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Moving Your HTML Website to WordPress: 4 Things to Think About

WordPress Logo. Update: If you’re looking for the step-by-step process for migrating an HTML site to WordPress you can find it here.

Original article starts here:

Just recently I’ve seen a few questions in a couple of the forums asking about moving an existing HTML static website to WordPress.

As big a fan as I am of WordPress, this is not something you want to do just for the hell of it.

If you have a good reason to re-platform your site (such as adding a blog component to it) then, sure, WordPress is an excellent and reasonably future-proof platform (as long as the current rate of development is maintained).

But if there’s no good reason to move then I’d recommend leaving your site as it is. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it.

However, if you’re determined to make the move here are four things to think about:

Create a development site

Migrating your site will be a long project and, assuming you’re keeping the same domain, you don’t want to be experimenting and bug fixing on your live site.

You want the transition to WordPress to be completely unnoticed by your visitors.

So set up a test site on a new domain somewhere and install WordPress on it.

I have 3 test/development sites now, so that when I’m doing work for clients I can show them how things are going, and get their feedback, without risking a real live visitor stumbling across it.

If you’re on Hostgator, and you have an unlimited domains plan, this is a piece of cake.

All you need is one new domain and then you can set up WordPress in as many subdirectories as you want.

I have www.mytestdomain.com/demosite-1, www.mytestdomain.com/demosite-2 and so on – each demosite subdirectory containing a WordPress installation.

Once you have your test domain set up you can work at your own pace to perfect your design, import your content and get it all set up the way you want, while your existing site continues to run normally.

Then, once you’re happy with everything, you can use the BackupBuddy plugin to import your entire installation (system files and database) to your existing domain.

You can, of course, set up a new installation of WordPress manually and use a database management plugin to import your database from your test site.

But BackupBuddy makes it all so much easier.

I do strongly recommend taking this approach because you can take your time getting everything properly set up without the pressure of feeling you have to complete it quickly because your visitors are going to be viewing it.

Map your old URLs to your new URLs

The WordPress Permalink structure is different from the URL structure on your existing static site.

Your HTML site URLs will be something like: www.yoursite.com/about.html, (or .php, .asp, etc) whereas the WordPress based Permalink would be www.yoursite.com/about/ (or whichever permalink format you’ve selected).

So if someone who’s linked to your ‘About’ page clicks the link after you’ve moved to WordPress, they’d get a 404 ‘page not found’ error – unless you create a permanent re-direct.

And you need to create permanent (301) re-directs from each of your old pages to each of your new pages.

If your existing site is a big site, with several hundred pages, this becomes a large and tedious job! (And it’s the main reason I said earlier ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it’).

I have an aversion to using too many plugins, so I would normally set up those re-directs in my .htaccess file. But you could use the Redirection plugin if you’re more comfortable with that – it’s pretty good.

You’ll still need to map your old URLs to your new permalinks, but you can do this in the Redirection plugin admin interface, which is more user-friendly than the .htaccess file.

Backup Your Existing site

When you’re ready to unleash your WordPress based site on the world remember to first back up your entire HTML based static site. The entire site – lock, stock and barrel.

This is because if anything goes awry after the transfer, (a hiccough with those re-directs, for example), you can immediately restore your existing site and make whatever corrections you need to make to your WordPress site off-line.

On-Site SEO factors

Remember that after setting up your content on your WordPress site you’ll have to re-set the on-site/on-page SEO tags – Titles, Descriptions and Keywords.

If your current site uses a database to store your page content you may be able to write an SQL script to import the pages directly to WordPress.

But, if not, you’re going to have to copy and paste your actual content and set the META tags manually for each post.

You’ll also want to set up a Category and Tag structure, which helps with SEO.

Categories and tags will require some thinking, although that should be made easier by the fact that you know the content you’re importing.

Remember that categories and tags make up WordPress’ filing system, so you need to identify the various categories (filing cabinets) and tags (folders) that your articles fall into.

And you’ll also need to assign your categories and tags manually to each article because your HTML site will not have used this approach.

Finally, you’ll need to check all your imported pages carefully because, inevitably, some formatting will get screwed up.

Summary

Re-platforming your existing HTML site onto WordPress is a reasonably big project – especially if your current site has a lot of content.

However, as with any project, if you plan for it thoroughly before starting, it will go more smoothly.

Do be prepared, though, for things to go awry – and plan accordingly! The bigger your site the more inevitable this will be.

But as long as you’ve got everything backed up so that you can roll back to your previous state if you need to, you’ll be able to achieve the transfer with minimal disruption to your site visitors.

Cheers (and good luck!),

Update – 1 December, 2011:

I’ve set out the detailed step-by-step process for moving an HTML (or any static) website to WordPress. You can find all 17 detailed steps here.

Martin Malden

Wealthy Affiliate will teach you how to build a long term business

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Angiel 6 December, 2010, 3:58 am

    I have set up some HTML sites and was considering bumping them over into WP, but I’ve held back as I’ve watched WP become more “beefy”. That re-direct issue is a major one for me (deathly afraid of messing around with the .htaccess stuff) – so I’m going to look into the redirection plug-in you mention. Glad to hear from someone who has experience with it!

  • Olivia Mitchell 7 December, 2010, 7:18 am

    Hi Martin

    Thanks for writing this post – it’s very useful. I’m intrigued by your first point – that you shouldn’t move a site to wordpress unless you’ve got a good reason for it. In my case, the good reason is that the current site has no CMS and so I find it difficult to edit material on it, add new pages etc.

    And I’m choosing Wordpress because that’s what I’m already familiar with.

    Do you think that’s a good enough reason for the move, and for choosing Wordpress?

    Olivia

    • Martin 7 December, 2010, 7:33 am

      Olivia, hi,

      Sure – that’s a perfectly valid reason, especially if it’s causing you a problem and, to you, the effort is worth the return. That should be the deciding factor 🙂

      The point of the article was really just to make people aware of some of the things involved, so they can make a more informed decision.

      And WordPress – sure..! I’m a WordPress fan, and build all my sites (and client sites) on WordPress now. That’s not to say that others are bad, but WordPress does everything I need on all the sites I’ve built, and I’m very familiar with it. So I don’t spend time looking at other platforms.

      If I come across a situation that WordPress can’t handle then, of course, I’d look elsewhere. But, so far, that hasn’t happened and I have better ways of spending my time than looking at other platforms that do pretty much the same as WordPress.

      Good luck with your project and give me a shout if you get stuck with anything! 🙂

      Cheers,

      Martin.

  • Richard 11 December, 2010, 9:21 pm

    A most excellent post Martin and you’ve managed to keep this straight forward and you’ve definetly covered all of the areas as far as I’m concerned. I was slightly disheartened when I saw your ‘If it ain’t broke don’t fix it’ comment but I was pleased to see your explanation about this further on within your article.

    If you wanted to check out my site it’s http://www.amsterdamtravelguide.net – perhaps a winter project.

    Thanks,

    Richard.

    • Martin 12 December, 2010, 7:22 am

      Hi Richard,

      Many thanks – and glad I didn’t dishearten you too much..! 🙂

      Cheers,

      Martin.

  • Richard 11 December, 2010, 9:26 pm

    And actually, to add to my previous post, even though I have moderation built into the backend for comments, I have noticed even more filtering through all about loans this year and that’s one reason in itself to seriously consider moving into the WP arena.

    After having a had a quick look again on the site and from researching some awesome SEO Paid plugins for WP recently for other projects I think I’ve answered my question now and I will be looking to mvoe the site on WP for 2011 🙂

    • Martin 12 December, 2010, 7:24 am

      You’ll need to be sure to activate Akismet, and I also use Bad Behaviour to fight the spam. Without those two you’ll find a lot of spam coming through, but those two in combination do a great job.

      Cheers,

      Martin.

  • Cathy Miller 8 January, 2011, 1:22 am

    Hi Martin:

    I have a static site-millercathy.com (that I’m still paying for but not using) and a blog that is a personal one attached to that domain, as well as my email. (paying for all those, too)

    I am with HostGator for my business blog on Wordpress that also acts as my website. I want to move the millercathy.com domain to HostGator and I plan on setting it up with a Wordpress blog. I’d like to move the personal blog posts, but it’s not terrible to me if I don’t. My main concern is 1) keeping that domain, 2) not disrupting my email account-which is my business email. 3) having all my blogs in Wordpress with HostGator.

    Suggestions for the best approach? I really appreciate your insight.

    • Martin 8 January, 2011, 8:08 am

      Hi Cathy,

      My suggestions would be:

      1. Make sure your Hostgator account allows you to host multiple domains. Upgrade if it doesn’t. (I think it’s only the cheapest plan that doesn’t support multiple domains)

      2. Hostgator used to offer a deal where they transfer one site free of charge, but that may only be for new accounts so you may not qualify. But it’s worth asking. If they won’t do it for you then use your FTP client to copy your entire static site back to your machine. Make sure you copy all files and folders back.

      3. Change the name server details on your static site hosting account to the hostgator name servers, which are available near the bottom left of your current cpanel screen. You may need to ask your current hosting provider where you can make the changes to your name server settings.

      4. Create the addon domain in Hostgator for millercathy.com

      5. Set up your email account in your Hostgator cpanel. Once the name server changes have propagated (you should leave 24 hours for that) your email will automatically go to your hostgator account.

      6. If you’re using Thunderbird or Outlook (or any other email client) you’ll need to re-set your email account details with the new password and server details.

      7. Decide whether you want to upload your entire site from your machine to your new addon domain in Hostgator. Alternatively you can install WordPress in your addon domain and decide how/if you want to import your posts. (It will be a copy and paste job but you’ll need to set re-directs for each page if you want to retain links etc.).

      8. Decide whether you want to leave your domains with your current hosting provider or import them to Hostgator. You can do either.

      That should do it 🙂

      Hostgator are very good, so if you get stuck their support group will sort things out very quickly.

      Cheers,

      Martin.

  • Rob 21 January, 2011, 9:42 pm

    Thanks very much.

  • Barbara 28 January, 2011, 4:42 am

    Hello,

    I’ve found your post very helpful as I’ve been wanting to migrate a couple of sites to Wordpress and wasn’t sure the best way to do it. I do have three questions, though.

    1) I’ve set up a “test site,” as you suggested and installed WP. I’m recreating the pages and creating retroactive “posts.” But, of course, WP assigns each one a permalink (ie, http://www.mytestdomain.com/mypost1). When I use BackupBuddy to import the site, will it correct the permalinks and point them to the new domain (ie, http://www.myrealsite.com/mypost1)?

    2) Just before importing to the “real” site, should I delete all the existing content and install WP …. or will the import via BackupBuddy overwrite everything?

    3) Should I install WP on my “real” site before the import? (You mention we *can* set up a new install manually and import the database, but I take it from your post that you don’t necessarily recommend this. Am I correct?

    Barbara

    • Martin 28 January, 2011, 6:54 am

      Hi Barbara,

      Glad you found it useful! Let me take your questions one at a time:

      1) Short answer is ‘yes’. BackupBuddy will set everything up for you correctly. If you’re using the same domain and hosting provider that you’re currently using for your non WordPress based site, and the same hosting provider you set up your test WP site on, you should have no problems. But if you’re moving to a new hosting provider the chances of problems increase because you can almost guarantee that the new hosting provider’s servers are set up differently (from your test WP site hosting provider). These differences do sometimes cause problems.

      2) You should definitely ‘prepare’ your root folder by removing all the files that drive your current site – e.g. index.html and the other pages. If you have folders on there that are not fundamental to the running of your current site those can stay there.

      3) No need to install WordPress on your site before performing the import if you’re using BackupBuddy. If you’re not using BackupBuddy then yes – you should install WordPress first.

      Hope that clarifies things 🙂

      Cheers,

      Martin.

      • Barbara 28 January, 2011, 8:21 am

        Thanks so much, Martin! I have bought BackupBuddy and I’m sure this will be the solution to many problems. I’ve also subscribed to your RSS feed, bookmarked your site, joined your google page and followed a few of your links. If I support your site in any other ways, let me know.

        • Martin 28 January, 2011, 5:11 pm

          Hi Barbara,

          My goodness – I didn’t know there were that many ways to support a site..! 🙂

          But seriously, thanks for the support and I’m happy you were able to get a solution.

          Cheers,

          Martin.

  • Richard 28 January, 2011, 7:01 am

    Still keeping a watchful eye on tbis post as the ownet does such a great job of responding. Having found oDesk.com again I may put my upgrade to WP out to tender.

  • Amanda Perry 31 March, 2011, 10:45 pm

    Hi Martin –

    Thanks for the info. We currently have a DNN website hosted on websecurestores. (www.skillofstrength.com)

    I’m looking to start fresh and use a wordpress site. I can’t figure out the order of how to do things. Should I sign up with the new host (either Blue Host or Host Gator) and purchase a different domain to build the site on for now and then transfer my current domain to the new host?

    My other issue is that we are using Gmail for our email. Is there a way that I can make sure we don’t lose emails?

    A little direction would be priceless. 🙂

    Thanks in advance,
    Amanda

    • Martin 1 April, 2011, 7:13 am

      Hi Amanda,

      If your current hosting account doesn’t allow multiple domains then yes – you may need to sign up with one that does, or simply add a domain to your current hosting account. This may involve either upgrading your account or, possibly, opening a second account with them.

      Hostgator offers a deal where they’ll transfer one existing site in for new customers, so if you wanted to move hosts they could take care of that part for you.

      With HG you can set up an addon domain to hold your test site (more details here). With this option you won’t need a new domain name – just add a folder to your existing domain and install WordPress in that.

      Then, when you’re ready (all redirects etc set up) you can transfer your WordPress site to the live domain.

      I don’t understand why you’d lose emails from Gmail. Your Gmail account should be independent of your websites.

      Cheers,

      Martin.

      • Amanda Perry 2 April, 2011, 2:15 am

        Hi Martin –

        Thanks so much for your response. I kind of want to start the site from scratch so I wouldn’t necessarily need them to move it for me, but if they would take care of all the back end items that would be awesome.

        I should have been more clear. We use gmail for business so I changed the MX names in my current host to point to gmail and we login as amanda@skillofstrength.com to gmail. I don’t want to lose our emails, but not sure how to keep it running as I switching things over. Does that make more sense?

        Thanks again!
        Amanda

        • Martin 2 April, 2011, 8:17 am

          Hi Amanda,

          Re Gmail – rather than changing the MX names in your host to point to Gmail you may want to change the Gmail settings to ‘send using your hosting providers’ servers’. Then it wouldn’t matter how many times you changed your hosting provider – all you’d need to do would be to change the details in Gmail each time.

          More info here.

          I just re-read that article and saw that it didn’t set out the step-by-step process for doing that. I’ll write that up and publish it in the next week or so.

          Cheers,

          Martin.

  • Amanda Perry 3 April, 2011, 8:13 pm

    Thanks Martin. That would be SO helpful because everywhere I look the only way I see to setup gmail is to change the MX records. This has actually caused a few issues for me because some although most of the email is delivered to (and I can access from) gmail, any of the form submission notification emails from my site are still delivered to the other email server (webmail).

    Thanks again! Keep me posted if you do publish directions.

    • Martin 4 April, 2011, 9:56 pm

      Hi Amanda,

      Here are those directions on setting up Gmail as your email client:

      Set up Gmail as email client.

      Cheers,

      Martin.

  • Barbara 4 April, 2011, 2:41 am

    Just thought I’d stop by again and thank you once more. Using your suggestions from this post, I’ve already transitioned three static sites to Wordpress and although I had a few minor problems (the Backup Buddy zip file would not unarchive on the site; I had to extract the files first and then upload them), all is going much better than I expected.

    One request — in some future post, can you explore the pros and cons of using WP for large sites (hundreds of pages).

    • Martin 4 April, 2011, 6:41 am

      Hi Babara,

      Excellent – and well done!

      I don’t think there are any particular cons on using WordPress for large sites. This site has more than 350 pages (articles) on it now and if you think of a site like CopyBlogger, which runs on WordPress, they must have 1,000 pages or more.

      Cheers,

      Martin.