Migrating a Small Business Website to WordPress

When your small business has an online presence, a well-functioning, attractive digital storefront is everything. There are millions of competing businesses on the web, driving the need for your site to load quickly, look appealing and be compatible with mobile.

Small business owners often believe they inhabit a digital universe that is somewhat lesser than the big industry names, and that a small shoe store, for example, could never have an online presence with all the bells and whistles of a Zappos. However, thanks to content management system WordPress, serving as a platform for some of the largest online retailers in the world, even the most modest of businesses can create and organize a top tier website.

Why Switch to WordPress?

Let’s look at some of the advantages of using WordPress.

  • Blogging – Blogging helps to increase traffic to your website, it helps to convert that traffic into leads, it can help establish you as industry “insider” or authority, it builds long-term positive impact for your site as your blogs as shared on social media and you begin to rank in search engines. Many platforms require a separate website to host a blog. WordPress offers on-site blogging that is incredibly simple and takes just seconds to post a new blog. You can create a dedicated blog, give it a catchy name related to your brand, and begin keeping customers up to date on the latest news about your business.
  • Security – WordPress offers instant updates, ensuring your website complies with the latest security policies, and is itself secure. Some platforms require manual checking for updates, and may even be haphazard about updating at all. However, WordPress makes security concerns a thing of the past. WordPress is committed to its user’s security, and the security of visitors to its users’ sites.
  • Open Source = Free – WordPress is an open source platform, meaning that the platform is completely free. Additionally, developers such as Web-Dorado are constantly developing WordPress plugins and themes – all designed to make your site easier to use and more visually appealing. WordPress has a huge online support community where you can find a host of add-ons and tons of information that can answer any question you may have.
  • Search Engine Optimization – Search engine optimization is all about making your website more visible for heavyweights like Google and Yahoo. WordPress helps a business optimize their site with ease. There are even plugins available that can walk you systematically through how your content ranks and where you can improve.
  • Tried and True – WordPress has been time tested. It’s been around for years, meaning there’s been adequate time to work out all those little bugs. Like a fine wine, WordPress has only improved with age, as WordPress engineers have refined the product into the timeless content management system that web developers of all stripes have come to love.
  • Any Developer Can Code in WordPress – Some small business prefer to hire a developer to build a proprietary system, but the problem then becomes no one other than that web developer can handily manage that system. If you ever need changes or updates, you may find yourself in a difficult spot. WordPress offers a huge advantage in that any developer can code for it. WordPress uses PHP, HTML, CSS and a little JavaScript – all common programming languages.
  • Be in Good Company – Using WordPress as your content management system platform will put you in the company of such notables as The New York Times, eBay, Drudge Report, Sony Music and TechCrunch. These are websites with millions of subscribers and millions of hits per month. WordPress is flexible enough to meet the needs of some of the largest companies in the world and yet still work great for small business, thanks to an easily scalable platform. As your small business grows, WordPress is ideally suited to grow right along with it.
Switching from HTML to WordPress

So perhaps WordPress isn’t currently your CMS platform of choice, but you’re thinking about switching over to it. Still, starting over from scratch seems a little daunting. The good news is you don’t have to start over. It’s easy to migrate your existing HTML site over to WordPress and retain your current content, design and SEO rankings, and like any important mission, it all starts with a good plan.

Your WordPress Migration Plan

When you plan to migrate from an HTML website to WordPress, consider the following:

  • Do you plan to keep your current domain name or create a new one?
  • Will your current URL structure change? It’s likely it will so you’ll need to be prepared to redirect your old URLs after migrating to WordPress.
  • What content will you move to the new site? Consider pages, posts, JavaScript files, etc. Migrating a high volume of content will require specific tools.
  • Is your website currently dependent on external services, and if so, have you identified WordPress plugins for these services? Will you need any third party services after the migration?
  • Are there tools available in WordPress to replace any existing administrative tools you’re using, or will you need to transfer these?
  • Will you stick with your current web host? Making a change is common when migrating to WordPress, but you’ll want to make sure the new web host can accommodate WordPress.

Your plan should include information about how to create a test domain, install WordPress, import your existing content, design the new site, install any WordPress plugins you plan to use, make a backup of your old and new site, address any broken links and finally, go live. It is recommended that you take some time to familiarize yourself with WordPress before beginning the migration.

Migrating to WordPress

This is actually the easiest part, whether doing a local install or using an external host. The process is simple. Hosting services keep it simple with many one-click installation options, or with managed WordPress hosting, it’s already installed for you.

Moving Over Your Content

You can successfully import content from an existing site to your new WordPress site, but you’ll need to consider the following:

  • Does your current HTML site run on a content management system?
  • Do you need to import manually, or are they importing tools available?
  • Will you be importing a high volume of content? The higher the volume of content imported manually, the greater risk for human error.

Many commercially available CMSs have importing tools available, so if your HTML site runs on one of these CMSs, you’re set. Just find the tool, and you’ll be done importing your content with just a few clicks. If there are no importing tools available, your backend developer can move the content for you, or you can move it manually via good old copy and paste. When manually importing via copy and paste, be sure to use “Paste as Plain Text” so as not to transfer over old formatting. When you import content, you’ll also need to upload images and other relevant files.

Remember that you’ll need to redirect old URLs to retain your search engine rankings and avoid 404 errors. It is recommended that you keep track of URLs on a simple spreadsheet.

Creating a navigational menu from the WordPress menu is easy and fun. After you’ve moved over your content, do this under Appearance>Menus. If you’ve imported a low volume of content, this will only take a few seconds.

Designing Your WordPress Site

Now that you’ve imported your content, it’s time to give your website a personality. You have many options for design, including developing a theme from scratch, downloading an existing theme, modifying an existing theme, or converting your existing HTML template to a WordPress theme. The easiest option is installing an existing WordPress theme.

Web-Dorado has a suite of excellent professional WordPress themes that can be the base of your WordPress site. You can pick up the complete set of 11 themes for just $40, or peruse the available themes to find the perfect fit for your small business.

WordPress Plugins

As part of your website design and functionality, you’ll also want to consider plugins. We’ve discussed plugins to help with migration, but you can also get plugins that enhance the functionality of your website. Some helpful plugins available include Akismet, which can help identify spam in your comments section, WordPress Importer, which simplifies importing content into WordPress, All in One SEO Pack, which optimizes your site for SEO, and MailPoet Newsletters, a plugin for automating the sending of notifications and newsletters.

There are tens of thousands of available plugins, both free and premium, offering a host of solutions. Web-Dorado’s most popular plugins include Photo Gallery, Slider WD to display your content in a beautiful slider and WordPress Form Maker, which makes generating user input forms a cinch. In fact, all 22 plugins can be picked up together for $100.

Redirecting Links

Now that you’ve imported your content, restored the functionality and installed a great theme, you want to check for broken links. A redirection plugin, such as Simple 301 Redirect or Redirection makes redirecting links a simple process. Broken Link Checker makes finding broken links quick and easy. You can also manually edit the .htaccess file with the following code:

Redirect 301 /about.html http://yourdomain.com/about/

Redirect 301 /contact.html http://yourdomain.com/contact/

Redirect 301 /contact.html http://yourdomain.com/contact/

The source URL should be the page file name, and the destination URL should be the full URL, including http://. Be sure to include the subdirectory if you have any pages in a subdirectory, which would look like:

Redirect 301 /folder/page.html http://yourdomain.com/page/

Directing Your Domain to Your New WordPress Site

Now it’s time to point your domain to your new website. If your new site is being hosted by a new host, you’ll need to update your name servers for your new domain. When using a third party content delivery network, such as CloudFare or MaxCDN, you’ll want to update the DNS records by editing your A records. You can also use a pre-existing sub-directory installation.

Giving It the Final Check

Once you’ve completed all the steps for a successful migration from an existing HTML site to the WordPress CMS platform, you’ll want to double check everything. Check again for broken links, review pages for proper formatting, check that all functionality works properly. Set up permalinks (hyperlinks) at Settings>Permalinks, set up analytics, make your site visible to search engines, and back up your HTML site.

Web developer Richard Sutherland has been working with WordPress, Joomla, Drupal and other content management systems for over a decade. Graduating from Edinburgh’s Heriot-Watt University in 2000 with a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science, Richard has held a number of prominent website development roles at major companies such as Samsung, ASDA and Prudential.

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