How to migrate your Website to a WordPress server with limited downtime?

WordPress has many advantages over your existing web server and migrating your web site to a WordPress server may sound challenging and difficult but it is very simple if you follow a few simple guidelines.

Getting Started – Make a Plan

WordPress incorporates some of the cleanest code on the Internet and Search Engines favor WordPress the code. We have a case study where we updated a site in WordPress and when we re-launched it, it had hundreds of string key words that showed up on the first page of search results almost as soon as the upgrade was complete. The first step is to get a sever that is specifically set up for a WordPress Website. There are a lot of servers around the world that offer this service and you can usually find a good one for less than $20 a month. Once you get the WordPress server configuration from your web hosting company, they will give you a temporary address to start working on your new WordPress site.

It will look something like this:

http://yournewsite.yourdomainname.com

The second thing you need to do is to make a map of your current website. This map will contain every address on your website. We did a WordPress migration with a site I founded (https://www.presidentialelection.com/) so we will use this site as an example.

A map will be all directories and sub directories starting with the home page. If you do this in an excel file, it will become useful later. (See below)

Map it in
Microsoft Excel

Every website has main entry points or categories that users enter to find your site. Many people think that your home page is your  most important page but I believe a combination of carefully coded secondary pages is much better than one good home page. The more pages you have the more traffic you will receive because every page is a possible entry point.

Once you have your directory structure mapped out, you need to create a duplicate directory structure on your new WordPress Server. For starters, these can be blank pages with titles but everything should be exactly the same.

For example: In my example, if you have a Presidential Memorabilia page on your main site located here:


https://www.presidentialelection.com/historical_memorabilia_and_collectibles/

On your WordPress server, the Presidential Memorabilia page should be in the same exact location:


http://wp-oas28da8gy.pairsite.com/historical_memorabilia_and_collectibles/

Start with a WordPress Theme

If you are not an experienced developer, it might be a good idea to start with a WordPress theme. Themes are a great way to find the look and feel of exactly what you want without paying developer thousands of dollars to make a custom theme for your business.

Even the most seasoned developers use themes to speed up the process and it is a great way to get your project off the ground very quickly.

Once you install the initial theme, it is time to start building your updated website on the new WordPress server.

Always start by taking the site map you created with all the directory structure information and duplicate the site with blank pages on the new server.

If you have a “about” page on your existing site that is located at:


http://www.yoursite.com/about/

then on your new WordPress server you should have an about page in the same exact location.


http://www.yourwordpressnewsitelocation.com/about/

Continue this process until you have a completely new site that navigates exactly like your old website.


Should I use Hyphens or Underscores in a Web Site Addresses?

For search engine optimization purposes, you should use a hyphen (-) as a word separator and a underscore as a word joiner. You will notice there are a lot of underscores in the example above. This is because the site was created about 15 years before there were any rules on hyphens and underscores and a lot of old school sites used underscores.
If you want to change the underscores to hyphens in WordPress, under the tools section, there is a redirection button.

If you want to change the underscores and upper case letters in your URL’s, now is the time to do it during the migration. When you go live, this will automatically redirect the old URL with the underscores to the new URL’s with the hyphens.


Build Your Website on the WordPress Server
Now that you have the blank pages and directory structure on the WordPress server, you might want to password protect the new server temporary or place a nofolllow command so search engines don’t accidently crawl the new site while you are working on it.


Move your Email First

The best way to get started in the process is to make a plan of action with your current web hosting company. In most cases, you can stay with your existing hosting company if they offer WordPress hosting accounts. Either way, you will have to make a plan of action with your current provider.
Moving your mail to the new mail server
The first step is to transition your email services over to your new WordPress account. If you are moving from your existing web hosting service provider to a WordPress server, they can do this for you quite easily. The e-mail transition consists recreating your domain name mail boxes on the new server, and copying mail recipes, and settings. After everything is copied, your server will push your email from the old server to the new server.
Depending on the content size of your existing mailboxes, it should take about 10 minutes or so for everything to go live on your new server. From this point forward, your mail will be delivered to the new mail server and all you have to do is to make a simple incoming mail server change.
Once the mail is forwarded to the new mail server, you will need to change the incoming and outgoing mail server information

Incoming Mail Server

Hostname: new-mail-server.domain-name.com

Username: [full email address or login]

Password: [your mailbox password]

SSL: On (IMAP Port 993, POP Port 995)

Outgoing Mail Server

Hostname: new-mail-server.domain-name.com

Username: [full email address or login]

Password: [your mailbox password]

SSL: On (Port 465 or 587)

Final Step – Moving your Domain Name to the new Server

Staging your website from the old server to the new WordPress server can sound like a daunting task but it can be quite simple if planned correctly.
On your new WordPress site, make sure you have everything exactly where it should be. This will include the complete directory structure, 301 redirects, all errors corrected, and all new WordPress pages in the correct locations.
The process is very simple and includes copying your domain name and Custom DNS settings, issuing new name servers, and then copying your account settings. If you have a current database that you need moved, ask your hosting company to help with this transition.
In most cased, it is best to use a completely new database that is compatible with your new WordPress platform.
Once the migration is complete, there is one last step. You will need to contact your domain name registrar to update the DNS. This change can be made at your convenience and you will not have to worry about any down time or loss of email.
As soon as the DNS have been changed, there will be a transition from the old server location to the new WordPress server location. We recommend leaving your complete website information on your old server for 3-4 days. If you follow these steps, you will not have any down time because both site locations will be simultaneously available during the DNS transition process.