Migrating a High Traffic Digital Magazine to WordPress
Obsev is a digital magazine featuring original video and editorial created for a generation obsessed with everything food, sports, lifestyle, and entertainment. Obsev Originals, produced in-house at Obsev Studios Hollywood, will tell the stories that inspire our generation.
We recently helped migrate ‘Obsev.com’, which receives more than 30 million page views per month. The editorial team of Obsev found it hard to manage the content as well as the backend.
- Urgency: Since they have an advertisement model, they could not allow the migration process to continue for a long time as it directly affects their revenue.
- SEO Preservation: Obsev receives more than 30 million page views per month and most of them are from organic search results. So preserving SEO and organic ranks was a daunting task
- Mobile Responsiveness: Since most of the visitors were accessing the website from mobile devices and the old website was not mobile-friendly, it was essential to ensure that the best practices were followed to make the WordPress website mobile-friendly.
Step 1: Establish a Plan
We established a plan by discussing questions about what exactly it is that the stakeholders are looking to accomplish with the migration process.
- Do they want to keep your current theme?
- Or are they looking to revamp the design of the site, and only move content? Will the URL structure change?
- Know exactly what needs to be migrated, including domain name, design, site architecture, content, hosting, and so on.
By establishing a plan, the process was organized enough to ensure a smooth migration process.
Try and avoid the temptation to move everything over wholesale – just as when moving to a new house, whereby you may have many boxes of belongings hidden away in your basement that you never seek out, you likely have a significant percentage of content that is old.
Step 2: Getting Organized for Migration
Regardless of how the content will be physically moved and imported, we started with one step at a time. We created an Excel spreadsheet that documented details all of the content to be moved, specified the location in which it can be found on the old site, notes on how it should be tagged on the new site as well as the new location, and included any new metadata to be applied. We mapped the legacy data structure with the new data structure in a mapping sheet that mapped each data type and its fields with the new structure.
Focusing on the high priority content will greatly simplify the overall migration and shorten the project timeline. As for the rest of the content, you can always move it later, and may even want to consider a rewrite beforehand.
Step 3: Prepare for SEO Preservation
This is perhaps the most crucial thing we did to retain site ranking, as migrating the site can often result in SEO damage. To ensure SEO preservation, we used services like Xenu Link Sleuth to crawl the website and export URLs to help understand the current site’s architecture.
- The node ids which is a Unique identifier for each page, which also illustrates menu structure were kept the same.
- Rewrite rules for paths that have moved from one place to another permanently were logically written by applying 301 redirects.
- Xenu helped to find the broken links (which are practically unavoidable) and 401 errors that need to be fixed, otherwise, bots would not be able to index the website properly resulting in rankings drop.
- Taking care of the most valuable links: we produced a report of the most valuable inbound links. We made sure that none of these URLs on the new site are left to error for too long and were handled with most caution.
SEO rich pages: It is crucial to figure out SEO rich pages by taking out report from google webmasters for the last 6 months or a year. Pay special attention to those pages to preserve the SEO juice.
Custom Post Types: A script is required to keep the URLs consistent in case of custom post types such as Forums, Blogs, and Pages. To do this, create post types with the same slugs as your current website. The posts titles and aliases would remain the same post-migration keeping the URL format as before. But for the unique non-post types categories, tags and such, manually create slugs for different sections and categories in WordPress.
Step 4: Migration to WordPress
The actual migration from WordPress was performed by running scripts, executing queries, and exporting SQL files. Before converting to WordPress, we made sure that all the original taxonomies were correctly labeled. We created a new WordPress installation in a different database from the earlier installation. We migrated posts, tags, comments, roles, and permissions.
The user tables containing the info can be migrated in a number of safe ways:
- A WordPress plugin that simply reads the current DB you have.
- A plugin that exports the content in CSV and we import it in WordPress.
Automated software does not cover A-to-Z migration of an existing site to WordPress. Software and scripts are necessary but not sufficient. An experienced WordPress Migration Expert will utilize a perfect mix of both automation and good old hand coding techniques to deliver the best results.
Migrating Subscription: If the subscriptions are set up using expiration dates on the website, after migrating they need to be tested to be sure that the users are not being charged incorrectly. The test performed to be sure was to enable the payment gateway in staging and sanitize all external users. Run a test on internal users to verify subscriptions.
Handling Passwords: The easiest way out is to just set up a request for a password reset the next time an existing user visits the website. But if the password has to be retained- duplicate the salts (the key based on which encryption is done), then migrate the whole table using PHP scripts/SQL queries and a mapping, which is the hard part.
Iterate and Refine
Step 5: Review and Cleanup
Once the migration is done in staging, the tools were run again to find any “Page Not founds” and fixed them with a rewrite rule. Our technical expert team measures and take the necessary steps to preserve SEO.
The goal here was to identify a pattern to any issues we might discover, and use said pattern to fine-tune the migration process. Finding issues is to be expected and is not by any means an emergency situation early on. To be clear, it was found essential to repeat steps 2-4 at least a few times to not only finetune the process but to retrieve the latest content right before launching the new site.
The new migrated system needs to be handled in a way that any error found in the migrated URLS should be:
- Tested and verified for a pattern of error, if found fix the error and run the migration again.
- For URLs that have permanently moved to a new URL, apply 301 redirects.
- For pages that are gone or NOT FOUND, handle them with 410 redirects.
Due to its popularity and usability, there was little in the way of a learning curve for the team to start using WordPress, enabling them to make the most of their new platform immediately. It also freed up their development team to tackle more difficult engineering problems and enabled more people across the organization to use and publish content from the site. We worked with Obsev to update and optimise the existing design without having to go through an entire redesign process. This resulted in a highly-optimised experience for mobile traffic. By moving to WordPress, Obsev was able to leverage the WordPress ecosystem of plugins and add-ons. The editorial team now has access to one of the best article publishing experiences available on the internet. We migrated the articles into posts and post categories. We revamped the existing website, replicating the look and feel of the website, thereby successfully migrating 60,000 plus articles while retaining the SEO.