Are you planning on making some new changes to your website? Maybe a re-design or an update? Or did you just choose your website domain, settle on a hosting plan and are ready to start developing your new website on it?
Before diving headfirst, you should be warned there is a safer and in the end more time-saving way to do it. Imagine having a running website on your main domain that’s currently being viewed by your clients and you adding a new functionality just to have the whole website crash. Or updating a couple of plugins to end up having the same result.
A safer way of doing these actions is by using a staging environment or simply called a staging website which won’t cause harm to your main site or its viewers.
What is a staging website?
A staging site is a clone of your website where you can test new updates made by your developers before they’re deployed to your live site. Staging websites are private meaning only you and your development team/development agency see it. They’re utilized as a tool for experimenting and testing, lowering the chances of any errors or issues affecting your end-users. This all translates to happier users and increased website uptime.
Who needs a staging website?
Basically, everyone who hosts a website should have a corresponding staging website for it. The staging website is beneficial to everyone included in the website development and/or maintenance. From you as the website owner to the developer working on it. Especially if you have a big and impactful website that directly or indirectly produces revenue, provides any form of service (for example room booking or a webshop), or has users who rely on it daily.
On the other hand, you probably don’t need a staging site if you’re okay with the possibility that one of your upgrades will break your site and change its functionality, or render it unavailable until you fix it. But I would advise you not to be in this kind of mindset.
Why is it such a big deal?
A staging website allows us to create a 1-to-1 copy of a live website for simulation purposes, testing the whole website and its new functionalities behind the scenes. This leads to your (the website owner) ability to review our work and approve our changes prior to going live. From both a client relationship and a development standpoint, staging is critical.
Putting together a website for your company can include a large number of developers, designers, account representatives, and client-side employees/groups. We can cover any gaps in a misunderstanding in development by having a staging area where you (the client) may see and interact with the website.
A new plugin version is being released with some big changes. These new changes can cause the breaking of some core website functionalities or even worse, the crash of a website. Being able to update the staging environment plugin to the new version allows us to troubleshoot the website and be sure that we can update the production environment without causing major issues to you and your clients.
Pros of a staging website
With all of the above said, you can say that staging websites cover these points:
- Streamline the overall development process
- Simplify the client-development relationship
- You can develop a new website, then redesign it again and adjust it until it’s just right – all while keeping it hidden from the end-users
- You can use them to experiment with custom code, check out new plugins and themes
- If your staging site is a duplicate of your live site, it’s the ideal location for bug fixes and testing solutions to any issues you’re having
Cons of a staging website
Despite being recommended to use them, staging websites have a couple of minor drawbacks, they do:
- Increase the development time of a website
- Increase the updating time of core plugins
- Raise the costs of website hosting and upkeep
Steps in website development using a staging website
If you decide to work with us on your website development, the process of creating it while using a staging website consists of these necessary steps:
- Acquiring your domain name and choosing a hosting plan
- Main domain setup and setting up a work in progress screen
- Staging website setup and testing
- The website development process on the staging website
- Giving your feedback on our work and iterating on the changes/fixes
- Publishing the approved changes to the live website
#1 Acquiring your domain name and choosing a hosting plan
You as the website owner decide on your domain name. You buy it along with a hosting plan for the website hosting. When we get the domain name, we redirect it to our nameservers and start working on your website.
#2 Main domain setup and setting up a work in progress screen
We start the development process by setting up all the necessary things for a website. A new domain is set up on our servers along with its database and WordPress installation. Upon finishing all that, we set up the website theme and all the necessary plugins needed for the development. Finally, we turn on the work in progress screen in case any of your visitors stumble upon the main domain.
#3 Staging website setup and testing
Staging website setup starts with copying all of the files of the main domain onto the staging folder. The staging website of course has its own subdomain. After the basic staging setup, we discourage search engines from indexing it. This action will stop the end-users from searching it and visiting it.
#4 Website development process on the staging website
Your designated developer team starts developing the website on the staging website. During that period, you as the website owner can constantly monitor our progress.
#5 Giving your feedback on our work and iterating on the changes/fixes
During the whole development process, you can point us to the features/changes that you see we missed or misunderstood. Those requests get solved by the development team and we all iterate on making the website as perfect as can be.
#6 Publishing the approved changes to the live website
After the thorough testing of all elements of the website, we publish the staging website live. Finally, we remove the work in progress screen mentioned before. That’s it, you’ve successfully finished the development process of your website, using a staging website as a development area!
Of course, the developer’s work does not end there. You could eventually decide on introducing new website pages/features, a whole website re-design or just a plugin update. All of those things are done again first on the staging site and by using the same basic workflow.
If you want to make modifications to your website without letting the public know, staging sites are ideal. A staging site can help you add or test new features, fix faults, and overall speed up the development of the website in a safe way. You and your end-users will be happier in the end, the decision to use them or not falls upon you.