How to Backup your WordPress Website

Why should I backup my WordPress website?

“…My host does that for me.

Sometimes I hear people ask this question, usually because they have a website hosting service that does backups for them. But these services are not infallible – and if something does happen, you’ll be very glad you have your own backup. And not all hosting backups are created equally.

If you have a hosting company that specialized in hosting WordPress sites, like WP Engine or Flywheel or Pagely, they have their own methods and systems for making backups. If you are using more common website hosting that uses cPanel or similar interface. they typically offer daily backups of the whole account. Which, while convenient, is not always the most ideal solution for all types of situations that you might need a backup for. Also, these kinds of backups are often only kept for up to 30 days, which is not always the solution you’ll need.

Let’s talk for a bit about some of the reasons you might need to use the backup of your website.

Your website gets hacked

I feel like this one seems like the most obvious, so it’s a good place to start.

Having a website get hacked can be a scary thing. Several years ago, I was at a conference and was sharing a room with a good friend. One evening, we were sitting in our room, talking about some of our favorite website tools and that sort of thing and everything was fine. The next morning, she comes running over in between sessions and tells me that her website has been hacked. Literally overnight, it was hacked. The first question I asked her was if she had a backup of the site, and the look on her face told me we were in for an interesting ride – she didn’t. It hadn’t occurred to her that she needed one because it was just a website for a small business, and there wasn’t anything extremely sensitive stored on it. It wasn[‘t an e-commerce site, she didn’t collect health or payment information.

Here’s the thing – hackers don’t care whether you’re a big or small business, whether you collect private information or not. Some hackers just want to mess with your website because they can. Being a small business or not collecting private information or only being a blog does not guarantee you any protection from hackers and bots.

Your hosting expires

This is, surprisingly, the second most common situation where a backup would come in handy. I’ve had a few people come to me because their website hosting had expired without their realizing it and they wanted help recovering/recreating it. With a backup, this part is super easy. When you don’t have a backup, it’s a much more laborious process that can cost a lot more than simply restoring a backup.

You break your website

As much as we don’t want to think about it, this is always a possibility. Sometimes it’s uploading the wrong plugin, sometimes it’s making changes where you shouldn’t be, and sometimes it’s someone else doing work on your site that doesn’t really know what they’re doing. No matter how the site gets broken, regular backups are an easy recovery solution from these bad scenarios.

Your website gets hijacked

This one is sadly becoming more common lately. I’m in several Facebook groups with other small business owners, and I have seen so many posts from people who had hired someone from Fiverr or similar to help them with something on the site, usually SEO. They had given this person access to their site to do the work and now have found themselves locked out of their own site and the person is requiring a larger payout in order to give them back access to their site. If you have a backup of your site, you can just restore the site and change your passwords to prevent them from getting back into it and move on with your business.

Update malfunctions

I do a lot of WordPress updates, for my own sites and for my clients who are on my support plans. And with all of the updates I’ve done, there have been very few issues with updates breaking a site. But they do happen occasionally, and when they do, having a website backup is really convenient. Often times I am able to restore the backup before anyone else notices the issue, and then can restore the site also to a testing environment to see what part of the update process caused the issue.

What to backup?

A WordPress site relies on two parts to work – the files and the database.

The files for a WordPress site consist of the WordPress Core – the part that makes WP work, the plugins you’re using, the theme you’re using, and any media files and other uploads that you have added to your site.

The database is where the content of your site is actually stored, as well as other settings and configurations – user accounts and permissions, plugin settings, etc.

A complete WordPress backup includes both of these parts together.

If you only have a backup of one part of your site, it should be the database. This is the critical part. You can download WordPress again, you can get the plugins and themes again, and you can find out what plugins you were using from the database. Obviously, it’s easiest to restore your site if you have both parts – the files and the database. But the database is definitely the more important part of that system.

When to backup your WordPress website?

When I go get someone convinced to start a backup routine for their site, the next question is always when or how often they should backup their site. The backup schedule can be different depending on several different factors, but I can give you some guidance on that.

The one time I consider an complete backup (files and database) to be an absolute must is before you do any updates to your site – WordPress core, plugins, or theme(s). If there is an issue during the update, restoring from a complete backup tends to be the easiest way to recover from that, and then you can do your testing to determine what the issue was elsewhere. And while this can be based on a scheduled backup, that would also mean that you need to schedule your time to do updates to be shortly after the backup is run.

Other than backups before you make updates, my recommended schedule depends on how often you post new content to your site. If you are posting new content weekly, I tend to recommend a weekly database backup (preferably after you’ve posted the new content) and then a monthly complete backup (preferably before you apply your available updates, assuming you’re doing that monthly.) If you are posting daily, you probably want to do daily database backups and weekly complete backups. And, if you’re one of those people that hardly ever changes or updates the content on your site, then once a month complete backup is probably sufficient.

How to backup with a plugin?

My favorite backup plugin for WordPress is BackupBuddy. I’ve been using it for years and I think its one of the easiest plugins to use to make manual or scheduled backups. More importantly, I think, it’s also super easy to restore a backup when needed. Having a backup does you no good if you don’t know how to restore it or if the restoration process is overly complicated.

Since I talk about backups so much, I already have a post that tells you how to use BackupBuddy on your site.

Another popular backup plugin is UpdraftPlus, which is free and available in the WordPress plugin repository. There is also an upgrade version available that adds some extra functions like scheduling your backups.

How to backup your WordPress site manually

If you don’t want to or can’t use a plugin to create a backup, you can always do a manual backup of the files and database for your WordPress site using the cPanel interface for your server. This method should be undertaken with a dose of caution, especially if you’re not used to working with cPanel, as this is the control panel for your site and making the wrong move could harm your site, which is what we’re trying to avoid in the first place.

As I mentioned, there are two areas that need to be backed up to ensure a complete backup of all of the components for a WordPress site – the database, which stores all of the content and configuration settings for your site, and the actual WP core files, plugins and themes. If you use another CMS, such as Joomla or Drupal, this should apply to those types of sites as well, but I can’t guarantee that since I don’t work with those platforms.

Since this seems to me to be one of those things that’s easier to follow in a video than in text, I’ve got this video for you.

If you’re not very techy, or not used to doing things in your cPanel, please be careful. You should always take caution when doing anything with your site – even backups. You should probably be safe as long as you stay away from anything that says Delete or Remove or Empty or Drop (especially in the database), but you might want to reach out to your hosting to see if they can help you with a manual backup, if you need to use this method.

Can I hire someone to backup my site for me?

Yes! If you are convinced that you need a backup routine, and are just as convinced that you don’t want to be the one responsible for carrying it out, then I invite you to look at my WordPress maintenance plans. There are different levels available depending on your needs.

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