How To Take A WordPress Backup that Actually Works
If you’re looking for a way to backup WordPress site…
… then you’re also:
- Making enough from your site to care about it;
- Scared that downtime will cost you more than a few bucks;
- Ready to protect your assets (or your clients’ assets);
And you know that installing some random WordPress backup plugin won’t cut it.
You want the best for your business and we respect that.
As a Managed WordPress backup service, we know exactly why you’re here.
We also know that you’ll have questions about how to choose the right solution. That’s why we wrote this article.
It doesn’t matter if you’re:
- Looking for a quick fix (jump ahead if that’s you) or a sensible investment
- New to WordPress or a pro user
- 100% sure that you need backups or not
We’re here to help you find the best fit for your WordPress website.
TL;DR: In case you want the best WordPress backup plugin and your website contributes significantly to your brand value, then we highly recommend using a Managed WordPress Backup Service like BlogVault.
Let’s take a quick look at how we’re breaking down this article:
Awesome! Let’s dive right in.
A. 3 Ways To Backup WordPress Site
You can have backups done in 3 ways:
- Method #1: Use a WordPress Backup Service (SaaS)
- Method #2: Backup using a WordPress plugin
- Method #3: Do a manual backup
Spoiler Alert: There’s only ONE foolproof way to backup WordPress site. But that doesn’t mean that the other ways can’t help you.
If you have a single, small site and you’re working on a limited budget you can use Method #2.
For a WooCommerce site or even slightly complex and large sites, we recommend using Method #1.
But even before we get into how to backup, you should know what kind of backup you need:
- If you have a really small site and you have technical expertise, using a free backup plugin is a perfectly reasonable solution for you.
- If you have a large site or an e-commerce site, use a backup service for incremental backups or even real-time backups.
If you’re not sure what incremental and regular backups are, read this article to find out.
Let’s dive into each method now.
1. Method #1: How to Use a Managed WordPress Backup Service to Backup Your Site
A backup service is a supercharged backup plugin. It uses a plugin to connect your site to a complete dashboard with powerful features and capabilities that normal plugins just aren’t able to offer.
Backup services offer a cloud-based backup solution for your backup needs.
Penny for penny, using a managed backup service is the soundest investment that you can make for backups.
Nerd Speak: Backup services offer a fully automated dashboard that takes manual setups, security breaches, and backup unreliability completely out of the equation.
More importantly, a Managed Backup Service acts like a plugin, but comes with none of the usual problems you would get with a regular plugin.
A Managed WordPress backup service as the name suggests, takes over the complicated task of managing backups from you.
For instance, with a good managed backup service such as BlogVault, you can expect:
- Backups on autopilot so that you don’t have to stick around and wait for the backup to get done with before you can do anything else on your site
- Detailed history pages that help you understand what changed with each backup version and exactly which backup you should restore to
- One-click backups that don’t get interrupted, timed out, or corrupted
- Flexible backup schedules that you can set up yourself
- A FREE staging site for an easy way to test your backup
- One-click site restores that never fail
Now, there are certain drawbacks of taking daily backups when you use a regular backup plugin such as management and storage issues.
But Managed backup services go beyond just being “managed”.
They also resolve all the major problems that you would have with plain old backup plugins.
1.1 Why is Using a Managed WordPress Backup Service Like BlogVault a Good Thing?
Managed backup services implement incremental backups.
Using a managed backup service ensures that the load of creating zip files and the complexity of using them for a restore are no longer an issue.
The best part?
Backup services offer incremental backups. This means that every time you change something on your site like switching themes etc; only that change is backed up instead of the whole site.
Incremental backups are an absolute blessing for large sites – especially ecommerce sites where every time you get a new order, your database gets updated.
1.2 Why Are We Even Recommending This?
In a Managed Backup Service, the plugin does everything for you, and the features are simplified into one-click solutions.
What does this mean?
It means that your entire site is synced with BlogVault’s server and you create a secure copy on that server.
This resolves a lot of problems with traditional backup plugins and manual backups.
1.3 How to Use a Managed WordPress Backup Service to Take a Backup
Let’s walk you through using a Managed WordPress Backup Service using the BlogVault plugin.
NOTE: Not everyone needs a solution that’s as powerful as BlogVault. If you have a small site, you’ll be fine with a regular backup plugin as well.
Step 1: Get the BlogVault plugin:
Add it to your WordPress site:
Step 2: Configure the plugin:
And visit the dashboard:
Step 3: Sign in to the dashboard to get started:
You should see a list of your registered sites in your dashboard:
With your first login, BlogVault will automatically sync your entire site.
But here’s a way to do it manually:
Step 4: Select your site by clicking on it in the site list. You should see something like this:
Step 5: Initiate a backup. You can do this in one of two ways:
You can click the ‘Sync’ icon on the left to start immediately or click on the backups button on the right. They will both do the same thing. But the backups button requires an additional step.
If you clicked on the ‘Sync’ button, you’ll see this next:
You can even add a note to help you remember later why you did backup your WordPress site .
Go ahead, put down “First Backup” to celebrate this occasion. Trust us when we tell you, this is a good time to celebrate.
If you take the longer route by clicking on Backups, you’ll be taken to the backups dashboard:
Click on the ‘Backup Now’ button and you’ll see the same popup.
And that’s pretty much it.
Your backup is underway. In roughly a couple of minutes depending on the size of your website, you’ll be done.
You can stay on the same screen, but you don’t really have to. The way BlogVault’s backups work is a ‘set it and forget it’ policy.
Now that you have a killer backup, you’ll be happy to know that you can do one-click restores directly from the same dashboard. But that’s part of another article.
So, you have a backup now.
2. Method #2: How to Take a Backup Using a Backup Plugin
This is quite similar to using a managed backup service in many ways.
Just like BlogVault which is a premium plugin with more advanced capabilities than a regular backup plugin, the steps for using any backup plugin is the same.
Some popular plugins are:
- BlogVault (RECOMMENDED)
- Duplicator Pro
- All-In-One WP Migration and Backup
You will be using 3 basic steps:
- Download the plugin
- Install the plugin
- Take a backup
This seems simpler on the surface, but there are lots of hidden issues with most plugins.
NOTE: We only recommend using a regular backup plugin if you have a very simple site with a small database and you have the technical expertise to handle errors when things go wrong.
If your website accounts for a large part of your brand’s identity or revenue, and you use a regular backup plugin, then you are settling for a solution that will bring you some pain in the future.
3. Method #3: How to Backup WordPress Site Manually
Taking a manual backup of a WordPress site is NOT RECOMMENDED.
This method is only for educational purposes only.
We strongly recommend that you NEVER use it.
It’s unnecessarily complex and even WordPress backup specialists can get things wrong here. One false step and you can lose your entire site and all your data.
That being said, there are two steps to taking a backup without a plugin:
- Take a backup of your files
- Take a backup of your WordPress database
Each of these steps require lengthy explanations and this process merits an article of its own.
And that’s exactly what we did.
If you want to learn how to do a manual backup of your WordPress site, read this article. If you are just looking to take backup of your site theme, then you can go through our backup WordPress theme guide.
There you go!
You now know how to backup WordPress site.
As a quick recap:
- We recommend using a managed WordPress backup service like BlogVault
- Regular backup plugins aren’t bad, but they have their issues
- Backing up without a plugin is pure madness
If you’d like to understand why this is true, you should keep reading. If not, we hope this article helped.
B. Why Is Taking a WordPress Backup Even Important?
It is extremely important to have your website backed up regularly and also, right away.
Having a website backup means that you can have a copy of your content and data with you.
You can keep it safe.
WordPress sites require backups more frequently than regular HTML websites. This is simply because of the nature of WordPress. Even under normal circumstances, WordPress can sometimes act up.
This can result in catastrophic failures.
To avoid it at all costs, you must have a solution in hand to backup WordPress site.
But that’s not the only reason why you should have backups of your site. The other important reason to backup WordPress site is that they reduce downtime significantly. Here’s why that matters:
- Downtime affects your SEO rankings: If your site is down for a long time, commercial search engines such as Google will notice and punish you for it.
- Downtime damages your online reputation: Imagine even an hour where you can’t cater to any of your customers. If you’re an e-commerce site, that could destroy your rep instantly. Even if you’re not – an inaccessible website will damage your reputation.
- Downtime means inaccessibility: Every second your site is offline, your content assets can’t be accessed by anyone. That could be worth thousands of wasted dollars in traffic.
As long as you have a working WordPress backup your data will be safe and you can use it to restore a site quickly. Of course, that will depend on the kind of solution you are using as well.
C. How a WordPress Backup Typically Works
Backing up a WordPress site with or without a plugin involves 2 steps:
- Creating a copy of your files: Plugins, Themes, Uploads, and WordPress Core files
- Creating an export of your databases: Posts, Comments, Settings, and User data
1. Why a WordPress Backup Without a Plugin Forces You to Work Extra Hard
Backing up an entire website means converting all the files and databases into a single zip file.
While this sounds simple in principle, you are probably imagining a process where you backup your portfolio on your PC. These are all files and documents that are easy to copy and paste.
But a full WordPress backup is far more technical in nature.
For one thing, you have to select the files to backup. You’d think that having only the theme files to backup would be all. But that’s really not all there is to it.
Then there are databases.
Even the most experienced database administrators will tell you to NEVER back up a database manually. There are simply too many ways to go wrong with it. Especially for regular backups, this is a very challenging thing.
Of course, how frequently you take backups is another topic. Too many backups make it really difficult to manage the different versions. Not to mention, testing the backups for reliability can be a mammoth task in itself.
There is a lot to be said about what you should and should not do with daily backups. That’s why we wrote a full article on taking daily backups.
Backing up a website without a plugin is prone to human error and we NEVER recommend it under any circumstances.
That being said:
If you want a full walkthrough step-by-step, check out our article on how to manually backup your WordPress website.
2. Why You Might Want to Backup WordPress site with Plugins
Like any other application on WordPress, backups are just that much easier with the help of a plugin. Most backup plugins are meant to automate the task of backing up your site.
That being said, you do have to set it up first.
While we don’t actively recommend that you use a plugin, backup plugins are fine for smaller sites. The only thing that you need to take care of is backup reliability.
2.1 Here’s how a backup plugin typically works
Step 1: Create a zip file of all the files and databases on the site
Creating the zip file consumes a LOT of resources. But that’s not where things get complicated. Since the backup plugin does this automatically, there’s little to no involvement on your part here. Saving your backup is what becomes the biggest hassle.
Step 2: Save a copy of the file for a restore in the future
There are a couple of different ways in which you can save your backup:
- Save the backup on the site’s server
- Save a copy of the backup on a cloud server like Dropbox
- Download the backup file directly to your PC
You need to set up all these functions yourself. This can be confusing and inconvenient especially if you have to do a backup manually using an FTP client.
If you want to see how to use popular backup plugins to take a full site backup, jump right into the comparison section, and see it in action.
Of course, after the previous two steps, you would also have to test your backup to see if it even works or not.
But this is nothing compared to the complexity of taking a manual WordPress backup.
All the server has to do in that situation is to locate and fetch a single file. But creating the zip file is an entirely different scenario.
It involves reading several files and databases and collating them in a single file that gets compressed.
D. What Should You Be Backing Up?
You may think that you need to backup WordPress site of either the database or the files. But that is not a good idea.
You should be backing up EVERYTHING on your site.
Here’s a full list.
The database is what contains and preserves the content on the website. The files contain the themes and plugins and the core functions of WordPress. But they are equally important.
The files contain:
- The core WordPress files
- Theme files
- Plugin files
- Non-WordPress files
The database contains:
- WordPress posts
- Other Post Meta
Missing out even one of these can cause major damage to your site. So, it’s important to back both up – files and databases.
NOTE: There are a few files that you don’t need to back up. Here’s a full list of such files.
E. Why Manual WordPress Backups Are A Bad Idea
Manual backups are incredibly tedious and technical in nature. The management and maintenance of tape backups alone is a full-time job in and of itself. IT staff have to manually configure backup software on each workstation.
This is quite a task, considering how difficult it is to track and back up individual systems, especially during emergencies. Even if you use cPanel to backup and restore, all of this eats up a lot of your company’s time and resources.
The recovery time is also quite slow. If you backup WordPress site manually, then you would typically require a manual restore as well. This is not just time-consuming and tedious, but also very easy to get wrong. The simpler alternative would be to use a backup plugin that offers one-click restore options.
The manual backup is vulnerable to data corruption. If the server or storage option gets corrupted for any reason, you could lose all your data in a matter of seconds.
This is true even for cloud storage such as GoogleCloud or Dropbox or Amazon AWS. What if for some reason you can’t regain access to the cloud account? What if your site gets hacked and the site is synced with your cloud account? These are serious threats.
There is also an issue with costing. To backup WordPress site on your own server is certainly expensive. Taking it on a cloud account can be expensive too.
This is especially true for larger sites.
How long until you run out of free storage space?
Buying that space is expensive and you will have to keep creating more backups down the line.
That will incur even more expenses.
F. Why WordPress Backups by Web Hosts Are A Bad Idea
Lots of hosting companies offer backups as part of their plans.
Now, this could work out fine for you if you have a small WordPress website. But in most cases, you do not want to use the backups offered by the hosting provider.
The way a hosting provider does backups is fundamentally different from a resource allocation point of view.
With a plugin, you consume server credits that are meant to cater to your traffic (more on this soon). But a hosting provider has access to server resources that a plugin simply won’t have.
While this sounds appealing, it also leads a lot of these web hosts to ban backup plugins outright. To anyone with any experience in backing up a WordPress site, this is a huge red flag.
1. Why Do Hosting Companies Ban Backup Plugins?
Hosting companies ban backup plugins because they take up too many server resources. Most hosting companies work on server credits. Typically, their marketing language puts it in a way that implies that the server credits will be deducted per visitor. But that’s not true.
Backing up the entire site takes up a lot of these credits and results in confused and angry customers. So, typically, the host will ban backup plugins and offer backup services of their own.
This also works in favor of their marketing as they put their own WordPress backups into their hosting packages.
But as you’ll soon see, using those services is not a really good idea.
2. Why You Should Always Take Backups Of Your Own
One of the most popular questions we get is:
Short answer: NO!
Your host backup WordPress site for their convenience, not yours.
The vast majority of websites are hosted on shared hosting.
So, any backup they take is to protect their downside and not to uplift your interests.
A prime example of this is GoDaddy’s backups – the hosting company with a 40% market share of all ‘.in’ domains has some rather shady fine print in their Terms of Service.
The same goes for Siteground, which also offers its own WordPress backups.
This is where your website runs on a web server with many other websites and you share the server resources like memory, internet connection, CPU, etc. It’s not uncommon to have dozens or hundreds of sites on a single server.
Recommended Articles On Hosting Backups:
- Are Hostgator’s WordPress Backups Any Good?
- How to Backup Your Site on WPEngine
- WordPress Backup Review: Flywheel Hosting Backups
Let’s check out the Terms of Service to backup WordPress site from popular hosts:
You agree to back-up all of your User Content so that you can access and use it when needed. GoDaddy does not warrant that it backs-up any Account or User Content, and you agree to accept as a risk the loss of any and all of your User Content.
You shall be solely responsible for undertaking measures to: (1) prevent any loss or damage to your website or server content; (2) maintain independent archival and backup copies of your website or server content; and (3) ensure the security, confidentiality and integrity of all your website or server content transmitted through or stored on our servers.
…we do not guarantee the availability or restoration of any lost data. Restoration of data can be requested from our Expert Services
HostGator backups are provided as a courtesy and are not guaranteed. Customers are responsible for their own backups and web content and should make their own backups for extra protection.
BlueHost.com assumes no responsibility for failed backups, lost data, or data integrity
Bluehost from time to time backs up data on its servers, but is under no obligation or duty to Subscriber to do so under these Terms. IT IS SOLELY SUBSCRIBER’S DUTY AND RESPONSIBILITY TO BACKUP SUBSCRIBER’S FILES AND DATA ON BLUEHOST SERVERS, AND under no circumstance will Bluehost be liable to anyone FOR DAMAGES OF ANY KIND under any legal theory for loss of Subscriber FILES AND/or data on any Bluehost server
… you agree that you will maintain at least one additional current copy of your Customer Data somewhere other than on the Rackspace Public Cloud Services. If you utilize Rackspace cloud backup services, you are responsible for performing and testing restores …
We will use good faith efforts to backup data stored on the shared Services once a day (Shared Backups). Shared Backups are intended for internal use only and we cannot guarantee that a Shared Backup will be available for restore upon your request. It is your responsibility to backup data of all your content in order to prevent potential data loss. While we may provide assistance, it is your obligation to restore your website.
2.6 WP Engine
While we do provide backup, there is no guarantee that the backup will work properly and that the content will be completely recovered or formatted properly. You are solely responsible for keeping a separate backup of any data that you do not want to lose.
switchplus doesn’t offer backups of websites – doing regular backups lies in the responsibility of our customers.
Here’s the entire thing in short:
- Even if your host offers backups, they are not obligated to do so
- Even if they take a backup, you may not be able to request a restore
- Even if you can request for a restore, the backup may not work at all
- Even if the backup works, it’s your responsibility to restore the backup
- Even if you accept the responsibility to restore, it’s too technical for most users
Now, there’s one more thing that you haven’t considered:
You’re taking backups on the exact same server as your site. So, if something goes wrong with the server, you lose the backup at the same time.
Considering that most users share a server, it’s also possible that a virus on somebody else’s site could cause a server failure. That results in you losing your website and the backup at the same time.
G. How WordPress Backup Plugins Fail
Yes, plugins are way better than taking a backup DIY style.
But that doesn’t mean that plugins are the perfect solution.
There are so many reasons why backup plugins fail and we’re going to go over those in just a second. But it’s important to remember that backup plugins are a viable solution for most small sites that have little to no dynamic components.
1. The Problems Associated With Using Backup Plugins
Backup plugins often fail to create backups that work. This is especially true for large sites and e-commerce sites. The size of the backup is so large that it fails halfway through the process.
1.1 Server Load
The backup takes a significant amount of the server resources as well. Since a WordPress backup involves:
- And then compressing;
Hundreds, if not thousands of files, the entire process requires a lot of processing power.
1.2 Unreliable Initialization
Like all plugins, backup plugins for WordPress only get initiated when a user visits a site. WordPress decides what plugins it should load for a user to get served.
This means that if your site doesn’t get a lot of visitors, chances are that your backup plugin isn’t even working. This is one of the major problems associated with using a backup plugin.
1.3 Storage Issues
Where should you store your site backups?
In most cases, the plugin can use cloud storage to take a backup. But there are problems associated with that as well:
- Large sites can deplete storage space with site backups very quickly
- Cloud storage is typically very expensive and can significantly add to your overheads
- If your Google Drive is synced with your WordPress site and the site gets hacked – your personal storage could be exposed as well
- It’s very difficult to understand which backup to use in case you need to restore your site
- It’s nearly impossible to judge whether your site backup is reliable or not
These are all true for Amazon S3 Backups as well.
But let’s not dish out only on cloud storage. For small sites, cloud storage works just fine. It’s only with large sites that you start having problems.
Although, if you are going to use cloud storage, we highly recommend installing a malware scanner and cleaner as well.
Storing your backup of WordPress Site on a PC can be just as problematic.
- How do you know which version to restore?
- What if you accidentally delete the backup?
- How do you deal with storage space issues?
Of course, this matters very little if you have multiple copies of your backups. Then, the only issue you would have is with managing the versions and having a repeatable process.
There are also going to be issues with testing your WordPress backup. But that’s another topic.
2. The Limitations Of Free WordPress Backup Plugins
Free backup plugins are quite limited in their scope.
They either have limitations on the size of the site they are backing up or require a paid add on to use the backup to restore your site.
For instance, BackupBuddy only does a database backup:
Free backup plugins can be difficult to configure as well and generally do not offer much in the way of cloud storage integrations.
For instance, UpdraftPlus stores the backups by default in the wp-content/updraft folder on your server.
This is a screenshot of a real thread on UpdraftPlus’ forum. The user has a hacked site and has no idea where they can get their backup so that they can restore their site.
How awkward is that?
It’s also not immediately clear how to set up a separate storage location.
The same goes for Duplicator. It stores the backups in the wp-content/backups-dup-lite folder.
Free plugins may also have poor documentation and support.
UpdraftPlus has paid only support. Imagine the chaos while using the free plugin.
But one of the biggest issues with free backup plugins is that it times out in the middle of the backup. As a result, there’s no way of knowing if the backup is even reliable with doing a test restore.
Just take a look at this screenshot of Duplicator:
Also, out of curiosity, how convenient is it for you if you couldn’t do anything at all while the backup occurs?
Now, we realize that this paints a rather bleak picture of backup plugins – especially free ones.
But the reality is, this still works just fine for small sites with average traffic.
In most cases, a free plugin does the job for you. Free plugins have limitations that matter only if you are operating a significantly large site.
The problem is: people commonly only look for a paid plugin when they don’t find a free one that performs a specific task. In the process, most people make several mistakes and bad investments.
That’s where our top recommendation comes into play. That’s up next.
H. The 5 Best Backup Plugins Compared
We are now going to install the most popular backup plugins for WordPress and compare the backup experience and offer a clear winner.
NOTE: We firmly believe that managed backup services are inherently superior and that comparing them with regular backup plugins is grossly unfair.
For instance, check out our article on BlogVault vs. BackupBuddy. You’ll see what we mean here.
If you’d like to check out the 11 metrics we used to decide our list and how to select it, you can read this article here.
So, we are comparing:
- Duplicator Pro
- All-In-One WP Migration and Backup
We wrote a full article on this and there’s a lot that went into our selection process. You can read all about that here.
But TL;DR: For people who have a small, simple site and need a free plugin to backup WordPress site, UpdraftPlus is the best option for you. We rank BackupBuddy and Duplicator Pro as close runners up.
In our article, we also compare a few other alternatives. But they have far too many issues for us to recommend them with a clear conscience.
I. How WordPress Backup Services Work And Why They Are Better
Backup services work in a completely different way from regular backup plugins.
WordPress backup services give you a plugin to install. This plugin is only to gain access to your files and databases. The rest of the work is done completely remotely.
What this means is that:
- If you have a big site or a WooCommerce site, you can set up real-time and incremental backups
- The backup is super-reliable as you no longer have time-out errors and broken backups
- Every backup comes with one-click restores and a label so that you know which backup to restore from
- The backup is automatically encrypted for high-grade security
- Your backup gets synced in a way that doesn’t interfere with your regular work
- You know exactly where you put your backups and there’s no way to lose your backup
- Your backups are stored on a separate server so that it’s safe
- You don’t have to worry about storage space either
In fact, the biggest issue with managed WordPress backup services is knowing how to make the most of them and not get overwhelmed by the number of options.
1. The Best Managed WordPress Backup Services
BlogVault is not the only managed WordPress backup service in the market.
Jetpack does a pretty decent job as well. Now, we don’t want to sound biased with our assessment, but we honestly believe that we do a better job than Jetpack.
You’ve already seen a breakdown of BlogVault and how to use it.
It’s time to talk about why we recommend it over Jetpack’s managed WordPress backup services.
There are 4 main considerations that we took here:
- Backup Encryption
- Storage Space
- Ease of use
Let’s take a look at each in turn.
2. Where Does Jetpack’s Managed WordPress Backup Service Really Shine?
Jetpack shows you the backup progress in real-time for each type of data:
- and database
The best part?
Everything happens on autopilot.
It also gives you a calendar view, where you can see all your previous WordPress backups. In fact, Jetpack’s backups come with stats and significant numbers for each backup such as the number of files, number of posts, and so on.
The only problem on the surface seems to be their confusing pricing plans as there seems to be very little distinction between them at first glance.
3. Where Jetpack’s Managed WordPress Backups Fall Short
Despite Jetpack’s apparently superb solution, there are a few places where it simply isn’t good enough.
This is not a stab at Jetpack, though. It does what it promises quite effectively. But here are a few important places where Jetpack fails to measure up against BlogVault:
- 1-Click Automatic restoration
- Test restore
- Easy site migration
- Off-site data storage + Amazon S3 data storage
- Flexible backup schedules
These features aside, Jetpack also falls short in terms of pricing. It keeps introducing better features as the pricing goes higher. However, with BlogVault you get all the features unlocked even with the lowest package.
The prime difference here is that Jetpack prices itself like a regular backup plugin with paywalls on unlockable features. BlogVault prices itself as per the number of site licenses issued.
Now that you know exactly how to backup WordPress site, what kind of backups you should be taking, and what plugin to choose…
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Also, if you’d like to read up on how to restore WordPress backup, you should check out our article on that as well.
And that’s all for now. We’ll see you next time!
Akshat is the Founder and CEO of BlogVault, MalCare, and WP Remote. These WordPress plugins, designed for complete website management, allows 100,000+ customers to build and manage high-performance websites with ease.