Scenario: you pay someone good money to put up your site. Then you realize you want to make changes. You have been told by your friends: WordPress is easy! Do it yourself. So you decide to go change all kinds of details on your site. What transpires is your site is a royal mess. You go back and ask the person who did (or maybe you don’t) – the developer/designer gives you a high ticket price just to change it back.
I have seen this scenario happen with at least two sites. The business owner is determined to make changes without paying for anyone with experience in WordPress development. What he/she ends up with is a mess.
I encourage people to learn on their own. In fact, WordPress *is* easy, if you learn it in steps. Don’t do all of differential calculus on day one – start with some arithmetic and use an eraser and scrap paper. So what is a good way to achieve this?
Build a WordPress Test Site
When you are in the process of hiring someone, ask them if they know how to build a test or staging site for your WordPress website. If they can add this to the development of your site, that is a special and (if your site is the least bit complicated) necessary bonus.
If you want to build the test site yourself, there are three methods I can suggest:
1) Build the test site on your own desktop or laptop. For Windows, you can use WAMP. For Macintosh, MAMP is available. Both have a bit of a learning curve. I suggest Googling for tutorials to learn how to do a locally-based WordPress site. If you like learning new things, this is well-worth your time.
2) You can usually build a test site in a sub-directory of your live site. So if your site is at http://www.yourdomain.com/, you can build the test site at http://www.yourdomain.com/test/, for example. You will need to know how to use FTP, and the details may be a bit tricky (mostly, it easy to confuse your test site with your real site – proceed with caution). But the process is similar to setting up WordPress in general.
3) You can buy hosting that includes a staging environment. For example, SiteGround offers this on some of their plans.
A WordPress Test Site Can Be a Great Way to Learn
If you have ever wanted to learn more about how to tweak WordPress, such as building a child theme or writing your own plugin, a WordPress test site can be a valuable tool. I would do this first on a local test site (the one that you build on your own computer). This is a much better method than how the business owners I described at the beginning of this post went about messing up their perfectly good websites!
A WordPress Test Site Can Help with Major Changes
As you can read in the post Updating WordPress – Carefully, a WordPress test site is a good method of cautiously updating your site when a new WordPress release is available. The test site can also be used for plugin and theme updates, too. If something goes wrong on your test site, you can investigate without any of your clients knowing there is any issue at all.
When a WordPress Test Site May Not Be Needed (as much)
If you have a site that has only posts and pages (no custom content type), theme is basic (a standard default or bought theme), and plugins are only the most popular ones, don’t worry too much about a test site. Most blogs fall into this category. If you want to be extra cautious, sure, set up that WordPress test site anyway. But I don’t want everyone to think they *must* set up that test site today.
Your Turn, Please
Do you have a test site? Have you ever used it? Have you ever wishes you had one? If you could experiment with WordPress, what would you try?