The following post was written by Kris Hadlock, President and CTO, at website migration specialist WordHerd.

Migrating a website from one platform to another may seem like a straightforward process, but there are many factors to take into consideration. You may be thinking that it simply involves a copy and paste of content, downloading and reuploading images, and choosing a theme. 

However, that is really just scratching the surface. Let’s first take a look into what content actually consists of; titles, body copy, excerpts, hyperlinks and media need to be considered. All post categories, tags, authors and dates/times need to be retained. All meta titles, descriptions and schema must be moved into an SEO plugin in order to maintain existing Search Engine Equity. URLs must be preserved or redirected so search engines do not de-index your web pages. Finally, there are almost always unexpected obstacles you will encounter.

In this article, we will dive into a few of the most important details of website migration and why it is important to understand the complexities of such an endeavour.

Maintain Existing Search Engine Equity

Search Engine Equity refers to the historical search engine presence that your website has built over the years. If pages change names or website restructuring occurs during migration, search engines will need to recrawl your website and reindex that content, which had a historical presence across the web. If this history is lost, the reindexing could take a long time to reestablish. As we all know, Search Engine Optimization is the lifeblood of any website, therefore losing any Search Engine Equity can be disastrous to an established website.

An often overlooked requirement with any website migration is to ensure proper redirects are put into place for URLs that need to change. Maintaining website structure should always be a number one priority with any migration, but sometimes this is not possible. For example, if you have a blog on a sub-domain and you are merging your main website with the blog into WordPress as a new CMS, the blog will require restructuring on the root domain. Luckily there is a solution in 301 redirects and there are a number of options for implementing these. 

A common way for developers to manage 301 redirects is in a file called htaccess, which sits in the root directory of your WordPress installation. This file also happens to be what WordPress uses for SEO-friendly URLs, but that is a separate topic. Another solution that is very client-friendly is through the implementation of a free WordPress plugin, such as Redirection, or premium plugins such as Redirect Manager, which is part of Yoast Premium.

Just as important as retaining URL structure is ensuring that you maintain SEO metadata. This should include the following:

  • SEO titles and description for pages and posts
  • Titles and Alt tags for images
  • If present, Twitter Tags and/or Facebook Open Graph for social media

Next to maintaining your actual content, SEO is one of the most important aspects of your website migration and should be taken very seriously.

Prevent 404s

Also important to your SEO and a major usability factor for your website is ensuring that your internal links and media do not break. In other words, preventing 404 status codes in your newly migrated website. As mentioned, sometimes site restructuring is inevitable and while we offer a way to account for this with 301 redirection, we also need to account for any internal links that are pointing to those previous paths. Any 301 redirects that were put into place will be effective for internal links, however, it is suggested that you rely on 301 redirects for any remaining external links only and resolve the internal links directly.

Another important detail to understand is that any media uploaded to the WordPress media library will receive a WordPress-specific uploads path that will not match your previous website, unless, of course, you are moving from WordPress to WordPress. One way to handle links and media source paths would be to manually update each on a case by case basis throughout your website. However, this can be quite a cumbersome task if you are dealing with more than a few pages and posts. For those of you who have many pages or posts, a more feasible solution is to install a plugin, such as Better Search Replace, to perform a search and replace on your internal website links and media source paths.

Maintain Design and Layout

If you are implementing a new design or theme for your newly migrated WordPress website you’re in luck, there are thousands of free and paid themes to choose from and you won’t need to worry about matching your existing design and layouts. However, if you or your client wants to maintain a pixel perfect design match, the migration process can suddenly become very complicated. This is when copy and paste is not so straightforward and may not do the job. If you are doing this manually, we suggest a pragmatic approach:

  1. Determine what page templates your current website includes based on design variants of the overarching layout.
  2. Once you determine what your page templates are, you will need to build them in WordPress
  3. With your page templates in place you need to determine your content layout approach. A few options for implementing content in your pages are the following:
    1. Advanced Custom Fields integrated into your page templates for specific content areas.
    2. A page builder, such as Gutenberg to create unique content layouts and maintain content with predefined blocks.
    3. The default content editor for unstructured content; usually best utilized for blog posts.

With these steps complete, we can finally begin moving your content to the new website.

In Need of Professional Help

Website migration can be a complicated process. At WordHerd we have removed the complication while maintaining the integrity of all aspects of the websites we migrate in an automated way. WP Engine has been an integral part of WordHerd’s migration process. 

Through the WP Engine API we have direct integration with their development server to connect with installs, create automated backups and automate content migration from our processing tool, the Wrangler. We have also shared many happy customers with WP Engine, such as Zenfolio. 

Zenfolio came to us with an urgent need to migrate to WordPress. To say their CMS was failing them, would be an understatement; they were experiencing intermittent down times for hours at a time, load speeds on some pages were over a minute and their content was very disorganized due to administration limitations of the CMS. The web team provided us with a sitemap that included over 65,000 URLs, most of which were outdated marketing pages or 404 remnant pages that were auto-generated by their CMS. 

Once our team helped parse through their list and identify the core of the site, we worked to migrate that core and redirect the rest in an effort to get their SEO on track for future growth. The end product is a highly optimized WordPress website running on a WP Engine enterprise server with no downtime and page load speeds that make the client, and Google, happy.

“We have benefited greatly from the success of this project WordHerd handled, and I’m very grateful for that.”

—Bill Petrin, Senior Web Developer

Learn more about the Zenfolio migration, and click here to find out more about the way WordHerd and WP Engine work together to  help businesses migrate their websites to WordPress with ease.