.
Likewise if your users or employees rely on your website being accessible at all times.