As people, we want to move things around, especially if we have a good reason for it. We want to travel, replace our old gadgets with the latest models, and so on. Change is what keeps us moving forward.
This includes migrating your WordPress site to a new domain. Yes, just like in traveling, you basically change your address. But, before you travel somewhere else you need a plan, a proper process, and patience. This can be applied to the WordPress migration process as well, which is exactly what we’re going to cover in this article.
Reasons for Migrating Your WordPress Site
With so many businesses and users using WordPress sites, things don’t always go as planned. There are quite a few problems that can occur, and they may cause such problems that migrating the site is an inevitable solution.
So, when is it the best time to move from one domain to another? There are a few strong reasons that’ll convince you to make the decision:
- Heavily Penalized by Google: It’s really hard to recover if you’ve been faced with consecutive spam warnings and algorithmic penalties from Google. If your website is still new, and you’ve messed things up from inexperience, maybe it’s time to start over with a new domain.
- Change Company Name/Rebrand: So, like in many cases in the business world, your company can take things in a new direction, or change names, like Blue Ribbon Sports turned into Nike. If that’s the case with your company, it’s time to change your domain.
- Discovered Better Domain: Let’s say you sell laptops, and all of a sudden, the domain “laptops.com” is available. You wouldn’t want to miss out on that web traffic potential, would you?
First, Back Things Up
You know what they say, the first steps are the most important ones. When it comes to migrating your WordPress site, you need to make a full backup – downloading your website content on your hosting. This needs to be done because:
- You’ll Need a Copy: When we say you’ll need a copy, we mean that you’ll need every database, code, content, layout, and media ready to be moved to the new domain in the exact same state as it is in the current domain.
- For Protection: As a site owner, if you’re not into the technical aspect of WordPress, it’s likely that you’ll make a mistake when you try to migrate to another domain. If you have a backup, even if you make a mistake, you can restore everything and start the process again.
There are two major ways to perform a proper backup of your WordPress build:
- Ask the Hosting Company: Having a hosting package that provides website backups is a must. However, if you go for the hosting service backup, make sure that you use only premium services that provide you with multiple website backups and regular testing instead of the free backups that don’t check all the boxes.
- Hire a Professional: If nothing can guarantee a safe backup, you need to let professionals handle it. Anything can happen at any time with your WordPress site, not only during backups and domain migration, and you’ll want to have a reliable partner that knows how to handle processes and resolve problems fast.
Export the Database and Content to Your New Domain
You’ve found your new home, you’ve secured your new “furniture”, and after that, it’s time to transfer things from your old to your new home. This is the core of the migration process. There are two ways to move your databases and content to your new domain.
Let’s begin with the easier or the two – using a plugin called Duplicator.
Install the plugin on your old WordPress site (your old domain). When you activate Duplicator, go to your WordPress Admin page > Duplicator, and start by creating a new package.
Duplicator will create a zip file of your WordPress database and content. When the process is finished, you’ll be redirected to the Duplicator Packages page.
Download your package and open an SFTP to connect to your new domain. Upload your installer.php and the package.zip files to your new site. After the upload, you’ll need to launch the installer.php file in your browser:
You’ll need to provide the Duplicator Installer with the database information and click on the “Run Deployment” button. Once the deployment process is done, you’ll be redirected to the “Update” page.
This is where you need to update your URL. Enter your old and new URL, and click the “Update” button. This will replace the old domain name with the new domain name. After the process has been done, you need to log into your new WordPress admin and re-save your WordPress permalinks.
After this, the installer.php, installer-data.sql, and the installer-log.txt files are no longer needed, so you can delete them by using SFTP client again.
Now, if you want to get more technical with it, you can upload files manually on your new server. But, this is definitely not recommended if you don’t know what you’re doing and it is something that should be taken into consideration only if everything else fails.
First, connect your SFTP client with your new hosting account. Then, grab the files from your backup folder and drag-and-drop them into your “public_html” folder of your new hosting account for your new domain.
Ensure Everything Works
So you’ve uploaded your database and files to your new domain, but is the job of website migration done there? Not quite, because you need to check if your efforts have paid off. Load your new site and check if everything’s the same as in the previous domain. If everything looks fine, then the migration has been successful. However, there are a few more things that you need to check.
Check for Broken Links
A new domain is an excellent way to start from scratch and offer a flawless experience to your target users, something that is not possible if you have broken links on your site. Check each page with W3C Link Checker.
If the broken link is caused by a false URL from another website that you link to, you’ll need a 301 redirect that will take the users to the right location. The same goes if the broken link comes from your website. If you don’t have where to redirect the broken link, it’s better to delete it from your page.
Check Your Settings and Plugins
WordPress can reset your settings when things get changed or toggled, that’s why you need to make sure that everything is the same as before:
Ensure that your plugins are active too.
Internal Links Should Point to Your New Domain
When you pasted the content to your new domain, the links that were not updated still point to your old domain. The easiest way to handle this is to use a plugin called Velvet Blues Update URLs.
Minimize the Impact on Your SEO
Woohoo, you have a fully functioning new domain. But not so fast, what about the SEO? What if the reason for shifting your WordPress site to a new domain is not an SEO penalty and you want to keep your good rankings?
Nobody wants to lose a good stream of web traffic. The following steps will minimize the negative SEO effects of migrating your WordPress site to a new domain.
Redirect Each Old Page
One of the vital things that you can do is redirect each page from your old domain to the equivalent page of your new domain.
When you redirect your old pages, you need to use 301 redirects – permanent redirects. To set up 301 redirects, you need to connect to your old domain by using an SFTP client and access the .htaccess file. Open the .htaccess file and paste this code at the top:
#Options +FollowSymLinks RewriteEngine on RewriteRule ^(.*)$ http://www.YourNewSite.COM/$1 [R=301,L]
When you’re done with applying the code, visit your old website and test whether everything is being properly redirected to your new domain.
Tell Google about Your New Domain
This is one of the last, but certainly no less important of steps. Google needs to know that you’ve migrated your WordPress site to a new domain and here is where your content resides now. For this purpose, you can use the Change of Address tool that is part of your Search Console account.
First, you need to add and verify your new site. Verification is the process of proving that you own the site on your new domain. Google needs to confirm your ownership because once you are verified for a site or app you have access to its Google Search data, and can affect its presence on Google Search.
The easiest way to verify your new domain is to add a new site to the Search Console.
Once you’re done with the verification process, you need to use the Change of Address tool. On your Search Console Home page, click the domain that you want to move from. Click the gear icon, and click Change of Address.
Follow the instructions of the tool and don’t forget to add the tracking code to your new website too.
As a final step, you need to submit a sitemap to Search Console. If you still haven’t created a sitemap for your new domain, first, you need to enter to your account again and navigate to Crawl > Sitemaps. Click “Add/Test Sitemap” and enter your new web address.
This will ensure that Google indexes your new WordPress site.
As you can see, migrating your WordPress website to a new domain requires work, but we certainly hope that we have made the process less complicated for you. Website migration requires patience and in lots of cases, technical knowledge to overcome problems and hurdles that may happen at any stage.
If you have a website that needs to be transferred to a new domain or at any given point you’re not sure about the steps above or if your experience is interrupted with unexpected issues, contact us and we’ll help you out with our technical expertise and provide you with full support for your site.