If you want to run a professional blog, you need to be able to review changes before displaying them to the world. It's so easy to break things and you want to maintain a consistent user experience on your site. Nothing shows you’re an amateur blogger more than a 5 hour window of your blog changing every 5 minutes as you test new widgets and designs in your live environment.
Most people don't bother seting up a second blog environment because they don’t know how. But it’s not difficult and increasingly important as you get more blog traffic and less time when no one is looking.
If you want to find someone to setup a test sub-domain for you, we've reviewed some of the top WordPress development providers.
Options for Setting up a Test (or Staging) Environment for Your Blog
There are a couple of way to setup a test blog where you can try out new designs:
- Setup a subdomain: Create a mirror image of your blog with a url that only you know about. For example, if you run http://www.coolblog.com your test subdomain could be http://test.coolblog.com.
- Theme Test drive: WordPress has a plugin called Theme Test Drive that allows you to install a new theme that only appears for administrators. One of the downsides is there’s no way to adjust your sidebars and widgets without making the changes appear on your live blog as well.
- WordPress.com: If you’re reading this post, you probably run a self-hosted version of WordPress. However, you can always head over to WordPress.com and create a free, WordPress hosted version of your site to try out new changes to your blog. Editing options are limited though.
- Set up a local server on your machine: If you’ve got technical chops, you could install WAMP and setup a local server and host your test blog on your own computer. As I’ve learned the hard way, this is not as easy as it looks and I’d only recommend it to the technical gurus.
Let’s look at my preferred option, setting up a sub-domain.
How to Set Up a Sub-domain for Your Blog (WordPress)
- Go to your Hosting Provider’s website (I use Bluehost) which has cPanel for managing administrative functions. Choose “subdomains.” Most hosting providers allow you to create unlimited subdomains.
- Enter the url you want to use as your subdomain and click “Create.”
Install WordPress on Your Subdomain
- Find the WordPress option under SimpleScripts within cPanel and install WordPress on your new domain (just like you did when you originally setup your blog).
- Use the SimpleScript wizard to select a location to install WordPress. Choose the subdomain you just created.
- Login to WordPress at your new domain (something like http://test.coolblog.com/wp-admin) to install your theme and try out any new design changes before you make them public.
Hiding Your Subdomain from the Public
I'm a bit anal and I take two extra measures to make sure my sub-domain is not found by people or search engines. I don’t want any accidental backlinks to my subdomain and I don’t want search results sending visitors to the wrong place. Here's how to prevent this within the WordPress settings for your sub-domain.
- Block Search Engines: Under Settings: Privacy, choose the radio button: I would like to block search engines, but allow normal visitors
- Block People: If you create any new posts or pages, mark each of them as Visibility: Private next to the Publish button. This way pages and posts will only be seen to a logged in admin.