Backup Plugins Aren’t About Backing up, They’re About Restoring
Backing your site up is essential, but being able to easily restore it is even more important.
Anyone who’s ever had to restore their site after server problems or a security breach will now that in those vital moments (or if you’re unlucky, hours), you’re just not thinking straight.
The last time I had to restore my site was while I was on a camping holiday. My site had been hacked and I had to find somewhere with wifi and restore a clean backup fast. I offloaded the kids onto my husband and sped off in search of the nearest coffee shop, where I was able to access my backup and restore it as quickly as the slow wifi would allow.
The previous time was when my hosting provider lost all my data while moving their servers (yes, really!). That was some years ago, when I had all my clients’ email accounts stored on my hosting account and was using a plugin that emailed me a backup of the database and uploads folder for each site on a regular basis. My first priority was to get everyone’s email up and running again, then to reinstate all my clients’ sites (merging databases and files), and then finally to get my own site online. I was using a free plugin that didn’t make it easy for me to restore my sites and it took weeks before everything was in full working order again. I effectively went out of business for the entire time.
But why am I sharing my tales of woe with you? Well, I want to impress upon you how important it is that whatever backup option you choose, you make ease and speed of restoring your site the most important criteria when you’re deciding what service or plugin you’ll use. The first time I had to restore my sites it took weeks and cost me hundreds of pounds in lost earnings. The second time it took me half an hour and cost nothing.
The difference between these two scenarios was that in the intervening time I invested time and money in creating a more robust setup. I migrated all my client sites to Multisite, moved email to Google apps and paid for the Snapshot plugin, which gives me a one-click restore option.
In this post I hope to convince you that making a similar investment of money and/or time will save you much more time and money in the long run, and help you sleep easy at night. First I’ll take a look at what you should look for when choosing a backup plugin.
Why Easy Restoring is the Most Important Criteria When Choosing a Backup Plugin
A short while back I wrote a review of the top backup plugins, looking at how easy they were to configure and use to keep your site backed up.
In that review I rated the plugins based on a few key criteria:
- Automated backup scheduling.
- A choice of locations to store your backups.
- No limit to how long you can store your backups.
- Easy migration options.
- Straightforward restoration via the WordPress admin or the provider’s website.
- Support and documentation.
- Flexible pricing.
- Multisite support.
All of these criteria are important, but I would argue that the single most important one is ease of restoring your site.
Let’s take a look at those criteria again:
- All backup plugins will automate backups. If it doesn’t do this, it isn’t worthy of the name.
- All backup plugins offer at least one backup location that’s free and easy to set up, so if you need to do some extra configuration here, you can and you only need do it once.
- OK, there’s no getting around this one. If you can’t store your backups for as long as you’d like, you risk not having access to data you might need in future.
- Migration isn’t the reason most people install backup plugins – it’s nice to have, but there are other options.
- Being able to restore your site easily when you’ve been hacked and the ensuing panic means your brain has turned to mush is more important than you think. If you’re normally happy migrating a site using phpMyAdmin and FTP, you could be more prone to error when it’s most urgent.
- Support and documentation is arguably less important than a user-friendly interface which is so intuitive you don’t need support.
- A good backup plugin is worth more than you think. If I’d spent hundreds of pounds on a backup plugin that could had made my life easier when my hosting provider lost my data, I’d have been much better off.
- Multisite support is necessary if you’re running Multisite, but isn’t if you’re not!
Most of these criteria can be worked around because when you’re installing and configuring your backup solution you have the luxury of time. When you’re restoring your site you don’t, which is why ease of restoring is so, so important.
Plugins Offering One-Click Restore
Having established that it’s worth investing in a plugin that makes restoring your site as easy as it can possibly be, let’s take a look at plugins that do that for you.
Note: Although I’m comfortable migrating and creating sites manually, I don’t want to do this when I’m under pressure to restore my site. So I’m only including plugins that offer a one-click restore either via the WordPress admin or via their website. If you have to delve into the database and FTP or upload a script, it’s just not foolproof enough (and when my website has gone down, I become that fool).
Snapshot makes it incredibly easy to restore your site, giving you a one-click restore option via the WordPress admin. It also supports Multisite at no extra cost, makes migration easy and gives you the flexibility of creating multiple scheduled backups and storing them in a variety of possible locations.
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The plugin creates multiple snapshots of your site, a bit like Time Machine on OSX. Restoring a snapshot on a functioning site is a simple process of finding that snapshot in the admin screens and clicking the Restore button. If you have to create your site again from scratch, you simply install the plugin on an empty WordPress installation, import the snapshot you need via the admin screens, and click Restore.
VaultPress is a backup service developed by Automattic, so you know you can rely on it. It stores your data on the VaultPress website, which makes things easier but takes away some of the control. It supports Multisite, although you have to pay for each site on your network meaning that if (like me) you have a lot, this will add up. The basic package only stores your data for a month but you can keep your data for as long as you want by upgrading to the higher of the two pricing plans.
Restoring your site is made easy via your dashboard in the VaultPress website – simply log in, find your backup and click the Restore button.
ManageWP works in a way that’s somewhere between the other two plugins mentioned here, giving you a choice of where to store your data and letting you restore your site via your dashboard in the ManageWP site. It also offers extra features such as SEO and security checks, so is worth investigating if you need those.
Restoring your site is similar to the process used by VaultPress: log in to your site and restore the backup you need. The downside is that if you want to migrate your site to another server, you’ll have to do this manually, which means that if a disaster strikes and you have to move your site, you can’t use the one-click restore option.
Why One-Click Restore?
You’ll have spotted from this list that there aren’t many backup solutions which offer one-click restore. All of the others I reviewed recently, even the premium ones, require you to upload a script or directly access the database or files. When I’m panicking about getting my site working again, those are things I don’t want to be messing with.
Two of the three services above store your data on the provider’s servers and only one (our own Snapshot) gives you the flexibility to store the backups wherever you want. Ultimately, which one you choose is up to you. You might find my review of the top backup plugins useful when making your choice.
One of the most stressful things you’ll have to do as a website owner or developer is fix things when your site has been hacked or your data has been lost. It’s a situation which will lead the calmest of people to lose the ability to think logically and risk making mistakes.
This is why I think it’s so important to be able to restore your site as quickly and easily as possible, with no room for error. A plugin or service with a one-click restore option is the only way of ensuring this, and it’s something I believe is well worth investing in.
What experience do you have of restoring your site under pressure? Has the Snapshot plugin helped you when things have gone wrong? Share your experiences in the comments.