322 – Edit Your Site Without Affecting Your Live Site
Is there a plugin for that?
With more than 50,000 plugins in the WordPress repository, it’s hard to find the perfect one. Each week, I will highlight an interesting plugin form the repository.
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Popup Builder is the most complete popup plugin. Html, image, shortcode and many other popup types. Manage popup dimensions, effects, themes.
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Edit Your Site Without Affecting Your Live Site
So, you want to make some changes to your WordPress site without anyone else seeing?
You have a few options depending on your specific situation. Note: not all of them will work for all types of modifications.
Use a theme switching plugin
If you just want to change your theme, then using a plugin like Theme Switcha could be the way to go.
It allows you to keep one theme active for site visitors, but enables a different one for admin users, so that you can configure the new one behind the scenes.
Use a “Coming Soon” style plugin
A different approach would be to completely hide your site by adding a splash page or landing page which displays a “coming soon” or “maintenance mode” message. This can be done easily with a plugin like Coming Soon or Launcher or hundreds more in the WordPress repository.
Use the staging feature of your Host
Some hosts, like Flywheel and Siteground, provide the awesome feature of one-click staging environments. At the click of a button, they copy your website to a special staging URL where you can make your changes.
It’s an automated process and much easier than the next option. Often, there will also be an easy way to push the changes you made, back to your live site.
Use a subdomain or other testing domain
This is very similar to the concept of making a local development version, except that instead of making the copy locally, it will be a live site on the internet so your clients can see what work you are doing.
It’s the way we had to do it before hosts offered staging environments.
My favorite way to work is locally with DesktopServer.
It’s much quicker to develop with as you don’t have to wait to upload all of your changes to a server somewhere, plus you don’t have to worry about Google crawling two versions of your site.
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Full TranscriptBusiness Transcription is provided by GMR Transcription.
On today's episode, we are going to start a month-long discussion about different tools that we can use to help us speed up our WordPress development and things just to make WordPress that much easier. So today we're going to start with how to edit your site without affecting your live site right here on Your Website Engineer Podcast Episode No. 322.
Hello, everybody. Welcome back to another episode of Your Website Engineer Podcast and I'm trying to put together these episodes in a monthly kind of a series, if you will. It's going to make life a lot easier, especially with a new baby on the way. Just trying to figure out what each month is going to be about is going to save my sanity a little bit, so if you have any suggestions on what we can cover on upcoming episodes, definitely shoot me an email over at firstname.lastname@example.org and that would help me out greatly, or you can use the Contact form right there on yourwebsiteengineer.com. Just send over things that you'd like to learn, things that I should discuss on an upcoming podcast, and I will do my best to cover those on an upcoming show.
Okay, today I do have just a couple announcements or actually one announcement. It's actually been a very slow week in the WordPress space. I actually looked on WP Tavern, one of the big news sites when it comes to WordPress, and they had posted one thing since last week. It's like, huh, maybe there isn’t a lot going on in the WordPress community, but one thing that did happen in the last week since the last episode was a WordPress 4.7.2 security release is now available. It is a secured release for all previous versions and, as always, it's very strongly encouraged to update your sites immediately. All of my sites have been updated to that automatically so that was really, really nice, but basically there were three security issues that were fixed and I'll put a link in the show notes for the things that you can read about. I'm not going to bore you with details right now, but there were three things. Be sure to update those to all of your sites into WordPress 4.7.
All right, moving right along, let's talk about a plugin this week and the plugin I came across is called Popup, and Popup is a popup builder. It is a popup builder that is the most complete popup plugin, it says. HTML, images, short codes, and many other popup types, you can manage popup dimensions, effects, themes. It works really, really well. It looks really good. It's got more than 30,000 active downloads and active installs and you can create a popup with just an image or you can have a Facebook popup so people can Like into your Facebook page. You can do short codes, you can do I-frames, any kind of social widget, you can do some sort of countdown, you can do a popup that gives you restrictive access for different age limits for things. Like it just has a lot of things built in. it works with most of the big names when it comes to email providers and so if this is something you want to create a really custom plugin or a custom popup page or a popup something on your website, I'd definitely check into this one. It's just called Popup and you can search for it in the WordPress repository.
I stumbled upon this because over the last couple weeks my journey has been to fix all the popups on yourwebsiteengineer.com and I just like to report back then that things are going a lot better. I'm getting multiple submissions or multiple people opting into an email newsletter every single week or every single day, which is a lot better than before. It was like one every four, five, six, seven days. And so, just the opt-in rate has been going a lot better. It's amazing that the numbers actually go up when the forms actually work and you can submit your email address. Imagine that.
Okay, one last update from me is that I want to try and stay accountable this year of actually doing things that I talk about in podcast episodes, so this past week I have went through and I've updated all of my websites to make sure that they are updated to WordPress 4.7.2, the latest version. There were a couple that were lingering out there at about 4.5, some of those sites that I don’t have a lot of traction with or I don’t use very often. But they're all now updated and I took my advice from last episode and I secured all of them with SSL certificates. Basically, I've just moved all of them to Pressable.
And just as a side note, Pressable is a company that’s not really owned but it's run by Automattic and so I do have the ability to set up some accounts there for free and so I was able to move all of them over there and then with a click of a button I was able to turn on the SSL certificate through Let's Encrypt, and now they're all SSL compliant. Every website that I run except for the testing websites that I have out there, but they are all good to go and I'm going to continue to work on my Internet business or my Internet website over the next week or so. Probably talking about I'll probably be implementing one of these things that we talk about today, that is for sure.
So today, let's go ahead and dive in, and this month, like I said, we're going to be talking about different tools and techniques and things that are out there to help us just really improve our WordPress ability, I'm going to say. It's just the way that we work with WordPress is so different for so many people and I just want to highlight some of the different ways that we can do pretty much the same things. So let's go ahead and dive in to the show today. We're going to talk about how to edit your site without affecting your live site, and this is going to vary from site to site, definitely for sure, but it's also going to – it's going to vary depending on what type of edits and what types of changes you're trying to make.
And so I'm going to start out with the easiest one and then we're going to work toward the more complex, the harder solutions. So you're thinking about making some sort of changes, you have to think about what kind of changes are you going to make. Are you going to update your theme? Are you going to, you know, change the structure of all your posts? Are you going to change your pages and make them like parent and child pages? Like you really have to think through, okay, what is the process, what do I want to change on your website.
A lot of times, it's like I want to pick a new theme and I want to configure a theme and I want to get it set up, so the first thing, the very first plugin or thing that we want to talk about is you can use a plugin called Theme Swappa. It's a silly name, but Theme Swappa will give you the ability to log in and view a different theme based on being logged in as an admin. So essentially this will allow you to set up, configure a new website or a new theme based on you being the logged in. so your visitors wont see anything different; they’ll see your normal site. But when you log in, you have the ability to go in and configure and set up and change and modify the theme. You can set up all the options, set up all the widgets, and do all that kind of stuff and nobody will know the difference.
It's a really neat idea and a neat concept and it's a newer plugin. it's only got 600 active installs, but you can set it up so that you can view it as an admin or you can switch to, you know, you can give other people access to they can see what this new theme looks like. Each visitor can choose their own theme if you want to. Like there's a lot of things that you can do to start configuring and setting up your website without anybody seeing all these changes made.
And so that’s the first thing. If you're just trying to swap out a theme, you want to just pick a new one off the shelf, you install it and then you can install this plugin, the Theme Switcha, S-W-I-T-C-H-A, is the name of the plugin, and you can go ahead and just start configuring it and then when you're ready to go you can just switch themes and all of the settings are already set and modified and changed. And so you just flip a switch and then everybody in the world can see this brand new site.
So that is the first way to use a theme switching plugin. Another one that you can use is a "Coming Soon" plugin. If you search in the WordPress repository, I'm sure you'll find hundreds of these types of plugins and these are simple plugins. It's something similar to what Apple does when they're releasing a new product or, you know, they're doing some sort of update to their store. They’ll say "we'll be back real soon" and they just put this landing page there and there's nothing to do but just look at the landing page and just wish and hope that you can order something from the store. This is a great thing to do for your website if you are running a store and maybe you're pushing some changes from, you know, you’ve got a testing site set up and you're trying to push some changes or you want to make some sort of adjustment to a store, you want to make sure people aren’t commenting on a post.
Basically, you want to make sure that nobody can affect your site in any way, shape, or form while you do some manual updates. Maybe you're updating your PHP version or, you know, any of these things. You can just go ahead and do one of these "Coming Soon" plugins. They're easy to configure. All you have to do is install them and then use the WYSIWYG inside of WordPress and you can configure them. They're pretty simple. They are easy to implement. You can add – a lot of them you can even add Sign Up forms, so sign up for my email newsletter. You can even put in We'll Be Back in 13 Minutes, you know, and that has a countdown timer or whatever. You can do all of those things.
Now, the down of it – disadvantage of doing all this is if your site is live and is receiving a lot of traffic, it's a very poor user experience. Like somebody's coming to buy something and they want to go purchase something from you and they can't. Or they want to read a blog post and they can't. So this is probably not the best, best option, but it is a good solution if you're getting ready to launch a site that’s not even ready to be launched yet so there's not a lot of traffic there anyways. It's an okay solution for them, and it's an okay solution if you're going to be down maybe 10 minutes, 15 minutes at the most. You know, trying to do some sort of change that you don’t want any people creating orders or doing returns or, you know, whatever else people are doing on websites. You know, you want to kind of control that environment, so that’s what a "Coming Soon" plugin would be used for.
All right, the next one that you can do, and this one is one I like to recommend a lot, especially when troubleshooting issues when it comes to WooCommerce, but this is to use a staging site or a staging feature of your host. And so this doesn’t happen with every web host that are out there. Flywheel has it. WP Engine and Site Ground are some of the big names that have this. But it's basically at the click of a button they copy your website to a special staging URL so you can make changes and then you can see things live on the staging URL.
So a lot of times it may be, like for yourwebsiteengineer.com, it may be like wye.staging/flywheelsites.com or something like that. And it's a live site on the Internet so you can start working on it, you can make all of your changes, and the good part about doing this is people can actually see what you're working on. If you have a client and you're building a secondary site for them or you're trying to revamp their current site, they can see all the changes you're making when you send them this temporary link.
You can also have this behind password protection. Most of the time these staging URLs are password-protected, so Google's not going to get confused that this is a live site and it's going to mix up, you know, you're live site and your staging site. So it's easy to set up, the click of a button, but then you're kind of managing two different active installs. You're working on two different things and then the chaotic part is when people make orders on your live site and then your database is out of sync, like how do you transfer those and sync those up, and that’s a different story for a different day because that is a really complex situation when you have a live site that’s getting comments and they're getting orders and people are posting things on there when your live site or your staging site is not getting all those updates.
So that’s, again, another discussion for a different day, but you can do this when you're just changing a theme or you're changing visuals and you want to be able to work on it without worrying about breaking your site or taking your site down. So that’s another thing you can do is use the staging feature of your web host.
Okay, another thing you can do is use a subdomain or testing domain. Some people have a testing domain or a staging domain, especially if you are a business. Like I think before in the past and back when I was running Hartzler Digital Media, I would have like – I would come up with a short phrase for the company. So if it was Your Website Engineer, I would probably go like ywe.hartzlerdm.com and then I would build the entire site there. It was more of a manual process back in the day. There wasn’t these one-click staging options, so you would take the time to create a clone or a backup and then you'd download all that and then you'd upload it to a different server. And it was just, I mean, it was a pain, but it was a way to do it.
There's a couple plugins out there that allow this to happen as well. I'm trying to think of what the name is. I can't think of it off the top of my head, but I'll put a link in the show notes. But it is a plugin that allows you to create a staging site with a click of a button and it puts it in a directory inside of your main active install. And so that’s another way to go. You can go ahead and do that and then you are controlling both aspects of this.
It's also another – it may be quicker, too, because if you're copying files from one part of a server and you're duplicating them, that sometimes is a lot faster and quicker doing it on a server level like that instead of like, okay, I'm going to take all of – I'm going to put them on two different servers, so it's like, okay, I have to download everything, then I have to re-upload everything, and that could take awhile.
If you're doing this on a subdomain of the actual site, so instead of yourwebsiteengineer.com, maybe we've got new.yourwebsiteengineer.com, then the serve environment is going to be the same for both the live and development. And so that’s going to be really nice that you can make sure that your site is working properly. You don’t have to set up and configure your testing solution or setup to make sure that it's running the same version of PHP and My Sequel and all those good server-level things.
The bad part about using a subdomain or testing domain, like it's still visible for searchers or through Google, like can pick that kind of stuff up if it's there a long time. You also have to delete it or you have to maintain it and you have to make sure that you’ve updated WordPress and updated all your plugins and stuff like that. So it's another access point online for hackers to get in, so that’s something to think about as well. So you can do that. It's kind of a pain, but it's another option or another solution if you're trying to build out a website and make some changes without your live customers seeing your website.
Then the last one, and this is my favorite and it is one that I've been doing for years and I always just keep the local version of or I keep a version of my website local on my computer so only I can see. It is – my favorite tool to use this is called Desktop Server and you can just go in, it's a little bit of a process to set up, to pull down your website from the cloud or from your server somewhere, and then you configure it on your computer. The tricky part, too, is like it doesn't necessarily match the server configurations perfectly. I know that yourwebsiteengineer.com, like when I'm running it locally is running on Apache, but when I'm running it on Flywheel it's actually running Engine X. So that’s a little bit of an issue. Like I haven’t really had any problems, but, you know, sometimes if you really want to tweak things, you want to make sure that those configurations are exactly the same.
Working locally also is a really great benefit if your Internet is slow. If you're making changes to a theme, like that’s really, really nice. You make changes to your theme, you can save it, and you can do a refresh. You can also install a browser refresh tool. If you run an extension inside of Chrome or different browsers, that will automatically reload the page once it senses that a page has been saved. And so that just really speeds up that environment. If you're working on a server somewhere, you have to save the file, then you have to upload it back to the server. That can take a little bit more time. And then refresh, and then if your web hosting is using some sort of caching plugin, like sometimes you won't see those changes right away, and so working locally is definitely my favorite option.
It does take some work to get that copy down, to push those changes back and forth, and it is impossible to – or it's not impossible. It's a lot more difficult to set up things in the exact configuration. So those are a couple of the downfalls or the disadvantages of working locally. But by far, working locally is my favorite. I always say that, oh, I like to work on an airplane. Well, first, it's hard to work on an airplane because there's zero room, but then also when you're working and you're coding and you're like making tweaks and configurations and things, a lot of times you need the Internet to look something up. And so like I do normally get the Internet if I'm traveling, you know, and I want to work on a website, but this way I'm not having to like upload files to the cloud and wait for that. And so I can work locally and I can just reference things online and that uses a lot less data, those pages normally load a lot faster.
And so those are the options that you can use to and the different tools that you can use to update your site without users seeing the differences. So let's do a recap real quick. The first one is using a theme switching plugin. You can use a "Coming Soon" plugin or a landing page or a maintenance page type plugin and I'll have a link in the show notes for a couple different ones of those. You can use a staging feature of your host, so some of the WordPress centric hosts have a button that says Duplicate My Site and it will complete straight do a duplicate and then they have different tools of migrating that duplicated site into your live site. The fourth one is use a subdomain or other testing domain.
So if your host doesn’t have that feature to just automatically create a staging environment, then you'll definitely want to just use a subdomain or a testing domain if that’s something – if you need your website online for your client to see or to view. And then the last one is to work locally if you want to keep it fully away from the public and no one to see it. These are normally best for like super-big launches or you're doing – it's going to take awhile to try and configure and set up and this would be definitely an opportunity and an option for you.
So those are the five things that I wanted to share with you today. Thank you so much for tuning in and to listening to me talk about these different tools. I know that I've used all, but I've never used the Theme Swappa because I've never heard of that one before, but that one is a really cool thing that I'm actually going to start recommending to customers on WooCommerce because they a lot of times have to switch to different themes to troubleshoot and try things out. So definitely going to be talking about those and checking those things out, and I've got more tools and tips and things that we're going to be showing and sharing in the next month. So until then, take care and continue to make progress on your WordPress site this week and we'll talk again soon. Take care. Bye-bye.