Everything You Need to Know About Backing Up Your Blog
A few years ago, I paid a designer a lot of money to build a fancy custom design on my Wordpress website. Unaware that I was not to tamper with any plugins or settings, I performed a routine update of my plugins, even the ones that I wasn't familiar with. All of a sudden, my site went from a thing of beauty to something resembling a broken 80's video game. I tried to fix the glitches, but it only made things worse.
I had nothing backed up and no way to fix the mess. The only thing left to do was wait until my designer responded to my desperate pleas for help. 72 stressful hours and many more dollars later, I was up and running again.
If you have a blog, you must protect your data.
This is a post about the less sexy side of blogging, but one that could not be more important: backups.
Image: Karen via Flickr
We pour our hearts and souls into our blogs. We agonize over words, sentences, images, navigation and all of the little things that make our blogs unique. And yet we often overlook (or put off) attending to this very crucial task of diligently backing up our data and saving it in a secure place. Usually it's because:
- You think it’s unlikely to happen to you. Sure, it makes sense for the big bloggers to protect themselves, but why would anyone want to hack your little site?
- You export your files on a regular basis
- You already have a backup plugin installed, but haven't checked on it in years
- Your assume your web host backs up your data for you
- You just haven't gotten around to it
The reality is that any site is at risk. Websites get hacked all the time, even the little ones. Servers crash. Databases get corrupted. Hardware fails. Files are tinkered with and something goes horribly wrong. These things happen all the time, and it could happen to you.
Which is why you must be proactive about putting proper backups in place, so that if and when disaster does strike, you can recover quickly and easily with all of your data in tact.
And you can do it all in 30 minutes.
The 4 Things Every Website Backup Should Have
Let’s start with a quick assessment of whether or not you have the right tools and processes in place. Ask yourself if your current system meets the following criteria:
- Are both the blog database and the site itself backed up? There are two main components to your blog - the database files, which include your posts, pages and comments, and your site files which include your themes, plugins and other custom design elements. Most plugins and export features only download the database which means that only part of your site is being backed up.
- Do you have automatic scheduling enabled? A good backup should be scheduled to run automatically and on a regular basis. While you can never back up your site too much, a daily database export and a full site backup each week is a good starting point, so that every post, comment and design tweak stays in tact.
- Where are the files stored and how secure is it? Files can be stored on your server, desktop, external hard drive or on the cloud. Storing files on your server can be risky because 1) if the server goes down, your backup goes with it, and 2) your web host might not allow backups to be stored on their server. If you are, you may be in violation of their Terms of Service. I thus recommend selecting a cloud storage provider (i.e. Dropbox, Google Drive or Amazon S3) and, for an additional layer of security, storing a copy on your desktop or external hard drive (this can also be automated). Do keep in mind that these files are large, so you will need adequate storage wherever you choose to save your files.
- If you do lose your data, how quickly and easily can you restore your site? It’s one thing to have your files backed up, but it all comes down to your ability to access and restore them as quickly and easily as possible. Some tools require multiple steps, calls to customer service and technical know how. Others require just one click.
Backup Options and Recommendations
There are a number of options to work with, and it's generally a matter of your resources, technical abilities, and preferences. Note: The majority of plugins and tools I refer to are built for Wordpress, since it is the most popular blogging platforms, but most of these options are also applicable to Tumblr and Blogger.
1. Manual Exports. In your dashboard, you have the option to export your blog database including your posts, pages, navigation menus and comments.
- Pros: Free, easy to use.
- Cons: First, this is a manual process, which means that if your last backup was over a month ago, you’ve lost a month’s worth of updates. Second, only database files are saved. In order to export site files, you will need to either install a plugin (option 3) or download the files through your cPanel (option 2).
- The verdict: Not recommended.
2. cPanel Backups. You have the ability to log in directly to the control panel in your web host, also known as the cPanel to export your blog files.
- Pros: Free, backs up your entire site.
- Cons: Exports are manual and the process of restoring a site using the cPanel requires more steps and technical know-how.
- The verdict: Use this method only if you have sufficient tech skills and/or you are willing to invest the time learning the ins and outs of your cPanel.
3. Free Plugins (Wordpress Only). There are dozens of free plugins to choose from, most of which take a few quick minutes to install, activate and set up. Some are excellent and meet all of the key backup requirements. Others are buggy, outdated, or save certain parts of your website, not the entire thing.
- The verdict: Take the few minutes to install a free plugin so that you can, at the very least, schedule and automate your backups.
- Recommended Tools:
- BackWPup is an excellent option for WordPress users. It's the most popular and highest rated of the plugins, satisfying all of the above criteria, with the main drawback being more limited support for importing files and restoring your site (there is a premium version as well).
- Dropbox users might also consider the WordPress Backup to Dropbox plugin.
4. Your hosting provider. Most web hosts do provide backups as part of their packages, but everyone’s offering differs, so you must read the fine print and Terms of Service so that you’re clear the details of your terms.
- Pros: The backup comes with your hosting package at no additional cost.
- Cons: There are no guarantees as to how often your data is backed up (it could be every week), which parts of your site is backed up, where it is stored and how quickly (or if at all) your site can get restored. That’s a lot to be putting into the hands of your hosting provider, and not worth the risk.
- The verdict: Unless your web host can provide specific guarantees, do not rely on this method. The only host I know of that guarantees secure backups and one click restore is wpengine.
5. Premium platforms. The best premium platforms meet all of the criteria for an effective backup system coupled with stronger service, support and restore functionality should your site go down, which is what makes it my preferred method.
- Pros: Full-site automated backups, automatic cloud transfer, strong customer service, easy restore functionality.
- Cons: There is typically a yearly fee.
- The verdict: Use this option over a free plugin if you want the extra features such as easy restore, real time backups and accessible customer support.
- Recommended tools:
- VaultPress for WordPress: Plans start at $5 per month. I particularly like their ability to back your data up in real time.
- BackupBuddy for WordPress: $80/year for 2 sites, but you can get a 25% discount with coupon code ITPAL25 (This is what I use).
- Backup Jammy for Tumblr (free).
- Tumblr Backup for Mac desktop app (free).
Your easiest and least time consuming option is to install a free plugin such as backWPup or a premium plugin like BackupBuddy or VaultPress. Schedule, at a minimum, daily database backups and weekly site backups that automatically send your files to the cloud for safe keeping.
Spend 30 minutes doing this, and never worry about it again.
How do you currently back up your blog? Have you ever lost all of your data? Has a backup saved you from hours of rebuilding agony? Share your stories!
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