Afraid of “Breaking” Your Site?

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Dont Fear the Site--Its YOURS!

Don't Fear the Site--It's YOURS!

In a post today, Newscoma asked how you get over the fear of breaking your site when you want to add functionality, change themes, etc. While it helps to have a healthy dose of apathy, that’s not really what we should be shooting for. Here are a few things you can do to give you a little more confidence when making changes.

1. Backup. Backup. Backup.
Those are the three most important rules of computing. Before you make any changes to your site or theme on the server, back up what you already have. It’s really as simple as connecting up through FTP and downloading your theme directory (if you’re using WordPress) or other parts of your site that control look and feel. Actually, you should be doing this anyway each time you get to a “finished” state. You’ll probably find that your site is never really finished, but you always want to have that last known good state to fall back on. If you were to screw things up so bad that you couldn’t recover, all you have to do is FTP your backup back over to the server, and at least you aren’t any worse off than you were before you tried to make changes.

2. Have a test site to use for development
If your site is getting any kind of real traffic–let’s arbitrarily say 1,000 visitors a day–it’s probably worth it for you to buy another domain and set up a separate account you can play with as a testing environment. True nerds like me also run a test environment at home, but that’ probably overkill for most people. I like having a test system online with the same hosting company as my real site, just so I know the environment is the same. It’s also nice to be able to access it remotely.

3. Make small changes, and check them.
If you’re making really slight changes, you can just copy and paste the original stuff into a text editor, make a small change, and check it immediately. If it’s not what you wanted, just paste the original code back in. This is the method I use most of the time because it is quick and convenient. Once you’re solid on your theme choice, most of the changes you’ll be making won’t be that big.

4. Get to know some tech types who run on your platform
Again, if that platform is WordPress, you’re in luck because so many people use it. You may think all tech people are like the ones on the Saturday Night Live skit (“MOVE!“), but it’s not true. Tech people who blog about tech/blogging will be anxious to help you because it will help them establish authority, build links back to their sites when you talk about how great they are, and help foster growth in the community. If all else fails, you can contact one of them–they’re always online–and ask a question. Find a couple of tech blogs you like and follow a few of these folks on Twitter.

5. It may look like a cliff, but it’s really a gentle slope
Lastly, just jump in there and do it! I know it’s a little intimidating at first, but when you are first starting out the stakes aren’t very high…yet. Making mistakes early on may be the only time in your entire online career that you’re actually grateful you don’t have a lot of traffic. Take the opportunity to learn. Most importantly, continue to ask questions. All of us are continually learning, and everyone started somewhere!

Image courtesy of Flickr

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