Many hosts offer website backups … but are they really enough? In this post, we cover 10 questions to ask before you rely on a host’s backup alone.
Why Backup Your WordPress Website?
Why should you care about website backups? Just like insurance for your home or car, backups are “insurance” that protects you from website disaster.It sounds scary, but the reality is your website could be lost forever if you don’t have a backup system in place.
For example, website backups are necessary to protect your website from:
- Security issues (including hacks and malware)
- User error (accidentally deleting files or running bad commands)
- Updates that break things (like updating a theme or plugin to a new version, uploading a new plugin, changing themes or making tweaks to theme or plugin files)
- Data loss outside of your control (like server crashes or fatal errors)
Since WordPress doesn’t include built-in backups, you’ll need to find a backup solution, whether that’s a WordPress backup plugin or an outside service provided by your host.
When reviewing a host’s backup service, here are some important questions to ask:
- 1. How often do backups run?
- 2. How long are backups stored?
- 3. What are the backup size storage limits?
- 4. What do the backups include?
- 5. Can I initiate a backup whenever I want/need one?
- 6. Can I access the backup files myself?
- 7. Where are backups stored?
- 8. How easy is it to do a restore from a backup?
- 9. Can I restore just the files or database tables I need?
- 10. Can I use a backup to migrate my website to a new host or domain?
Download the Infographic: Is My Host’s Backup Enough?
Let’s dive into each question in a bit more detail.
1. How often do backups occur?
You need to know how often backups run and when. Websites that have frequent changes need frequent backups to capture new content, edits to existing content and sales data (if you’re running an e-commerce website).
For instance, if your host runs backups once a week on Sundays, and you make a bunch of changes to your site on Monday and are hacked on Wednesday, you can restore your site, which is great! But you’ve also lost all the work you’ve done on your site in the meantime.
HostGator’s automatic backup service runs once a week on a random day, and each run overwrites any previous backups. Only one week of backups are kept at a time. The terms of our backup policy vary depending on the type of hosting account. – HostGator’s Backup Policy
A weekly backup isn’t bad at all if you’re not making frequent changes to your site. But if you’re running a very busy site with frequent changes, you’ll need to create backups more often.
2. How long are the backups stored?
Does the backup service keep multiple backups or does the latest backup overwrite the previous one? Can you access a backup that occurred before the latest backup? Check to see how long backup files are stored. You may need to revert back to a version of your website at a certain point in time.
In the previous quote from HostGator, they say they run one backup a week and keep one week of backups. Which means, at any given time, you have access to … one backup.
That may be just what you need, and one backup is definitely better than none. But this won’t fit the needs of every website. For example, what happens if there was malware on your site for a while before you notice? A one-week-old backup probably isn’t going to help.
Or, if you’re running an e-commerce site, changes are probably happening often. Losing all that data hurts your website and your sales.
- Bluehost keeps backups “…for a maximum of 30 days. Backups older than 30 days will be overwritten with a newer backup…”
- “SiteGround keeps backups of customers’ Shared and Cloud hosting accounts for a period of up to 30 and 7 days accordingly.”
3. What are the backup size storage limits?
Instead of storing backups by age or within a certain time period, other hosts such as GoDaddy give you a size limit per site; either 5GB or 100GB, both at an additional cost.
If you have a large site with lots of media files, size limitations could be a big issue and quickly add up. Check with your host on backup size limitations and the fees for storage.
4. What’s included in the backup?
WordPress websites have specific requirements for a sufficient backup. Does the backup include everything in the Media Library as well as all plugin and theme files? Make sure the backup contains more than just the database because that isn’t a complete backup of a WordPress website.
Make sure the backup system completely backs up:
- WordPress database (contains your posts, pages, comments, links, etc.)
- WordPress core files
- Media Library files
- Theme Files
- Plugin Files
- Any other files and directories in your WordPress installation
There are different types of attacks that can happen to your website. Not all of them will affect just your files or just your database, so having a full backup of your site is important.
What is in the backup that you don’t need? Sometimes, when a host creates a backup, they include server configuration files that are not compatible with a different or new host. So if you decide that you need or want to move to another host, you can’t use your current host’s backup to make the move.
5. Can I initiate a backup whenever I want/need one?
If you’re running updates or actively making big changes to your website, it’s a good idea to make a backup before you begin.
Does the backup service allow you to run a backup whenever you need to or do you have to rely on their schedule? If your host creates backups on a set schedule and does not allow you to create manual backups, then you either have to work on your site on their schedule or risk your changes without making a backup first.
If they don’t allow you to manually create backups, you could find yourself without one.
6. Can I access/download the backup files myself?
Do you have access to download your backup files? Do you even have that option? Would you have to contact support? If you truly own your website and its contents, you should also own your backup files and have access to them whenever you need them.
Many hosts assume that you don’t need to download backup files and don’t package backup files in downloadable formats. Backup files actually contain important information that can help if you need to compare file versions before or after an error or if you need to restore a single file.
7. Where are the backup files stored?
If your website and backup files are stored on the same server and the server goes down, you’re setting yourself up for trouble. Plus, backups can also eat up a lot of your server space.
That’s why backup files should be stored off-site in a secure, remote location, so make sure the backup service is storing backup files in a separate location than your website.
8. How easy is it to restore from a backup?
Can you get your website back if something goes wrong? What does that process look like? Do you have to get support involved and will it cost you any extra? A good backup solution should make it easy to restore your website.
Some hosts have made this process very easy for you. DreamHost, for instance, allows you to select the backup you want to use and then simply click a restore button.
The process for restoring a website is especially important to consider because some hosts run free backups for you, but then charge you when you need a restore. We’ve seen the cost of restores range from about $15 to over $100.
9. Can I restore just the files or database tables I need?
Sometimes you don’t need to do a complete website restore. Can you restore individual files or database tables?
DreamHost makes the restore process simple but it appears they only offer a full site backup and restore. Sometimes, though, that is more than you need. And, if your backup isn’t recent enough, you would be overwriting everything on your site, not just the one file or database table you need to restore.
Make sure your host’s backup gives you the option to restore specific files and database tables.
10. Can I use a backup to migrate my website to a new host or domain?
Restoration is an important part of a solid WordPress backup solution, but what if you decide to move (migrate) your website elsewhere? Can your backup solution handle that need? Is that even possible?
Most hosts have no incentive to help you move elsewhere, so your website isn’t truly your own to take with you if you ever decide to leave your current hosting company.
If so, how are URLs handled during a migration? If you’re moving your site to a new domain name and the solution doesn’t handle changing your URLs for you, you’ll need to do this manually, which can be a tedious process.
You’ve gone through your checklist and you like your host, but they don’t quite tick all the boxes for your backup need. So what do you do?
If you find that your host doesn’t quite fit your backup needs, you can use a third-party backup plugin to fill in the gaps. Some hosts even recommend you use an additional backup solution:
“Customers with critical business information or important data are STRONGLY encouraged to seek a third party backup …” – HostGator
When you’re searching for your third-party backup solution, you’ll want to ask the same questions you asked of your host. That way you have all of your bases covered.
Need a Better WordPress Backup Solution? Get BackupBuddy, the Original 3-in-1 WordPress Backup Plugin
With both your host backups or the backups created by a plugin, it comes down to this: Backup files should be fully yours and you should have complete control over them!
- BackupBuddy covers all the bases of having a solid WordPress backup solution by giving you full control over when your backups happen and where they are stored.
- Store backups safely off-site with support for BackupBuddy Stash, Amazon S3, Google Drive, Dropbox & more
- Schedule backups to run on your schedule (hourly, twice daily, daily, every other day, bi-weekly, weekly, monthly and more).
- Download your backup files as zip files so you always have a complete copy of your website.
- Website restores and migrations are easy with BackupBuddy’s ImportBuddy script.
Elise likes to say she supports the support team here at iThemes. Her job is to make sure the support team has everything they need and to help them out any way she can. When not working, Elise spends time with her two dogs (Iggy Pup and Bowie) and her cat (Indie), her three nephews or her “little sister.” She has an English Literature degree and still spends a lot of her time reading, especially the classics. She also enjoys baking treats for the iThemes office!