In this day and age, everyone knows about the importance of regular backups of important data, normally learnt the hard way! Keeping your family photos, documents and media files safe is important to us personally, but it’s important not to overlook your business assets and as part of this your website.
Your website is hosted online, so it’s easy to skip it when assessing your business from a digital point of view, but it’s vital you include your website in any backup strategy because it is still just as much at risk as your files on your device, more so in some cases.
It’s not just the cost of a new website we are trying to avoid, but the reputation damage downtime could involve, and the time spent on content creation (images and copy)!
Why should we backup?
There are several threats to your website that backing up can help with. These vary from familiar issues to website specific ones that you may not have considered, but each can have devastating impacts on your site if not addressed.
Looking at more familiar issues first:
This is when the physical hardware itself fails, it could be a hard drive which stores our important data on or the whole device, in our everyday life this would include physical damage from dropping the device for example, to old age with the device failing from everyday wear and tear. With your website sitting on a web server, physical damage from it being dropped is much less likely but hardware failure is still a real issue, everyday wear and tear for example with the server on and running 24/7 is more of a danger. You then have power surges and other threats that could damage the hardware.
Data centres put measures in place to help mitigate these issues, with redundant hardware and systems in place, but it’s important to ensure your important data is safe.
Again looking at the webserver and its software, it could be compared to your device and its own operating system, how many times has an update caused issues? The good old Windows Update just before an important meeting or a setting change taken the internet offline? While the issues affecting web servers are different, there is still a real threat from software issues to your website.
Accidental data loss
How many times have you deleted something, accidentally or intentionally, only to realise you still needed it? This is a real threat to your website, especially when it grows in size and when using a Content Management System (CMS) like WordPress. WordPress tackles this with post/page revisions, but what about media files? Or if the system has cleared out and has removed your revisions?
Some website specific issues:
Your website is up and available to the world 24×7, this includes your customers but also more malicious people who will attempt to crack into your site, the reasons vary massively, from the more mundane defacing the site, to stealing data on customers. Once the site gets compromised setting things right can be a big undertaking, even more so without a known safe backup available.
Hosting provider going offline
No website host can claim 100% uptime, they stick to 99% figure to cover themselves for that unseen issue that takes services offline, the host then puts measures in place to protect against that issue but what about the next one? In the past we have seen hosts with a good track record of reliability go offline for days because of an unseen problem, having a recent backup of your files will make moving to a new supplier easier.
From a security point of view keeping your website updated with new security patches is vital, it can however sometimes trigger issues with the site that may require rolling back to the old version which would require a backup of the site before the update! Find out more about the importance and risks of WordPress updates here: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/just-how-important-wordpress-updates-alex-wells/
We all try to build up good business relationships, but sometimes this is outside of our control. I have seen developers go dark on clients leaving them without full access to websites or hosting accounts; in some situations, this resulted in needing to construct a whole new website! A backup under the clients’ control would make restoring the site in this situation significantly easier.
What to backup
Now we know why backing up is a good idea the next question is how to back up, I am looking specifically at WordPress websites but some points will apply to all sites – it’s important either way to check with your developer first to make sure the best solution for your site is put into place.
Traditional websites, think non CMS static sites, would only comprise files – this meant that you could backup the website by logging into the FTP/hosting account and download the files directly. For a WordPress website and others that use a database, it’s vitally important that the backup also includes the database itself. At a basic level, WordPress stores the media files and the website theme as files, but it stores everything else in the database, think of pages, posts, menus and settings! The database is the very heart of your site, but without both parts, your backup will not be complete.
The take away is: it’s important to backup the whole site, files and database, to make sure your backup is complete.
How to backup
The best tool for this really depends on your website, its size features and your hosting package, discussing it with your developer will help to identify a solution that fits your needs. At a basic level logging into the FTP account and downloading all the files and taking a copy of the live database via your control panel will give you a fairly flexible and portable backup.
Some hosting solutions include website backups as part of the service, these can be a simple button press and the host will automatically zip up the website files alongside the database in a nice easy-to-use format or it could be an automated service that backups the website at set intervals, enabling you to restore the site should you need to.
With WordPress, there are a range of plugins that will help with this task, I have had a lot of success using Backup buddy, it will let you set schedules for your backups so you can run them regularly without having to give it your own input, you can also set it to send the files ‘offsite’ to a 3rd party such as Dropbox giving you access to your backups should your host have issues. These tools will also let you run backups of the whole site every so often but the database more frequently, this is useful because a whole site backup can take time and produce large backups whereas a database backup tends to run much faster and result in a smaller file size.
You might, for example, set the whole site to backup once a month, and the database to run once per week or even daily depending on the popularity of your site and the frequency of updates.
How often to backup
This question depends on how often the website gets updated and how important these updates are protected, for a simple information-only site that gets updated once in a blue moon you may only backup the site when you make changes, for others that have daily updates added backing-up up the database daily is a good idea.
If you need your developers input there may be costs associated with getting a backup which may impact your schedule.
What to do with the backup
Once you have a backup it’s vital you store it safely and somewhere you have full access to, this way should the worst happen and you need access to it you won’t be reliant on 3rd parties (developer or host for example), it’s also a good idea to look at cloud storage to protect the backups from your own equipment failure. If you have systems in place to backup your business files already include your website backup in those, otherwise, a service such as Dropbox or OneDrive will enable you to store it safely in the cloud.
Your backup needs to be regularly updated, as mentioned backup buddy can automatically generate a backup and send it ‘offsite’ to dropbox all automatically which takes a lot of the admin out of the task.