How to Let a Client Preview a WordPress Site Before Going Live

How to Let a Client Preview a WordPress Site Before Going Live

So you’ve built a beautiful WordPress website that fits your client’s needs, wants, and requirements to a t. There’s just one hurdle left: Your client doesn’t want the site going live until they’ve signed off on the finished product.

Presenting a finished site–or, at least, a supposedly finished site–is one scenario in which you may need to come up with a presentation method. In addition, some clients may want to see your progress at regular intervals and there may be times when you request a review session to go over a particularly sticky feature or design element.

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Factors to Consider

There are several factors to consider when setting up a review session:

  • How much time will the client need to review your work?
  • Will the client want to take hands-on control of the site or will a simple visual presentation be enough?
  • How will you close the review window? Leave that window open indefinitely and you can expect to get additional comments and requests indefinitely.
  • How much time will the selected presentation method take to set up?
  • Can you coordinate schedules with your client to set up an extended live demonstration?

There are a lot of different ways to solve this problem, and the method you choose will be based on the client’s wishes, your preferences and workflow, and the purpose of the presentation. In this article, we’ll look at three different ways of presenting your work. These methods can also be combined and modified to create a unique presentation method that is perfect for your unique situation.

Method 1: Keep the Site Local and Host a Live Demo

If your goal is to keep it simple and your client doesn’t need a lot of time for a detailed review of your work, a live demonstration may be the best option.

You can do this in person or set up a virtual meeting and present your work using a screen sharing application. The basic idea is to keep the site running in your local development environment and present your work by walking your client through the site.

Here’s why live demonstrations are awesome:

Good #1: Live Demos Are Easy

Technically speaking, live demonstrations are easy. You don’t have to worry about migrating the website from your development environment to a server, so technical challenges are minimized.

Good #2: Less Chance of Delays

Since the demonstration is held live your client can’t delay your progress by reviewing your work whenever they get around to it. As a result, you won’t end up stuck in limbo while you wait for their feedback.

On the other hand, there are also a few reasons why live demonstrations can suck:

Bad #1: Working Remotely Makes it Almost Impossible

Lots of developers, especially freelance WordPress developers, work remotely and rarely have to acquiesce to anyone else’s daily routine. As a result, setting up an extended formal meeting and presentation may be something of a chore.

Bad #2: Live Doesn’t Suit All Clients

Lots of clients, especially analytical types, will want time to digest what they’re seeing before providing feedback. A live presentation may not cut it for these types of clients. They may just need more time or they may want to personally poke and prod the product before accepting it.

Bad #3: Not Always Appropriate

Force a live demonstration when the project really calls for a different method, and you and your client will both hate the result: the client will be frustrated by the process and you’ll be frustrated by the number of changes they request further down the road once they do have time for the thorough review that was needed all along.

If you do decide to set up a live demonstration, there are a few things you must do to make the process a success.

First, know your tools. If you’re setting up a remote presentation you have lots of options for sharing your screen: Skype, Google Hangouts, GoToMeeting, and many others. Get really comfortable with one tool and stick with it.

Second, consider pairing a live demonstration with another review method that the client can handle independently. If your client will need more time to digest and respond to your work give them another way–such as a password-protected staging site–to review your work at their own pace.

Method 2: Migrate the Site to a Web Server and Add Password Protection

If keeping the site local isn’t going to cut it the most obvious option is to host it on a webserver but to limit site access with a password.

Firstly, you’ll need to find a way to host the site.

If either you or your client has access to staging sites through your web host, that may be the route to take. However, not every host offers easy-to-use staging sites. If the end goal is to set the site up on an unused domain you may as well go ahead and set it up at that domain now. However, if hosting the site at the final domain isn’t possible–maybe the client already has a site set up at that domain–set the site up as a subdomain of the final domain or as a subdomain of your own website.


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However you set up the site, just make sure that you completely fence off access to the site with a password and go to Settings > Reading and select the checkbox to Discourage search engines from indexing this site.

Most clients will love this review method. Here’s why:

Good #1: Clients Can Take Their Time

They can take all the time they want to review your work and check out every carefully-crafted detail.

Good #2: Check Multiple Devices

They’ll be able to view the site on multiple devices and make sure they’re happy with the site on every device.

Good #3: Time Friendly

Both you and your client will appreciate that you don’t have to think about coordinating schedules for an extended demonstration meeting. All you need to set up is a quick call to go over the basics and then let them take it from there.

While your clients may love this method, you just might hate it.

Bad #1: Can be a Time Suck

Some clients will take all of the time they want to review your work and provide comments and suggestions in agonizing detail.

Bad #2: Hard to Control

Once your client knows that they can see the site anytime they want to, they may jump in with additional comments long after the review window was supposed to have closed.

Bad #3: Extra Work

Setting this up will mean the added work of migrating the site from your development environment to a web server.

If you are going to use this method it’s important that you set a clear time window in which the client will review the site. After that window has closed either take the site down entirely or change the password so that your client cannot jump back in for another impromptu review session.

Adding password protection to a WordPress site to make it completely private is easy. There are lots of free maintenance mode plugins you can use to lock down WordPress while allowing full access to logged-in users.

If you use a live demonstration method, gathering notes and feedback from your client as you go along is pretty easy. However, if you use a different review process that has your client reviewing your work on their own, you won’t be able to gather feedback in the same way. As a result, you should implement an organized way of gathering and tracking client comments and requests.

While your clients can certainly send comments to you in an email, a better option is to use Trello, or a similar service, to track feedback. If you use Trello, just set up a board, add your clients to it, and ask them to create a new card for each comment or request.

You can then organize the feedback into actionable steps and the board will provide an automatic way for you to let clients know when you’ve addressed each piece of feedback.

Method 3: Put it On a Flash Drive

If your client wants the time for an in-depth review but putting the password-protected site on a web server is out of the question, then setting the site up on a flash drive is an option to consider.

What you need to do is set up a localhost server on a flash drive and migrate a copy of your development site to the localhost server. Then, get the flash drive in your client’s hands along with instructions on how to run the server and access the site.

Sound complicated? It really isn’t. Check out our tutorial on How to Install WordPress on a USB Flash Drive if you need some help.

Still not sure if this is the right solution for your situation? Here are three reasons why this is a great idea.

Good #1: All Offline

The site is completely offline. There’s no potential for either you or your customer to screw up a production site by playing around on the server or accidentally leave the site visible to prying eyes.

Good #2: Secure

Since your client won’t be touching your development site, if they do modify or break something there’s no real damage done.

Good #3: User-Friendly

Your client will have all the time they need to review your work and can do so whenever and wherever makes sense for them.

On the other hand, this option isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution for a few reasons.

Bad #1: Complicated to Do

Of the three methods we’ve covered, this is the most complicated. Not only will you have to migrate a copy of the website, you’ll also have to set up a localhost server on a flash drive.

Bad #2: Not Apple-Friendly

There aren’t a ton of options when it comes to running WordPress from a flash drive, so both you and your client will need access to a Windows PC: a potential deal-killer for Apple elitists purists.

Bad #3: Not Responsive-Friendly

Your client won’t be able to test the site on multiple devices.

Bad #4: Difficult for Clients Who Aren’t Tech Savvy

This solution is only viable if your client is moderately technically adept since they’ll have to start up the localhost server prior to launching the website.

Bad #5: Hard to Control

Unlike a site hosted on a web server, you won’t have complete control over the timeframe in which your client can access the site. So unless you pry the flash drive back out of their hands, they’ll be able to fire up that localhost server and take another look over your work anytime they want too.

If think this method makes the most sense for your situation, our tutorial on how to install WordPress on a USB flash drive will help you get localhost and WordPress set up on a flash drive. You will probably want to use a feedback tracking system with this method. Once again, email works, but Trello or another similar application works better.

Choosing the Best Review Method

Presenting your work to a client can be tricky business. You want their full attention and thorough, timely feedback. At the same time, it’s best if you can exercise some control over the timeframe in which they review your work.

Don’t settle on a review method flippantly. Landing thoughtfully on the best review method for your unique situation is key to your client’s satisfaction, maintenance of an effective workflow, and the project’s overall success.

How do you present work to clients? Do you have any horror stories of presentations gone wrong?

Jon Penland

Jon Penland Jon manages operations for Kinsta, a managed WordPress hosting provider. He enjoys hiking and adventuring in northeast Georgia with his wife and kids when he isn't figuring out the ins and outs of supporting WordPress-powered businesses.