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Sr. Front-end Developer, 15+ Years of Web Development on HubSpot and Various CMSs
December 23rd, 2019
In our personal lives, it’s common practice to protect the things that we love, need, or would debilitated by if something catastrophic were to happen to them.
For these things we procure insurance.
Much like we do in our personal lives, it’s important for us to seek that same protection for our websites — an insurance if you will.
Why regular website backups matter
For a website, its codebase, and its data, regular full backups are the vehicle that provides that peace of mind.
If you had to make a choice, which you shouldn’t, at the very least you should ensure your data (the stuff in your database like names, contact info, etc) is protected.
One could argue that your site’s theme and plugins could be restored manually if need be, but the data accumulated over time that’s stored in your database is the major component that may not be so easy to rebuild.
In some cases, where user data, accounts, comments, reviews, etc. is lost, it is virtually impossible to rebuild.
Websites that get hacked, are inadvertently deleted or just stop working from a misapplied update show your customers that you’re not on top of these things.
Consistency in everything that you do provides your customers the confidence they demand before they give you their business.
Any downtime could result in lost leads or sales.
Following are three ways you can be sure your website, your data, your work, and your reputation is protected from eventualities like these.
3 types of backups every website can benefit from
1. Host-level backups
The easiest way to make sure your site is automatically backed up is to find a host that provides nightly backups with quick restore functionality.
Essentially, this means every night, at a predetermined time, your web host takes a snapshot of your site, including the database, and holds on to it in case you need it.
A snapshot of the site is exactly what it sounds like. Much like a picture, it’s a capture of your site’s files and database at the time the picture of your site was snapped.
They’ll probably only store a limited amount of these, but in an emergency, you’ll really just need access to the last few.
For example, if tomorrow morning, your webmaster makes the mistake of updating your core CMS without testing, which results in a catastrophic failure of your site, you can quickly recover by initiating the restore feature provided by your web host.
I can’t tell you how many times a feature like this has saved our clients from costly rebuilds or total loss of data. It’s invaluable and well-worth the minimal fee.
Just about every web host provides this service either included with your monthly fee or for an additional fee.
My recommendation is that you spend the money either way and get your team the insurance it needs to safely navigate the troubled waters that is the internet today.
Some popular web hosting companies that are highly rated and provide backup services are (in alpha order):
If your web hosting company does not offer nightly backups and you’re in a place with your website where you just can’t move over to one that does, there might be a plugin available to help.
If your website is on WordPress, or any other popular CMS, excluding HubSpot which has revision history completely baked in, there’s usually a plugin directory offering free and paid plugins to help with all sorts of extension of functionality.
These plugins typically backup your theme files and your database on a schedule and either store it on the server itself or even email you a copy of the database assuming it falls under the attachment limit your email provider offers.
Backup plugins, like host-level backups, are also automated and run on a schedule that you’ll set in your website’s dashboard.They also offer a backup of your site and its database, as well, but the task of restoring is up to you rather than having an outside script available, independent of your site, you can rely on for restoration should a catastrophic failure occur.
While this is definitely better than having no backup at all, my recommendation is still that you look into hosting services that offer this in a way that’s more turnkey.
That said, here are just a few of these plugins broken up by the three most popular self-hosted CMSs.
While all the plugins and extensions mentioned offer similar functionality keeping your most important site files and your database are regularly backed up, it’s super important to mention that they do not take into consideration the limitations set by your web host regarding computations and/or storage.
This means that your backup could fail if you’ve reached your storage limit (how much they allow you to host based on your hosting plan) or how many computing operations are allowed (this is typically a measure of how much strain your site puts on the server).
These provide some sense of security, but you’ll want to make sure that as your site grows, you’re also growing your plan to account for the large backup files you’ll ultimately end up with stored somewhere inside your site’s file structure.
3. Manual backups
When all else fails, write a post-it note on your workstation reminding yourself to manually create a backup of all your site files and any databases that power it.
By manually, I mean you or whomever is in charge of backing up your site would have to do all of the following yourself on a regular and consistent basis -- preferably every night, but at minimum once a week:
Sign into your hosting account’s dashboard or cPanel and access the file manager
Navigate to the folder where your site files are stored, create a compressed version of your site, and download it using a naming convention that will make it easy for you to discern when it was made. (I use something like YYMMDD-sitename.zip myself. Not all hosting companies use the same dashboard software, but one that’s very popular is cPanel. Here’s a good article that walks through a backup of files stored in the File Manager.)
Navigate back to the main dashboard page and access phpMyAdmin to backup your site’s database. Here’s a great article providing a step-by-step procedure.
Rinse and repeat on a regular basis or you’ll end up losing a ton of your important data and potentially have to re-invest for any work you asked your developers to perform.
You could literally store that on a thumb drive, in some cases, and carry it around on your keychain.
Of course, you’d want to have a backup thumb drive to your original thumb drive in case something happens to that! You probably see where I’m going with this.
This is the least effective method since, as I mentioned before, human error plays a big role and frankly, it’s never going to be someone’s passion to accomplish.
Since the process is so painstaking and mundane manual backups are often late, missed, or completely forgotten.
“I didn’t have time,”“I completely forgot,” and my favorite, “I ran the backup, but I don’t know what happened?!” are all completely acceptable reasons given by the people responsible for keeping your manual backups up-do-date on the day of the catastrophe where it's most needed.
The end result is your losing work and a portion of your investment. Why risk it?
How much is your time worth?
There is no difference between any of the methods we’ve covered if they are implemented correctly.
In the end, no matter which method you choose to follow, you’ll end up with a backup of your site files and database and you’ll either have it stored for you on the cloud or it’ll be carried around on someone’s keychain.
Still, now your attention and time is further fractured and fragmented with one more thing to do and keep track of.
It’s my estimation that, if this service were a huge expense compared to hosting services that don’t offer it, there are edge cases where manual or plugin backups would suffice.
Nowadays, it’s hard to find a hosting plan that wouldn’t take care of all of this for you at a nominal extra charge, at most, and free in most cases.
Backup. backup. backup.
A backup of your site is as essential as the insurance you have for your car.
As annoying as it is to see that fee charged month after month, one never knows when a crash is coming, and we’re sure glad we’re prepared if it does.
When we apply that logic to your site protection, and possibly at no additional cost, it’s a no-brainer.
Regular backups ensure continuous service and preserve your customer’s experience which will translate into their confidence in your offering or company.
Take a look at your current hosting plan and see if you have backups available to you. If so, make sure you're using the service!
If not, I’d recommend taking a quick look at how much adding it would cost and see if you can easily upgrade. I’d go out on a limb and say that if your hosting company doesn’t offer this at all, it’s time to go shopping!
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