Disaster – don’t let it ruin your day! Backing up WordPress

Your WordPress site is the product of your commitment and hard work – but it’s vulnerable. A cyber attack, database corruption, or the sudden loss of your hosting solution can all lead to the disaster of losing all your work. It’s critical that you have a clear plan for keeping backups of your site.

What should you backup?

The simple answer is “everything you can’t afford to lose if a disaster happens”. With a WordPress site, the core will be your posts, pages, media, and, possibly, any comments. You will also want to retain any theme customizations. Write a list of everything you will need to recreate your site from scratch if the worst happens.

Developing a backup schedule – backup early, backup often! Don’t let a disaster ruin your day!

Many people will think about backups once their site is up and running. Don’t be like them! Every time you make a significant change, whether to the live site or during its development – back it up. When I’m developing a site, I will take a backup at least once per day just in case a disaster happens.

Once the site is up and running you will want to have an automated backup scheduled to take place regularly. How regularly depends on how often your content changes. You will also want to take a manual backup on a regular basis – in case the automated backups stop working for some reason.

Record keeping

Backing up your site design and content is great but you’ll also want to keep a record of how it is configured. This is useful if you are rebuilding a site from scratch. Important information to collect includes the theme used, any customizations, menu structure, plugins installed and the version of WordPress installed. These records should be updated whenever a significant change takes place.

Redundancy – don’t put all of your eggs in one basket

So – you’ve got regular backups and up to date records – good for you! Where does that leave you if they are corrupted? A bug in a tool can mean that your backups are useless. Take backups using several different tools to protect yourself.

Retention – how long should you keep your backups?

This is difficult to answer because it depends on how regularly you take backups, how much storage you have available, and how often your site changes radically.

Personally, I keep some backups – usually a monthly or annual backup (depending on how often the site changes) – until a major change is planned. I’ll then take a couple of full backups of the old version to be kept forever. Once the new version of the site is up and running and backed up, I’ll delete the rest unless there’s a good reason to keep them.

On top of this, I will keep multiple versions of scheduled backups. I usually retain at least the five most recent backups.

Location – where should you keep your backups?

So you’ve got multiple backups created using different tools. That’s great, but what happens if your storage fails? You need to keep backups in a number of secure locations.

Backups can be stored on your local system, hosting server, in cloud storage such as Dropbox or Google Drive, or encrypted on a USB stick. My advice would be to use all of these methods to cover as many eventualities as possible.

Which backups you keep where, and how regularly each copy is updated depends on the complexity of the site and how frequently it changes. Personally, I generally keep up to date versions in several locations but I use an encrypted USB drive for monthly backups and major site updates. I keep one USB stick locally and another in a secure remote location.

This might seem like overkill if you only have a small site, but even the simplest WordPress site can represent several days worth of work. Backups are relatively quick and storage is cheap – it’s not worth skimping!

WordPress backup tools

This is not an exhaustive list – just my favourite ways to backup a WordPress site.

WordPress Dashboard Export

Under Tools in the administration dashboard, there is the option to Export all your content (posts, pages, menus etc). Choose All Content to download the exported file. Copy this file to multiple locations.

UpdraftPlus Backup/Restore

This is a free plugin that enables you to take manual backups and schedule automated backups. It also has a simple restore option to revert back to a previous version.

It provides a facility to connect to popular cloud storage providers to store remote backups. You’ll at a minimum want to schedule a regular database backup. See: en-gb.wordpress.org/plugins/updraftplus for more


phpMyAdmin is an interface that allows for the management of the database behind your WordPress site. It includes an option to Export the complete database structure and stored data in a number of formats.

If all else fails, this is your lifeline as it allows you to completely rebuild your site content. Choose the Quick options version to backup everything. See: www.phpmyadmin.net for more.

You should also consider other plugins such as those for security and anti-spam protection. See my post: http://blog.markallenwebdeveloper.co.uk/which-plugins-should-you-add-for-your-wordpress-site-may-2018 for more.

Final thoughts

A little bit of paranoia goes a long way when it comes to backups and disaster planning.

In the 1990s, I worked for a company whose offices were badly damaged in a terrorist attack. Our systems were located in a secure computer suite on the fourth floor.

We thought we had a great backup plan. Daily, duplicate, and periodic tape backups, and regular collection of the duplicates for retention in a secure facility off-site. We also had a contract with a remote data centre to host our systems in the event of a disaster.

What we didn’t consider was that the truck carrying our backups would be unavailable if the office experienced a disaster. However, when the worst happened, the truck was stuck in an underground garage for a week. It was collecting more tapes from businesses in another building when the bomb went off.

The building was next to the bomb, suffered structural damage, and sealed off as a crime scene by the authorities. Our primary copies were off limits because of safety concerns. The lack of backups meant we risked losing a day’s worth of trading data – several million pounds worth of business.

Our computer suite was in a structurally strong part of the building and, by chance, sheltered from the direct blast. We still had power and connectivity. The automated shutdown system for the IT systems, and RAID storage solution also worked well. We were able to make our way through the shattered glass and broken furniture to the computer suite and, fortunately, were able to bring the systems back to life. Disaster averted.

We were very lucky, but we obviously weren’t paranoid enough! Try to plan for every eventuality.

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