Archiver: a WordPress plugin to auto-archive your content using The Wayback Machine

TL;DR I just published a new WordPress plugin called Archiver that automatically creates snapshots of your content using The Wayback Machine.

At our NerdWallet hackathon a few months back, my colleague John Lee presented an idea that goes something like this: what if we could create a tool that would automatically generate a visual archive of our site content so that we could easily scroll backwards in time and associate SEO/performance shifts with causal changes we made to our content?

Brilliant idea? Yes. Has it been done? Turns out, not really. . .

When it comes to WordPress, there are a multitude of great plugins and services that can be used to automatically create backups: BlogVault (which I’ve written about before), VaultPress, BackupBuddy, etc. That said, none of these solutions allow you to easily/quickly view your site’s content over time. Most require fully restoring a specific backup before you can view your content as it looked when the backup was created – a time consuming process, especially if you’re not sure which backup is the one you’re looking for.

Additionally, WordPress’ native revisions system – while pretty awesome in many ways – is much better equipped for scrubbing between textual diffs of past content than it is for viewing content as it actually appears on the front-end of your site.

WordPress revisions – lots of text, no visuals

Don’t forget my colleague John – he needed a solution that would allow our data and analytics teams to visually parse our site history to determine what changes might be linked to fluctuations in search engine results, click-thru rates, time on page, etc. So we needed a tool that could show us all past visual incarnations of a given page, and allow easy toggling between those revisions through time.

Does it exist? Turns out. . . sort of!

Enter The Wayback Machine, a tool that archives site content and presents that content in an easy-to-explore visual history.

nerdwallet.com on The Wayback Machine – notice the easy-to-scroll timeline up top

The Wayback Machine offers a fantastic interface for visually exploring content over time. The problem is that it creates snapshots at unpredictable intervals, if at all. Some of NerdWallet’s pages (the homepage for example) are archived multiple times per day, while others haven’t been archived in months. Handy for sure, but not good enough for our purposes.

The Wayback Machine – homepage (left) = lots of snapshots, sub-page (right) = not a lot of snapshots

So what we needed was an integration that would automatically trigger a Wayback Machine snapshot whenever our content was changed.

Enter Archiver.

Archiver utilizes WordPress’ native functionality to detect changes to content types like posts, pages, users, taxonomies, etc, and then automatically generates a snapshot on the Wayback Machine. Additionally, the plugin provides functionality that allows admins to manually trigger snapshots of any content as well. This means that a visual history of the site is continuously generated, and is completely traversable via the Wayback Machine’s handy interface. All snapshot data is stored entirely on the Wayback Machine’s servers, so unlike some other backup solutions, the burden/cost of storage and performance are removed from the user.

Lastly, navigating from a page on your site to the corresponding Wayback Machine snapshot is simple – whether you’re viewing your content on the front-end, or editing it in the admin, Archiver provides handy links to easily view all associated snapshots.

Example of Archiver in use
Example of Archiver in use

Want to learn more or give Archiver a test run? Check it out in the WordPress Plugin Directory.

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