Migrating a website to WordPress isn’t simple!

WordPress business websites

WordPress is the world’s leading content management system, powering over 25% of the web. If you have a non-WordPress website, it’s no surprise if you’re thinking of migrating to WordPress. This would let you take advantage of all the fantastic benefits that WordPress has to offer (which have been well documented elsewhere, so I won’t repeat it all here). But how easy is it to migrate to WordPress?

I recently read an article on the WPMU blog called Convert a website from any other platform to WordPress in 10 simple steps. It implies that if you have some basic WordPress knowledge, you can easily migrate any website to WordPress with great results. I don’t agree with this at all.

As a WordPress web agency, we have migrated many websites to the WordPress platform. Let me tell you, it’s all possible but that doesn’t make it straightforward. It also doesn’t mean that just anyone can do it and expect professional results.

You can get a clue to the reality of the situation by reading between the lines of the WPMU blog post. The title promises “10 simple steps” but the article goes on to describe a very complicated and labour-intensive process! It even describes it as a “big project”, so I’m not sure how this fits with “10 simple steps”.

The WPMU checklist is actually very helpful and comprehensive. It doesn’t attempt to simplify or trivialise the process, so I’m not sure why it has such a misleading title.

Here are some of the issues that you need to consider in migrating to WordPress. Some of these are covered nicely in the WPMU article but I will summarise everything here to keep it all in one place and to illustrate my point that it’s not a straightforward process.

Importing website content to WordPress

Importing content between websites can be done using a plugin. However it’s notoriously fiddly and error-prone and will usually give you a major headache.

Anyone who has tried to migrate content from between platforms will probably tell you it didn’t go smoothly. These plugins and tools work in theory, but there are often errors that need solving manually. Data being migrated to the wrong place, missing images, images not corresponding to the correct posts, etc. etc. If you don’t have use amounts of content, it’s probably best to do it manually. You can make any rewrites and other improvements along the way.

What about the design?

Some people will manage to migrate their content on their own. However you can’t design a professional WordPress website simply by installing a theme, copying some CSS and tweaking the settings. This just won’t look good.

WordPress themes are a fantastic opportunity to get a highly effective WordPress site. For truly professional results, you need a WordPress expert to interpret the theme for your business, reformat all your content from scratch and use it to its full potential.

Designing a WordPress website is a professional task and we’re often contacted by clients who have tried to set up a website using a theme on their own. They invariably give up and contact us because they have discovered that it’s not easy to get professional results. Once your content has been migrated to WordPress, it’s important to spend time reformatting each page using the styling features in the new theme. This is less relevant for simple blogs, but is essential for any WordPress business site.

What else do I need to think about?

Don’t forget about other parts of your website that need migrating to WordPress, for example:

  • SEO data (titles, descriptions etc.) – the import plugin may or may not do this, depending on which WordPress SEO plugin you’re using.
  • 301 redirects – when migrating to WordPress, a lot of websites end up changing their URL’s. You might be restructuring the website in general. Renaming pages or the technologies used on the old website may mean that the URL’s are different when you move to WordPress. (For example, your old web pages may have ended in .html or .asp whereas properly set up WordPress sites have friendly URL’s. So your homepage would change from http://barn2.co.uk/index.html to the much more user friendly http://barn2.co.uk.) If this applies to your WordPress migration, it’s important to set up 301 redirections from each page of your old site to the corresponding page on your new site. This follows Google’s advice for changing addresses and tells search engines – and real users – how to find your new content.
  • Google Analytics or other tracking software – this is fairly simple, but don’t forget to copy over the tracking code to your new WordPress site.
  • Functionality – as well as the static content, what features are on your old site that need converting to WordPress? Consider things like your contact forms, special styling features, e-commerce features, social media feeds, social sharing, image galleries, membership, user accounts, mailing list signup forms etc. All of this will need rebuilding in WordPress. Either by implementing it as part of the new theme, installing suitable plugins that provide the same functionality, or developing it as a bespoke feature.
  • User accounts – do your customers have a facility to log into your website? If so, you will need a careful plan to migrate them to the new website. Consider issues such as whether they will be given a new password, how you will manage communication about the changes, etc.
  • Anything else – all websites are different. Look carefully at each part of your old website – both in the front and back end. Make sure you have a plan for how it will all be migrated to WordPress. Don’t assume that an import plugin will cover everything, as there may be other types of content, special features etc. that need rebuilding in WordPress.

So migrating to WordPress is that simple! (not)

Personally I think it’s a bit irresponsible to suggest that you can migrate to WordPress in 10 simple steps. This implies that the average WordPress user can achieve complex tasks that aren’t really realistic, setting them up to fail.

WordPress is a fantastic platform and empowers non-techies to perform many tasks that weren’t previously possible. This includes adding new pages, editing menus, adding images, adding blog posts and much more. However there is a limit. There are still many tasks that are best left to experienced WordPress designers and developers. This is not a limitation of WordPress. Rather, it reflects what a sophisticated website platform WordPress has become.

The WordPress community should support users in how to do things themselves that are realistic. It should offer high quality services for tasks that still require professional input.

Migrating to WordPress

If you want to migrate your website to WordPress, we can help. We can migrate your content to WordPress and add any features you require. We can also usually recommend ways to improve and upgrade your website more generally. This ends up with a more effective, more professional website than you started with. And what’s better, you will have joined the WordPress community and all the fantastic benefits you get from having a WordPress website. It may not be as straightforward as people claim, but it’s worth it.