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WordPress Website Backups… Too Important To Ignore!

I received a painful email from a past client the other day. I’m not going to quote the entire email, but let me paraphrase the few lines I want to discuss today in this post:

Help!! My website is down!! This is terrible for my business. I went to access my website today and it just shows GoDaddy ads. I don’t think I changed anything. In fact, I rarely even access the website to make changes. Did you change anything? Do you know what happened? Can you please help me??

Besides the fact that this client wanted work done for free (possibly 2-3 hours of work), what is the obvious issue here?

She didn’t pay her bills

So after investigating the situation, it turns out that she hadn’t paid her host. The email notifications from her host that were warning her that her account was delinquent were apparently going to her spam folder so she didn’t realize her account was in jeopardy of being deleted. She called and begged her host to put her site back live, but they informed her that she was a few months past payment and they had already deleted all her files from their servers. In other words, her website was gone. ALL of it was gone… the wordpress posts, pages, images, comments, themes, plugins, basically all her work over the last year was completely erased.

She didn’t have a website backup!

Are you ready for the best part of this painful story? Although we had repeatedly warned this client in emails, phone calls, and contracts that we were not responsible for backing up her website, this client had ignored our warnings and never made a backup.

There is a bit of good news in this story. We pulled out some old hard drives and dusted them off to find the original work we did on her site. So we had the theme design and plugins that we originally set her up with. But we obviously didn’t have any recent custom work done on the site. The Wayback Machine (http://www.archive.org) had never crawled her newer website and the Google cache had long since changed to the GoDaddy ads. A few of the images and posts had floated around in email communication so she could salvage a few things here and there, but for the most part, it was almost like starting a completely new project. Ouch!!

It is unacceptable to not have a website backup.

Seriously, it is so easy and SOOO inexpensive (most methods are free) to have a complete website backup. You should never have to send an “Oh Crap!” email to your website designer asking them to provide you with content. Most design studios will only keep a backup of your files for 30-90 days if they keep them at all. It is almost always your responsibility as a website owner to take care of your own website.

Would you go into WalMart after a year of using a television and demand them to give you a brand-new TV because you “lost” your old TV? In this age of free software updates on our phones and free upgrades on apps installed on our computers, it seems like people feel entitled to receiving free labor and upgrades even on their website. Businesses will spend thousands and thousands of dollars on marketing campaigns for their websites, and yet they are too cheap and too naive about backing up their websites.

If you are relying on your website to generate a solid income, you might want to research some better “enterprise level” methods of backing up a website (such as Automattic’s VaulPress service), but for the majority of website owners out there, we’ve found that these methods work very well to backup a wordpress website.

How To Backup Your WordPress Website:

  • Backup software provided by your server. Most website hosts provide software to back up your site. Check with your host to find out what services and programs they provide.
  • Perform a manual backup of your files using phpMyAdmin. This method requires technical knowledge and you can actually mess up things if you’re not comfortable with what you’re doing. We mention it here because it allows you to download a local copy of your website database (this is where all the wordpress content like pages, posts, and comments are stored) to your computer. Then you can backup this file on a thumb drive, CD, external hard drive, etc. You can get step by step instructions here: http://codex.wordpress.org/Backing_Up_Your_Database
  • Automate the manual backups a little bit. There are plugins that allow you to do essentially the same things you could do through phpMyAdmin, but they require less technical expertise and it’s less likely you will mess something up. Here’s a short list of plugins we recommend:
    BackUpWordPress plugin: http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/backupwordpress
    WP-DB-Backup plugin: http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/wp-db-backup/
  • Completely automate your website backups to the cloud. If you’re not familiar with “the cloud” concept, you should look into Amazon S3. You can sign up for an account here: http://aws.amazon.com/s3/. This is the method we recommend the most because of its simplicity, its cost, and its reliability. And to make it even easier, there is a free wordpress plugin that allows you to completely automate the backup of your website to Amazon S3. You can read all the details on the plugin page here: http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/automatic-wordpress-backup/
How often should you backup your website?

Well it really depends on how often you blog and how much activity you have on your website. Rate your comfort level if your website content for the last week was lost. What about the last 2 weeks, the last month, the last couple months, etc. It is your decision. Typically a weekly backup for an active site is sufficient. And a monthly backup for a less active site is probably sufficient.

How many backups should I keep?

Excellent question. Most people make a backup and then just replace it every time. It saves space and is less to worry about. But what if that backup file is corrupted or lost? Then what? The general rule of thumb is to keep at least three backups and keep them in three different places or forms, like CD/DVDs, different hard drives, a thumbdrive, web disk, your e-mail account, etc.

  1. Anonymous02-07-11

    Do you have a favorite wordpress backup method? Please share your comments here!

  2. Stop WordPress Hackers02-10-11

    I’d also suggest you use a combination of an auto-backup tool like Automatic Amazon S3 tool mentioned above along with a manual backup of your site every so often. I know it seems overboard, but it’s useful to have a local copy of your files in case your site goes down and you need to move to another service. It’s always easier to install a local copy. But the S3 copy sure does give a piece of mind so you can go about your business blogging.

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