WordPress — the very popular Content Management System (CMS) for websites — is nearly everywhere. I suspect, however, that not even 10% of those WordPress sites are backed up. Probably less than 10% of all sites are backed up.

The stability of infrastructure — hard drives, networks, etc — has certainly increased over the years. However, this increased stability has created a false sense of security among site owners. Because WordPress is so popular and provides a sense a stability, there is the additional illusion that a WordPress website is stable.

Many website owners are also under the illusion that the hosting company is providing backup. This can be a sad illusion indeed when your site goes down and you discover the hosting company is not doing a backup. In fact, most hosting companies do not do backup. At a recent WordPress conference I had the opportunity to talk to a representative from Media Temple who confirmed that my client’s account was not being backed up. Not only that, Media Temple did not provide any way to back it up — even for a fee.

When big companies like Google and Amazon lose client data, why should any website owner think the site is immune from data loss?

There can be several reasons for data loss on a WordPress site:

* Hosting company goes out of business
* Hard drive failure
* Hard drive corruption
* Data system malfunction other than hard drive failure
* Hack attack
* Terrorist attack
* Theme update goes bad
* Theme change goes bad
* Pissed off worker

You can probably think of other reasons. Whatever the reason, developing a back up strategy and putting it into action can reduce stress and preserve a lot of hard work put into content and cosmetic creation.

Most WordPress sites need two components backed up:

* The files on the server
* The databases the files use

Both components, at a minimum, need to be backed up. Getting only one is not sufficient.

Additionally, if the website has additional files that are not a part of of the WordPress installation or structure, a backup system designed for WordPress may not be enough.

There are various plugins for WordPress backups. However, not all plugins back up everything. Additionally, not all plugins back up off site. Having a backup on the same drive that will fail is really no backup.

Different backup systems and types are useful for different reasons. If doing a theme update then a backup to the local server may well be all you need in case you need to revert to the original theme.

Reading the fine print on what a plugin or other service will do is important.

When helping a client set up a backup system for a WordPress site, I consider the following major factors:

* purpose of the backup
* size of the site
* importance of the data
* backup destination
* non-WordPress files

Here are a couple scenarios I’ve dealt with that required a stretch of the usual simple plugins:

Client A has a WordPress site. However, the client also has non-WordPress pages, files, and databases as a part of the site. The additional files include 1200+ PDF files (and counting). The total size of the site was about five gigabytes. The entire site needed to be backed up off-site — somewhere other than the server — using an incremental system because of the size.

Client B has a site that uses databases separate from the WordPress database. In this situation a backup system was created for all the databases. The client has five years of daily database backups for nearly nothing by using cron jobs (scheduled tasks) on the server combined with inexpensive or free storage services.

Client C has a WordPress site where posts are the most important item. For this a daily backup was created of the files and the database and stored on the server for the last 21 days. The backup files could then be downloaded onto the owners own computer.

Backing up even manually is better than nothing at all. As a person who has had zero data loss since 2001, I can attest to this concept. Get something going, and then refine.

— Bruce Miller