What is a staging environment and do I need one?

Ever made an update to your site and something goes wrong? Maybe its a plugin update or a new feature that doesn't work as expected, we've all been there but did you know there's another way? A staging environment not only ensures your live site stays up to date and unbroken, but it also allows you to create and do more with the online face of your business behind the scenes.

What is a staging environment?

A staging environment or staging site is essentially a copy of your current site, that runs behind the scenes. The simple principle of staging is that it enables you to test changes to your site without the fear of something going wrong and somebody seeing it. Think of it as your draft document before sending out to a client or your event rehearsal before the big day; your staging site helps build, test and play in a safe place.

If you manage the content of your site, you might say that platforms like WordPress provide the function to preview your text and image changes before publishing. So how is a staging site different to this?

Using the content management features on platforms on WordPress is perfect for your content updates, but we all know only too well that site updates and improvements aren’t as straightforward as content changes. Your site is made up of page themes, plugins and sometimes unique code components. These elements all interact with each other, so when you make a change to one of them, maybe through a plugin update or an amendment to the site’s code; there is the potential for unexpected results.

The benefits

A staging environment allows you to test updates to your site before your customers see them. If it’s a new feature that you want to build or an update to your site’s theme your working on (like in the image below), you can take the time to build and test while gathering feedback from your colleagues before going live.

Also, if something strange happens on your staging site as a result of a new feature or plugin update, your live site won’t be affected. Now you’ll have the safety of fixing the problem before your customers even knew it was there.

A staging site brings further benefits that go beyond updates to themes and plugins, for example:

  • If your business is working on a new product release or is upgrading to new software that integrates into your site, a staging site gives you the privacy to work on the product safely hidden away from your audience until its time to make that big announcement.
  • Scheduling site releases made up of several updates instead of at updating things at random will massively help with your project management. Your upcoming site enhancements can be tested together on your staging site giving confidence they’re all working together in harmony. This process, in turn, encourages a more thorough checking process within your team.
  • The nature of staging also helps foster the idea of continual and pragmatic evolution of your sites design and function and performance.
  • Staging sites help protect your brand reputation online. If you’re running an e-commerce site or hosting an online service the last thing you want is your site being down while your customers want to use it.
  • A staging site also protects your live site’s search ranking. Search ranking is as much about showing web users stable, error-free sites sending the right messages to the search engines as it is displaying relevant search related content from your site.

Version control

Central to every staging to live site setup is a process of version control, just like every plugin has a version, your staging sites status should have an associated version too. The real benefit here is if an update is made with unexpected consequences you can always roll back to before the change was made, or even start again entirely.

An example of our last site design update, this shows how different the footers looked before and after, this was part of a wider evolution of the design and was first staged and refined within the team

Version control helps you see what was changed on your site and by who, as your site grows in size and complexity this only becomes more important. You’ll be able to manage your developer resource more efficiently and collaborate with other specialists, with a clear view of exactly how far each branch of your project has got.

It may be that your version control is limited to your nightly backups, in today’s world this is a rather primitive way to reset changes. Version control is critical in maintaining your site, for us at Web Engineer we use it to manage which changes are published to live and help develop new features behind the scenes. Version control is a key component to any good development environment with the capability of publishing your chosen features from staging while maintaining the working state of your live site.

Ongoing support

At Web Engineer, we’ve always felt that your site should stay up to date with not just the web that serves it but your business. Sites that stand still with no support and updates will quickly fall behind your competitors and inevitably lead to problems. As part of our managed service, we use the above techniques to offer a comprehensive handle on your site, helping to protect it from the day to day risks online while helping develop future enhancements.

Our managed service solution is anything but one size fits all, we build our support up to fit just around your business requirements.

To find out how our managed service could fit around your business needs contact us on 01392 253304 or email sales@web-engineer.co.uk

 

 

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