In recent weeks we’ve been moving a number of older WordPress sites to new hosting at the same time as giving them a bit of a makeover.
How do you move a site, change host, change the theme and the URLs without messing everything up?
Sometimes the client wanted to take the opportunity of doing the move to reorganize the site content with the aim of improving conversion and organic traffic. After a couple of such makeovers we evolved a process for the mechanics of doing the move.
Here’s a checklist to use when you’re making significant changes to a website. This is the case where the changes are so significant that it is not viable to make them in situ.
In this case it is likely that the new site will be developed at a different location from the old site and will go live at a new host too.
Characteristics Of The Site Move
In the example below, the site makeover involves:
- Change of WordPress theme (or a change from a non-WordPress to a WordPress site)
- New site is to be HTML5 and mobile responsive when the old site wasn’t
- Change of hosting
- Changes to many pages on the sites: there will be new pages, merged pages, split pages, pages deleted;
- Changes to the page URL permalink structure;
- The only thing that remains unchanged is the home page URL
Goals Of The Site Move
- Minimal downtime
- Preserve SEO rankings and authority
- High site integrity – no broken links
- A buzz about the new site and hence more traffic
In our example, we will consider the following scenario with the new site on SiteGround and the nameservers at Godaddy, however the same process will apply for most hosts and registrars
Status Of WebSite Before The Move
- Web site URL is www.yoursite.com
- Existing site is hosted at AnyHost
- Domain yoursite.com was registered at Godaddy and Godaddy nameservers are used to point the ‘A’ record to the IP address of the site at AnyHost
- New hosting account is at SiteGround – it is a GoGeek account so allows multiple sites on the same account and IP address
- Primary domain for hosting account is m45sites.com
- Let’s say your IP address for m45sites.com is 126.96.36.199
Site Move Checklist
- Preparation Of The New Site
- On SiteGround create an subdomain called yoursite.m45sites.com
- Install the new site at http://yoursite.m45sites.com using the SiteGround WordPress installer.
- Work on the site content but do not open it up to search engines, JetPack or social media as the site is still on the temporary URL
- Create a mapping spreadsheet from the existing site URL to the new site URL for each page on the site that has a decent amount of traffic; any pages with little or no traffic that have no equivalent page on the new site can be redirected to the home page or be left as 404s if you do not want that traffic as it may be now off-topic and will just bounce off your home page anyway (no point making your bounce rate worse)
- Add a column to your spreadsheet with a formula for the redirect:
- Run the paid version of Screaming Frog on the new site to check for broken links – and fix any that it finds
- Site Switch-Over
- Around 72 hours BEFORE switch-over, update the records on the Godaddy DNS records for yoursite.com and www.yoursite.com and set the TTL down to 5 minutes and leave the IP address unchanged still pointing at AnyHost. This will allow the switch-over to take effect quickly.
- At switch-over, put the new site and the old site into maintenance mode
- On SiteGround, park the yoursite.com domain on top of yoursite.m45sites.com
- On Godaddy nameservers change the IP address for the ‘A’ record for yoursite.com to the SiteGround IP (e.g 188.8.131.52) and keep the TTL as 5 minutes for now
- In WordPress go to General settings and change both URLs from http://yoursite.m45sites.com to http://www.yoursite.com and Save
- Clear your browser cache so your browser connects to the new site when referring to the domain
- You will be logged out of WordPress and need to log in again to http://www.yoursite.com. Make sure you are logged in to the new site
- Add your list of RedirectPermanent lines to the top of the .htaccess file on the new site at SiteGround
- Remove new site from Maintenance Mode
- Connect JetPack to wordPress.com, then enable Login Protect, JetPack Comments, Omnisearch etc
- Put site back into Maintenance Mode
- Run Omnisearch to check for any remaining occurrences to the temporary sub-domain, yoursite.m45sites.com. This may exist in widgets or in CSS files, so replace this temporary domain with the domain yoursite.com
- Run Screaming Frog on the site to check for broken links – and fix any it finds
- Enable the Yoast SEO sitemap
- Add line for the sitemap in robots.txt:
- In WordPress Reading/Settings clear the checkbox labelled Discourage search engines
- Remove new site from Maintenance Mode – the new site is now live
- Site Verification
- Verify a few of the redirects that are in the .htaccess file are working correctly
- Add Google Analytics code – same tracking code as old site
- Verify site on Google Search Console using the recommended method
- Submit sitemap and make sure there are no errors
- Enable any social media plugins
- About 24 hours after launch and assuming there are no errors in Google Search Console, or issues on the site then on Godaddy nameservers change change the TTL for the ‘A’ record for yoursite.com to a larger value such as 4 hours (14400 seconds)
- Site Promotion
- Create branded Facebook friendly sized Open Graph images for your home page and post popular posts/pages
- Do lots of promotion of your new site on Facebook, Twitter, GooglePlus, Pinterest, Reddit and LinkedIn
- Retain the momentum by continuing to follow up by adding high quality regular content
- Continue to monitor Google Search Console to check your site health and Google Analytics for your (growing) traffic levels
Some Web Hosts …
Don’t forget that some hosts will do the move for you. If you move to WP Engine, (as we did) they have a plugin that makes site moves pretty easy. Get WP Engine through our link for a total of four months off the price for a year.