As the owner of a live, money-making website, the prospect of making changes or customizations can be daunting, especially when your site handles transactions and has active members. The good news is that there is a way to safeguard your site from potential disasters and confidently make improvements: use a staging environment.

In this comprehensive guide, we explore the benefits of having a staging environment for your membership site, regardless of what kind of site you’re building. We’ll cover the major wins a staging site offers for any type of membership site, and then make the case for staging sites across 8 unique types of membership sites.

This guide is not designed to help you safely set up a staging environment for your ecommerce site. You’ll want to explore our companion guide on how to set up a staging site when you are ready to create one.

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Why Use a Staging Environment

A staging environment serves as a safe playground where you can test and experiment with custom code, new features or plugins, pricing changes, updated plugins, and even do bug fixes before implementing them on your live site. By doing so, you avoid the risk of introducing errors or malfunctions to your active, money-making website.

Should any fatal errors occur on the staging site during testing, your live site remains untouched and unaffected. This allows you to identify and rectify any issues without impacting your users’ experience or risking potential revenue loss.

A staging environment is not an exact a replica of your production (live) website’s data but it is a replica of the code that powers your live website. You do not need to move your complete user data, all of your content, synchronize orders, or anything else. The site is strictly used for testing new features and changes before implementing them onto your live site, in a safe space that is not available to the public or search engines.

The Biggest Benefits of a Staging Site

  1. Improving User Experience: Utilizing a staging environment enables you to fine-tune the user experience before making changes live. By meticulously refining new features, you can identify and repair user experience flaws. The goals is build a site that is seamless and enjoyable for all members.
  2. Streamlining Development Workflow: Implementing a staging environment can significantly streamline your development workflow. It allows your development team to iterate more efficiently by facilitating debugging without disrupting the live site’s operations. This ultimately saves time and resources while ensuring the best possible version of your site goes live.
  3. Ensuring Safe Testing and Updates: Staging sites let you test an update to WordPress, your plugins, and your theme. You can even use this site to test drive a new WordPress plugin or theme.
  4. Performance Optimization: Testing new features and code in staging helps you analyze their impact on website performance. You can assess loading times, server resources, and overall website responsiveness to ensure optimal performance for your members.
  5. Collaboration and Feedback: A staging environment enables your development team, content creators, and other stakeholders to collaborate effectively. Team members can review, provide feedback, and test changes simultaneously. This streamlined collaboration process leads to quicker iterations and improvements.
Infographic of The Biggest Benefits of a Staging Site.

Features You Can Test On A Staging Environment

Since the staging site is an exact replica of the code from your live site, you can use this site for 100% real tests of feature. Some specific things you can test for your PMPro-powered site include:

  1. Payment Issues in Sandbox Mode: You can simulate payment transactions using a sandbox environment to ensure that payment gateways are functioning correctly.
  2. Checkout Flow as a Customer: By going through the entire checkout process as a customer on the staging site, you can assess the user experience, identify any hiccups or bottlenecks, and optimize the flow.
  3. Custom Code Recipes: If you’ve implemented custom code or modifications to your Paid Memberships Pro setup, testing these customizations in the staging environment ensures that they work as intended and do not conflict with other site functionalities.
  4. New Add Ons: A staging environment allows you to test Add Ons for compatibility, features, and performance without affecting the live site.
  5. Membership Access and Content Restrictions: Staging environments are ideal for testing membership access levels. Use your staging site to verify that different membership levels grant the appropriate content access and restrictions to members based on their membership status.
  6. Performance and Load Testing: Staging sites enable you to conduct performance and load testing to evaluate how your website performs under various traffic scenarios. This is especially important if you are about to covered by a major news media or otherwise beginning a new campaign that’s destined to bring sizable traffic.
  7. Language and Localization: If you offer your membership site in multiple languages or regions, a staging environment allows you to verify that translations and localized content display accurately and cohesively.
Infographic of Features You Can Test On a Staging Site.

A staging site allows you to conduct comprehensive testing on your PMPro setup. You can now confidently implement changes, updates, and improvements on your live site while minimizing potential risks and disruptions.

The Value of a Staging Site for Different Membership Site Use Cases

While every membership is truly a unique offering, there are actually 8 common use cases we see here at PMPro. Below is a list of the value a staging site brings for each of these membership site types. Let’s explore why using a staging environment is helpful in the ways that matter to you.

Associations & NPOs

For associations and non-profit organizations (NPOs), maintaining a professional online presence is crucial to engage members and supporters effectively. A staging environment offers a secure space to test and implement new membership features, event registration systems, and donation processes.

Premium Blogs & News Publishers

Blogs and news websites thrive on delivering timely and accurate information to their readers. With a staging environment, you can experiment with different content layouts, navigation structures, and advertisement placements. This allows you to optimize the user interface and enhance user engagement.

Staging sites even help you explore new monetization strategies. For example, you could test drive a new affiliate marketing integration or place some sponsored content in your staging site. Testing helps you validate a new revenue stream, without compromising the integrity of your content.

Online Communities

Online communities rely heavily on user interaction and engagement. A staging environment allows you to test community engagement features, such as forums, messaging systems, and user profiles. The goals is flawlessly functionality before implementing on the live environment.

Additionally, since data privacy and security are paramount in communities, a staging site provides a controlled environment to assess any potential vulnerabilities. You can use this learning to reinforce necessary security measures before going live.

Courses & Coaching

Membership sites offering courses and coaching services benefit greatly from a staging environment.

You can test new course content, interactive modules, and video streaming capabilities to guarantee a smooth learning experience for your members.

Moreover, experimenting with different gateways and subscription models ensures that your revenue generation mechanisms are well-optimized. The goal is seamless enrollment and access for your course participants.

Directory & Profile Listings

For directory and listing-based membership sites, showcasing accurate and up-to-date information is essential. A staging environment helps you validate data imports and searching, ensuring that your members can find relevant listings effortlessly.

Testing new filtering options, sorting algorithms, and map integrations ensures that your directory is user-friendly and comprehensive before launch.

Paid newsletters require precision in content delivery and subscription management. A staging site lets you test different email marketing integrations to ensure your lists are in perfect sync.

Validating your list subscribe systems in a staging environment helps you avoid any accidental disruptions to your real subscribers’ experience.


Podcasting membership sites rely on delivering high-quality audio content to their audience. A staging environment provides a controlled space to test new podcast integration tools, like embedded audio players. You can also play around with different subscription models, while still ensuring that your current listeners can access your live content uninterrupted.

Additionally, by verifying your private podcast RSS feeds and distribution channels on a staging site, you can avoid any technical issues that might arise and maintain a consistent listening experience for your subscribers.

Private Video

Membership sites centered around video content need a reliable staging environment to ensure the smooth playback and delivery of videos.

Testing different video formats, resolutions, and streaming technologies on a staging site guarantees an optimal viewing experience for your members.

Furthermore, a staging site lets you experiment with video monetization strategies, such as pay-per-view or limited subscription-based access.

Incorporating a staging environment for your membership site offers invaluable benefits across various use cases.

Getting Paid Memberships Pro Ready For a Staging Site

When setting up a staging site for a transactional ecommerce site, like a membership, you need to be extra cautious.

Whether you already have a staging site or are considering one, there are special guidelines to follow. You must ensure your staging site does not make irreversible changes to members or subscriptions.

Ready to set up your staging site safely? Please follow the exact steps in the how to set up a staging site for PMPro post to get started.

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