As Steph mentioned in last week's post, we are turning over a new leaf and writing more blog posts. We have been attending some WordPress conferences lately and have really enjoyed hearing others' stories of how they got involved in developing for WordPress. We want to put ourselves 'out there' a bit more rather than being just words on the other side of your support requests.
Those who know me well can tell you I am a worrier (not to be confused with warrior). My family has coined the condition as the "Wells Worry". There is just something in my genes that makes me worry about stupid things ordinary people don't think twice about. I live in a world of worst-case scenarios, and most of my decision-making processes involve consideration of everything that could possibly go wrong. For example, when my wife and I travel, I am always pushing to leave for the airport at least an hour before she thinks we should leave. I plan for flat tires, bad traffic, long security lines, a full private screening from the over-zealous TSA agent, and 20 other factors that could require additional time in order to make a flight. So what is the result of all my worrying and planning? Usually we hang out at our gate for at least an hour before boarding our plane. Does this mean that I am wrong and should listen to my wife more? Maybe so. However, I have never even come close to missing a flight, I don't have to stress out when just one thing goes wrong or when something takes longer than anticipated. I am more relaxed and patient at the airport, I even have time to stop and help others because I'm not in such a hurry myself.
When Steph and I quit our "day jobs" to focus only on Formidable forms, there were a lot of things for me to worry about. Our website was our life and our livelihood. If there was a problem with our website, it affected us. We spent a lot of time tuning servers and experimenting with different plugins and themes to get our website just right. Although everything didn't always go quite as planned, we found three keys that helped us stay on track and sleep well each night without worrying about all that could go wrong.
1. Have a testing environment I know people who make untested changes to code directly on their production site. I know other people who install 8 new plugins and expect them all to play nicely. These types of stories pique my anxiety about as quickly as does the mention of Internet Explorer 6. Or IE7. Or 8. Okay, any mention of Internet Explorer makes me a bit anxious.
A testing environment is simply a cloned version of your production site that you can break without looking like a fool. Many WordPress hosting companies offer staging sites, but if your hosting provider doesn't, you can easily install WordPress locally on your computer with MAMP. This is probably a topic for another blog post, but once you have WordPress installed and running locally, you can use the WordPress import and export tools or a backup plugin to copy your site to your local machine.
I occasionally log in to a site and find a user running WordPress 2.7 and all plugins have been left untouched since the day they were installed. When I ask why nothing has been updated, the answer is inevitably, "I'm afraid something will break if I update WordPress or my plugins". A staging site solves this predicament and brings me to my next point.
2. Stay up to date. Now that you have a way to safely test WordPress and plugin updates, you can avoid being that guy running his business on old software. But why update things if they are working, right? Answer: keeping WordPress and your plugins up to date will greatly reduce your risk of being the victim of hacking, spamming, and all things devious. There are new security vulnerabilities found all the time. As WordPress gains popularity, it also gains more attention from those trying to exploit it, and unless you stay up to date, you are an easy target.
Updating WordPress alone is not enough. If plugins and themes are left behind in your updating regimen, more and more conflicts will occur and your site's performance will suffer.
Updating to new versions of WordPress and Plugins doesn't always go smoothly. Developers can't possibly test for all server configurations or for conflicts with every single plugin out there. When things go wrong, nothing will ease a worried mind like current backups.
3. Back up daily. Even when you test changes on a staging site and keep everything up to date, problems still happen. Like that time Steph copied some terminal command from a help tutorial and accidentally deleted her entire hard drive. What could have been a devastating loss of work, pictures and data, was no big deal because she had a current backup. Your website is no different. It may be user error or just bad luck that causes an issue with your site, but whatever the case, having a recent backup will save you from panicking.
Most reliable hosting companies automatically back up your site daily. If you are not sure of this, check. If your host doesn't offer backups, there are plugins out there that make the process automatic and simple. Make sure your site is getting backed up and occasionally test those backups and verify that you can restore your site when something goes wrong.
I can't avoid worrying about hackers any more than my daughter can avoid worrying about kidnappers sneaking into our house (she inherited The Wells Worry). However, these three keys have allowed us to focus our time on what's really important -- our family and our Formidable users. We do what we can to avoid major problems and have backups in place to repair any major issues without any lasting effects.