A Fail-Proof Website Backup Strategy

The Importance of Website Backups

Backups are often overlooked by website owners, even though they should be made a priority.

You never know when a hard drive could fail, files become corrupt, or your site becomes a victim of a security breach. If you don’t have a reliable backup ready, the costs could be huge and more importantly, the loss could be detrimental to your business.

You Need Onsite and Offsite Backups

Many web hosting plans include at least onsite backups. This is a good first step, but you need two types of backups before you’re safe.

Onsite Website Backups

Onsite backups are stored in the same location as your website and are often administered by your web hosting company. These are ideal for quickly restoring files, especially if you’ve accidentally deleted a file or something goes wrong with the database.

We often use these when human error is involved. A quick restore after accidental deletion or something like that.

But what happens if this location itself is compromised? For example, what if the server your website is on experiences catastrophic failure and the data is not easily or quickly recoverable?

Even worse there could be physical damage to the facility your web server is housed in such as fire or water damage. In this scenario, any onsite backups would also be damaged and unrecoverable.

We have also seen situations where local backups have stopped working and by the time anyone notices a lot of time has gone by.

Offsite Website Backups

Offsite backups work in the same way, but they’re stored at a different physical location than your primary or onsite backups. This creates a fairly obvious scenario whereby if the primary location or server is damaged beyond quick repair you can reinstate your website and web applications from the offsite backups.

Offsite backups are typically not as quick to restore but in the event of a major fault, they can be a lifesaver!

Offsite Backup Solutions

There are many easy solutions out there that allow you to create regular backups. You can have them emailed to you or stored on a third-party service such as Dropbox or Amazon S3. These solutions can be automated and only cost a few pennies a month.

WordPress, for example, has available many easy-to-use plugins. Many other CMSs also have out of box solutions and/or a custom solution is most likely not a huge challenge.

For WordPress in particular, I recommend any of the following plugins that allow you to automate backups and store copies on third party services:

Backup Best Practices

Keep a minimum of 3 backups in 3 different locations (computers, clouds, networks, geographic locations, etc.).

What to Backup

The short answer is everything.

Most modern websites include both files and databases. For example, a WordPress site’s files include your images, themes, and plugins, while the database contains every post, comment, link on your blog as well as a reference to every image and where it belongs. Without both of these, you can’t have a working website.

Website Backups are Not Always Automatic

Over the years we have worked with an uncountable number of hosting companies on behalf of our clients and for one reason or another have requested either file or database backups. On more than a few occasions the backups have been a struggle to get for one of the following reasons:

1. It is not the policy of the host to provide backups to their customers

This is probably the most frustrating reason of all! Web hosts typically include a bullet point about regular backups in their service description, so why on earth would they refuse to give them to their customers. The explanation we have gotten is that the backups are to protect them from catastrophic technical failure and are to be only pulled in the event something fails on their side (not the customers).

2. Regular backups are not taken

On a few occasions, we have been provided a backup by a hosting company only to find it is months or weeks old. There are times when this will do the trick but if your site is active and/or holds critical information such as e-commerce orders, even losing a day’s worth of data can be damaging to your business. Though weekly or monthly backups sound better than nothing, they may not cover your needs should you need to reinstate one of these dated backups.

3. No backups are taken

Full responsibility of the account holder to provide their own solution

This is the scariest reason of all. Typically, on a super budget hosting plan, not having any kind of backup plan is simply crazy. These plans rely on their customers to come up with their own solution which may be a plugin or third-party service. The caveat here is that these kinds of hosts typically don’t make it a point to let the customer know that this is among their responsibilities.

What to Ask Your Host About Website Backups

Make sure to read your hosts policy on backups and get the following questions answered:

  1. How often are backups taken of both the web files and database?
  2. Where are those backups stored?
  3. Do I have access to those backups at any time?
  4. How long does reinstatement take if I need to roll back and or want to download a copy?
  5. If you do not provide backup and/or access to those backups, do you have tools that allow me to set up my own backup routine?

How We Do Website Backups at FatLab

At FatLab we take backups incredibly seriously. We figure no matter what happens we want to ensure our clients always have a way to reinstate their business after human error, catastrophic disaster, security breaches… whatever!

Server Level Backups

For the sites we host, we automatically back up all sites (files and database) at the server level. The latest version is stored locally where either we or the client has access to it via SFTP. Anything beyond a day old is removed from the primary server and held on a different server for up to two weeks and can be retrieved by our team if needed.

Offsite/Third-Party Backups

We utilize ManageWP to monitor and manage all our WordPress client websites. Through this service, we take daily backups (file and database) which are stored on third-party servers for 90 days. We can download or restore to any day’s backup in less than an hour.

Backups of Backups

Both the server level and offsite backups are held in replication through their various providers in different geographically diverse locations. We should never be without a backup when needed and neither should you.