The painful truth about website backups… (and how to avoid it)

Even in 2013, so many people are not backing up their websites. Over a 2 week period at the end of December, 3 people contacted me because their websites had been hacked. Only one of those people had a backup. Of the other 2 people, they had days of stress, and one of them had to pay a small fortune for me to re-build the website for them.

If you know me, you’ll know that I’d have much preferred to just restore a website from a backup than have to charge someone lots of money to do a repair. It’s not a matter of laziness, it’s just that it could have been avoided.

Smashed Screen

Photo Credit: Smashed Screen by Amanda Tetrault.

So what’s the painful truth?

1) Pretty much all website hosting companies claim that they do full backups. What they don’t tell you (from experience of 20+ hosting companies):

  1. Either that they back up only once a week or less
  2. Or: Is that they can’t restore just a small part of your website (e.g. folders or a database)

Now there are some exceptions to this. There are some fantastic hosting companies. You don’t typically find out until it’s too late though.

2) If you run a WordPress website (or other website that’s more complex than just HTML files), then some day your website may get hacked

With all of the security in the world, there’s a distinct chance that your website may get hit. It’s not a nice experience, but it does happen. (It’s happend to me lots of times).

You can speculate on the motivations on people who crack websites all you like. Sadly, it still happens.

Do your own backups…

So you should have your own backups (regardless of what your hosting company does – Two backups are better than none). There are many different ways to backup your WordPress website. Even if you don’t have the technical ability to restore your website, it does mean that someone technical can get your website running quickly with full recent backups.

The one constant with people who have their website hacked is the stress of it. Having a recent backup reduces this stress considerably.

Backup Solutions

Solution Pros Cons
WP DB Backup (plugin) It’s free. Doesn’t do a full backup of your files (such as photos), just your database. So it’s worthless.
cPanel Backups (service/software) It’s free as it’s usually built into your hosting. (Most websites are hosted on servers that use cPanel). It’s not automated, you’d need use software such as Backup Smart to automate it (It’s what I use).

- cPanel backups require some technical knowledge to restore.
BackupBuddy (plugin) - You only pay a one-off fee and you can backup as many websites as you wish.

- A good solution if you’re a little more technical.
- You must ensure the backups are stored off your server, otherwise they might get deleted if your site is attacked.

- Doesn’t work with all WordPress websites, due to variations in server configurations.
VaultPress (service) - It automatically detects changes on your WordPress website, and only backs up changes. This means it has minimal impact on your website.

- Designed by the same people behind WordPress itself
- Designed for non-technical people
Not a cheap service, and you have to pay per website.
BackupPress (service) - Similar to VaultPress, just cheaper.

- Very easy to set up if you’re not technical
You’ll have to pay per website, but it starts at just $5 (£3-ish a month).

There are lots of other services like BackupPress or VaultPress, so it’s worth trying them to find one you like. If you’re not technical or want peace of mind, then use the backup services. They cost money, but if your website is part of your business, it’s money well-spent.

If you’re more technical, look at cPanel backups or BackupBuddy. (Incidentally, BackupBuddy is great for migrating websites from one server to another).

Whatever service or tool you use, please backup your website! :)

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Written by Dan Harrison

Dan Harrison is the lead developer and director of WP Doctors Ltd, a web development agency specialising in writing bespoke tools for WordPress-based websites that save time, hassle and money. You can follow Dan on Twitter here: @DanJHarrison and WP Doctors here: @wpdoctors.


Leave a comment
  1. Susanne January 22, 2013 at 11:26 am #

    Very useful article,Dan. I’ve just made the very painful experience of a website being hacked. It was backed up by the host, but the backup was hacked, too. So… Per consequence, I’m now trying some of the well used wordpress backup plugins.

    What do you think about the plugin BackWPup? It stores a backup of database & content also to Dropbox.
    Or UpdraftPlus Backup plugin?


    • Dan Harrison January 22, 2013 at 12:06 pm #

      Hi Susanne

      The trouble with backup Plugins is that they are just code on the website, so they can be attacked just as easily as the main site. Any backups stored on the main server are also at risk.

      If you have a plugin that pushes to Dropbox or S3, then, in theory, malicious code could also wipe those backups too.

      So my suggestion would always to use an independent service, such as VaultPress or BackupPress, or a cPanel backup, as they cannot be damaged via a hack.

      Kind Regards

  2. David Bennett March 1, 2013 at 7:38 pm #

    Couldn’t help but smile at the opening paragraph where you say you charged a small fortune to rebuild a site.

    Are you familiar with DreamObjects on Dreamhost?

    What’s your opinion?

  3. Dan Harrison March 15, 2013 at 1:23 pm #

    Hi David

    Never heard of DreamObjects… If I have to literally build a website from 25 fragments, it’s going to take a long time to do it… hence why I insist on backups!