Test site on generic shared hosting versus staging site on a Managed WordPress host

  1. Building a complete test site
    1. On a shared hosting environment requires a good deal of work, installing wordpress, creating a database, cleaning/exporting/importing database files, changing the database to work on the new location, establishing a sub domain, localizing everything on the test site vs
    2. On a Managed WordPress Host, we push a button, take a couple sips of coffee and get to work
  2. Once the testing is done, when it is time to roll the changes from a test site into the live site
    1. Much of the same work that was done to build the test site, has to be done in reverse, plus we have to be sure not to overwrite any changes that might have happened on the live site.  On a site with an active blog, this can get complicated quickly
    2. On a Managed WordPress Host, we push a button, select one of 2-3 options, stand up and stretch, sit back down and get to work
  3. Restoring Live site and Test sites
    1. On Managed WordPress hosts, staging sites are not automatically backed up.  We cannot restore them.  However, the live site is backed up every 24 hours and the restoration of the live site, only requires pushing a button.
    2. On a shared hosting platform, backups are rarely automatic and almost never something that you can restore with the push of a button.  Restoring a backup can be time consuming and technically complicated depending on the site and how much has to be restored.
  4. Cost
    1. Building a test site and later rolling the changes out to the live site can involve more development costs at each step of the process.  Development costs that have nothing to do with the actual development of any changes to the site, and only deal with ‘building the test site’ and the manual steps to roll those changes into the live site.
    2. Managed WordPress Hosting does cost more per month, but a staging site is always available at the push of the button and can be managed and used by regular people that have little development experience.
      1. Typical generic shared hosting runs $3 – $8 / month (can be less, can be more this is a starter price)
      2. Managed WordPress Hosting that includes 1 click staging runs $4 – $30 / month ( to my knowledge there is nothing less, but can be more, depending on traffic and number of websites in plan)
  5. Cloudflare and hotline protection are almost always a necessity for Managed WordPress Hosting.  They are a very good thing on shared hosting as well, but billing on Managed WordPress Hosting might be more expensive without them.

As of the writing of this article only WPEngine and Siteground offer 1 click staging capabilities.  WPEngine offers it on all of their plans.  Siteground only offers it on their more expensive ‘Geeky’ plan, but their Geeky plan has a normal price that equals WPEngine’s starter plan.  Although as of the writing of this article, Siteground’s Geeky plan is 50% off their normal price.

1 click site building and 1 click migration should not be confused with 1 click staging.  1 click WordPress installations are easy and available via Fantastico in many cpanel setups, but that does not create a duplicate copy of a live site, nor does it make it easy to migrate the staged site into your live site.  1 click migration is currently only offered by Godaddy Managed WordPress Hosting and Siteground.

On a similar note, here are some trade offs for Test sites in general

Test site vs installing changes live on site

  1. On a test site we can test things without potentially breaking a site in front of live customers, but a test site is another separate site meaning more work and more expense
  2. If we screw up on a test site or paint ourselves into a corner in terms of development, we can start over from scratch
  3. To build a test site we have to recreate everything that is on the live site, if we have premium plugins or services they may only be licensed for the live site.  A full test may require paying for additional license of those items.
  4. The most effective test sites are built on the same server environment as the live site.  Due to the nature of shared hosting, we may be able to get close, but not all the way towards being on the same server.
  5. Despite the many things we might attempt to do to block search engine bots from indexing a test site, there is no perfect solution except building the site on a server that is offline.  Indexing can happen, so its best to kill the test site when we are done, requiring a rebuild of the test site the next time we need to do testing.

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