Blogging tips

Set up a test blog

9:32 AM

Making any significant changes to a blog can result in things looking super funky on your live blog, and you might want to make sure this funkiness is as short lived as possible.
The problem is that whatever change you apply to your blog, usually goes live right away wether you like it or not.
If the changes are purely cosmetic, you can still test and preview it on most blogging platform before click save, but if the change is a big massive one that requires you to change your template or alter the HTML/CSS coding of the blog, things could get really ugly real fast.

When I changed my blog template this weekend, I first spent a couple of hours testing all the potential templates I liked on my test blog.

So what is a test blog? 

This is a secret blog that you set up to replicate your live blog as closely as possible. And since I have a Blogger blog, I am going to walk you through it. If you have a Wordpress blog, there are plenty of options and tutorial you can access with a quick Google search, the term used on Wordpress seems to be "Testing environment". 

But, back to Blogger shall we? 

The first thing you need to do, is back up your live blog, both content and template. You will need both these files to set up your test blog later on, and beside, it is ALWAYS a good idea to back up your blog regularly. If you have never done it, now would be the time. 
I personnally back up my template every time I make a big change and back up the blog content once a month. 

Let's start with the template. Every time you are about to affect a serious change to your HTML code, make a copy of what was live before the change. This will help you not tear your hair off in despair should you completely screw up the coding because you'll always be able to revert to the original code if you took time to back it up. 
Here is how to do it: 

Click on Template in your blog options, then on Backup/Restore in the upper right corner (right beside the cogwheel).  Click on Download full template. This will save a XML file on your computer, feel free to give it a better name so you can identify it more easily (I usually give them dates and add "before..." and insert the code change name).



Now, on to the blog content backup. This will save every single post you ever wrote till date into an XML file. This is a good idea to back up your blog regularly, in case you want to move it to another platform, or if for any reason, Blogger kills your blog. 
Here is how you do it: 

Click on Settings in your live blog control panel. Select Other in the options and at the top of the page, you will see a section called Import & back up with two buttons. Click on the one that says Back up content. Save the file to your computer and give it a name you can remember better if you like. 

We are done on the live blog for now

Time to set up that test blog and have some fun. A test blog should always be set up on the same platform as the the live blog. This mean that if you have a Blogger blog, the test blog should be on Blogger as well. Don't make a Blogger test environment for a Wordpress site, it will not work out too well. Remember, the test blog enables you to test things out before you decide to make them go live on the real blog. 

In Blogger, you just set up a new .blogspot blog. It is free and super easy. Simply go to your Blogger Dashboard where all your blogs are listed and click on New blog on the left. Give your new blog a name that distinguish it as a test blog and voila!
There are now a few things you want to mind before you do anything else. The first one being that you want this blog to remain secret. This means you do not want to allow the search engines to find it. 
To do so, go to Settings and select Basic. There, edit the privacy settings and made it that it is not listed on Blogger and not visible to search engines. As an added precaution, scroll down to the Permission section and select the option that makes the blog on visible to the authors. 

Once that is done, still in Settings, click on the tab for Search preferences. Make sure that Meta tags are disabled. 

Are you still following?

Good, now is the time to apply your live blog template to the test blog. Go to the Template option and click on the the Backup/Restore button. This time, instead of backing it up, you are going to upload the XML file you saved previously to your new test blog. 
To do so, click on Choose file and upload your saved template. Your live blog template is now live on the test blog, minus all the little custom things like your header and possibly a few widgets that requires you to have your blog completely public. But all in all, the very essence of your live blog has been transferred to the new blog. 

At this point though, your blog will only look the part, but it still has no content. You have two options presenting themselves to you here: 1) write a few "Lorem Ipsum" post using some of your old blog pictures or 2) Upload the entire content of your live blog to the test blog with the file we saved earlier. 
I did both on my test blog, the advantage of transferring your blog content, is that you have more blog posts available to test some features. There is after all that many lorem ipsum post you can write and publish without loosing your marbles. 

To upload your content, go to Settings once again, and select the Other tab. In the Import & Back up section, click on the Import button and upload your content XML file. This step can take a little time depending the size of your live blog, be patient. 

There you go! Your test blog is now completely set up!


You can use your test blog to test almost everything, but be aware that certain widgets will not work on a blog that is not set to be crawled and indexed by search engines. All in all, it is a very good place to test any massive changes you are going to affect to your template, or if you are going to try on new templates, like I did this weekend. 
Once you have your template working properly on the test blog before making it go live on the real blog that your reader will read. 
Even with all the testing, I still ran into a few glitches while setting up the templates on the live blog, but at least I knew where to look to fix them immediately because I was already familiar with the features and special codes the new template offered. What took me hours to sort out on the test blog, took me minutes to sort on the live blog. 

4 comments

  1. Oh my. I'm sorry but this just sounds incredibly tedious. The company I purchased my "premade" theme through sets up a test blog for their customers to see before they finish the installation. It was well worth the purchase not to have to do all this. Whew!

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    Replies
    1. I think this is the reason why web designers offer to set up blog templates for a fee, this is hard work, especially on a already up and running blog that is getting a makeover. If you decide from the very start to use a premade template, it is far easier because you simply upload it on a completely virgin version of a blogger blog with no other widgets and embellishment getting in the way.

      When I installed this template, I found that the new code simply threw my widgets all over the place, there was no logic whatsoever in it. On my old template most of them were on the right side bar, and with the new one I found tid bits in the nav bar, some on the footer, some on the side, some disappeared, it was total chaos and anarchy. It also made many of these widget locked in one place and I had to hunt them down in the HTML code of the template to unlock them so I could move them around.

      The other benefit of a test blog though is to test new fonts and new headers or see how a new widget will behave with your template, so it is always a good idea to have that kind of back office space to test stuff.

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    2. I'm telling you Cyn, those ladies where I bought my template have a 6 month waiting list, they are all SAHMs, & they charge $50 an hr - it's a booming biz to get into if you want a 'career' again!

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    3. I need to find the time to hone my skills, especially in coding. If only I thought of that a few years ago when I had all the time in the world instead of doing French translations...sigh! I really would love how to design an entire template from scratch one day

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