How to Avoid Losing Your Blog’s Precious Content (and what to do if you do!)

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As you may have noticed during the last several days, this blog has experienced some serious technical difficulties!

A major drive on the server crashed and sadly to say, I was very unprepared! The problem was so bad I had to switch hosts. The move would’ve been fairly seamless if only I had been diligent in downloading backups of my database.

I can blame it on the rain, but ultimately, it’s my fault – I got too busy to take those measures of precautions that would have allowed me to avoid what I’m doing right now: digging up as many posts as I can find from the last two months! (Argh!!)

Needless to say, this sucks! But the good part about blogging is that one blogger’s lesson is another blogger’s strategy for success. So today, I’ll share with you something you can do to keep yourself out of my shoes and what to do if you end up in my shoes.

How to Avoid Loosing ALL of your Blog’s Contents and Settings

Just hearing the word “Database” used to scare me! For the first two years of blogging, I had never even logged into phpMyAdmin. And when I finally did, it looked so foreign that I probably immediately logged out without touching a thing. It just looked too scary! I didn’t understand the importance of exporting the database, I thought the XML file from WordPress was enough. But it’s not!

Don’t be like me! Get an understanding of phpMyAdmin as soon as possible. You need your database files if you want to preserve all of your content, comments, images, users, layout settings, etc. In other words, with a back up of your database, you can simply upload the SQL file and within minutes have a site restored. With the XML file, all you’ll be able to rescue is your content and comments – no images can be imported if you server is down.

1. So right now (I mean after you finish reading this post) go to your cPanel and log into phpMyAdmin and export your Database!

2. Then immediately after that, log into WordPress and export your XML (Go to Tools and click “Export”).

3. Schedule bi-weekly backups – no matter what! (Weekly or Daily if you publish several times a day).

What to do if you don’t have a recent database backup

Like I said, I didn’t have a recent backup of my database and my most recent XML export was from March (you probably noticed that already). I just simply kept ignoring that item on my To-Do list and before I knew it a whole year had passed. I’m grateful that I at least had a year old backup – that’s much better than loosing three year’s worth of content.

So use what you have and take the measures below to recover the rest of your content.

What to do if your database kicks out an error

Search out the error: While trying to help a friend who was trying to restore her site with a database backup, we encountered the most scary thing of all – an error! After waiting a long time for the large file to upload, to our horror, it wouldn’t complete because of a duplicate entry error. We thought all might be lost, but I looked at the information that followed – phpMyAdmin indicated what had been duplicated and what line I could find it on. I immediately opened the SQL file in Notepad and conducted a Control-F search. Sure enough there was duplicate content – I just deleted it and resaved the file.

Save and compress: To reduce some of the upload time, I reduced the file size by compressing the file. phpMyAdmin will accept zipped SQL files.

Retry to upload: I was able to upload the file with no problem the next time. Sometimes a large file will timeout and this can cause an error as well, so you may have to retry to upload your file a few times before it finally works.

Here’s what I did to start the process of salvaging the rest:

1. Refer to the external Feed URL

I immediately tried to access my Feed URL. This worked for me because I had been using Feedburner instead of using my site’s default feed URL. It has my last 10 most recent posts along with some images (at least the ones that weren’t on my server) – that’s another reason to use sites like Flickr for images – they are easily recoverable because they are not on your own site, but hosted at Flickr. But what about the rest of the posts you ask?

2. Search the Inbox

I searched my inbox for emails that I had received from Feedburner – thank God I subscribed to my own feed via email! I’ll be able to copy and paste most of my lost content from there.

3. Use WayBackMachine (Internet Archive)

I looked to WayBackMachine. They don’t update everyday, but I was able to see what my blog looked like a month ago. I was mostly looking at my layout to see where I had images, ads and other links located. It also has some selected posts that I’ll be able to copy and paste also. I have a new appreciation for the genius who decided it was a good idea to try to archive some of the stuff on the internet – thanks!

4. Don’t Alter the Dates or Link Slug When You Republish

I was careful not to change the date or the links! Just in case someone out there has a link to my post on their site, I want to make sure the old links work. Luckily most of my post links are the same as their title (lazy SEO on my part). And just in case, I’m also going through the process of searching for the post in Google and and seeing if it turns up the exact same as it should be.

5. Realize I Can’t Save Everything

Important Things that I lost:

While the above three strategies have helped me recover my blog posts, sadly here are some things I lost:

1. Comments

2. Users, their settings and bios.

3. Images

4. Traffic and ranking

5. Plugins

6. I’m sure there’s something else that I haven’t realized (oh well! at least my blog is back).

Hopefully this post will help you avoid the same issues that I’m experiencing. It’s so easy to lose track of time and fail to conduct frequent backups, but from now on I’ll make it a point to get this done – no matter what’s going on. The sad part is that it only takes a few minutes to do, yet somehow, I waited until it was too late.

So please bear with me as a restore as much of this site as I can. Regular contributors, you may need to reset your passwords or shoot me an email to let me know that your user profile was one that disappeared if I missed it. I’m doing my best to get things back in order. Thanks for your patience and thanks to those who sent emails of concern – it’s good to know that this blog was missed! Sorry that it had to be for this reason.

Feel free to contact me or tweet me with your questions.

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