How to Convert a Static Web Site to a WordPress blog site

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

Google Webmaster Central blog

The Effect of Redirection on Site Traffic

Search Engine Watch

Web Master World

Tips for Migrating from Static to WordPress

Symbolcraft

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)

Turbocharged

Blog Oh Blog

WordPress Codex

Double Black Design

MoshuBlog

Speaking of this, here are some related posts elsewhere on Loosely Speaking:

Page Rank DOES Migrate after awhile

Oops; here we go again (another WordPress update)

Google Status Restored: The WordPress Hack Aftermath

Busted by Google (the story of a hacking episode)

Converting From Static Site to WordPress site? (the background behind the article above)

Comments

How to Convert a Static Web Site to a WordPress blog site — 8 Comments

  1. Pingback: Loosely Speaking: A Virtual Assistant’s Blog » Converting From Static Site to Wordpress Blog?

  2. You’ve raised some very good points here that people need to know when converting from a static website. The number one benefit is that they will spend less time playing with code and uploading a ton of web pages every time they make the smallest change across all the pages. The time savings is incredible. It puts the focus back on generating content and not on messing around with web pages. That is so wonderful!

    Having done this too many times, here are some clarifications.

    1. Google isn’t the only player in town. On a WordPress blog, you will actually automatically improve your SEO value across ALL search engines over a very short period of time, so don’t worry too much over the redircts issue. It is MORE important that your users have a seamless experience. A good XML sitemap will help search engines, too, as you mentioned.

    2. If your images are absolute links not relative, then just FTP upload your images into their original directories that match the link URL structure and you don’t have to mess with them later. WordPress has a funky way of storing images that I’m not a fan of, linked to the post by date. Learn to live with the structure of uploading new images, but keep all your old images where ever they were and you don’t have to deal with URL changes for images. That saved me a ton of time.

    3. The “quirk” in the home page issue is a Theme issue, not WordPress, though they are considering how to deal with this as it comes up repeatedly. The template tag used to generate the listing of your Pages, including “home” (the root index page) doesn’t check the “home” page setting. Dig into the template file and manually set the “home” link to whatever you want, and then let the tag take care of the rest, excluding that link. Check the WordPress Codex for specifics on how to do that. I’ve done that for years with great success.

    4. About the installation to the root, that is the smartest choice. You do not want your URL to have the word “blog” or “wordpress” or another variation as that becomes a keyword, diluting your keyword mix, and making your URL longer than it needs to be. I always recommend installation to the root directory. Much cleaner.

    Your last three points (7, 8, and 9) don’t really have much to do with converting from a static site. Upgrading is part of the process of everything, static or not. I had to upgrade static sites all the time for various reasons, including changes in scripts and code. Natural part of the process. Luckily, WordPress is working hard on making the process of handling upgrades even easier.

    The same applies to security issues. When they are found, you deal with them, no different than anything else. If you keep WordPress upgraded and you monitor WordPress news for updates, not a problem. WordPress is more response than most to these issues.

    The Duplicate Content issue was exaggerated. Static content sites can also have duplicate content issues. The point is that this is easily resolved if you have worries about it with a well-designed Theme. By using excerpts on multi-post pageviews, much of the problem is automatically solved.

    Good work. Too many people are afraid to convert to dynamic content generation platforms. It is life changing, and I can’t recommend it enough. If I can survive a 2,000+ static web page to dynamic (WordPress) conversion, so can others. :D

  3. And here is the lovely Lorelle’s FIRST comment on this post, left when it appeared at it’s former location:

    “I’ve been through this process myself long before there were the handy tools and improved import features in WordPress, so I understand where you are coming from. As for creating a static front page, create a “Page” in WordPress and assign that as the front page. Personally, with a good Theme where you can easily customize the front page, I don’t see any reason to bother with a static front page in the old sense, as I want a dynamic front page portal to my site. It’s so much more user friendly and better SEO.

    As for the drop in page rank, don’t worry. With your site in WordPress and out of static, your pings will increase and that page rank 4 you fought for should actually go much higher as WordPress is so SEO friendly. Years ago, we had to wait months and months for any recovery in ranking from changes, even changing domains or web hosts with no change in the domain.

    Using a sitemap Plugin will help those redirects and indexing, too.

    However, the Plugin you mention I recommend I don’t recommend for new versions of WordPress, and I hope you are using the latest version as past versions have security vulnerabilities and bugs. The latest version of WordPress has built-in image loading through the Gallery feature. Give it a try. It’s wonderful. However, it does change the URL structure for your images. I recommend that if you are not moving your site around, you make sure your images stay in their folders on your server and the links to them be absolute, and you should have no problems at all with them. And nothing to upload.

    I haven’t written about this subject in a while, so you’ve reminded me that it is probably past due. “Thanks for the kick in the butt and good luck with the changes. I think you are going to be so much happier. Heck, I KNOW you will be much happier.

  4. Pingback: Loosely Speaking: A Virtual Assistant’s Blog » Updating to WordPress 2.7

  5. Pingback: Loosely Speaking: A Virtual Assistant’s Blog » Roundup #4, Prescott Style: WordPress

  6. Thanks for the information. I wish I had some wonderful insight to add. I am currently working with a client to create websites using WordPress as our content manager. The trouble I am having is in the editor, I have learned a lot about customizing by trial and error.
    This was a wonderful post full of information.
    Thanks, Debbie
    PS I have read your blog in the past and really enjoy your content.

  7. Hi Debbie,
    I would love to see some of the sites you have going. Learning WP’s backend can be a challenge, especially when it is updated so often. It has become my favorite approach to web development over the past few years, though, and I benefit by meeting others (like you!) who are moving in that same direction. Thank you for stopping by.

  8. Pingback: Updating to WordPress 2.7 | Loosely Speaking