People often ask me how they can preview their website on WordPress before it goes live. I'm always surprised by how many WordPress users publish changes without testing them first - often because they don't know how. Here's an overview of the features available in WordPress that let you view different types of changes without having to publish them.
Preview your website pages and posts on WordPress
WordPress has lots of features that you may never have spotted, even though they're right in front of you! Lots of the people I speak with have a set routine - e.g. create new post, write your content, hit 'Publish'. Similarly, if you're editing an existing WordPress page or post then you might just hit 'Update' to save your changes, not seeing the less brightly coloured 'Save Draft' and 'Preview' buttons above it.
If you're creating a new page or post, don't hit Publish until you've previewed it. Some people use Publish as the 'save' option because they're worried about losing your work - that's what 'Save Draft' is for. (And don't forget that WordPress auto-saves everything for you anyway, just in case.) Preview your website before it goes live by clicking the 'Preview' button, which is in the 'Publish' section on the right of the WordPress editor, above the Publish button.
If you don't like your changes, either use the Undo button on the toolbar, make the required changes manually or - to undo major changes or go back several versions - revert to a previous revision (click Screen Options at the top, make sure 'Revisions' is ticked, then scroll down to select a previous version to revert to).
If you're making changes to an existing page or post, you can preview your changes in exactly the same way.
These WordPress features are obvious (and invaluable) once you know what they do, but not everyone is aware of them.
Previewing changes to settings and widgets
A relatively new addition to WordPress, the 'Customize' section (available in the Appearance section of the WordPress admin) lets you preview a range of setting changes on your website. It's a great way to experiment without affecting your live site. If you like your changes then click 'Save & Publish' or if you don't then click the X icon.
The settings that you can change via Customize vary depending on which WordPress theme you're using. Some themes include a wide range of options, letting you adjust the fonts, colours and much more. As a minimum, you're likely to be able to change the main WordPress settings such as your site title and tagline.
Even more useful is the ability to view widget changes on the Customize screen. This feature was introduced in WordPress 3.9 and provides a long-awaited way to view widget changes without affecting your live site. Previously, widgets were very fiddly to edit and there was no way to preview them - this was particularly annoying given that many widgets require HTML code (as there's no Visual editor by default) so you couldn't preview how they would actually look. Widgets can now be edited on the Customize screen, which is really handy.
Previewing more significant restructures & WordPress development work
The two methods listed above are the best way to preview minor content changes to your site. If you're planning a more significant restructure, or are commissioning a WordPress web design agency to do some development work on your site, then you will need a separate staging site. This will allow you to preview the changes and fully test your website before they are added to your live site.
Whichever method is most appropriate for the sort of changes you are making, it's important to fully preview your website and its changes before they go live. The above tips will enable you to make sure everything is perfect before they're released for the world to see.