This is an undertaking that involves a huge leap of faith!
Note from ktcosmos: This article was originally developed at the request of a colleague, who was tackling a conversion project herself. She published it on her new blog but then contacted me recently to say she had grown frustrated and stressed out over the conversion and management challenges and so ultimately decided to take the blog down. So, while written by me, this article is now moving from its original location to its new home here.
If YOU decide to tackle a static-to-WP conversion yourself, I hope this article helps you with the process.
Sooner or later, you may want to incorporate a blog component into an older, static web site. Or, like me, you’ll, get to thinking, “Why not combine a static site with a blog using WordPress as a Content Management System?
As an example, I had built a community information site a few years ago and had generated some nice SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages) and page rankings for such a young site. “Wouldn’tt it be great if people could interact with the information on the site by asking questions? I pondered, imagining the traffic increase that could result from that.
After briefly considering installing a discussion forum, I opted instead to execute a conversion that would retain some of my key pages as static pages, and swap out other old pages for WP posts, with the goal of generating a sense of community via commenting.
You might be thinking Joomla, Drupal, or some other platform would work best for you, but I’ve been a WordPress admirer for several years, so that decision was simple.
About nine months ago, when I was still just considering the pros and cons, Dirk Riehle posted a question about the process at LinkedIn.
Before you dive in yourself, read the replies Dirk received for an overview of what to expect.
If you did take a moment to review the discussion on LinkedIn, you’ve probably already started your own pros and cons list.
Decisions to make before you make your move:
1. Which blog platform should I use?
2. How will I import old content into the new platform?
Even though I researched the process and proceeded with caution, some of the results are great and others were unexpected and unsettling. Therefore, ask yourself how comfortable you are with unpredictable and/or confusing outcomes for these questions:
1. Is it possible to preserve rankings, traffic, and links that point to the old site from my old site?
2. How will people find my new site content after the conversion is complete?
Here are the steps I followed in my own conversion.
1. Selected a WordPress theme I thought I could modify that would look fresh but familiar to those used to my static site page layout.
2. Decided to install my blog in a separate subfolder on the server where my original site lived. That way, I could recreate the pages as I had time and would be able to utilize the strength of my existing domain name.
3. Copied and pasted all page content into new posts or pages, as described above. While some advocate creating a custom php script or using RSS to import your content, and there is even a site that will purportedly help you with this task (http://www.nvu.com), I found cutting and pasting from the browser window was sufficient. Uploading all those photos that you may have on your old site was trickier. I used a WP plugin called Batch Image Upload. which I found referenced on Lorelle on WordPress’s site. HOWEVER, Lorelle checked in with me recently to say that this plugin has been associated with some security issues. So, do your research on this plugin before using.
4. Created htaccess codes so that site visitors (to the old, original site) AND Google’s robots would be seamlessly redirected to the new page names and locations.
5. Created a sitemap for the new version of the site and notified Google Maps of it, and requested that they index the pages via Google Webmaster Tools ((http://www.google.com/webmasters/).
The Good and the Bad (no ugly)
1. Page Rank Decline and Traffic Loss.
From my research, I thought that 301 redirection would prevent a loss of traffic and that my existing Google Page Rank would migrate over to the new site.
After two weeks, the traffic was almost back up to where it was before the conversion, but it did drop by about half initially. It looked as though my PR was gone for good, but then about 5 weeks later, it, too migrated. Ok, it was only 4, but after two years, I was proud of that! As I read somewhere, this is a good opportunity to work on building that back up! Optimism is essential when working with SEO.
2. Make careful decision on where to Install WordPress.
Had I installed all WP files in the root directory, my PR may have right away, since the site wouldn’t have the /blog appended to the domain name. Since I didn’t, I may experience slower gain in rankings.
3. Google Says I have too many Redirects?!@%%#
I’m a frequent flyer over at Google’s Webmaster tools area, which I use to alert Google to new sites I build after I create and upload sitemaps. The diagnostic tools there are very helpful. I found a big red WARNING notation there yesterday, which read:
“When we tested a sample of the URLs from your sitemap, we found that some URLs were not accessible to Googlebot because they contained too many redirects. Please change the URLs in your sitemap that redirect and replace them with the destination URL (the redirect target). All valid URLs will still be submitted.”
All I could say was AAARRRGHHHH!
Now, the redirects themselves are working, but Google’s warning has me wondering…
4. Changing the sitemap of the original site to reflect the target URLS specified in the 301 redirects.
It seems counterintuitive to have a sitemap file referencing urls which don’t exist in said directory.
However, since Google said I should, I did update that ENTIRE original site’s sitemap with links pointing to every page within the new blog. Too soon to tell if that was a good or bad idea.
5. Redirection is not the same as site indexing.
Even though the redirects you install will take your site visitors and bots to the new site seamlessly, that doesn’t mean the new site itself has been indexed. I discovered that yesterday while checking my stats and diagnostics at Google’s Webmasters Tools.
6. Quirky little home page issue.
WordPress’s control panel will let you select a static page as the first page seen when a visitor enters your site, but then takes visitors into the blog part of the site. I haven’t tamed this quirk yet, but there are several resources below that will help you accomplish the task.
7. WordPress constantly introduces new versions and makes strong recommendations that you install them.
If you end up managing your own WP sites as well as those of your clients, you’ll need to consider that everytime you update a site to the newest version, not only do you need to budget the time for uploading the new files accurately, but you may have to spend time after wards troubleshooting site crashes and other unexpected results.
8. Just updating doesn’t eliminate vulnerabilities or hacks introduced already.
Yes, you need to stay current, but if you have been the victim of a hack prior to updating to a newer, more stable version, you may bring the infection with you unwittingly. Read more about the aftermath of a hack and how to clean up your files here and here.
9. Dealing with the “Duplicate Content” no-no, as defined by Google.
You may or may not be penalized by Google based on the way WP handles content. This issue concerns the fact that more than one complete version of each of your posts may exist on your site unless you use some little coding tricks to avoid that, or utilize post excerpts.
In the end, the conversion was a little more challenging than I anticipated, but I am happy with the outcome and wouldn’t hesitate to use WordPress to redesign another site. In the meantime, I am thinking of hiring someone to fix my quirky little home page issue. Interested? I’m just a little tired and ready to work on something else!
Here are a few of the resources I found helpful.
Tools for Webmasters
The Effect of Redirection on Site Traffic
Tips for Migrating from Static to WordPress
How to make the front page and home page of your converted site behave how you want them to (something I’m still working on)
Speaking of this, here are some related posts elsewhere on Loosely Speaking:
Converting From Static Site to WordPress site? (the background behind the article above)