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Migrating your Blog Between Platforms: Pitfalls and Consequences

Today’s guest post is by from Swade from Trollhattan Saab. In it he tells his story of migrating his blog from one blog platform to another.

I’m almost willing to guarantee that anyone who’s been blogging for more than a year has contemplated migrating from one content management system (CMS) to another at some point. The grass always seems greener on the other side.

I started Trollhattan Saab in February 2005 using TypePad but it became clear, fairly quickly, that I had to secure my own domain name, buy some server space and manage my site on a CMS stored there. Many of the bloggers that I read at that time were using Movable Type, so I chose that platform as well. The MT templates were similar to those on Typepad so my setup time was minimal and I was off to a great start.

Within 2 years I was forecasting a 5-figure blog income and as I’d only ever intended this to be a hobby, that was fantastic for me.

Around June of 2007, I started exploring the idea of migrating the site to WordPress. I was pleased with the way the site had grown, but I had a lot of trouble loading plugins in MT, which restricted the experience I could provide for readers. I’d heard great things about WordPress’s plugin system and its architecture in general. When I came across the Cutline theme for WordPress I was finally sold. I planned my migration for July 2007.

A quick and very relevant note about my site. Trollhattan Saab deals with news and ownership of Saab automobiles. Saab’s various models use a numerical nomenclature and all start with a “9″, having a hyphenated suffix. Recent models were called 9-2x, 9-3, 9-5 and 9-7x. Coders who know the two CMS systems may already see where I ran into problems with my migration.

Without getting too bogged down in terminology that I don’t understand, WordPress and MT have different ways of treating hyphens when it comes to post titles and creating the URL for each individual entry. One of them keeps the hyphen and the other inserts an underscore. I had a LOT of post titles with Saab model names included, which meant a LOT of hyphens. Despite our best efforts to manage this in the migration process, I was left with around 1,000 entries that had changed URLs – and Google didn’t like it.

1,000 changed URLs from a total population of around 3,000 entries means that one third of my content was returning a 404 page when Google referred someone. The end resut was that Google stopped sending people my way. I was sandboxed. My part-time four-figure income in June 2007 dried up to a low three-figure trickle by September. I was depressed and almost quit blogging completely.

I had to find a way to rectify the problem. Fortunately, I’d set up an account with Google Webmaster Tools and this account listed all of my dead URLs. It took a long, long time to correct, but eventually I managed to trace all of my corrupted entries and alter the post slugs in WordPress so that they’d match what Google had on file. Slowly but surely, my search returns started to come back to life.

It’s been around 10 months since that migration disaster and around 6 months since I finally got my URLs straightened out. My traffic has finally risen above its pre-migration level, though my Adsense income is still only around two-thirds of what it was. Having recently upgraded to the latest edition of WordPress, I can say that at last, I’m totally happy with the site and the way it’s running.

The lessons learned:

1) Think hard about whether you really need to migrate. Are there things you can do with your current architecture to make life easier?

2) If you figure you do really want to migrate, then get all the best advice and expertise on board that you can afford. You probably don’t use hyphens like I do, but there’s a number of other migration problems that can arise as well. I thought my migration guy was good and he did it for free as he hosted my site with his server company, but looking back I’d have gladly paid someone more knowledgeable about WordPress migration in order to avoid the hassle and the loss of income that I encountered.

3) Research and make use of good utilities like Google’s Webmaster Tools.

4) Diversify your income sources. A few months after the disaster I began to sell advertising space directly and now have a small band of faithful advertisers that make up the shortfall I’ve experienced in Adsense income.

Would I do the migration all over again? Yes. The new architecture and the functionality it gives me have been worthwhile. If I were to do it again I’d make sure I know more about what was going on and get the best help I can.

About Darren Rowse

Darren Rowse is the founder and editor of ProBlogger Blog Tips and Digital Photography School. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.

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Comments

  1. NikNik says:

    We started (http://www.MyTechOpinion.com) on the BLogger PLatform….and after 2 painstaking years….we longed for a WordPress blog and a redesign. Finally made the move using the “Maintain Permalinks PLugin” and was able to keep our link structure in tact. Looks like it was a great move for us….PR recently went up to a 6 and now we are getting offers from advertisers!

    That’s not to say that the entire experience was a pain in the ass and A LOT of work….but it was well worth the effort.

  2. Rob Brydon says:

    I have been contemplating this for a while now. I started with blogger and I’m having second thought.

  3. Ivana Taylor says:

    I’m thinking about migrating from TypePad to WordPress right now. I’m not even contemplatingf doing this migration myself – since I don’t have the technical expertise to do that. Where can someone like me go to get GOOD technical expertise to do this for me?

  4. Robert says:

    I’ve experienced this several times with a southern literature site we run – deamule.com. Around 2000 I was using a L.A.M.P. setup I had written. A few years down the road we moved to WordPress. During that time all content was listed under / content with the first page being a welcome/splash page.

    In 2006/2007 all content was moved to the base http://www.deadmule.com/ and I’m still moving old conent to the new database. Basicly, I was lazy because it was all so time consuming.

    Looking back I would should have hired someone to do the work. Tons of content is missing from the Mule as a result.

  5. Nelson says:

    I had a hard time reading and getting the details in this article, it just doesn’t flow.. but anyways, it might be a nightmare for someone migrating from one blogger platform to another, especially if your income depends from it. I recall Amit Agarwal from Digital Inspiration went through this process a few months ago but from blogger.com to wordpress, and as he wrote about it on his blog, the process was skillfully planned but very tedious. I don’t think he lost any rankings or earnings.

    I on my part, I started blogging in wordpress, it took me more than 2 months of research to conclude that wordpress was what I wanted, which was total control of my blog with my own domain, spam filter etc.

    regards,

    Nelson

  6. GadgetNews says:

    I’m blogging from Joomla CMS and it’s an interesting situation because one can add so much value by incorporating great addons; a complex online store for example.

  7. Must admit I am a TypePad fan boy and have helped people transfer from Blogger to TypePad, then placed a message on every page of the old account to point people through.

    One thing that is important is that if you think your blog is going to be something you will stick at and you want to move to another platform, don’t wait and see because as you write up more and more stories the potential for restructuring work increases as well.

    Having looked at the Saab site I am a little surprised a move to WordPress was undertaken as there not much there that can’t be done in TypePad.

    And for Ivana, if you want to drop me a line about what you want from your TypePad site, I’ll put my thinking cap on to see if it’s possible without the ‘pain’ of swapping across.

  8. I think it says a lot for WordPress that you think it was all worth it.
    There always seem to be surprises in making changes like this.

  9. Missy says:

    Anyone have any fedback or comments on the “Maintain Permalinks Plugin”, mentioned above by, NikNik?

    I’m thinking of using it to transfer over a blogger.com blog to WordPress.

    Let me know.

  10. Missy says:

    NikNik: I notice your blog has no stats, as far as PR or Alexa.

    Is this because of your platform migration? Also How recently did you make the transfer?

  11. xlt says:

    bit late for me – i just migrated all my sites to WordPress. I also noticed quiet harsh drop in users sent by Google caused by change in links. But that was the way i decided to go and hope in future tis move will bring me more visitors.

  12. esvl says:

    I started with Xoops moved on to Joomla and then Drupal. But finally I moved to WordPress about a year ago. WordPress is now my CMS and blog platform of choice.

  13. Swade says:

    Craig McGinty – When I started on Typepad, the paid service was around $20 per month and I blew the allocated bandwidth after around 2 months. TS serves around 7,500 page views per day now, which I don’t think I could have one on Typepad without significant expense (tho having said that, I haven’t checked out Typepad’s pricing for around 3 years).

  14. Sandy Naidu says:

    Interesting…I started blogging only recently and I am glad I started off with WordPress…The migration would have driven me crazy…

  15. Matt says:

    This could have been (fairly easily, if you know what you’re doing, or know someone who does) prevented by using a plugin to change the way permalinks work in WordPress, or using some regular expressions in .htaccess to redirect old URL’s to the new ones.

  16. I am going to switch to WP before the end of the year. Because of the nature of my blog I won’t have the same problems or many problems at all when I switch.

    I’m afraid of losing some of my “readers”. But I will warn them and have the other blog up and running before my current one goes off line.

    I am a little afraid that my lack of knowledge (zero) of code is going to be a problem for me on WP.

    If anyone knows if the knowledge of code is going to be a problem for me…please drop me a line…

    Live From Las Vegas
    The Masked Millionaire

  17. Syed Balkhi says:

    wow …

    Good thing that I started off with wordpress … I have tried other CMS systems before and never really got a feel for them so when starting my serious blog I went ahead with with WP

  18. Otto says:

    Sounds too cumbersome and the possible pitfalls are scary. We use blogger and if there is going to be a change we’d employ experts to facilitate it…

  19. jen says:

    I moved from Typepad to WordPress about 6 months ago. I did a fairly comprehensive post detailing the move http://semanticallydriven.com/2007/12/moving_from_typepad_to_wordpress.html. Am glad I did it now. My next task is to find a decent webhost that won’t crack with a slight spike in traffic.

  20. John says:

    One of the nice things about wordpress is that it allows you to modify url structures, and beyond that hack them to be how you want if you can’t do it by default.

    For future reference, the way to avoid the problems you had would be to use a 301 redirect, which you most likely could have applied in a single global rule.

    This tells google 3 things

    1. This page doesn’t exist here anymore, please drop it from you index
    2. The page still exists at a new location
    3. Here’s the new location, please index this now

    Which is how you transition url structures when migrating a site from an old build to a new build, or as in your case, from an old CMS to a new one.

    I won’t start dropping links, but I have a more detailed article on 301 redirects on my site for anyone who is interested!

  21. The biggest lesson that I have learned in the past is to diversify income streams as pointed out in the post above…

    I am making this part of my future business planning process as I do not want to be stung by this again.

  22. Kyle says:

    John is right about the 301 redirect. There are a number of plugins for WP that let you enter the old permalink structure and the new permalink structure, then they automatically create the redirects for Google.

    One is here: http://scott.yang.id.au/code/permalink-redirect/

  23. Kyle says:

    Sorry to double comment, but I just remembered the permalink migration plugin that is especially helpful in this instance: http://www.deanlee.cn/wordpress/permalinks-migration-plugin/

  24. Jirel says:

    Previously I have thought to move to WordPress from Blogger. I now have blog on Blogger sub-domain and thinking of getting a custom domain hosted by google. But I am in confusion about PR and duplicacy of content. If someone know, please help me.

    Will I be penalized by search engines for having same contents in two different domains(current blogspot and the new one)?
    What about new PR?

  25. Cheryl Allin says:

    Jirel – Yes, if the exact content of your blog is on both Blogger and your new domain, you’ll get the duplicate content penalty. You’d have to ‘turn off’ the Blogger content somehow or start the new blog empty.

    As for migration of any kind, yes – if your URL strings are going to change, you need to do a 301 redirect for them. If your blog post was:

    http://www.mysite.com/hot-blog-post.htm

    ..and the new blog post is:

    http://www.mysite.com/hot_blog_post.htm

    …then you create an .htaccess file for the root of your new site – a text file that, once uploaded, you rename to ‘.htaccess’ – and include this line:

    redirect 301 /hot-blog-post.htm http://www.mysite.com/hot_blog_post.htm

    I did this many times for high ranking sites and lost zero ranking and PR.

    This same method can be used if you move from an old domain to a new one or have several domains but don’t want duplicate content issues.

    If you assign 3 domains all to the same folder on your webhost where your site lives – that’s duplicate content. If you assign two of those domains their own folders and create an .htaccess file in each 301 redirect to the main site, you’re golden.

  26. I just did a migration a few weeks ago from movable type to WP, I wish I had known about the pluggin that kept all the links intake…it would have been useful.

    I did notice that I did lose my ranking.

    I knew that might be a possibility, but I figured it was better to do in now (my site is 11 months old) then later.

    Gisele

  27. Reginald says:

    Of all the points you raised in this post, I think that researching is the most essential and important of them.

    I would suggest that a thorough approach to researching a platform be used.

    Any individual would want to ensure that a migration from one platform to another goes as smoothly as possible.

  28. kat says:

    Just my two cents in case it applies to anyone. WordPress.com offers a redirect for anyone opting for the domain mapping upgrade with their own domain, however it never specifies if it’s a 301 or 302 and for how long it lasts. It wasn’t until after I switched that I realized it was a 302, and not only did my former rankings fall to zero, but new posts under my new name are nowhere to be found either.

    My content is being interpreted as duplicate because the site never moved, only the domain name changed. So I’ve fallen off the map completely and am looking for a solution.

    So yes, research is essential. In my case however, I didn’t understand what questions to ask until after the damage had been done.

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