Modifying a live website can lead to unexpected downtime for your users, which can result in lost traffic and even cost you money. Whether it’s updating a few design elements or overhauling your website’s branding, you want to make sure that any changes you make are done correctly and don’t disrupt your users in any way.
Fortunately, there are some things you can do to make design changes to your WordPress website without causing disruptions. Preventing downtime in this way offers a lot of potential benefits, such as happier customers, more traffic, and less stress.
In this blog post, we will discuss how to safely make web design changes using a staging environment. Then we’ll cover how to schedule design updates, and offer a few tips for testing your changes before launching them. Let’s get started!
An Introduction to Common Design Changes
There are many reasons you might want to schedule design changes for your WordPress website. Maybe you want to update your website’s branding, or perhaps you’re redesigning your entire site and need to take it offline for a period of time.
Whatever the reason, there are some design changes that are more commonly scheduled than others. Here are a few examples:
- Updating your website’s style or branding: This could involve changing the colors, fonts, or overall look of your website.
- Changing the layout: You might want to add or remove pages, reorganize your navigation, or change the way content is displayed.
- Updating website content: You can add new blog posts, change the text on your website, or add new images and videos. For example, you may want to update some of your landing pages to be in line with current trends, such as by adding more interactive features or on-page videos.
- Improving your website’s performance: Slow-loading pages can cause a lot of problems, so you may want to optimize your website’s design and layout for better performance.
One other important consideration is whether or not your website is responsive on mobile devices. Google offers an easy way to check mobile responsiveness, with its Mobile-Friendly Test:
A responsive site is one that responds to the size and type of device it’s being viewed on, and shifts accordingly to present the best possible user experience. While it’s ideal to plan for a responsive site upfront, you can amend your design down the road to improve this aspect.
Why You May Want to Schedule Design Changes
As you can see, there are a lot of reasons you might need to make design changes on your WordPress website. However, why is it so important to schedule these updates in advance, and how can you do it without disrupting your users?
Scheduling design changes helps to ensure that your website’s visitors are not affected by the edits you’re making. You can make sure they go live all at once, and at a time when your site sees little traffic. It also allows you to test the changes you’re making before they go live, which helps to reduce the risk of errors.
Finally, scheduling design changes can help you stay organized and avoid making last-minute tweaks that might cause unforeseen problems down the road.
An Introduction to Staging Sites
Now that we’ve gone over some of the most common design changes and why you might want to schedule them, let’s take a look at how you can do it. One of the best ways to get started is to create a staging site.
This is a private copy of your live website that you can use for testing purposes. You can make all the changes you want on your staging site, without affecting your live website. This allows you to test the changes and make sure they work as intended before you push them live.
How to Create a Staging Site (3 Methods)
Creating a staging site is relatively simple, and there are a few different ways you can do it. If you’re using WordPress hosting, most providers offer a staging feature you can use to create a copy of your live website. Let’s look at three of the most common methods now.
1. Create a Local Staging Site
First, you can manually create a local staging site. ‘Local’ means that it will be stored on your computer, so only someone with access to that device will be able to edit or view it. Plus, you can even make edits to your staging site while offline.
There are many tools that can help you do this, including Local by Flywheel. This platform allows you to create a staging site that’s a carbon copy of your live website, work offline, and push the changes to your live website when you’re ready.
To begin, create an account by visiting the Local by Flywheel website. Then you’ll need to download the program, log in, hit Create a New Site, and follow the resulting prompts to get your site up and running:
Once you’ve set up your staging site, you can import your existing site’s content using a WordPress export file. To help with this step, you can use the All-in-One WP Migration Plugin to export your site as a single file. You can also check out our step-by-step guide on how to create a staging site with Local by Flywheel.
2. Use Your Web Host’s Staging Feature
Many WordPress hosting providers offer a staging feature that allows you to create a copy of your website for testing purposes. This is often the easiest method, and most providers have a simple process you can follow. However, using an online staging site is usually only available on more premium hosting plans.
Working on a local staging site is often preferred, because it’s faster and you don’t have to worry about your changes being visible to the public. However, live staging sites can be useful if you want to test your website online. If you’re not sure whether your provider offers this option, you can check their documentation or reach out to support.
3. Use a WordPress Plugin
There are a few WordPress plugins you can use to create a staging site and test your design changes. One of the most popular options for this is Jetpack. With Jetpack’s Staging Mode, you can clone your site to a staging environment with just a few clicks.
This is a great choice if you don’t have access to a WordPress host with staging capabilities. If you are manually working on a staging site, you can also refer to Jetpack’s instructions for enabling Offline Mode.
Once you’ve installed and activated the Jetpack plugin, you can add the following to your staging site’s wp-config.php file:
define( ‘JETPACK_STAGING_MODE’, true );
We also recommend installing a WordPress backup plugin such as BackWPup. That way, you can easily restore your website if something goes wrong while testing.
The pros of using a WordPress plugin to create a staging site are that it’s easy to set up and doesn’t require any technical skills. The cons are that you may not have access to all the features offered by your WordPress host, and it can be slower than working locally.
How to Schedule Design Changes Without Disrupting Users
Now that you know how to create a staging site, let’s take a look at how you can safely schedule design changes in WordPress.
1. On a Local Staging Site
If you’re using a local staging site, you likely won’t be able to automate a scheduled update. So it’s important to plan ahead carefully. First, make sure you’ve tested your changes thoroughly, and are happy with the current version of your staging site. Then choose a time when your website’s traffic is the lowest, and you’ll be able to perform the manual update all at once.
At the pre-planned time, you can use a tool like All-in-One WP Migration to export your staging site, and then upload it to overwrite your live site. Don’t forget to test your site again after doing this. It’s also a good idea to activate maintenance mode on your live site during this process, just in case something goes wrong or it takes longer than you anticipated.
2. Using Your WordPress Host’s Staging Feature
If you’re using a WordPress host with staging capabilities, you should be able to easily schedule design changes. Most hosts will have a process for doing this, and it’s usually as simple as clicking a few buttons.
Again, if you’re not sure how to proceed here, we recommend checking your hosting provider’s documentation or contacting its support team. It’s important to understand how the entire process of creating your staging site and then scheduling it to go live will work before you get started.
3. Using the WordPress Customizer
So far, we’ve been talking about how to use your staging site to overwrite your entire live site. This is useful if you’re making large-scale design changes. However, it can be overkill if you’re just making some tweaks here and there.
In that case, you may be better off using the scheduling feature inherent in the WordPress Customizer. We’ll still recommend creating a staging site and testing your changes there first, and then tweaking them until they’re perfected.
After that, you can make the same changes to your live site. However, those changes don’t need to take effect right away. If you’re working on your design changes in the Customizer, you can select the cog icon next to Publish in the top-left corner.
Then choose Schedule. You’ll see an option enabling you to select any date and time you like:
This method lets you plan all of your changes ahead of time, and schedule them to go live at a predetermined date. It’s worth noting that the same scheduling option is available when editing pages and posts. So if you’re making changes in multiple locations, you can ensure that your entire new design takes effect at once.
Tips for Testing Your Changes Before Pushing Them Live
Now that you know how to create a staging site and schedule design changes, here are a few tips for ensuring that the process goes off without a hitch:
- Back up your website before making any changes. This is always a good idea, especially if you’re testing changes on a live site. If anything goes wrong, you can restore your site to a previous version immediately.
- Use different browsers to test your website. Not all browsers display websites in the same way, so it’s important to test them all. You can use a tool like BrowserStack to do this.
- Check for mobile responsiveness. With more and more people browsing the web on their mobile devices, it’s important to make sure your website is responsive. You can use a platform like Screenfly to see how your website looks on different devices.
- Keep an eye on your website’s performance. It’s important to make sure your website is running smoothly, especially if you’re making changes that affect its speed. You can use a tool like Google PageSpeed Insights to check your website’s performance.
With a little time and careful planning, you can get new website designs off the ground without doing anything to damage the user experience.
Now You’re Ready to Schedule Website Design Changes
Making design changes to your website can seem like a daunting task, but it doesn’t have to be. With the help of a staging site and some useful plugins, you can update your site’s look without disrupting your users.
You can start by creating a staging site to test your changes, using a tool like Local by Flywheel, your hosting provider’s native functionality, or a plugin. Then you can plan ahead to push your staging site live when your redesign is ready. Or if you’re making smaller changes, you can schedule them safely using the WordPress Customizer.
What design changes are you planning for your website?