Operation Site Backups: How and why I now have two backup systems in place

Back in 2008, I was running a successful site that had two and a half million pageviews a month. That site was based on user-generated-content, so new content was being created daily.

One day, the site crashed. We had to delete everything and use backups to resume service. My host at the time was making daily and monthly backups, so I figured we were covered.

Wrong.

When attempting to use the backups to restore the site, it turned out they were corrupt. The most recent working copy was a six-month-old download that I had stored at home. We had to take the site back in time six months, losing not only content but also members. People who made it through “The big collapse of 2008” had lost post count and badges. It was a mess. It also hurt our traffic significantly. With the site being down for two days and so much content disappearing, traffic went down by 50% in the following weeks. It took us years to recover.

The point of the story is that backups can fail. And if you care about your site, having two backup systems in place is better. Even three, for a large site that’s crucial to your business.

Now that my niche sites are growing larger and have more traffic, it was time to look into improving our backup system. I dedicated half a day to doing that last week. I called that “Operation Backups”. Here’s what it was like.

I’m not what you might call a “responsible person.” Officially diagnosed with ADD, I can’t use Ritalin or other stimulants due to a pre-existing medical condition. That’s my excuse for not properly setting up backups until now. Ideally, I should have dealt with this months ago, but I only got around to it now.

Operation Backups included the following steps –

  1. Evaluate the existing backup status
  2. Establishing a backup strategy
  3. Putting automated backup routines into action

Backup Status Evaluation

I started by reviewing the system that I already had in place. ADD or no ADD, it’s not as if I didn’t have any backups to anything. That would have been stupid, considering the amount of money I have invested in my sites.

I have been using Blog Vault to backup my larger WordPress sites for over a year now. BlogVault creates a full daily backup of your WordPress site. I tested BlogVault when I first signed up, so I know that I can use it to easily get a website running again from the backup version.

When I created the Blog Vault account, over a year ago, I had five sites that I was working on, so I opted for the small business basic plan at $199 a year.

When I started Operation Backups, I thought I would probably just upgrade to the Developers plan. I did want to look into other options, though, so I kept researching.

What about host backups?

My current host Digital Ocean does offer a backup plan. However, I don’t want to rely on their backup service, for two reasons –

  1. Digital Ocean is a very robust service, but it’s not easy to use. With no Cpanel available, using the backups to re-create a site would probably require me to involve a server admin. It’s doable but would take time. I prefer to have an easier way to restore a site.
  2. Letting my host be in charge of backups makes me feel uncomfortable. Call it a case of “Once bitten, twice shy.” Experience has taught me the need for having backups with another provider. This goes along with my diversification approach.

Establishing a backup strategy

Next, it eas time to take a look at my current needs. As I explain in my monthly reports, my business strategy is to launch a new site once every quarter and grow that site to 100 posts. Once it reaches that stage, I let it simmer for at least six months to see how it does. If it does well, I’ll develop it into a larger site. Otherwise, it stays in my portfolio as a small and relatively static site.

My portfolio right now

At this point, my portfolio includes four large sites. They each have 250-600 posts and growing. I always have at least one additional new website in the “hatchling phase,” on its way to get to that 100-post point.

That means I need to have robust daily backups for five sites: the four large sites + one hatchling.

I have four other sites that are now either simmering away or are just designated to remain small sites. As a rule, we no longer add content to those sites. For these sites, a monthly backup is enough. It would give me a good enough backup. The only thing I might miss would be some newer comments—no huge loss.

Available services

So far, I have been using Blog Vault as an excellent reliable solution. I was shopping around for more options, so I asked around web publishing forums. If you’re looking to join a good one, my current favorite is run by Jon Dykstra from Fat Stacks Blog. It’s a relatively small community that’s not open to the public, making it an ideal spot for talking to like-minded publishers. To join, you need to buy one of Jon’s courses (which I recommend doing if you’re a web publisher going after SEO traffic).

Two names came up as good free backup options: ManageWP and Updraft plus.

I reviewed all three services (including BlogVault) and came up with this list of pros and cons for each one.

ManageWP

Similar to BlogVault, they offer you an off-site backup option managed by a plug-in. The free option includes a monthly backup.

ManageWP Free version Pros
  • Easy to use.
  • The Free account includes a security check
  • It’s free yet can be upgraded per site, and per service needed. For $2 per site per month, you can choose backup frequencies.
ManageWP Free version Cons
  • Automated backups take place only once a month
  • The backups are stored on their servers. If they go belly up – your backups are gone.

Updraft Plus

Updraft offers a slightly different solution. Their plug-in helps you create automated full backups of your site, which you can then download. The paid version gives you off-site storage space on their servers and access to other plug-ins by the same developers.

Updraft Plus Pros
  • Easy to configure and use
  • Backups are stored on your computer and/or on your Google Drive, Dropbox, or other cloud services.
  • The free version is feature-rich and allows you to determine the frequency of backups.
Updraft Plus Cons
  • If you’re looking to re-generate a site from your backup files, without access to your WordPress installation, it could get a bit technical. The one-click solution that they do offer will only work as long as you have your current WordPress installation intact.
  • Updraft places all of your backup files in a single folder that it creates. If you’re backing up several websites, all of those files will go into the same folder. Not a huge deal, but if you want to organize things in a better way, you’ll have to pay for a premium account.
  • When using Google Drive for storing your backups (which is what I did), Updraft is asking for permissions that not everyone would feel comfortable with.

Updraft permissions

BlogVault

Like ManageWP, Blog Vault offers off-site backups, along with other services, such as security checks. Blog Vault doesn’t have a free option, though. It’s always paid, with various plans available, depending on the required services and number of sites.

BlogVault Pros
  • A friendly interface
  • Off-site storage
  • You can determine the frequency of updates
BlogVault Cons
  • Paid-version only (I think it’s about the same price as ManageWP when comparing all included services).
  • The backups are stored on their servers.

My backup strategy

So, once I reviewed the tools and my needs, I came up with the following plan.

  1. Backup the four big sites (and the one small site that we’re working on) daily using BlogVault.
  2. Backup the other (static) sites once a month using a free ManageWP account.
  3. Backup all sites with Updraft Plus (free). Daily for the larger sites and weekly for the other sites.

That means I have two backup copies for each site. Daily backups for the sites that are continually changing. Weekly and monthly backups for the static websites.

The cost stays the same. I’ll be utilizing the same BlogVault subscription that I already have, at $199 a year.

Putting backups into action

Now that I had a plan, it was time to put it into action.

First, I created a task in Clickup with three checklists:

  1. The ManageWP checklist – with a list of the sites that I need to backup there.
  2. The BlogVault checklist – with the site that I needed to take off my current active account, and the one I needed backing up (the new site that we worked on).
  3. The UpdraftPlus checklist – with a list of all of my sites.

Next, I went over each site and applied the required changes to each one. This involved installing a couple of plug-ins and activating them, as well as setting up the sites in ManageWP’s and BlogVault’s respective control panels. Once I was done with a site, I checked the boxes in the respective lists.

Finally, I started backing everything up. Thinking about this blog post, I took screenshots throughout the process, but they’re pretty dull. It was a boring process which is a good thing. Each service has a series of steps to go through, and if you’ve ever installed a WordPress plug-in, you shouldn’t have any problems following them.

Operation Backups: Mission Accomplished

The entire operation took me 2-3 hours. That included reviewing the services and coming up with the strategy. Once I had that in place, it took me about an hour to set everything up.

Now I have active ongoing automated double backups for each one of my sites! The cost remained $199 a year. While I could downgrade the BlogVault account at some point, and rely solely on ManageWP and Updraft Plus, I like knowing that my larger sites are properly backed up using a solid paid service. These sites make thousands of dollars a month, so paying around $15 a month for backups makes sense to me.

And I’ve added one last task for myself in Clickup to look over everything once every three months and make sure it’s still working and the backups are running as planned.

So there you have it. It may not be the perfect setup out there, but it works for me. Hopefully this post will help others achieve the right setup for their own blogs.

This Post Has One Comment

  1. Shawna

    Oh wow, I’ve been using UpDraftPlus and didn’t know about some of those cons. Luckily I’ve never had to restore the backups, but it seems like I should check out those other alternatives. Thanks!

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