Why Website Backups Can Save Your Business
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Website backups are the insurance of online business.
You don’t think about them until you need them — but when you need them, they can literally determine the course of your business’ life.
We often hear of major data breaches on the news, but data loss is just as common, if not more so, and includes any incidents which render your data inaccessible or unusable. Both can lead to downtime of your website and other business-critical systems.
In their 2018 survey of IT professionals, Carbonite discovered that
“80% of small and midsize businesses (SMBs) have experienced downtime at some point in the past, with costs ranging from $82,200 to $256,000 for a single event.”
There’s a reason why those of us in the cybersecurity business often say that there are two types of people: those who have lost data, and those who are about to lose data.
Whether the data loss comes from a malicious hack, a disgruntled contractor, or human error, online businesses should have a recovery plan in place before they need it.
If you’re an online retailer, your website is the heartbeat of your business.
If customers can’t access your website, or it’s not functioning properly, it will directly impact your revenue and your reputation with them.
So how do you ensure that your website data is safely backed up and accessible in the event that you need to restore it?
Here are the basics every ecommerce brand should know about backups.
A website backup is a copy of all your website’s data.
To ensure your online store is fully protected, backups should include your products, themes, categories, customer data, orders, pages, blog posts, inventory, gift certificates, and more.
The more data you can capture in your backup, the better.
There are four requirements to look for in your backup software system. A reliable backup should be:
Regularly updated – as often as your website gets updated/changed.
Complete – capturing as much data from your site as possible.
Stored in a separate location/server from your website.
Easy to access and restore when you need it most.
It’s hard to appreciate how disastrous a data loss can be to an ecommerce site if you haven’t lived through it.
Here’s a taste of what losing website data can mean for your business.
Building an online store is a huge investment of time and effort.
Even with an ecommerce platform like BigCommerce taking care of the backend and professional themes at your disposal, you and your team will be spending countless hours updating, perfecting and maybe even rebranding your website.
You might have invested in hiring an agency to help you build your online experience and target your key customer base.
Without a backup, you only have your memory to rely on in case something happens to your website and you’re forced to rebuild it.
If a data loss of this magnitude happens to you, those hours of work you’ve already invested in go down the drain.
If your website is down, you can’t sell products like you normally do.
This disruption could last anywhere from a few hours to a few days.
Knowing how much revenue your store generates on an average day and how many days it might take to recover your store will quickly tell you just how expensive that downtime really is.
The damage often extends beyond the downtime.
Every new website visitor is a potential repeat customer.
But when your store isn’t functioning properly, you are giving first-time visitors a negative impression of your brand.
They might think that this is a regular occurrence or that you’re not trustworthy and opt to never visit your site again.
Even your most loyal customers will be left with a bad impression.
When your website is down, the number one goal for your entire team will be to recover within less than 24 hours.
Without complete backups, it might not be possible to recover in a short period of time.
For instance, imagine the frustration and time required to manually rebuild all of your product pages from scratch.
The entire BigCommerce platform is backed up, but that doesn’t mean you’re not responsible for backing up your individual store data.
You and your ecommerce service provider share the responsibility of keeping your data secure and available.
More specifically, BigCommerce is responsible for the software, infrastructure, and disaster recovery of the entire platform.
You, as a merchant on the platform, are responsible for password security, permissions given to users and third party apps, and backups of the data you put into your store.
BigCommerce takes extensive precautions to ensure their infrastructure won’t fail and to maintain 99.99% service availability.
If anything were to happen, such as a meteorite destroying one of their data centers, they will recover the entire platform back to the way it was_._
But their backups cannot be used to recover a single account back to a previous point in time or to recover just a selection of your products.
A backup of just your individual store will be much more granular and allow you the flexibility to restore everything or just some parts of your store to a previous point in time.
There are backup plugins and automated services like Rewind which we discuss in this article that make it simple to set up backups of your BigCommerce store.
Your site is constantly going through changes in appearance and in content.
Products, collections, images, and blog posts tend to be updated every week, while inventory, order, and customer data can change every day.
Because of these constant changes, you should back up your ecommerce website at least once a day.
Any changes you, an employee, a contractor, or a third party app make to your website could potentially result in lost data if something goes wrong.
Here are the top five reasons you could need an up-to-date backup:
IT professionals report that
“man-made disasters, or human errors, are the single biggest cause for data loss.”
Most people who are working on your site (employees, an agency you’ve hired, freelancers) don’t have any ill intent. But human error is bound to happen, and it can sometimes be catastrophic.
The easiest way to break your website is by making a small mistake in your code.
If you’re making any customizations or edits to your theme code, you need to have an easy way to reverse changes that didn’t work out the way you expected. Ideally, you should have a staging site for testing code changes before pushing them to your live site.
There are hundreds of apps on the BigCommerce app store.
You can improve almost any functionality of your store, from inventory management to sales and marketing, using a dedicated app.
Although the BigCommerce team vets each one before publishing to the app store, it’s not a guarantee that an app will play nice with your website and data.
Anytime you are integrating third-party software into your website, you should be aware of the permissions you are granting that app and have a backup in case the app makes some unwanted changes.
No one wants to think about the possibility that their own employees could do something malicious to hurt their business, but it does happen.
Employees or contractors often have access to your website’s backend and thus the ability to delete important files if they feel motivated to do so.
One of our customers lost over 3,000 products – and over a year’s worth of work – when a developer maliciously deleted the data from his ecommerce store.
The only thing that saved him was his backups. Read his story here.
As mentioned, BigCommerce takes extensive precautions to protect their servers against any malicious attacks.
But hackers are also targeting individual accounts, and getting more creative with their methods.
As part of the Shared Responsibilities Model, you should take precautions to protect your account, from basic practices like using a strong password and password managers, to having secure backups in place.
CSV imports are helpful in making bulk edits to your store, but they can actually do more harm than good if even one column isn’t accurate.
It’s always good to run a backup right before a CSV import in case something goes wrong.
You should aim to back up as much data as possible on your website.
If there’s one thing we know, it’s that nobody can predict when and how they’ll lose data, much less which data will be lost.
There’s another reason why we advocate for complete backups: it isn’t always obvious how one item in your website is related to all other items.
A single product in your store could be related to multiple categories and collections, and thousands of orders, customers, discounts, and more.
In BigCommerce, for instance, some products cannot exist without the category they fall under.
A partial backup that’s missing any piece of the puzzle will not be able to recover your website exactly as it was.
For example, if all of your products are deleted and you manage to recover the product names, descriptions and prices, but not the images, is your business really back up and running? Will customers continue to purchase products as usual?
Probably not, until you can re-upload all the images.
Some of the most important elements of your website to backup are:
If your website is built on BigCommerce, you have the reassurance that the database is already backed up for you.
If you are self-hosted, then you’ll need to take care of database backups yourself. More on this in the next section.
Any custom code you’ve added to your website or theme should be backed up.
An asset directory is also called a media library. It’s where you upload photos, videos, and other assets for your website.
Every ecommerce website builder offers customizable themes.
In BigCommerce, there are two types of themes: Stencil themes and Blueprint themes.
Blueprint themes are the original template and many merchants are still using them. Blueprint themes are not accessible through BigCommerce’s API (Stencil themes are) which makes it harder for backup plugins to access that data.
Rewind has built a work-around which enables us to back up Blueprint themes for BigCommerce merchants.
Your blog posts, pages, products, and written content help customers find you through search engines and get to know you.
For accounting and liability purposes you need to have a paper trail of your customer orders and inventory.
Your options and responsibilities will depend on how your website is hosted.
If your online store is built on a platform like WooCommerce or Magento, or a custom PHP script, you have to set up backups of your database, file system, and media files yourself.
This can be done through the control panel (often called cPanel or admin panel) of your hosting provider.
As explained in a Magento DevDoc, a developer on your team who has permissions to write to your file system needs to run the provided commands to enable backups of your database, file system, and media files.
Please note that database-level backups don’t allow you to cherry pick which things you want to restore to a previous point in time.
They can only be used to restore the entire database.
The restore will overwrite any data that wasn’t captured in the last database backup and any changes you’ve made since.
As a result, you may lose your most recent orders and other changes.
It’s only to be used in the event of a major disaster, not if you accidentally deleted a few pages or products.
Being self-hosted comes with its disadvantages: managing database and website file backups of your store (and knowing how to recover that data when you need it) requires a lot of technical knowledge and time on a regular basis.
This is one of the many advantages of using a service like BigCommerce over a self-hosted system like Magento.
There are two types of backups that you need:
Database backup: Lucky for you, your ecommerce platform takes care of this layer. This backup would be used to recover the entire ecommerce platform in case of a major disaster.
Individual account backup: This is a much more granular backup of just the files, data, and content of your ecommerce store. Keep in mind that CSV exports of the data in your BigCommerce store do not meet the four requirements to be considered a reliable backup solution. Since you don’t have access to the server files directly, the best way to capture all your account data is through the BigCommerce API.
Rewind was built to address this need for merchants.
By integrating with the BigCommerce API, we’re able to automatically pull the data from your store and create a separate backup that gets updated daily.
Since Rewind backs up all of the items in your store individually, you have much more flexibility in how you restore data.
You could choose to restore the entire account back to a previous point in time, or just a single product that was deleted.
Using an automated backup service like Rewind in combination with an ecommerce platform like BigCommerce makes website backups and recovery simple enough for anyone to do it.
You don’t need to be an expert in data backups or have your own IT team.
It’s a set it and forget it type of process which helps you recover from all types of possible data disasters.
If you don’t want to go through the trouble of manually backing up your site (or don’t have the technical skills to do it) it’s best to use a 3rd party plugin or app that can automate the entire process for you. Here’s how to evaluate which app is the best option:
Search for “backup” in the app store or plugin directory of your website provider. Example: https://www.bigcommerce.com/apps/search/?search=backup
For each option available, look for the following criteria:
What is the average review rating and how many reviews are there?
Has the developer provided a 1-800 number or other easy way to contact them in case you need help?
Is the app supported by a single developer or a team? Search the company on LinkedIn to find the team. For a critical service like backups, you definitely want the support of an established team.
If it’s available, start a free trial so that you can play around with the features. Getting familiar with the recovery process before you commit to a solution is critical.
Customer Case Study: Merchant hires a web developer to help with her online store.
This person ends up breaking her site and, since she doesn’t have the technical background, she doesn’t know how to fix it.
Since she had Rewind installed, she was able to undo all the work that the developer had done to her store. Read the full story on the Rewind blog.
Customer Case Study:
If you’re an online retailer, data loss is not a question of if, but when.
From simple human error to malicious attacks or third party app malfunctions, your store data could be compromised, costing you time, money and customer trust.
You can protect your online store from data loss by performing a complete backup every day.
Remember: your backup should be stored on a separate server and be easy for you to access in case you need a quick restore.
Rewind makes backups simple – just install the app and forget about it. Until you need it, that is.
Rally Stanoeva is the Partner Marketing Manager at Rewind, a backup and recovery company dedicated to saving business owners from data loss. She specializes in working with technology startups to understand their customers, define their brand, and manage strategic partnerships.