What would happen if someone deleted your blog? This seemingly casual question prompted a ripple of panic through the audience at Digital Dickens earlier this week. Attendees and speakers had contributed to an impressive and exciting range of social media projects, mainly collaborative reading groups, and discussion suddenly shifted to the possible transience of online material. Everyone was using WordPress.com, by far the most popular platform. It’s free and easy to use, but how on earth do you back up your content?
First of all, WordPress makes backups of all blogs hosted on their servers. If they suffered a major outage, they should be able to get everything up and running again within a few days. The bigger threats to the individual blog are accidental deletion, hackers, and other users doing a bunk with the password. Unless you are the only person with access to the backend of the blog, you don’t have control over its content. It should go without saying that your password must be secure – don’t use a dictionary word, as you’ll be easy prey to systematic hackers. And make sure only people currently involved with your blog have the password (change it if anyone leaves). Be particularly careful with administrator rights. Administrators can do whatever they please, including shutting the whole thing down.
Exporting from WordPress.com
There’s not a proper backup tool for the hosted version of WordPress, but you can manually export your posts, pages, and comments. Click Tools, then Export in the left-hand menu:
Now you can choose what to export. ‘All content’ includes posts, pages, comments, tags, and menus; or you can choose to export just your posts, pages, or feedback. The feedback is your comments, so they might be very important on a discussion-based blog.
Once you start exporting your content regularly (which, of course, you will), you can choose a date range for posts and pages. This means you’re not forever downloading the same stuff.
Once you’ve decided what to save, click Download Export File. You’ll get an XML file with the name of your blog. This will seem a bit meaningless if you take a peek at it, but this is what will restore your content if disaster strikes. You can import this file into your existing blog, another WordPress blog, or even onto some other blogging platforms. Unfortunately, there are a few limitations with this solution:
- You have to remember to export your content on a regular basis. How frequently depends on how lively your blog is. If you’re posting all the time, make a note in your diary to export the latest content every week. For multi-authored blogs, get everyone backing up, then it doesn’t matter if somebody forgets. It’s better if everybody does it, rather than nobody.
- You have to look after the XML file. Don’t just put it on a memory stick, as it’ll end up in washing machine or down the back of the sofa. Copy the file to a computer that is backed up. If you don’t have a backup plan, go and get one now.
- It doesn’t export images or other media. This is a real pain if there’s a lot of visual material on your blog. However, you probably uploaded those files from a computer in the first place, so make sure those originals are backed up (see above).
The only way to get a more streamlined and comprehensive backup tool is to opt for the self-hosted version of WordPress. I’ll be explaining how to do that in a future post, but if you are already there, here’s a good plugin that’ll do the job for you.
Backing up your self-hosted blog with WordPress Backup to Dropbox
WordPress Backup to Dropbox, as the name suggests, is a plugin that allows you to back up your blog content to a Dropbox account. Unlike the export method outlined above, this solution backs up everything – including your themes, media, stylesheets – the full caboodle. You simply choose when and how often you want the backup to run, then you can forget all about it. The plugin has access only to the WPB2D folder in Dropbox and you don’t have to give it your login details. Here’s what the admin screen looks like, along with some explanations and tips:
1) Shows you how much space you have left on your Dropbox account. Keep an eye on this if you’re using the free version (limited to 2Gb).
2) The date and time of your next scheduled backup. If it seems a long way off, you can start a backup manually under ‘Backup Monitor’ through the WPB2D options in the left-hand menu:
3) A log showing your recent backups.
4) An optional sub-folder for your backup. This is useful if you have multiple blogs, as you won’t want all the content lumped in together.
5) The day of the week and time when you want backups to run. You don’t have to be logged into WordPress for this to work, so choose a time of day when you’re unlikely to be using it.
6) The frequency of your backups – choose from daily, weekly, every 4, 8, or 12 weeks. This will depend on how often you update your blog. Opt for daily if there’s lots of activity. After the first backup, the plugin only uploads files that have changed since it last ran, so a daily job won’t affect performance.
7) Excluded files and directories – if you have limited space on Dropbox, it makes sense to exclude any unused WordPress themes.
WordPress Backup to Dropbox is completely free, but there are also a couple of premium extensions. Zip Backup zips your files before they’re uploaded, so they take up much less space. Email notifications alert you when the backups are complete or if the plugin has encountered an issue.
By accessing your backups directly through Dropbox, you also get another handy feature: the option to restore previous versions of files (up to 30 days old). This is very useful if you got carried away with changing files just before they were backed up.
There are hundreds of other backup plugins out there, but I’ve found this the easiest and most reliable solution, especially among the freebies.
Whether you use WordPress.com or self-host your blog, please give some thought to backing up all your work. Please don’t learn the hard way.