About once a week, I get a request for help from a panicked blogger who has deployed a new theme on their blog and the results of the upload isn’t instant blog bliss as they expected.
Widgets are in places they shouldn’t be. The slider is missing. And where is the menu? Where is the menu?!
Reality is that, unless the blog theme you chose is super, super simple, some setup is required for your new blog design. It’s gonna take some work to make your site look like the pixel-perfect demo site.
As designers and developers, we do our best to make theme switch and setup as easy and painless as possible.
But…there’s only so much we can do to mitigate issues because systems like Blogger and WordPress are gonna work the way they want. And every blogger is going to have different plugins, gadgets and widgets that might cause issues on theme switch. It’s just life.
So, rather than leaving yourself in a lurch by installing a new blog theme on a live site without testing it, save your sanity (and mine!) by using a staging site.
What is a staging site, you ask?
A staging or test site is a sandbox version of your site where you can test new themes, plugins, widgets and more without affecting the activity on your live blog.
Let’s be honest, all the (good) web designers are doing it. All the professional bloggers are doing it. You know you want to, too. 😉
If you ask a web designer or developer to deploy an unfamiliar theme or plugin on a site, they’ll break out in hives at just the thought of something so reckless. Or, at least, they should.
A staging site gives you the chance to test the theme or plugin against your existing blog setup without the risk of:
- Ending up with a site that’s a total mess
- Conflicts that cause your site to crash or break
- Conflicts that break another feature on your site
- Your site not looking absolutely perfect all the freaking time
All the cool kids use a staging site and you should too.
Can’t I Just Put My Site in Maintenance Mode?
Yes, this is an option.
On Blogger.com, you can put your site in Private mode.
On WordPress.org sites, you can use any number of lovely Maintenance plugins with a pretty splash page to tell your visitors to come back later.
BUT…do you really want to lose all that traffic and potentially new life long fans while your site is down for hours, days or even weeks?
While we may hope and pray that deploying a new theme or plugin will go smoothly (and we designers try to make this a reality), some of us have to sneak in working on our site here and there between family, work and life. And some of us can spend weeks getting it. Just. Right.
So, yes, you can take your site down for hours, days or weeks while you fiddle with your new theme or plugin, but why do this when using a staging site is the more practical alternative?
But It’s 2 Times the Work!
Most of us have such limited time to work on our blogs. I totally get that. I need about 48 hours in each day to get all the stuff done I need to (man, I wish).
But really, using a staging site is not 2 times the work and let me explain why.
In reality, on both Blogger.com and WordPress.org sites, you can transfer at least some of your staging site settings to your live site very easily. Some WordPress hosts make it really painless.
So, it really is not 2 times the work because you are going to be able to quickly transfer some of those settings quite easily.
The Technical Part
I hate articles where someone tells you how easy something is but then doesn’t tell you how to actually do it. So here are the nitty gritty facts for Blogger.com and WordPress.org sites.
Blogger.com Site Users
Switching to a new theme in Blogger can get a bit messy, ya’ll, because of the way the system works.
When you change themes, Blogger still holds on to an widgets you have. Great because you don’t want to lose those sidebar widgets you’ve collected. But…bad because sometimes it just dumps them in weird places, where ever the heck it seems to feel like it. Then your site ends up looking like a real mess with widgets in weird places.
The good news is, it’s super easy to set up a Blogger.com staging site. And it’s free, of course.
An Overview on Blogger Staging Sites (with the nitty gritty at the end)
- Just go into your dashboard and create a new site.
- Export the content from your existing site and upload it to your staging site.
- Export and upload your current template to your new staging site.
- Now you’ve got a test site that looks just like your live site to play with.
If you’re worried about SEO issues with duplicate content, uou can also set your Privacy settings under the Settings > Basic page so that your site isn’t listed on Blogger and search engines aren’t able to find your staging site.
Then, once you install your new theme, you can practice setting it up so the system goes as smoothly as possible when it’s time to go live on your real site.
If you decide to customize your colors and fonts in the template designer or add custom code to the template, you can even Export this new version of your template and install that on your live site, making the setup process a lot more painless.
I wrote a tutorial on how to setup and transfer a staging site for our customers in our Help Center, but everyone is invited to check it out because it really will save your sanity next time you want to change themes on Blogger.
Check it Out: Setting Up a Blogger Test Blog
WordPress.org Site Users
WordPress has similar issues with dumping widgets in weird spots or just placing them in inactive status.
Your existing theme may also have some features that are “theme locked” and leave when you change themes. Or you may encounter plugin/theme conflicts with a new theme.
So, using a staging site on WordPress.org sites is also a good idea.
Setting up a staging site on WordPress.org isn’t as straight-forward as it is with Blogger.com.
This is because there are many different web hosts who offer different kinds of hosting packages. But many today are including staging sites as part of even the most basic package. Or they can tell you how to set up a subdomain that can be used as a staging site.
So, for WordPress.org users, contact your web host (BlueHost, SiteGround, GoDaddy, etc.) and ask them what options they offer for a staging site.
Some additional and very important questions to ask are:
- Will you help me transfer the staging site to the live site when it is ready for transfer?
- (If no to #1) Can you provide step-by-step directions for how to transfer my staging site to a live site?
- What content (pages, posts) are transferred from the staging site to the live site? (You don’t want to end up losing posts and pages because you transfer an old copy of your content databases).
Most hosts have a system for staging sites. Ask your host!
My host uses a plugin. I’ve had trouble with the plugin and images so the awesome folks at my host set up a staging site for me and move it back and forth any time I need it. I mostly use a local test site right on my computer anyway, so it’s not a big deal. But I always, always test changes to our themes and site before going live with them.
Worst case, you have to manually install the theme on your live site and re-create the changes. Just remember there are helpful plugins like:
Plugins like these allow you easily export and import plugins and Customizer settings from one site to another (and they’re free, bonus!).
Sum It Up
I am begging you, please, please, please save yourself the headache of making the mistake of deploying unfamiliar themes, plugins or widgets on your site.
Set up a staging site today. Like now. Go, I mean it, right now! 😉