The Ultimate Guide to Saving Your Website: Backups, Hosting and Other Life Saving Strategies

Posted on /by Natalie Sisson/ in Business Resources / 42 comments

The post that follows came after I sent my weekly Highflyer email to my community on Thursday 5th July that got over 80 personal responses of shock, condolence, caring, advice and shared horror stories. Losing your website and freaking out should not actually happen to any of us so I’ve written this post to save you from ever experiencing this.

Here’s what you’ll find:

  1. The day my website went down and I stopped breathing
  2. How to Prevent Your Website From Going Down Before It Happens
  3. Your 4 Step Contingency Plan To Save Your Website From Disaster
  4. Four Things to Look for in a great Website Hosting Service
  5. What Key Actions Have I Taken Since my Website Disaster?

The day my website went down and I stopped breathing

You ever get those emotional rollercoaster weeks? You know the ones with massive highs followed by awful lows? Course you do – it’s part of being an entrepreneur!

Well I’ve just had the biggest ride of my life. My Barcelona Adventure Mastermind Retreat was hands down the best event I’ve ever put together which exceeded my expectations, and everyone who attended too (as they keep on telling me in their lovely emails, messages and videos).

Barcelona is a special city and put on a great show for us, but the people were what really made it and I couldn’t have asked for a more wonderful group to share this business and lifestyle experience with.

Straight after the high of that I ran a great webinar for a client and pre sold a bunch of spots on my upcoming pilot program The Freedom Plan. that I have a huge vision for but haven’t even started building.

Then I had two wonderful new coaching clients sign up under my new process of a 30 min free strategy session and to see if we’re the right fit, and more sign ups for my pilot program from personal emails I sent to a few people.

All was rosy and going sooo well. I was having one of my best financial weeks ever, especially since affiliate payouts come in the first week of the month……until Thursday happened.

I’d hired someone on Upwork to mobile optimize my site and was all set to tell you how it looked in this very email. Except it all went wrong and the guy somehow managed to screw up everything.

I’d started noticing something was wrong on Sunday during the retreat when I checked and saw the site looking odd and content missing (see below and check out that navigation!)

Montage of site when it was screwed over

Emails back and forth and promises of fixes from the contractor, and I carried on with my retreat, and then into a busy week.

More things were going wrong and I asked my friend Meron Bareket to help with making a back-up of the site and see what he could do when I sensed this was all about to turn pear shaped.

Then on Thursdy morning I woke up to find that I no longer had a website. I had a ‘forbidden request denied’ error message on a blank page.Capture of Suitcase Entrepreneur website on June 5

Can you imagine how horrifying that is especially when your entire business is based online!

It’s like finding your house has just been destroyed or disappeared. Then my team were like “I’ve been booted out of WordPress”. I checked and couldn’t even login to my site.

Ten minutes later I refreshed my site to see “Hello World” and a brand new WordPress installation and 4 years of everything I’ve ever created gone. Just like that.

New WordPress site replacing TSE

Naturally I panicked and posted on Facebook what had happened. Within seconds I had people asking if they could help and my friend Gabriel Machuret, App store optimization trainer, author and entrepreneur,coming to my rescue.

I got on to my host NameCheap who were great and gave me back access to my CPanel and luckily I had recently installed an FTP program on my laptop to install a backup of my WordPress site.

Not that I know much about all of the above as I’m not a developer or coder or tech genius, but I recommend you at least have control of it and know that your site is getting backed up regularly..

Six long and stressful hours later my site had been somewhat recovered but a month’s worth of content was missing and it looked like crap.

Meanwhile people were still commenting on my Facebook thread (so now I know a lot of people who can help me next time this occurs and their generosity and caring was quite lovely). I had emails and messages from helpful people asking if I knew my site was down….ummm YES!!!

About this time I’d forgotten to breathe properly and yes I cried.

It’s honestly the most horrible feeling when you have lost control of your entire business to someone you had trusted and who ended up wrecking everything.

I realised that because my PrettyLink plugin had disappeared I was missing out on sales from people trying to buy a cool Paradise Pack I’d recommended and that coaching clients couldn’t invest in our sessions as the page I created and directed them to had disappeared.

It was all happening at once and during it I was also packing up my suitcase to leave my AirBnB apartment and move to a new one.

However I found work arounds like direct links to sites and payments, and also used my time, while my tech friends were doing their amazing work on restoring my site, to file a complaint to have the Upwork contractor in question banned from their site.

I’d sent a complete thread of every email discussion we’d had and screenshots of the disaster. This is still in progress but it made me feel better to be doing something proactive!

So long and short of this is my site is back up, it doesn’t look right, things will still be wonky for sometime, but thank goodness for backups, good friends and talented people (and social media for instant action taking).

Key Update: The night before this post went live Meron found a hidden backedup folder with my ORIGINAL theme and managed to get my site back to looking how it was which was nothing short of a miracle!

The Key Summary of This Story

Since I have a tendency to write a lot, I thought I’d share a short summary, as written by Peggy Stinson  on my Facebook profile, in case you didn’t read the above:

“By the way, I just wanted to say your status mail regarding the situation with the site was a great reminder for us out here:

1.) how important regular backups are

2.) not all “experts” can do what we pay them to do

3.) we can take action against unprofessional work done

4.) some great technical tips you gave and

5.) if we build a network, when we REALLY need those friends, they will arrive like “knights in shining armor”. Thanks

How to Prevent Your Website From Going Down Before It Happens

As I mentioned, after sending that email, I clearly hit on a pain that too many people had already experienced. I found out about a number of other horror stories which were in many ways, worse than mine. And I also had a number of people provide some great advice.

Like this from my friend Jessica Rea a Graphic Design + Marketing goddess who breaks it all down even more and gives you the lowdown of what’s really going on behind the scenes:

1. Make sure you are (or your developer is) using a child theme

For CSS modifications to your theme. Otherwise, when you update your theme, all your changes will be lost. (See https://codex.wordpress.org/Child_Themes)

2. If you are using a custom CSS box provided in your theme, keep a backup of this CSS code

Just in case you mess it up or lose it. Just copy/paste it to a text file and leave it in your Dropbox.

(In my case my WordPress theme was fully customized which means you can’t just upload an ‘out of the box theme’ again and it will look the same, hence why you need to take Jessica’s advice).

3. Backup before you update.

Use a tool like WP Clone to create a clone of your code before you make changes or move your site.

4. Make sure your backup is set and ACTUALLY running

This is the biggest bummer I see with my clients. Either the backup was setup and stopped running for some reason, or it was never set up at all.  In my client’s case, the last backup had been almost a year ago. If you’re running your business online, that’s a hit you don’t want to take!  (See next section for backup options).

5. Use a great FTP program

If you have a proper backup of your site, restoring your site could be as easy as uploading the files via FTP. Using a simple (and free) FTP program like Cyberduck for Mac or Windows.

You can setup FTP access in your CPanel (that your hosting company provides you) and then simply login using your FTP client (like Cyberduck).  Make sure the files you want to overwrite have the same file name, and drag and drop the files to replace. I also suggest using SFTP, which just means the information is encrypted when it’s sent, which makes it more secure.

6. Know that your WordPress is not “set it and forget it.”

Most entrepreneurs are too busy running their businesses to worry about whether or not their WordPress plugins are up to date and if those updates have created conflicts on their site. This is where it comes in handy to hire someone you trust to take care of this stuff. (Enter the guys at WP Curve who actively manage your website and give you unlimited WordPress support, maintenance & small jobs 24 / 7* for just $69 per month).

Because WordPress is constantly being upgraded and improved, your website will always need maintenance.  Even if you’re not creating content regularly on your site, you still need to be logging in regularly to do routine maintenance.

So you upgraded, or changed your theme….and all your stuff is “gone.”

Actually, it’s probably not. However, the file paths have probably been deleted. You don’t need to re-upload all your images, but you may need to restore the URLs for your social media links, your custom logo, the images in your widgets, your favicon, etc. in your backend.

If you open your Media tab from your WordPress dashboard and look for your images, you’ll probably find them. Then you can copy/paste the permalinks and restore the look of your site.

This was super handy advice from Jessica as we had found 4 different backups and then one rather hidden which actually contained the original theme files that Meron dug deep to find – and this is thankfully why my website is back to it’s beautiful self again as of today (a whole week later!)

When things get back to “normal”, consider taking a few additional steps:

So next up I had more advice from Blaine Berger, President of E-Oasis who said:

“Hi Natalie – I’m sorry to hear about your ordeal, but your experience is common. Most online businesses do not maintain backups nor do they have any contingency for business continuity if their primary site goes down.

1. Automatically backup your WordPress database offsite daily to a secondary site

2. Restore an exact duplicate of your site on a separate hosting company to protect you against hosting outages

3. Automatically sync changes from your primary site to your secondary site

4. PRACTICE changing the DNS record from your primary site to your secondary site

And yes, all of these things are technical and are not do-it-yourself. But it sounds like you have an amazing network and certainly someone will be able to help you avoid future disasters.

Your 4 Step Contingency Plan To Save Your Website From Disaster

Over the past week I’ve done a lot of research myself, asking people who I trust and respect to provide me with their own processes and solutions and so here I present you with the best of the best:

Step 1. Backup Your Website NOW

It blows my mind how few of us are actually backing up anything we do online – our photos, videos, files, operating systems, phones and yes WEBSITES.

There’s really no excuse for this and I suggest you read this post on my site which will definitely help: The Traveling Web Entrepreneur’s Technology Back-up Plan

But I also know first hand that when it comes to websites, and hosting and all it can be come a little technical and overwhelming. However after my shared hosting provider took my site down with just one warning in 2011, and I didn’t really have backups, I learned my lesson and have had ever since.

Option A: Paid Website Backup Solutions

I reached out to Brendan Tulley who’s had 15 years of experience in IT and handling this stuff for clients and  his own eCommerce sites, here’s what he said:

Vaultpress.com

This the way to go for WordPress sites. Use the $5/month plan for all client sites we take care of. Anything that has database changes happening during the day then the $15/month plan is the way to go with realtime backup. (Note from Nat: Below is how it looked as I installed the plugin and ran a backup on my site – very easy!).

The Suitcase Entrepreneur uses Vaultpress

***NOTE that many wordpress backup solutions don’t backup files outside the standard WP directories, may exclude big files like mp4s or zips or may not backup non-standard wordpress database tables. For example Vaultpress won’t backup non standard wordpress database tables (those that don’t start with WP) and WPEngine backups don’t backup a lot of media files.

WPEngine

This iswhat we use for almost all our own and client WP sites and I’ll still use vaultpress on them because the standard WPEngine backups are not offsite backups”.

This was backed up by my firiends at WPCurve Dan and Alex who said:

“With WP Engine you can back up a very large site in one click in a few seconds and restore just as quickly. They also have a staging environment which you can enable with a click of a button and experiment on. Between those 2 things you really should not need to worry about backups.”

Option B: Free BackUp Option

Updraft plus backups

UpdraftPlus is the highest-ranking backup plugin on rankwp.com (ranks in the top 50 out of 30,000 WordPress plugins for quality on rankwp.com and it’s a free WordPress Plugin.

It simplifies backups (and restoration) by backing up to the cloud if you have your own Amazon S3 account, or Dropbox, Google Drive, Rackspace Cloud, DreamObjects, FTP, SFTP, SCP, WebDAV, OpenStack Swift, Bitcasa and email – yeah that’s a lot of options right there –  and restores with a single click. Backups of files and database can have separate schedules.

One of my community members Graham (who runs his own hosting service) in New Zealand wrote:

“I found with UpdraftPlus I could select what to back up. Having been in IT for 30+ years, I select ‘All’. I backup to my Hostgator server and dropbox, though there are many choices. If space is an issue, create a Dropbox account per site. Copy is a better service to be honest – more space (15gb) and, the really good bit, you can send a link to a buyer for them to download or save directly to their copy folder. All at the price of free.”

BackWPup

This is another free WordPress Plugin but more importantly, my good friend who helped me out BIG time in restoring my site and working on backup options and hosting, Meron decided to write this post after what happened.

It’s nothing short of brilliant – he’s talked about the importance of doing backups and then done a video tutorial and a step by step written tutorial on exactly how to use this plugin and create backups.

The Ultimate WordPress Tutorial For Bulletproof WordPress Blog Backup

Just read it! Or watch it and you’ll be off and running today.

Step 2: Know if Your Site Has Gone Down

Remember how I woke up on a Thursday morning to find emails of saying “Hey I can’t see your site”, yeah well that is something you never want to read or hear about through others so that’s why you should try one of these services to tell you in advance:

Pingdom.com

For $80 per year this service basically monitors your website(s) 24/7 and sends you an SMS if a site has been offline. You can set it to ping you if it’s been 15 mins or 30 minutes and that way you’re almost always ahead of outages before anyone else pickups on them.

Uptime Robot

Pretty much does exactly what Pingdom does except it’s free and checks your website is alive every 5 minutes and whether it’s not responding.

Uptime Robot

Step 3. Use a Reliable Hosting Service

Ahhh hosting. With hundreds of services out there it can get damn confusing to know who to use. Yet this is sooooo important. As your website traffic increases and the number of websites you own or deal with does too, you need reliable and flexible hosting that can grow with you.

A little hosting story to learn from to show why this is so important:

“I’m a freelance web developer and entrepreneur and I also went through something similar a year ago when my web-server crashed. I lost my websites, clients websites, and was down for almost a week whilst I replaced some very very expensive server hard drives, and spent long days and nights at the data centre.

I learnt a valuable lesson in that disaster. After recovering client sites, and losing two customers, I since updated my hosting software so that it now back-ups all server data, websites, and databases weekly to multiple locations.

I’ve also modified my important websites so they have levels of redundancy in-case of failure, and spread these over Amazon Web Services (CloudFront, Route 53, and S3), with email accounts handled by Google Business Tools.

A hard lesson, but very well learnt. If you need any advice or support, including ways to optimise and secure WordPress, please let me know.

MattAuckland, Consultant / Web Developer / Broadcaster

Top Two Website Hosting Services I Recommend

At the start of this year, knowing I was going to be featured on the front page of Yahoo Finance and receive a shit ton of traffic (which I was and which I did), I switched my hosting and went with a VPS – Virtual Private Server to be double sure that I would never have my site go down.

Just so you know I used to be on JustHost til they just took my site down one day back in 2011 when I reached my server capacity. I was happily using HostGator until they did the same. Most of these ‘mainstream’ sites have now been rolled up under one big conglomerate who single-handedly brought down the standard of service they used to have. So I’d stay away from them.

I did my due diligence and looked into the top hosting companies, asked a lot of friends and got experts to give me recommendations. 120 comments later on a Facebook thread and here were the top 2 recommendations:

Option A:  Namecheap

Namecheap offer for Suitcase EntrepreneurTurns out Namecheap was one of the top 3 hosting companies out of hundreds and had tonnes of positive reviews which is important as to me that’s real feedback. So they power my websites now and I recommend tand their customer support.

What I like about Namecheap is their level of live customer support and the fact that when I’ve had any issues I immediately get put in touch with the right people on email (including the VP of Hosting!).

I’m on a VPS Virtual Private Server which is a good step up for you if your website is growing quickly and has a decent amount of traffic, and you’ve outgrown your shared hosting service like I did, but is not quite as expensive as switching to a dedicated hosting service. VPS will give you the independence and flexibility of a dedicated hosting service, but at the price of a high-end shared hosting service.

It’s will ensure your websites won’t get taken down with everyone else using the shared hosting server if there’s a crash or power outage or if some high traffic websites are taking all of the server resources making your website unreachable – yes this happens.

Bonus: if you sign up for a hosting plan with Namecheap use SUITCASE as the code to get 10% off.

Option B: WP Engine

WP EngineAs the name alludes to WP Engine provides WordPress hosting for your website. WP Engine provides excellent uptime, fast servers and according to people who use them, is the most secure WordPress host available.

Here’s what people had to say (on my Facebook thread)

Definitely WP Engine, it’s the best combo of speed and customer service and they’re great with migrating ~ Maya Gaddie

It’s not cheap compared the the hostgators and bluehosts of the world, but at scale, paying a bit more is a small price when it comes to opportunities you could miss with unreliable and slow hosting! ~ AJ Dunn

The way they’re setup the visits/bandwidth/storage tiers will mean that you’ll end up paying if you get hit with loads of traffic. ~ Dave Dean

 

 

Step 4: Consider using a Content Distribution Network

Yep when I first heard Mark Mercer recommend this to me in that infamous Facebook thread I asked him to break it down as he was speaking all ‘geek like’ and lost me for a moment. Here’s what he said (backed up by Brendan Tulley):

“Do you have a Content Distribution Network (CDN) in front of your hosting? That can be a big part of the solution. You might not have to move hosts, just get something that can serve up your site from multiple locations, in front of your real host. CDN use can really help when your site is getting hammered.

What does it do (what does any CDN do)?

It constantly makes copies of your website, coming from your “real” site, whether that is at HostGator, WPEngine, DreamHost, BlueHost, Gandi, wherever.

Because you (or your host’s control panel if a partner) have pointed the DNS (domain name server) for your website to the CDN’s domain name server, the CDN can direct visitors to different copies of it coming from a server near to them. Totally transparent to the visitor.

If the CDN gets overloaded at its nearest copy, it automatically reroutes people to its next-nearest location. All this happens in the background. The site visitor just sees the site!

You can imagine that because most visitors are getting the parts of the website from the CDN, not from the original web host, there is less actual stress on the web host.

Doesn’t make it magic. You certainly can still get “slashdotted/digg’ed” if you don’t have a heavy enough hosting plan or are just using the free-version of a basic CDN. But it is another piece of fortification for your site, one of the things you should consider for bulking up.

Right so taking all that into account, thanks Mark, here are the recommendations:

Option 1: CloudFare

One of the best services to use is Cloudflare for your DNS to free up a load of space. If your hosting provider is an ‘optimized’ partner (check here) you can turn CloudFare on right from your own webhots Control Panel.

You can set any site up with CloudFlare as long as you or your tech person has control of the domain name and can make DNS changes. CloudFlare basic plans are free and they have paid plans too.

Option 2: CloudFront

Similarly-named but totally different company CloudFront is a division of Amazon and can handle large sites. Once again they have a free and paid version.

Four Things to Look for in a great Website Hosting Service

So now you know the importance of backups, monitoring and hosting, I thought I’d share a few tips on what to look for, this applies to all websites not just WordPress sites which I know this post has been heavily focused on:

1. Hosting package

Most web hosting services offer monthly service subscriptions at different price points and varying levels of service often starting at US$4.95 per month. All packages contain integral hosting components including disk space, bandwidth and domains; some services have fixed, while others provide unlimited server storage, bandwidth and number of domains you can host under your account.

The type of hosting package you select largely depends on the type and number of websites you want hosted. Small, inexpensive web hosting packages are sufficient for simple websites, but if you have multiple sites or want to host a professional website that can expand with the growth of your business or blog, opt for a robust hosting package that meets your needs.

2. Valuable Features

Pick a hosting service that has an easy to use interface and control panel for easy site management. Email functionality should also be included, with unlimited email addresses that include your domain name, auto-responders and spam filters.

The best web hosting sites also provide ample server access options. Even the cheapest web hosting companies should offer unlimited FTP accounts, .htaccess and secure shell (SSH) access.

3Ease of Use

I don’t know about you but looking at CPanel’s hosting sites makes me go buzz-eyed and all tends to be a little overwhelming, especially if you’ve had little experience with shared web hosting providers. so look for services that provide intuitive and user-friendly interfaces and allow easy management of your website.

4. Customer and Tech Support

At some point you’re going to run into tech problems and so when that happens you want responsive and preferably live tech support that’s availagble 24/7. Your hosting service should also offer an array of video tutorials, a knowledge base, getting started wizards and forums that you can find answers on.

Once again Brendan Tulley share Four Components of Hosting in this great article you should read on that. Long and short of what he writes is It’s especially important to separate your web hosting and DNS (domain name server hosting), that way if your web host/server goes down, your email still works assuming your email is not on your web server

What 10 Key Actions Have I Taken Since my Website Disaster?

1. Made multiple backups on NameCheap and on Dropbox of my entire database

2. Moved over my nataliesisson.com site to Namecheap too

3. Signed up for VaultPress and backed up my entire database

4. Signed up for and set up Google Apps for business to separate out my email so if my web server breaks I don’t lose everything and have no way to email (thanks again Meron for helping me with this)

5. Testing out Cloudflare for my DNS hosting and likely going to go this route (thanks Brendan and Mark for recommendation)

6. Signed up with WPCurve finally (after recommending them to everyone else) to manage actively manage my WordPress sites and any small tasks like handling plugins, coding, site speed optimization, email form integration etc. Here’s a great article on how to speed up your WordPress site.

7. Looked at options for new frameworks and themes (digging Bootstrap) for an upcoming redesign as it turns out the code on my site is very messy and it’s time for a clean up and new look

8. Found I have a bunch of talented and handy people in my community and circle of friends who are wonderful, caring and absolute life savers – and who I trust.

9. Become a lot more savvy in general about backing up everything and taking back control of my sites, hosting, FTP and domains.

10. Started breathing deeply again.

And here endeth the story!

I damn well hope you learned a lot from this post as I estimate that I’ve probably dedicated 8 hours to putting it together as well as at least 30 hours over the last week of learning the hardest lessons of my life and spending way too much time resolving something that should never have happened.

And also taking up the valuable and hugely appreciated time of Gabriel Machuret and Meron Baraket who have restored my site and my faith in the online world.

Share your website hosting, backup and development tips and stories below too

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