I’ve been getting a lot of calls here of late from folks that sorta go like this:
Hi, my domain is (fill in the blank) and we need to convert or migrate our website to WordPress. How do I do that?
Sounds simple enough on the surface, but there are many things to consider as you start down this road. First off, I think the trend has started because of this mobile site situation with Google. They have created an avalanche of people that are now afraid that their sites are going to be penalized because they are not “mobile-friendly,” and for most people they really don’t know how to tackle the issue, so they hear by converting to WordPress, it can be done easily. Easily is such a subjective term, isn’t it? Easy for whom?
There are many templates for WordPress that are available that allow a very quick way to create a responsive design website. A few customizations, add a logo and your good to go. But that’s just the beginning. I think for a novice this is where the fork meets the road. I am going to assume if your doing something that Google recommends so you don’t get penalized, the you are a person that actually cares how your site ranks.
If that’s the case, you need to learn about the permalink function in WordPress. This will allow you to change your page URL. You never leave it in its numeric form. You would always want to change it to match a keyword or what an article is about. So for example the original name of this page was ?p=412. Inset I am going to call it flip-site-to-wordpress so that it has some keyword or concept in it. But here’s an important thing to do, you want to make sure as you create your new pages, or if you are copying from your old site, you make a spreadsheet that will allow you to keep track of all of the pages from your old site and where they now will live.
So it might be something like this, web hosting (https://update.actwd.com/sitehost.htm) and we want it to link to our new web hosting page, you would need to add a 301 to your .htacess file, and it would look like this:
Redirect 301 /sitehost.htm https://update.actwd.com/web-hosting-domains
You would do that for every page you are moving to a different file name. If on your new site you decide to omit a page and not copy it, then I would recommend redirecting it to the root of the site. But it is important that every page is accounted for and that nothing be orphaned. It is a common mistake that I see here with our hosting-only folks. They hire a different developer and they don’t account for all the old pages, they just abandon them. It is very typical of a design-only firm. Many of them only think in terms of design and not a digital marketing or holistic SEO viewpoint.
The next thing we would worry about when deciding to move a site is how it affects the links. We’ve again seen many a site that the links were not properly moved over, or all the links were moved over without paying attention to what you want to eradicate. Link audits take time, but to effectively flip a site into a new platform like WordPress, its advisable to take the opportunity to shed the toxic links and not 301 redirect pages that you want to have links eradicated on. In this case it would be okay to orphan those pages and allow them to produce a 404 error.
Links are tricky and they have to be handled correctly though Google’s webmaster tools. We want to urge that because one of the newest trends we are seeing is Google accrediting old links to sites regardless if they are still in existence. We have had several instances that they have given us pages of 404 errors on pages that haven’t existed in over 5 years. What we have found is there is a link from the site still out there, so although it’s dead on our side and long gone, they are asking that we address and account for that link. We are urging everyone to review their accounts because we are seeing sites attributed with old links. Although in rare cases we have seen them penalize for those links, for the most part our feeling is just to simply disavow these older, invalid links.
Lastly, when resetting up a site in WordPress, you must understand how the navigation of the old site worked. Make sure you keep your pages supported in the same way. This goes beyond orphaning pages. We often see pages that don’t have good ways to navigate to them, or they are unsupported throughout a site. If the page is not important, please don’t add it to the main navigation. The more important something is, the higher it should be elevated within your navigation. WordPress can be somewhat difficult to understand in how to best support pages. It also may require extra plugins if it’s not built into the skin/template. There are different ways to display menus, and of course don’t forget the breadcrumb trail.
If there was one piece of advice I could offer, it would be that when you’re migrating a website, I would always make sure I hired a digital marketing agency or web design firm that could show multiple successful migrations. It’s never fun to deal a website whose rankings got smashed. And it will always cost more in the long run to fix it. For my bunch, if you need help migrating a website, you know we are always just a phone call away.