A staging site is a mock version of your site that is used to test and revise pages before they are live on your real web site. If your web designers do not include a staging web site in their plans for your site development, you have a major web design warning sign.
Working with a design team will always require some back and forth: Your designers will present you with a draft or an idea, you will provide feedback, they will present a new draft, and so on.
For a web design project, it is critical that these drafts function like a real site: that links work, that content and ads are populated correctly. Drafts should also not be visible to users, since they may contain errors, bugs, or unapproved content.
A staging website serves these functions, and should be considered essential to your project. It should be separate, but as similar as possible to your real (or 'production') site. Your designers should plan to set up a staging URL, usually something like test.yourURL.com or www.yourURL.com/test, which is password-protected. Then they can provide you with a password so that you can exchange drafts without interfering with your production site.
Once you have approved a draft saved in staging, your design team can copy it to the production site or publish it live.
We recommending making sure your designers have a plan for a staging site or other test environment. Alternatives like passing files back and forth or making changes directly on a live site can have cumbersome and risky consequences. Make sure to discuss your staging site options early in the development process.
Read the full series: Top 10 Web Design Warning Signs