Is your website losing potential customers? Shocking statistics reveal that 64% of visitors abandon slow and glitchy sites!

It’s vital that you test your websites thoroughly to provide your users with a first-rate browsing experience if you want to stand any chance of increasing your sales.

In this article, we will detail the steps you need to follow for setting up a WordPress staging environment and will demonstrate exactly how it can be used to test your website’s updates.

Our step-by-step guide will ensure your site is always running smoothly and keeping customers happy.

Let’s get started!

Understanding New WordPress Releases

At the time of writing, WordPress 6.2 is the latest release of WordPress (with 6.3 due to be released around August of 2023). This current release includes several major changes and enhancements that make web development easier.

For instance, the new default theme, Twenty-Twenty-Three, now includes ten style variations – which gives you a lot of flexibility in developing your new site.

One of the key highlights released is the enhancements in Query Loop blocks functionality. In addition to this there have been improvements in block placeholders which provide better consistency and control, and more responsive text with fluid typography.

You can track the latest release of WordPress on the new releases page

Although new features make life easier, they sometimes cause compatibility issues with the existing site, especially if your site uses plugins or themes that have not been tested with the latest version. It’s a good idea to test that everything works before upgrading your website.

That’s where a solid staging environment comes in.

What is WordPress Staging?

A staging environment is a duplicate copy of your website where you can try out and thoroughly test any changes – without affecting the original site.

It’s often used to test and preview the changes to themes and plugins before making them live on the actual website. This way, website owners can test changes without any risk of disrupting users’ experiences on the live site.

Why Do You Need to Test WordPress?

Running and maintaining a staging site alongside your production site might seem like double the effort. However, doing this can save countless hours in debugging. Here are a few scenarios where it’s especially useful:

  1. A staging site allows developers to work more efficiently as they don’t need to worry about the potential repercussions from any failure. If you’re making changes to a live site, you’ll take regular backups and carefully inspect everything before making each change. If your site is being actively developed, this can take a lot of time. Having a sandbox environment to test and refine changes makes the development process faster
  2. By testing the changes on a test site you can catch and fix issues before they go live. The ability to identify and proactively fix the issues even before they show up in your live environment makes it immensely valuable for businesses that cannot afford downtime.
  3. Multiple developers can work simultaneously on the staging site without worrying about clashes and overwriting each other’s work. This can speed up the development time and reduce miscommunications.

When Should You Use WordPress Staging?

There are many scenarios where using a test environment is helpful. Here are some of the common examples:

  1. Updating WordPress core, themes, or plugins: With WordPress, plugins can conflict with each other, leading to errors or crashes. With staging websites you can test new plugins, or updates to existing plugins, without risking the stability of the live site.
  2. Design changes: Website owners can experiment with different design changes, such as a new color scheme, layout, or font, all without affecting the live site. This is much more useful than having a mockup of the design, because the staging site can be viewed on different devices to test both responsiveness and accessibility. 
  3. E-commerce changes: For e-commerce websites staging is especially useful when testing new payment gateways, product listings, or other updates that could affect the checkout process.

Setting Up a Test Environment

Step 1: Back Up Your Site

Ensure that you have a working backup of your site. If you don’t have a recent copy, you can use RunCloud’s automated backup functionality to quickly create a snapshot of your site. If you’re not using RunCloud to manage your servers yet, you can use a WordPress plugin such as WP Migrate Lite, or Duplicator to make a copy of your site.

create staging site using LocalWP

Step 2: Setup A Test Environment

You need to create a consistent testing environment that closely resembles your actual hosting environment. This means you should use the same operating system, PHP version, and libraries in your staging environment. Ideally your test environment should not have anything running except your test site so that it’s isolated from all potential problems.

If you don’t have a fresh virtual machine then you can use tools such as Vagrant for building and managing virtual machine environments. It’s a customizable and scalable solution for advanced users who require more control over their development environment.

In this tutorial, we’ll be working with Local, a WordPress development environment. It’s specifically designed for testing WordPress sites. Start by downloading the Local binary on your computer and execute it.

The binary file will automatically download and install the necessary packages for your computer. Once you’re done, you should see a screen that looks something like this:

LocalWP empty screen

Step 3: Import Your Backup Into The Test Environment

Click on “Create a new site” and select the option to use an existing zip file. Locate the backup of your live website, and use that backup to create a new site.

Import Archive LocalWP

Use the preferred settings for a seamless experience, and click “Import site”. Your firewall might prompt you to allow network access, so make sure you grant this access for a smooth installation. 

choose environment WordPress

Step 4: Make The Changes To The Staging Site

Once your site has been imported, click on the “Open site” button on the top right to view your staging site. Now you can log into your admin dashboard as you normally would, with the same credentials that you use for your live site.

LocalWP dashboard staging

Once you have the site up and running, you can access it on your local network and collaborate with other team members – all completely without affecting the live site.

After you have thoroughly tested the compatibility of your plugins and themes, you can make those changes on your live site without worrying about unexpected repercussions.

If you only made a few minor edits to your staging site, such as changing some text or colors, you can post these changes to your live site by manually implementing them. For example, you can edit the same file or setting on your live site, and then copy-paste the changes from your staging site. In this way, you can avoid overwriting your entire live site and preserve any user-generated data.

However, if you made a complex operation on your staging site, such as installing a new plugin or theme, adding custom code, or modifying the database, it may be wise to take a backup of your staging site – and overwrite your existing live site with it. This way, you can ensure that your live site matches your staging site exactly, and avoid any compatibility issues or errors. Before you do this, however, make sure you have a backup of your live site as well in case something goes wrong.

Creating A Staging Site on RunCloud

If you’re using RunCloud to manage your servers, then you can create a staging site with just a few clicks. RunCloud can automatically clone entire WordPress sites without requiring you to download anything.

To use RunCloud’s staging feature, go to your dashboard and open the “Staging” menu to set up a test environment. Click on the “Get Started” button to begin the process.

RunCloud dashboard staging WordPress

RunCloud will now ask you to enter the username and password that visitors will need to enter for browsing this site. This is not your WordPress admin dashboard password – your staging site will have the same login credentials as your production site. 

You can turn off this option if you like. However, we recommend you keep this on as making the test site publicly available might potentially reveal some confidential information.

configure staging environment WordPress

After configuring the access control of your site, you can configure the domain that you want to use. You can either use a different subdomain of your original site, or use a test domain.

Configure staging domain RunCloud WordPress

After configuring the necessary settings, deploy the app by clicking the “Deploy Staging” button. Once deployed, you should see the following screen. Click on the “Open Site” button in the top right corner of the screen to browse your staging site. 

staging WordPress settings RunCLoud

After opening the site, you should see an alert asking you for login credentials. Enter the username and password that you just created. You should now be able to browse your site and make changes to it without affecting your main site.

HTTP authentication RunCloud WordPress

After making the changes, you can go back to the staging dashboard and click on the “Sync” button to push changes from the test environment to the production.

WordPress Staging Plugins

Many WordPress backup and migration plugins also provide the option to create a staging environment. Here are some of the best WordPress staging plugins. 

  1. WP StageCoach
    WP Stagecoach provides the ability to easily create sandbox sites. It has some advantages over importing a backed-up copy of your test site, as it merges the database rather than overwriting the existing one. There are also some advanced features, such as protecting staging sites via a password, or offering the ability to revert changes instantly.
  2. WP Staging
    The WP STAGING plugin for WordPress allows users to create backups, staging sites, and clones of their website. Some advanced features included are support for multisite networks, and migration to another host or domain – although these are locked behind a paywall. The staging environment can quickly test updates and restore backups if necessary, making it a good choice for managing your staging environment.
  3. BlogVault Staging
    BlogVault is a WordPress backup plugin that also provides a staging environment. It can perform incremental automatic backups, and can revert to previous versions easily. This quick backup and recovery process allows you to speed up your development, as you’ll spend more time testing and less time waiting for backups.

The staging site runs on a separate server instead of running alongside your live site. This allows you to load-test the staging site without worrying about any possible performance impact on your live site. 

After Action Report

It is essential to test any changes before pushing them to your live site. This is even more important if you’re running a business that relies on a website for its core services. Staging environments are a great way to test your site in a sandbox environment without worrying about compatibility issues.

We strongly encourage all WordPress site owners to test new releases and stay up to date with the latest software updates. This not only ensures that your site is functioning optimally but it also helps to ensure your site is secure. Outdated software can leave your site vulnerable to security threats, which can have serious consequences for your business.

If you’re tired of managing your own servers – you might want to check out RunCloud (yep, that’s us!). RunCloud is built for website owners that want to focus on their customers, not on managing their infrastructure. Experience painless server configuration, backups, and worry-free staging environment migration, without the need to spend hours figuring it out – get started with RunCloud today and get up and running in minutes. Get started with RunCloud today and get up and running in minutes