Backups are an important pillar of keeping your website hacker-proof and running smoothly. Having a solid WordPress backup strategy allows you to confidently update plugins, themes and WordPress itself. And if your website crashes or gets damaged in any way, you’ll know how to restore it and return to its glory again.
In this article, we’ll learn how to backup your website, reliably. After all, the only thing worse than not having backups is having backups that are unreliable or fail to do their job. Reliable backups give you the peace of mind to know that your hard work is safeguarded, even if the worst happens.
Ensuring Reliable Backups
Your WordPress backup strategy must meet these requirements if you are to depend on it.
Automatic. First, you’ll want to be able to have backups that run, even if you forget to create them.
Frequent. The backups should also happen often enough (daily, at least) so you can restore to a recent backup if needed.
Complete. Next, check that backups are able to finish correctly and contains all the necessary components of your website (see next section).
Off-site. Finally, your backups should be stored separately from your website, like in a Google Drive account or Amazon Web Services. This way if the whole server goes kaput, your backups aren’t lost with it.
Let’s dive into creating a reliable backup strategy for your WordPress website.
Backup only what you need to
The most common reason WordPress backups fail is because the website runs out of resources (memory and CPU) during the backup process. We can avoid this problem by backing up only the essential components of your WordPress website. These essential components are:
- Database. This contains your blog posts and any other content that has been provided to WordPress
- wp-content directory, which stores all the images and files that you’ve uploaded to the website, plus themes and plugins.
- wp-config.php file – this file contains important information to link up the database and the wp-contentdirectory to form a WordPress site.
There are other files that make up a WordPress website, but these can easily be recovered by downloading a new copy of WordPress from
We should also exclude what is unnecessary. These includes cache and temporary files as well as your own backups. Yes, it’s redundant to backup your backups! Here is a list of common backup exclusions:
wp-content/backup* wp-content/*backup wp-content/cache wp-content/upgrade wp-snapshots *.zip
In summary, reducing the number of components that needs to be backed up will help ensure that your backups are sound.
Backup during low traffic period
Backups can be a resource-intensive process and consume lots of RAM memory and CPU processing cycles. Your website also needs those resources to deliver pages to visitors or customers.
To avoid your website visitors and backups competing for the website resources, schedule your website backups to run during low traffic period. That’s usually between midnight and 5am, so backing up during this window will ensure the best chance for the backups to complete successfully.
Automate your backups
Humans are notoriously prone to error and forgetfulness. Luckily we have machines that can remember to take care of important details like backing up our websites.
Ideally you want to have automated, daily backups of your website. If a daily backup schedule is not possible (because you don’t have enough disk space, for example) you can try a weekly full backup + daily database backup instead. This reduces the fidelity of your backups but still gives you enough coverage.
Building on the 2 points above, configure your automatic backups to exclude unnecessary components and to run during low traffic periods.
Bonus Points: Testing Your Backups
Well done! You have now created a reliable backup strategy for your WordPress website. To be absolutely sure that you can depend on them, we recommend that you test your backups too.
Testing your backups will also help you avoid worst-case scenarios, because you have restored the site before, and are not attempting to figure out everything just then.
Testing your backups is pretty straightforward. Choose a time to perform your test. Ensure you have plenty of time so you are not in a hurry. Then, follow these steps:
- Create a fresh backup. Wait till the backup completes.
- Create a new page and call it “Backup test”. When you restore the site, this page should not exist.
- Restore the site to the backup you just created. Follow the instructions from your backup provider and note the steps involved.
If your test was successful, the “Backup test” page will have been erased from your site. Congratulations! You are now prepared to restore your website – if the worst happens.
On the other hand, if your test was NOT successful, try to identify where the process failed.
- If the backup failed, re-read the steps on ensuring reliable backups. Adjust your backup settings and try again.
- If the restore failed, read the restore instructions and attempt the restore again.
Note any error messages and contact the appropriate support channels to ask for help. While it may feel stressful and confusing, going through this process now will make restoring your website much smoother when you really need it.
Options for Backup
WordPress website owners have 3 main options for their backup strategy:
- Hosting backups
- Backup service like Blogvault
- Backup plugin like UpdraftPlus
There are pros and cons to each of these options. While we mention some options by name here, there are certainly others for you to consider.
Hosting Backup Feature
In our opinion, the best website backups are the ones provided by your website hosting provider. Many web hosts, especially managed WordPress hosts, offer backups built for WordPress websites. Look out for the following features:
- Ability to create and restore backups on demand, without additional fees
- Backups are stored remotely, so that the backups aren’t lost if the server crashes
- Keep at least two weeks of backups
Unless your hosting backups meet the requirements above, you should consider supplementing your backups with the other options listed below.
Pros of using web hosting backups
Most reliable. These backups happen at the server level and are not limited by the resources available to the website.
Cost effective. No need to invest in additional backup solutions.
Cons of using web hosting backups
Inflexible. May not offer the backup schedule that best suits your workflow.
Only backs up WordPress. Most web hosting backups only includes files related to WordPress. If your website has any non-WordPress components it may not be included in the backup.
WordPress Backup Service (Blogvault)
Backup services typically feature 2 components: a plugin on your website and an external backup mechanism. They usually also include some extra features like malware scanning or the ability to create staging websites.
We love Blogvault’s backup service. They are trusted by many website owners and have become one of the leading backup services. Our only gripe about Blogvault is that the user interface is rather confusing.
Pros of using a backup service
More reliable. The external backup mechanism adds little or no extra load to WordPress, so the server will not run out of resources during backup.
Cons of using a backup service
A little more complicated. You’ll need to provide your web server’s FTP or SFTP login details for backups (and crucially, restores) to work correctly. Creating your SFTP login details, then inputting them into the backup service can be difficult for the less tech-savvy website owner.
Backup WordPress with a Plugin
There are many WordPress backup plugins available, but the one we use and recommend is UpdraftPlus. It is user-friendly, reliable and has free and premium versions. There are lots of features even in the free version, including automatic backup that will run when you update the plugins or themes on your website.
Pros of using a backup plugin
Easy. Install a plugin and schedule your backups. All done.
On-demand backups. You can run a backup anytime you want.
Cons of using a backup plugin
Not as reliable. Most hosting plans have resource caps and limit the amount of CPU and memory any one site can use. This can cause the backup to stop running before the backup is complete.
Requires WordPress. A plugin-based backup is dependent on WordPress. If your website stops working because of a hack or some other damage, the backup plugin will stop working too. Ouch.
Some web hosts may ban backup plugins because they take up too much resources. If that’s the case, try an incremental backup plugin like WP Time Capsule instead.