How to back up a WordPress site

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While a savvy small business owner learns many skills, how to back up a WordPress site usually isn’t one of them. However, without this skill, you’ll get much more than a headache if something goes wrong with your site — it could ruin your bottom line. Without that backup in place, you risk losing all of the hard work you’ve done to build your company’s online presence and increase visibility of your brand.

Learning how to make a backup of your WordPress website is imperative if your income relies in any way on its content.

The process itself takes time, but it’s much easier than you think. There are a lot of quick, simple tools and solutions available to help you out, including The Hub by GoDaddy Pro. The Hub allows you to automate the routine task of backing up your website by providing scheduled, on-demand, downloadable backups daily with 1-click restore so that you don’t have to worry.

In this post, we’ll talk about why WordPress backups are important and look at the site elements you should prioritize each time you back data up. We’ll also explain how to create a WordPress database backup, discuss the tools at your disposal and walk you through best practices to back up a WordPress site.

Why backing up your WordPress site is important

Backing up important information is now a familiar concept for many. It’s an automated transfer of your files to a location of your choosing, with easy access in case something happens to the original files. This could be something as simple as a theme update not working properly or as complex as a cybercriminal holding your data hostage.

It’s vital to have recent backups in place, especially for small businesses. Here are just two of the many benefits:

  • You have a “get out of jail free” card if you’re hacked and need to restore your website.
  • You can use the backup to set up a local or staging site to work on its development without affecting your live site.
  • You won’t have to pay someone to redo your website from scratch, saving you money.
  • Customers will always be able to access your site with minimal downtime, making your company seem reliable, professional and trustworthy.

The first of these benefits will likely be the most attractive for business owners, given the pressing need for round-the-clock site security. But your site is only as secure as you make it and the more detailed your backups are, the better off you’ll be. Let’s look at the specific elements you should keep safe when you back up a WordPress site.

Which site elements you should backup (and when)

Creating a backup is important, but choosing the components and features of your WordPress website to back up in the first place is just as essential. Larger sites often have complex backup strategies that allow them to prioritize certain components at different times to better manage the amount of data they’re backing up each time. In most cases, smaller sites and those new to WordPress should back everything up. This way, the reinstallation process will be both fast and easy.

How often you backup, on the other hand, will ultimately depend on your site’s size and content.

For sites without much interactive content — i.e., sites with no comments or blog — you can probably get away with backing up once a week. However, larger or more complex sites should be backed up at least once a day. Fortunately, GoDaddy offers free daily backups on all WordPress hosting plans.

Finally, bear in mind an oft-repeated rule for WordPress backups: If your data doesn’t exist in three different places, it doesn’t exist at all. The tools we’ll look at later can all help with achieving this goal.

How to manually download critical files

You can download important files through your web hosting control panel. Another option is using a File Transfer Protocol (FTP) client

Think of an FTP client as a dashboard that provides and follows a set of rules which allows your computer to transfer data from one place (your website) to another (your storage space for your WordPress backups). The FTP allows you to transfer multiple files quickly and ensures that they arrive at the storage location in perfect condition so you can rely on them if you have to restore your website in the future. 

The FTP doesn’t automatically transfer your entire website to the storage space. Instead, it allows you to manually download critical files that keep your site running the way you need it to. These files can form the backbone of your website. Without them, you won’t be able to recreate the site or add content on new pages without having to do a lot of legwork. 

What should you download?

1. Download the entire “wp-content” folder off your server. This folder is the heart of your WordPress site, containing all of the themes, plugins, and media uploads on your site.

2. From your root directory (which is usually public_html), download a copy of your .htaccess, robots.txt and wp-config.php files. These contain important configuration settings for your website.

3. Go to your backup folder and download a copy of that database file. This may be saved as a .sql or .gzip file, depending on your backup settings. The database backup contains all of your site’s content and settings that are stored in the database.

4. Last but not least, go back into your WordPress dashboard and go to Tools > Export and download your WordPress XML file. This is similar to the database backup in that it contains your content, posts, and pages.

How to back up your WordPress database

Though most people prefer to back up their entire website at once, you don’t have to. Instead, you can just back up the WordPress database. The database contains absolutely everything related to your WordPress installation, so it arguably warrants special attention. This includes:

  • Posts
  • Comments
  • Plugins
  • Tags
  • Categories
  • Pages
  • Other key WordPress settings

Since this type of backup only applies to your core files and database, it’s ideal for those who install a lot of themes and plugins or have many images that aren’t crucial to their site. Remember, those images take up tons of storage space, making it harder to back up your website and potentially forcing you to delete files to make room for subsequent backups.

However, a WordPress database back up can be quite complex if you’re not technically minded. Unless you have a specific reason to only back up the database and core files, full backups will offer more flexibility and a quicker route to getting your site back online.

How to restore a backup in WordPress

Now that you have your backups in place, you need to know how to restore a WordPress backup. The easiest way to start is by uploading the backup root folder to your hosting provider’s server. Just make sure to save it under a unique name so the server won’t flag it as a duplicate folder. Once you’ve uploaded the file to your server, you can delete your current root folder.

Then, head to the phpMyAdmin tab. Once you’re there, find your most recent site database backup. Choose the “import” option and click “go.” It can take a few minutes to restore a page in WordPress, but once the import is finished, your site should be back up and running. 

Tools to help you back up a WordPress site

When it comes to creating a WordPress backup, there are two main methods you can use: plugins or your host’s native solution. The latter offers a low-effort approach. For example, GoDaddy’s Managed WordPress accounts provide 30-days’ worth of backups that can be restored within minutes. What’s more, this feature is automatically enabled, so your site will be safe from the moment you purchase hosting. Plugins allow you to back up sites not using the GoDaddy Pro Hub.

WordPress Backup Plugins

There are also a number of dedicated plugins that let you avoid wondering how to back up a WordPress site.

WPBackItUp

For starters, WPBackItUp provides one-click customized backups that can be regularly scheduled. It offers a variety of cloud storage options, too, so you can back up your WordPress site to multiple locations. While there’s a free community version of the plugin, the premium version is available for a reasonable fee and includes additional functionality.

VaultPress

VaultPress allows for real-time backup monitoring, daily site scans, and backup restoration in minutes. One of the best things about this particular plugin is that you don’t need to do any work to create a backup. Instead, it runs in the background, syncing your site as you make changes or scanning your site for potential issues. There is a fee for this plugin, however, starting at about $10 a month.

BackupBuddy

BackupBuddy offers complete backup of not only your WordPress database but also your media library, themes, plugins and more. Backups are automated and easy since you can set your own automated backup schedules. BackupBuddy packages include plugin updates, ticketed support, storage and 10 iThemes Sync sites. BackupBuddy plans range from $80 to $150 per year, with a lifetime package for $297.

BackWPup

One of the great things about BackWPup is that it allows you to save the entire installation of your WordPress site. You can then use a service like Dropbox, S3 or FTP to send the backup file to. This is also an option that offers a free service, but you can pay for a professional package to gain more benefit. Paid packages range from $75 to $190 per year and include updates and support among many other features.

BackUpWordPress

BackUpWordPress is also a popular choice because it is easy to use and effective. You are able to schedule your backup to fit your specific needs and even create different schedules for your files and database. It does offer a free version, but you aren’t able to store your backup to a cloud storage service. So, if you want to store your backup someplace like Dropbox, you will need to purchase the developer version for $99 per year.

Website Backups Best Practices

Good backups have a number of key attributes and strategies that should not be overlooked:

1. You should always start from a baseline, or a full website backup of everything from a known good point. While nothing is perfect, do your best to ensure your baseline is clean and complete. In the worst case, restoring a website from a baseline should be something you can do and not have to worry that you’re not getting a solid, clean restore.

Often, the best time to create a baseline backup is right after provisioning a new website — sometimes even before you start work customizing it.

2. Only replace your baseline with care. Some people backup a site weekly, some people do it monthly, or even quarterly. However often you do it, if you’re removing old baseline backups in favor of new ones, ensure you’re comfortable that you always have a clean, confident baseline. Establishing a new baseline every time you make a major milestone in your website’s development is a great idea. As long as you’re confident that you’re doing so deliberately and cleanly.

3. Archiving older baselines is also a great idea. Yes, this sounds like “backups of backups,” but it gives you the ability to restore from milestones.

4. Between baselines, do either incremental or “snapshot” backups. Snapshots are much like a baseline, though they often do not include content that doesn’t change, like graphical components of your site. If you find a compromise, you might be going back over these, one at a time, to reconstruct a history of changes to determine when your compromise happened.

5. Be aware of changes and have a way to be able to tell the difference between website backups so you can see what changed between incremental backups as well as the differences between your last backup and your current site.

6. Keep your website backups someplace safe. Often this is handled for you by your Web host, but there’s also no reason you can’t download your backups and keep them on your local machine.

Remember the adage, “a little paranoia never hurt anyone.”

7. Practice restoring. This might seem silly, but in the case of a compromise, if you had to restore your website, could you? Are you prepared and confident that you could actually make use of your website backups? If not, why not practice? Provision a new site and restore one of your backups to it and make sure it works. Do it on a different domain, of course — don’t nuke and restore your actual site just for the fun of it.

8. Be liberal in what you back up. Be conservative in what you delete. Much is made of having to clean up after a compromise. However, if we’re being honest, sometimes a restore is required because of simple human error. Such as deleting a key directory by mistake. Relax, it happens. Be prepared for it.

9. Ask for help! Einstein is said to have remarked that many things seem impossible until you know how to do them, at which point they’re trivial. Make backing up and restoring trivial by getting help from either a knowledgeable friend or your helpful GoDaddy support representative. Protect your website from the unexpected with GoDaddy’s Website Backup service, featuring automatic daily backups and one-click restore.

Protect your site with GoDaddy Pro

Now that you know how to back up a WordPress site, you’ll want to get into the habit of backing up your sites often. Remember, just because you think you’ll never need a backup doesn’t mean you won’t run into problems in the future. It takes just a few minutes and those few minutes can save you major trouble if anything ever happens to your site’s files. 

But depending on the backup method you use, the process might be more difficult than you expect. Save yourself the stress of using a complicated backup plugin and let GoDaddy Pro handle all of your WordPress backup needs. 

Though you can manage each aspect of your website’s maintenance manually, you don’t have to. GoDaddy Pro takes the stress out of keeping up with all things WordPress. Through the Hub, you’ll be able to schedule backups, automatically restore sites, identify problems and update pages with the push of a button. Even better, it’s affordable! WordPress hosting plans start as low as $6.99 per month and give you access to the full suite of GoDaddy’s tools to make managing your site easy, fast and fun.

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