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Migrating A Website To WordPress

Now powering over 17% of the Web, WordPress is increasingly becoming the content management system (CMS) of choice for the average user. But what about websites built with an outdated CMS or without a CMS at all? Does moving to WordPress mean starting over and losing all the time, energy and money put into the current website? Nope!

Migrating a website (including the design) over to WordPress is actually easier than you might think. In this guide, we’ll outline the migration process and work through the steps with a sample project. We’ll also cover some of the challenges you might encounter and review the solutions.

WordPress Themes

About This Guide

Before we get to work, let’s establish some context. First, this guide was written primarily with beginners in mind and will be most helpful for basic websites. Some of you will likely encounter advanced aspects of WordPress migration, but they are beyond the scope of this guide. If you’re tackling an advanced migration and get stuck, feel free to share your difficulty in the comments below.

OBJECTIVES

The objective of this guide is to help you with the following:

ASSUMPTIONS

I assume you have basic familiarity with WordPress. Previous development experience with WordPress would be helpful, but not necessary. I also assume you have an existing website and design that you want to migrate to WordPress.

BASIC STEPS

Here are the basic steps that I recommend you follow for a typical WordPress migration:

  1. Evaluate website.
    Work carefully through the pages on your existing website, identifying all of the types of content (standard pages, photo galleries, resource pages, etc.) and noting any areas that need special attention.
  2. Set up environment.
    Set up WordPress and get ready to import.
  3. Import content.
    Bring over and organize your content, whether via an importing tool, manual entry (for a small amount, when no tool is available) or a custom importing process.
  4. Migrate design.
    Incorporate your existing design into a custom WordPress theme.
  5. Review website, go live.
    Carefully review the import, making adjustments where needed, set up any URL redirects, and then go live.
  6. WordPress Themes

With this outline in mind, let’s work through each step in detail.

Start With A Plan

The key to a successful migration is to carefully evaluate your current website. You need to figure out how to import and structure the content in WordPress before carrying over the design.

While the principles are the same across migration projects, the details often vary. So, below are two lists of questions to ask as you work out a plan.

IMPORTED CONTENT

EXISTING FUNCTIONALITY

A WORKING EXAMPLE

My brother, Joshua Wold, has volunteered a website to serve as an example; it’s for a side project of his in which he sells posters and postcards of a Vegan Food Pyramid. He built the website in plain HTML, with some basic PHP includes for the header and footer. Below is a screencast of me evaluating the website to give you a sense of how the process will work. Enjoy!

Set Up WordPress

Before importing the content, we need to get WordPress ready to go. If you’re just experimenting or if you prefer offline development, start with a local installation of WordPress. Otherwise, the next step is to install WordPress with your current hosting provider; or you could use the migration process as a great opportunity to move to a new host.

Once WordPress is up and running, you’re ready for action!

WordPress Themes

For our example, we’ve installed WordPress with the same host, setting it up in a wp directory for the duration of the migration process.

SETTINGS AND PLUGINS

With WordPress Themes installed, we’ll make a few minor adjustments:

Depending on the needs of the project, we might have to preinstall plugins. Here are the major categories of plugins: