Don’t Panic! How to Recover Old Website Content on WordPress

Cynthia Bartz • November 16, 2016

Your website is a constantly changing, growing, beautiful beast. Over the course of a year you might change your home page, add a new service, delete an old landing page, and update your contact information. As your business evolves, so does your website. Every once in a while I am struck with a moment of panic, when I realize that I need to recover old website content, or an older version of my home page. I don’t have a copy that I saved off. I trashed the Evernote document I used to write the paragraph I want. I purged my email where I sent it to my friend to read over. It’s gone. Gone.

But.

I can still get it back.

You can still get it back. You can still get back your old content. You can recover old website content. And it doesn’t involve a Tardis or time turner.

In this article I’m going to show you how to recover old website content in WordPress. In next week’s article I will show you how to recover old website content from any website, no matter what platform you are on or how old the content is. Make sure you don’t miss it by signing up for my newsletter.

What You Need

This tutorial will walk you through how to recover old website content on WordPress. But, to go through these steps you must meet the following conditions. If you don’t meet all of them, all is not lost. Stick around for next week’s article where I will show you how to recover content regardless of platform.

In order to recover content using this method you must:

  • Have a WordPress Website
  • Have an Administrator or Editor User Role
    Read more about roles: 5+ WordPress User Roles: Prevent People from Wreaking Havoc
  • Have Previously Published the Content You are Trying to Recover in WordPress
    If you had a website on Weebly or Squarespace previously and later converted to WordPress, you will not be able to recover content from the old platform inside of WordPress. Don’t fear though, it’s still not gone forever.

Recover Old Website Content in WordPress

WordPress has a built in feature that allows you to roll back to an old version of a website. It’s hidden in plain sight, and it’s really easy to miss.

Step 1: Open the Post & Make Some Notes

To view the old version of the page you will need to find it in the WordPress Admin. You can do this with all kinds of content: pages, posts, custom post types (portfolio, testimonials, services, case studies, etc).

Unfortunately, you can’t search for the old content across your whole site. You will need to know what page specifically the content was on. So, if you aren’t sure, take the time to check a couple of the likely suspects before going into full panic mode.

It’s also helpful to have a general idea of the date when the change was made. If you can, think through what was happening in your business or in your life around that time. Was it cold outside? Were you getting ready for a product launch? Had you just added a contractor? Anything that can help give you a ball park date to look for will make your search much less tedious.

I have a few pages that have gone through a lot of changes in the last two years, and WordPress has kept every single one. I can roll back my about page to a version two years ago where I had two sentences of content. It’s actually kind of fascinating to click through and see all the little tweaks and changes as my website evolved to where it is today. But I also know that I would rather not have to comb through all 38 sets of changes to find whatever I’m looking for.

Step 2: Open the Revisions Editor

Click on “Browse” under Revisions in the Publisher box for the post or page you want to recover old website content from.

Typically this box is in the top right corner of your editor. If you are viewing on your phone or have changed the configuration of your post editor it may be lower on the page and underneath the post, or it could be on the right and further down. You are looking for the box that is labeled Publisher at the top and has the blue button that says “Update” or “Save Draft”.

where to locate wordpress revisions editor menu to recover old website content

Step 3: Scrub Through the Revisions

At the top you will see a bar with a slider. This lets you look through old versions of the content. You can also hit the Previous and Next buttons at the top to move forward and backwards in time.

FYI, I’d advise against doing this on your phone. It is difficult to navigate this part of WordPress on a tiny phone screen. Trust me, I’ve done it in a pinch and it is super sucky. So, unless it’s urgent, use your computer or tablet.

As you are rolling through the old changes, you will notice that WordPress will show you some information at the top: when the change was made and who made the change. WordPress will also show you the difference between the previous version and the version you are on. The version you have selected will always be on the right, and the previous version to the one selected will always be on the left.

recover old website content by looking through old versions of your wordpress pages and posts

About the Code: You are going to see the “text” version of the website page as opposed to the “visual” version. This means you will see bits of code in your content that you might not be used to seeing. For the moment WordPress does not have an option to view the content as a preview or even as it appears in the content editor. I hope this will change, but right now focus on the things in the content that does not look like code.

What is the red and green? WordPress will show you the differences between the previous version and the selected version by highlighting the old content in red and the added content in green. I would use these color coded changes to your advantage. It will make it faster and easier for you to find the changes that were made. Which also makes it easier to recover the individual piece you want.

red and green highlights show changes between the selected version of the wordpress post and the previous version

Step 4: Copy or Restore

Once you have located the old content you are looking for, you have two options: Copy or Restore.

Copy

If you were looking for one piece of content and not an entire page of content, you will probably want to copy the paragraph, header, code snippet, etc. and paste it into another document outside of WordPress.  After you have safely saved the content you were looking for, you can click “return to editor” at the top of the screen. No changes will be made to your page when you return to the editor.

Restore

If you want to roll back a page or post to a previous version, you will have to find the version you want to restore. Make sure that the version you want is on the right side of your screen. The left version is just so you can see a comparison. The right side is the selected version and is what will be restored.

Click the blue “Restore This Version” button at the top of the screen. This will save the version you are viewing on the right as the current version. Note that you will still need to hit “Update” or “Save Draft” to actually publish the old version of the content.

recover old wordpress pages by restoring a previous version

PLEASE NOTE, if you restore an old version, it will add a new version to your revision timeline. That means you will not lose all the versions between the present one and the one you just restored.

Deleted Pages

Over the course of publishing content on your website you might delete pages, or start new pages and never publish them. Unless you have purged your trash, you will still have access to those pages. So, if you are looking for a page that you trashed a year ago, don’t forget to check and see if it is in the Trash. There are separate Trash bins for Posts and Pages, so, you will need to know what type of content you’re looking for. If you had an old page that you wanted to take out of the trash you would go to Trash at the top of the list of pages or posts.

In this menu you can restore or permanently delete the page. I do not recommend that you permanently delete pages, unless you are really starving for space. Most of the time it’s just not necessary, and you never know when you might need to go back and restore it. Like now. When you are panicking.

Summary

So, if you are a WordPress user, you don’t need to panic when you lose old content. You can always recover old website content in WordPress by reviewing the Revisions for an individual page. You can also read about how to better keep file organization by reading Stop Losing Important Documents: A How To on File Organization (pay special attention to rule number three).

Read More:
Stop Losing Important Documents: A How to on File Organization

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