9 Best WordPress Staging Plugins To Test Your Website
Staging is a vital step in the development process; unless of course, someone likes taking unnecessary risks. You’re not one of these daredevils, otherwise, you wouldn’t be here.
We’ve put 9 WordPress staging plugins under a microscope for features, reliability, ease-of-use, and much more. By the end of this article, you will know exactly which WordPress staging plugin is the one for you.
TL;DR: The results are in. BlogVault is the best WordPress staging plugin. Install now!
We have put the following plugins through their paces. How easy are they to use; can they handle multisites; will Google index the staging sites? There are lots of factors to consider here. We’ve listed our examination criteria below, but for now, let’s get to the good stuff.
9 Best Staging Plugins
1. BlogVault Staging
Best-in-class backup service with integrated staging environment.
BlogVault is primarily a backup plugin, which is the reason it handles staging so well. The fundamental principle behind staging is to create an exact replica, and yet many staging solutions will not have production features, like permalinks or SSL for instance.
Best of all, setting up a WordPress staging environment with BlogVault is literally a one-click process, and it takes seconds. A staging site is created on a different server from your live site, and thus ensure that your live site is completely unaffected. Because the staging site is stored on BlogVault servers, the plugin works with all web hosts.
In our opinion, BlogVault’s most powerful feature is selective merge. Any half-decent WordPress staging plugin will have a merge to production feature, considering absolutely no one wants to replicate steps to push changes to production, after testing on staging. But a selective merge takes even this to the next level, by showing you the difference between the staging site and the live site. You can then choose which modifications you want to include and exclude.
- Off-server staging at no extra cost
- Easy 1-click setup & Merge option
- Safely test updates
- Usable with any web host
- Password protected staging sites
- Powerful selective merge option
- Auto Google de-index
- Auto webmail disabled
- Auto disables cron
- Secure access via SFTP and phpMyAdmin
- Offers different PHP versions
- Supports SSL
- Supports multisite
- It is a paid plugin
- Staged site auto-expires, but it’s extendable
Want to buy?
BlogVault plans start at $7.40 per month and include backups and staging. Install now, and you can have a staging site set up in minutes.
2. WP Staging
Quick and free, but only good for minor changes
WP Staging is a great tool to have when you need a free staging site to test simple updates or try out a plugin. With the click of a button you can quickly create a staging site, without having to fuss with domain configuration or additional WordPress installs. Because of these features, it solves the biggest problem with most staging solutions: it is FAST.
There are some major challenges with this plugin though, which preclude any major work. The staging sites are created in the same install as the original WordPress site. It uses the main database itself to store its own tables. It does this by changing dbprefix. While this is allowed by WordPress, it is not a great practice. It also stores all the files in a subdirectory inside the main site. This is not the best technical choice and has the potential to mess up the hygiene of a website in the long run.
Additionally, we already know that having multiple WordPress sites in a shared hosting environment (or in the same directory) is dangerous for security reasons. If the staging site gets infected, it can cause even the main site to be compromised.
Speaking of security, we have a great security plugin. MalCare is one of the only plugins that have reliable, automated removal of malware without the need for expensive manual removal services. Try it out now!
WP Staging does not support permalinks on the staging site, you can’t carry out complete tests on the staging site. URLs on the staging site look like this:
https://example.com/staging/?p=1 instead of this: https://example.com/staging/my-article/
Like BlogVault, WP Staging also password protects the staging site. This blocks Google from indexing the staging site, which is great. This is where the similarity ends, however. Unlike BlogVault, here the password protection does not improve the security of the site. In fact, the password protection acts as a hindrance, as you cannot see what the site looks like without the admin bar.
WP Staging also has issues with large sites, as it uses the site’s own resources to create a copy. This causes staging site creation to fail for large and complex sites.
- There is a free version
- Extremely easy to use
- Fast cloning (i.e. staging) process
- Selective merge
- Support for large websites and multisites
- Only authenticated users can access it
- Supports multiple staging sites
- Free version expires after an hour
- Need premium version to push staging site to live site
- Fails to clone large websites
- Does not support permalink
- Login required to view modifications
- Insecure setup
- Most functionality available only in the pro version
- Doesn’t not come bundled with backup functionality
Want to buy?
You can stage one website for free. Paid plans begin at $89 per year.
3. WP StageCoach
Easy, one-click step up with a unique database merge option.
Any conversation about WordPress staging will be incomplete without WP StageCoach. It is one of the most popular staging plugins and one of the best staging plugins we have come across.
Right off the bat, what impressed us most about WP StageCoach is its ability to merge the databases of your staging site with the live one. You are not overwriting the database, you are merging it. So you are not losing any new subscribers, contact information, cart items on your live site.
WP StageCoach stores your staging site on its own server, not on your live site’s server. You don’t have to worry about the staging site hogging up resources of your live site making it slow.
While pushing your staging site to the live, if you decide to just merge the database and not files (or vice versa) you do have the option to include or exclude the files. If you run into problems while merging, you can go for the manual merge option (they call it manual install). But it’s a really technical process so it’s not all that useful.
- Easy one-click setup
- Password protection enables
- Off-server staging
- Option to merge either files or database
- Compatible with all web hosts
- It’s a paid plugin
- Does not support multisite
Want to buy?
WP StageCoaching plans start at $12 per month.
4. WP Time Capsule
Great backup plugin with integrated staging facilities.
WP Time Capsule is a backup-focused plugin that offers staging facilities and it’s a fairly new service. Like BlogVault, it takes a backup of your entire website and then creates a staging site with the backup copy.
WP Time Capsule is more than capable of handling large websites. It breaks the website into small chunks and brings all the pieces together to create a staging site to ensure that nothing is left behind.
You will have the option to carry out selective merge where you can choose to include or exclude specific files and database tables.
- Easy to use
- Selective merge
- Password protection
- Staging is available on pro versions only
- Staging files and databases are stored in your own storage accounts like Google Drive, Dropbox, Amazon S3, etc
Want to buy?
WP Time Capsule plans start at $49 per year.
Dedicated backup plugin with push and pull options.
BackupBuddy is a dedicated backup plugin that has a staging feature.
We were most impressed by this feature which allowed you to push and pull changes from the staging site to the live site. Let’s say while working on your staging site, someone left a comment on your live site. You can pull the comment into your staging site.
That said, creating a staging site using BackupBuddy is not easy. You need to know how to edit the wp-config file, which is an important file and should be ideally left untouched. A tiny misstep in the file can cause your website to crash.
- Push and pull changes with two clicks
- Supports large files
- Setting up a staging site requires technical expertise
- Merging is a complicated process
Want to buy?
Plans of BackupBuddy start at $52 per year.
All-in-one management plugin with staging facilities.
Like many of the plugins on our list, BoldGrid is not a staging plugin. Rather it’s a service that helps you build and manage WordPress websites. Staging is one of the features they have on offer.
That said, creating a staging site on Boldgrid is a complicated business. There are way too many steps. It’s not difficult per se, it is just cumbersome and time-consuming. But the plugin does have redeeming qualities.
We found that while most staging plugins have selective merge options, this one has selective staging options. Meaning you can choose whether you want to stage the entire site or parts of it. This comes in handy when your live site is a large one. Staging and merging large websites are known to cause issues. Staging only the parts you require will significantly reduce the chances of a disaster.
- Selective staging
- Access to other plugins to help troubleshoot issues
- Responsive support team
- Setting up is complex, not ideal for beginners
- Takes a long time to merge
Want to buy?
BoldGrid plans start at $2.5 per month.
Extremely easy migration plugin that you can use to stage a site.
Duplicator is a massively popular migration tool. It does not offer any staging facilities but can certainly be used to stage a site.
We found working with Duplicator very easy.
To create a staging site, you need to download a copy of your website and upload it to a staging location with the plugin. Of course, the downside is that you have to have this staging location set up before you can use this workaround. The website could be hosted locally, on a subdomain, or even on a different server altogether.
And once you are done with testing your changes, you perform this operation in reverse to make your changes live.
In comparison to other staging plugins, that’s a lot of work. Moreover, it can be a bit daunting for beginners. This is precisely why we recommend this plugin only to those who already have it installed on their website for migration. If you don’t like installing more plugins or you are not a fan of trying out new plugins, use Duplicator to stage a site.
- Scans site for issues
- Download site with a few clicks
- Supports larger sites and databases
- Not ideal for beginners
- The interface is complex to navigate
- Free updates available only for a year
Want to buy?
Duplicator plans start at $59 per year.
8. All-in-One WP Migration
Free migration plugin that you can use to stage a site.
As the name suggests, the All-in-One WP Migration plugin is a migration-focused plugin. It’s an extremely popular plugin and much like Duplicator, you can create a staging site with this migration plugin in much the same way.
Download a copy of your website, upload it to a prepped staging location, and test. And back again once you are done.
All-in-One WP Migration is a free plugin which is great but if your website is over 512MB, you’ll need to subscribe to the premium plan. Let’s face it: your website is definitely larger than 512 MB.
- It’s a free plugin
- Can download or upload website in chunks
- Supports multisites
- Requires technical knowledge, not beginner-friendly
- Needs subscription to the pro version to stage large websites
Want to buy?
You can use the free version but if your site is large, subscribe to All-in-One WP Migration’s pro version for $99.
Website cloning facilities that can be used to stage a site.
After BlogVault, Updraft is the most popular backup plugin. They don’t offer staging benefits, but you can create a replica of your website with UpdraftClone and use it for staging purposes.
It’s extremely easy to clone your website with Updraft. It’s literally a one-click process.
It’s the only shortcoming is that the clone site (i.e. your staging site) expires after 24 hours. You do have the option to extend it for a week continually for as long as you want in exchange for a small subscription fee.
- Very easy to set up
- Creates a clone site on its own server
- If you forget to extend the expiry date, you’ll lose the site
What to buy
UpdraftClone plan starts at $12.
That’s it, folks. With that, we come to the end of the best WordPress staging site plugins.
What is WordPress staging and why do you need it?
A staging website is an exact replica of your existing website, used to safely test updates and modifications before pushing them to the live website.
If you do any of the following, you need a staging site. Of course, you can go ahead and do these things without one, but just because you can doesn’t mean you should.
- Updating themes and plugins
- Trying out new themes and plugins
- Changing the layout of the website
- Launching a new site
- Troubleshooting issues
Staging is used by developers over the world. Most websites use staging for sure since their developers are mindful that making changes can break the live website in unforeseen ways. In fact, it is considered irresponsible not to use staging for QA before pushing to production.
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Remember Facebook’s design and feature changes? Those don’t happen overnight on production. If there is a tiny bug in the code, it could affect millions of users.
Important factors to consider when choosing the best WordPress staging plugin
Like with any good solution, it is important to consider all relevant factors. The thing is that if you’ve never set up a staging site before, you would not know what constitutes a relevant factor.
We’ve listed out our criteria for what makes a good staging plugin. We know a thing or two about this since we built a great one ourselves.
- Quick set up: Evidently, you don’t want to wait hours for the plugin to create a staging site. Nor do you want to spend hours creating a replica of your website. You need something that is up and running in minutes.
- Should work with large or complex websites: A good solution needs to be able to deal with complex websites; whether they have hundreds of pages or it is a multisite network. It is simple enough to consider staging smaller sites, but complex websites is where your chosen staging plugin should stay steadfast.
- Staging on a different server: This will ensure that the staging site does not use your live site’s resources which can cause your live site to slow down.
- Protection from hackers and unauthorized access: Just like your live website, your staging site has to be protected from hackers. Your staging site should be password protected and stored on a secure server. This not only helps prevent a hack but also stops visitors from inadvertently landing up on your staging site.
- Hiding from search engine bots: This is important because, firstly, you don’t want people to find your staging site through Google search, instead of your live website.
And two, the staging site is an exact replica of your live site. It has exactly the same content. If Google is allowed to crawl the staging site, it may conclude that your live website duplicated content from your staging site, and your live website will get penalized. This is quite a disaster because you’ve probably invested a great deal of time and energy into creating your live website.
- Blocking emails: It’s all too common to accidentally send an email to your customers from your staging site because the configurations are accurate and in place. This is a desirable feature, because you may want to test the experience of emailing from your website, but you don’t want trial emails to be sent. The staging plugin should block emails to and from customers.
- Availability of the merge option: This one is obvious. But nonetheless, it’s better to be safe than sorry. You don’t want to end up without an option to merge your staging site with the live one and have to replicate your changes onto your production website. Even worse is a merge option that fails, and you have to do the work all over again anyway.
- Reasonably priced: If you are on a budget, don’t worry, most staging plugins are affordable. But you want to stage dozens of websites, it will punch a hole in your pocket. Some hosting providers charge extra for staging functionality since you are using up server space regardless.
BlogVault bundles staging with best-in-class backups. You’ll find all of the above criteria met, and with a few more features thrown in for good measure. Staging should be a seamless part of your development cycle; BlogVault ensures that it is.
As a last-ditch option, you create a local copy and use that as a staging site. Plugins like Duplicator or All-In-One WP Migration will help with that. Having a local staging site means that you can make changes offline as well.
Once you’ve decided on a plugin, you’ll need to learn how to create a staging site using that plugin. Here’s an article that’ll help you do just that – Create a WordPress staging environment.
1. What is WordPress staging?
WordPress staging is a test website that you can use to test out new plugins, themes, designs, etc without disturbing your live site. To create a WordPress staging site, you need a plugin. Check out the suggested 9 best WordPress staging plugins.
2. Do I need a staging site?
You need a staging site if you want to test things out before making any changes on the live site.
For instance, you want to change the theme of your site. You will need to try out a few themes before installing it on your website. Moreover, it may take a few days for you to select the theme.
In the meantime, your website will be in a mess. You don’t want to serve a broken website to your visitors. Hence, you need a staging site to carry out such tests.
3. Where are the staging files and database located?
The staging site’s files and database are located either on your live site server or the staging plugin’s own server. For instance, BlogVault stores your staging files and database on its own server. But WP StageCoach stores them on your live site server. It comes down to the staging plugin that you are using.
4. How can I push changes from a staging site to a live site?
You can push changes from a staging site to a live site by using the merge option that every staging plugin or service offers.
5. What if I made changes on the live site while working on the staging site?
If you made changes on the live site while working on the staging site, we suggest that you replicate those changes in the staging site too, if necessary.
6. How do I use WordPress staging plugins?
To use staging plugins, you need to first install it into your WordPress website. The process of setting up a plugin differs. When you are installing the plugin, you will be guided through the process. You can also look into YouTube videos and help docs for help.
7. How do I set up a staging site on WordPress?
To set up a staging site, you need to first install a staging plugin into your WordPress website. Here’s a guide on how to set up a staging site on WordPress.
8. What are some of the best staging plugin for WordPress?
Some of the best staging plugins are BlogVault Staging, WP Staging, WP StageCoach, and WP Time Capsule. Learn more about them here.
Sufia is a WordPress enthusiast, and enjoys sharing their experience with fellow enthusiasts. On the MalCare blog, Sufia distils the wisdom gained from building plugins to solve security issues that admins face.