The answer to the question in the title of this post is very simple:
You won’t risk any downtime or problems on your production site if you use your staging site properly.
Your site can of course go down for reasons beyond your control, such as the server going down, but using a staging site will ensure that you have done everything in your own power to keep it out of harms way.
A staging site is where you should perform all updates and changes before applying them to your production site. If something goes wrong or breaks, you don’t have to rush to put out fires. Instead you can take your time and fix the problems without any stress.
This process is absolutely essential on an e-commerce site for instance, downtime or non-working functionality could potentially cost a lot of money in loss of sales, reputation and trust with customers.
What should you use your staging site for?
- Perform all theme, plugin or code updates
- Test out new plugins or themes
- Test out new styling or features
- Perform tests on after updates
Where to locate your staging site?
Your staging site should preferably be located on the same server as your production site. The main reason for this is to ensure that everything will work with the configuration of the server. You could simply create a new folder in the root of the server called staging or something similar, then install a separate instance of WordPress in there.
If you should need support from someone at some point, it would be more convenient for the people trying to help you out if they can see the problem and access the actual site as well.
You could possibly also keep it on a local installation with the same server configuration, but a live server is most likely more reliable and convenient.
How to setup a staging version or your WordPress site?
Cloning your production site to and from a staging version is quickly becoming standard functionality with dedicated WordPress hosting companies like WPEngine or Pilvia, but all hosting providers do not offer this as standard yet.
What to check before you clone your site
We would recommend that you keep the staging site as a separate installation with it’s own database. If your hosting provider only allows the use of one database, then you might have to upgrade your subscription or change to a different hosting provider.
Use a plugin to clone your site to staging area
There are several plugins which you can clone your whole installation or database with to another WordPress installation. Here are a few options to consider:
You could also use the built in WordPress export/import functionality located under Tools->Import and Tools->Export. This functionality only imports/exports your content though, not widgets and menus.
Do you need help with setting up a staging version of your WordPress site? If so then please submit a support ticket and we’ll help you out.