I knew that even in 2016, some static HTML websites still existed, but I hadn’t encountered one in so long that I assumed any serious entrepreneurs had already made the switch to WordPress a long time ago.
I was recently proven wrong when I met a local entrepreneur here in Tampa who simply hadn’t bothered to update her website in years. Since she hadn’t done any digital marketing, it never seemed like a priority to her.
While I understood her reasoning, I also knew that she was missing out on the tremendous leverage that a website built on WordPress can provide, because it is:
- easy to add/edit content
- easy for visitor to share content on social media
- infinitely scalable as your business grows
- simple to add new functionality
- generally very search engine friendly
- opensource, so you have full control
It’s no surprise that WordPress controls 59% of the content management system market today and powers 39% of all websites online today, because it allows ordinary business owners to quickly and easily update their website on their own, and it provides powerful functionality that less than a decade would have cost tens of thousands of dollars in custom development.
If you’re one of those people who still has a static website and wants to migrate to WordPress to get more out of it, this post is for you, because I’m going to share everything you’ll need to know. And if you’re too busy running your business to do it yourself and/or you need a new web design that turns visitors into customers, reach out to us. That’s what we’re here for!
Compile a list of your URLs
WordPress runs using PHP to pull data from a MySQL database, so your new website won’t have physical HTML files for each page. That doesn’t mean you should just delete them though, because that will almost certainly cause you to lose traffic and organic search ranking.
Instead, you’ll need to set up redirects to make sure any visitors or search engines attempting to access your old pages are redirected to the new, most relevant pages.
Compile your list of URLs using Screaming Frog, which will crawl all of the pages on your web server, and can be exported as a CSV file that can be opened in Excel or Google Sheets. You’ll need to enter your FTP credentials to identity pages that are not linked from within your own website. This might include landing pages used for paid traffic like Google AdWords or Facebook.
Store this in a safe place for now. We’ll need it later.
Collect any necessary scripts
While most scripts from your old website won’t be necessary in your new one, some probably will. For example:
- Google analytics
- Retargeting scripts
- Ad scripts
- Social media scripts
Be sure to collect them all for inclusion in your new website.
Collect all media
Most of your images will probably be located in a single folder on your web server, but you need to confirm this using Screaming Frog.
You’ll need to copy them all to a single location for review. Since your website is still static HTML, it was likely designed a long time ago, which means that many of the images are probably pretty small by today’s standards. For example, when I first stared designing websites, the typical screen resolution was 640px X 480px, but today, 1920px X 1080px is standard on desktops and most laptops—that’s 3 times larger!
An image proportioned to fit the available space perfectly in your current web site may look tiny and out of place in your new website. There’s also a pretty good chance that your existing images look outdated anyway, so this may be a good time to replace them with larger, more current images.
Dreamstime and Adobe Stock are great sources for stock photos. Just be sure to size your new images properly.
Install and configure WordPress in a development environment
You’ll want to minimize downtime, so you need to set up a development environment on your web server where you can build and test your new WordPress website before going live.
The way I do that is to install WordPress in its own subfolder.
You’ll also want to tell search engines to stay out since it is a duplicate of your current website copy. We don’t want to cause any duplicate content issues.
Add the following to your robots.txt file (in your root directory) and replace “your-subfolder-name” with the name of the folder where you’ve created your development environment.
User-agent: * Disallow: /your-subfolder-name/
There are a lot of WordPress settings, but most will depend on your circumstances. The two that matter most at this point are permalinks and categories.
Most static web sites use a flat URL structure, which isn’t ideal because it treats all pages as having equal value, rather than prioritizing your most important pages. This is the perfect opportunity to optimize your URL structure.
I usually identify 6-12 of the most important pages, then create a set of corresponding blog categories with the same name and slug.
Think of categories like general buckets to organize your posts, based on your most important topics.
In conjunction with a proper permalink structure, they will support your most important pages. This helps Google to understand which pages on your website are most important, because all blog posts will appear as subpages to them.
I also recommend installing a few specific plugins:
- WordPress SEO (There are a lot of settings, so check out this tutorial.)
- SEO Smart Links
Publish your content
This part will be tedious grunt work. If you have a lot of pages, you’ll probably bounce frequently between boredom, frustration, and rage before it’s all complete.
Unfortunately, I don’t have a handy tool to make this any faster or easier. You’re stuck with good old fashion copy and paste. Now, I could probably go into a rant about how “you kids have it easy today” but I’ll let the task speak for itself.
There are a few ways to approach this:
- Copy and paste all the text into the visual editor, then switch to the text view to delete and unnecessary code, like inline CSS or HTML tags. This is usually not my preferred method because it’s a lot of work and it’s easy to miss something that you’ll have to track down and fix later, but it may be necessary if there are a lot of HTML tags that you want to keep.
- Copy all of the text, then paste it into the visual editor as plain text. You’ll have to reapply any links and formatting like bold, italic, ordered and unordered lists.This is usually the best way to go because it’s the fastest and most certain way to eliminate everything you don’t need.
You can’t copy and paste images into WordPress, but as we covered earlier, you’ll probably want to replace a lot of them with new, larger images anyway.
Including your images into your pages/posts is as simple as using the media uploader, then clicking the “add to post” button. WordPress will automatically include the image dimensions, alt attribute, image title, a link, if applicable, and limited formatting as long as the appropriate information is available.
Set up redirects
Remember that spreadsheet we created of all your URLs? Here’s where we’ll use it to set up 301 redirects using your .htaccess file. WordPress will have automatically created this file for you during installation, so you’ll just need to edit it with the FTP program of your choice.
You’ll need to create a redirect for every single old URL to the most relevant new URL.
redirect 301 /old-url-1.html /new-url-1/ redirect 301 /old-url-2.html /new-url-2/ redirect 301 /old-url-3.html /new-url-3/
This is the easy part.
I start by downloading a complete backup of all website files and saving them in a safe place, then deleting them from the server and installing WordPress.
Next, upload and activate the UpdraftPremium plugin, which should also already be active in the development environment. Now you’ll just need to generate a site key, and then go back to the development environment to migrate the site to your new WordPress installation. The Updraft team has already created a great tutorial on that, so I won’t reinvent the wheel.
So there you have it!
I hope this tutorial on migrating from your static website to WordPress was helpful.
If it seemed too technical, or it seemed like too much work, we can help. If you’d rather have someone create a WordPress website for you that will turn more of your visitors into customers, get in touch with us today. We’d love to work together!