Switching Your Business Website Into WordPress

WordPress isn't for everyone... but it is a pretty good option for ALMOST everyone!

If you are getting a new website set up from scratch for your business, we highly recommend working with a web design agency that focuses on WordPress-based sites. The end result will be a website you are easily able to control and continue developing. It is definitely the right approach to think of getting a new website built as the beginning of an ongoing website component to your business, not just a one-time build-and-forget thing to tick off!

But setting up a website from scratch is not the most common situation for businesses (except startups).

Actually the more common situation is that your business has a website but you are not satisfied with it, usually from a combination of lack of control and a sense of difficulty around moving forward adding content and improving the design. Switching to WordPress makes things a lot easier: read on for a discussion of what is involved in a switch...

Stock photo screenshot of WordPress dashboard

No we have no idea either why they have 52 categories. Anyway, WordPress can help you do pretty much whatever you want with your business website, so it is worth considering the switch.

For a business which already has a website, as you are only too aware, you have already sunk a lot of time (and investment) into developing a visual design and all your pages' content. When you want to upgrade or take more direct control of your website, you don't necessarily have to throw it all away and think of this as a "web design from scratch" kind of job. You can switch into WordPress, largely preserving the design and content you have already got in your current site.

It is useful to start thinking of your website as:  content + design + system [CMS] + hosting + domain. All of these parts can be improved/changed independently of each other: hence, to improve the system you can switch to WordPress, without having to change or throw away your design and content, and not necessarily having to change your web hosting.

This page explains ideas about approaching a website design/system upgrade as "switch into WordPress" rather than literally a 'new website build'.

When switching your existing site into WordPress, the following are your basic aims:

  • Keep roughly (or closely) the same visual styles, template, layout
  • Keep the same menus and exact (/close) set of pages
  • Preserve the page content (including images, video... and including meta titles and descriptions)
  • Preserve the layout of content, particularly where you have custom-styled presentation of things like price lists, galleries, maps etc
  • Ensure downloads still work (i.e. move files / update links in new system)
  • Replicate current pages, media, navigation
  • Add some key improvements at the same time (such as better contact forms, commenting/feedback systems, better appearance on small mobile screens) -- but not too much, because you are focusing first on the switch and then can build on new features and design/function/content enhancements incrementally over time

The end result of a WordPress switch project is that you end up with pretty much the same publicly-accessible site you had before! Sounds underwhelming, but the point of this approach is that you don't have to tackle major additions / rewrites of content, or major editorial/strategic debates about what to change / add to the site, or wade into a potentially expensive and subjective visual redesign project. You get the benefits of control, performance, and forward-flexibility without getting stuck on the content / strategy / design issues that often bog down web redesign projects.

This is not to say you should not work over the medium and long term on your content, marketing strategy (what is this website supposed to do for our customers and why), and visual design. In fact, once your site is in WordPress these topics will be much easier to start chipping away at, because you haven't got the bottleneck of a difficult/custom/inaccessible website system. Anything you want to do or change in your WordPress site will be possible, and it will be much easier to assign specialists or bring in outside help to do what you want to do.

Actually, doing a spring clean on the design and content of your site may be high priorities just as much as the technical/futureproofing benefits of switching into WordPress. Upgrading the design and/or content of your site at the same time as a switch into WordPress may be a rational thing to bundle all together in to a project. The key point described in this page is that you don't necessarily have to tackle these all at the same time.

If you do not already have a clear view of the design and/or content to update, then this does not have to delay you from improving the backend system of your website. And switching into WordPress will make the future design and/or content updates easier, while also being easier to break them down into incremental jobs instead of a lengthy project -- Makes sense?


Stages for switching to WordPress from an existing website

These are not detailed instructions to follow, but if doing it yourself or getting someone to help, these are the main stages you will need to work through:

  1. Access, research, snapshot current site
    Get complete access to your current system and figure out / document how it fits together. For example is it already using a different CMS? Is there a database? Subdomains / separate components? In this way you can create a backup of everything that is there and use this to figure out (and grab) the content that needs to be shifted over into the new site.
  2. List pages and agree core content
    As well as creating a backup of your existing site, you should also spider the site or use a reliable existing sitemap (e.g. one generated by your current CMS) to create a list of all the pages currently publicly discoverable. You may wish to compare this with a site:domain.com search in Google. From the content point of view, steps 1 and 2 ensure you have a "canonical" list of pages which you are going to reproduce (or replace) in the new site.
  3. Get everyone on the same page about what is the same and what is changing
    Decide basic principles about the site switch, e.g. are you trying to maintain an exact copy page<->page, are you maintaining the same URLs, and are there any changes to content in the new site vs the current/old.
    The answers to this question will spawn sub-steps such as planning page->page redirect checklists, and thinking about freeze/cut-off dates when you stop making changes to the current/old site.
  4. Agree design principles
    Similar to the above point, everyone needs to be on the same page about how flexible you will be about matching the current visual design of the site. If you rigidly try to insist that everything is exactly the same in the WordPress site -- and this is a literal point of view taken by many designers unless instructed otherwise -- this can increase the costs and time involved, while replicating the old design exactly might not be your main desire anyway. The main point is to decide which visual design elements are important to preserve, and which ones have flexibility. This should be done as a discussion looking at the current site (NOT yet any new template proposal), ideally with the designer to ask questions, and documenting agreements in text and screenshot. NB also you should avoid the temptation to ADD new/improved design features unless this is something either highly important to justify the upgrade/switch to WordPress in the first place, or where the work to implement the design idea is easy within the context of the WordPress theme editing you are about to undertake.
  5. Set the designer(s) to work
    If the designer is you, good luck to you! The design work is to select a WordPress Theme that roughly provides the layout and functionality you want, and then customizing the key templates to replicate what you've decided for the design, and working with Plugins and Widgets to produce the layout and appearance in enough accuracy to discuss over a few stages. Typically this work is done on the designer's / agency's server as a non-public demo. This part could take a while depending on the size and customization level of your existing site. This is why clear decisions and documentation in the previous steps will help a lot.
  6. Set up staging version of the site and plan how it will be put live
    There are various approaches to how you can build up the new "soon to be live" build of your site, and then "flip the switch" so it becomes the public/live version of the site. Your approach will depend on the size/complexity and traffic/criticality of your site. If you can afford short interruptions to your website service (e.g. show a maintenance page) and your business can tolerate various things not looking / working right for short periods of updating "on the fly"... then an informal (some would say quick and dirty) approach is probably the most reasonable. Generally a staging version of your new site will be set up on your own live hosting, assuming changing the server/hosting is not part of the WordPress switch project. Where your site is important and you have service / image issues to consider, then the work on the staging and go-live has to be planned more carefully. The ideal scenario is a seamless switch from one moment to the next, where users are immediately presented with the new version of the site, and everything works perfectly. (In the entire history of the internet this has never been achieved once.)
  7. Populating the staging site
    The designer's various demos were probably just for example pages and may have used "lorem ipsum" filler. In the above step, getting the staging install of the site working uses those templates and works on the technical aspects. But the content is often not the correct assignment for the designer or the technician: it needs to be done by you or a responsible editor. The job is to fill out all the soon-to-be-live pages with all the correct content (according to your plan) and check all of it (submit for approval) before giving a green light for the launch.
  8. Launch procedure
    Timing needs to be planned and the right people on hand to work through checklists "on the day". When switching you should plan to monitor over a few days - don't allow a designer or technician to walk away when things "seem to be fine" - you need to have the right people on hand to hot-fix unexpected problems. Checks should include working through the official list of content/pages, testing page load speed, and checking for hidden signs of errors such as broken links. Also, don't forget to make sure Google Webmaster Tools and Google Analytics are all OK with the switch (and any similar 3rd party systems).
  9. Handover and planning about what's next
    Probably some content, functionality, and design compromises were made during the site switch planning, i.e. "we want that, but we aren't doing it right now". Document all of those things as the probable "next up" working queue and figure out who is going to work on it. The key mentality of running your website in a CMS like WordPress is that you and your team are now in charge of the site and responsible for building it over time. So ensure you have marketing and content development to-do lists (plans, timetables, regular reviews)... as well as assignment for technical maintenance.
  10. Proactive maintenance
    Just repeating this point in slightly different words: don't consider your website as a one-off project that is finished. Even if you are not planning to create continuous work lists for improving design, content, and functionality of your site, at least set some monthly or quarterly review and brainstorming reminders so there is less chance of things falling into neglect. Working incrementally on any aspect of your website is much easier than letting it mount up into enormous projects. For WordPress, make sure you've got regular backups and software updates covered.

 

Astronaut upside down falling out of lunar module - This is one small tweak to the CSS, one giant mystery why everything is now fubar

We highly recommend letting someone experienced/specialized with WordPress theme customization pull THEIR hair out with the design while you get on with running your business in the meantime...

KnowledgePower WordPress Switch Service

KnowledgePower is a digital marketing agency but we also provide assistance setting up WordPress as well as ongoing support and maintenance for actively developed sites (which all sites should be!)

From our marketing point of view, "normal" content-focused sites running on WordPress are easy to improve for on-site SEO and usability factors, and the ease of collaborating on content is great for developing both organic content and landing pages for paid traffic campaigns.

We can assist with your WordPress switching as part of our Webmaster Service - a low-cost monthly billed subscription covering technical maintenance and publishing support for your website.

Please contact us with your website upgrade needs and we will offer reasonable advice, which is highly likely to include "switch to WordPress!"

We can also help you to solve the following:

  • Move a WordPress site from one server/hosting to another
  • Attempt to recover broken/hacked WordPress website
  • Troubleshoot a complex/buggy WordPress site
  • Pick up unfinished WordPress / web design project
  • Propose ideas and work on content expansion projects for your existing WordPress site

Benefits of WordPress

  • The biggest website CMS by users (about a quarter of websites using known CMSs use WordPress, and WordPress are aiming for 50% market share), and is one of the most actively developed open source publishing systems, ... oh, and it is Free.
  • A widely used and familiar system means that:
    - your team members are likely already to know how to use WordPress, or will find it easy to learn
    - it is easier to get professional support and development assistance than for lesser-known CMSs or custom-built sites
    - you get lots of helpful guides when you Google for help for anything you are trying to figure out
    - there are loads of Themes and Plugins to choose from (a big WordPress ecosystem)
    - the core system and popular components have already been proven relatively stable and secure (although this assumes you keep software up to date)
  • WordPress can run on most normal kinds of web hosting and so does not tie you down to one particular server/hosting company or price/performance level: this flexibility is good because you can make price/performence/support/stability choices about hosting separately from your website, and you can easily move your site from one host to another without significant difficulties.

Three of the most important requirements for your business website are: to have ownership and control; to be able to add and edit content easily; to allow multiple editors to work on the site manageably. WordPress ticks all these boxes admirably.

Google search auto complete suggestions such as things you can do with wood and wool... and wordpress

WordPress: versatile basis for all sorts of different website content and functionality, not just "blogging"

Frequent Questions About Using WordPress for your Website

  1. In WordPress can we build image galleries / ecommerce / job listings / forum / booking systems / members-only areas / downloads / directories....
    Yes. Next question!
  2. What is WordPress not good for?
    Where ecommerce is the primary function of the site, where interactivity / ultility is the main point of the site, or where you have heavy degree of customization in software functionality from the very start. That said, WordPress is a good option to tack on to a functional website for page and/or blog-type content management.
  3. Will our users view our website as less professional because of using WordPress?
    In general, a well-designed website for your business looks and feels ... like a well-designed website following your business branding and communication style... In general not many people are going to even wonder about the system that runs it, and if they do, it does not have to be evident that you are using WordPress. In other words, using WordPress doesn't mean your site looks like a blog.
  4. Will WordPress be better/worse for SEO?
    It depends what you have now. Your aim in any site switch should be to make the site better for human users and search engines, or at least not worse. The main issue in any site switch is whether you are keeping the same content on the same URLs with the same link structure. If "no" or "what does that mean" then you need to have this discussion in the early stages of planning the switch.
  5. Do we need to upgrade / change our hosting/server?
    This is a technical question you can easily determine in the initial research stage. If you do not know the capabilities of your current website hosting, or you are not in control of the hosting, then getting understanding and control over it is a significant benefit in itself from the WordPress switch project. (For small businesses wanting zero technical maintenance responsibility for their site, it is common to get your service provider to host it - but even here it is highly important to understand the service level offered and what the scope of the maintenance/support is in regard to your WordPress system.)

About WordPress

WordPress, in a simplified view, can be understood as a bunch of files, plus a database, that together provide a front end public set of pages, and a login-protected back end (dashboard) from which you control everything about your site, including aspects of presentation.

After the initial setup of your customized Theme, most things can be accomplished in WordPress without knowing any HTML/CSS let alone editing the PHP code on which the system runs, or indeed querying the MySQL database. However, having someone to hand to help when these things are necessary can be useful. The KnowledgePower Webmaster Service includes daily user support "how do I do XYZ" as well as custom work on the code according to your needs.

WordPress.org vs WordPress.com
Wordpress the CMS [https://wordpress.org/] is separate from the blog network WordPress.com (which of course uses WordPress - and both are managed by Automattic). You don't need to take an interest in wordpress.com unless you are looking for a blog/publishing platform that is OFF your website. We highly UN-recommend using wordpress.com for any business publishing purposes.

 


In summary, using WordPress as the CMS for your site (or part of it) is a good idea, and ask around because it is not just us saying so. Switching to WordPress can be done reasonably easily without having to lose your design or content from your existing site.

Contact KnowledgePower with any questions about your website and online marketing.