Since 2004, this blog has be hosted on SixApart’s Typepad platform. At that time Typepad was the easiest way to create and manage a personal or business blog. Over the last six years, it has fallen behind other platforms, most notably WordPress with its large community of developers. WordPress offers a richer variety of themes, and plugins to customize a blog than Typepad. Recently SixApart was acquired by an advertising network – time to jump ship. In fact, long overdue.
Moving blog platform is not easy, although with WordPress 3 it has become simpler. Researching how to do it rapidly descends into technical detail about PHP and HTML coding. Being the sort of person who wades in and figures they can solve the problems as they crop up, that was broadly my approach. The process was far from perfect, so I thought I’d capture a few lessons.
So what’s important when you move a blog? You want to transfer the content and comments over, you want to maintain the Google juice you have and you want a better design / feature set at the end of it. Plus you don’t want it to take too long.
In terms of content, the posts and comments came across but I lost many of the embedded images in my posts. I could reinsert them individually, but they are illustrative for this blog and I don’t think the time it would take to do that would yield the value. This is the biggest problem with my transition. I’d read it could be an issue and it was. The reason being, that the Importer does bring across the image paths, but once you move the domain name to point to your new blog location, all those links are broken. The images are referenced as being hosted on Typepad but you’ve moved the domain name across, so the address is meaningless. Result? No images in the old posts.
I wanted to keep the same domain name, and all the Permalinks which Google has indexed. WP allows you to configure the Permalink structure, so you can mirror those of Typepad (under Settings/Permalinks). This was easier than I thought it would be.
In terms of design, I have used WPZoom’s Yamidoo Magazine theme, which I’ve customized by editing the CSS file. This is the theme we used for the LEWIS 360 redesign and by far the best of the magazine-style themes in our research. Since I am not an HTML/PHP whizz I actually installed the theme on another domain and used that as a sandbox. I used that blog to get the template looking as I wanted then copied the CSS file and pasted it into the same template on my live blog when I was ready to transition. This minimizes downtime and stops you editing your blog when it’s live.
I recommend the Firefox extension Firebug which will tell you the code related to a particular area of the page (using the Inspect Element feature). So for instance, you can find the code for the Blog post headline. Then you can even change the code within Firebug to see how it might look, without actually touching the master CSS file. When you are selecting colors, fonts, pixel widths etc, this is very helpful. Once you have the relevant code, you then just change the master Stylesheet.css file (Appearance/Editor/Stylesheet.css). This might sound a bit daunting, but if you are working on a test blog, and also use Firebug to try out the code changes you would like, there is limited chance of making a huge mistake. I mainly changed things which made common sense to a layman, like ‘font-color’ or ‘font-family’.
In order to get the codes for the relevant colors there are free online tools like this one, Color Picker. This will help you get colors which match.
If you have used Typelists to put custom HTML on your blog, you should copy that code and download any related images. Those will need to be added as Text widgets in WordPress, and the images re-uploaded so they get fresh URLs of their own. For key images in blog posts, this is also the process, download them and then reinsert them in the new host. I experimented with WebGrabber to suck down the entire blog (images and all) to my desktop but that didn’t seem to work for me.
When you have your dummy blog looking good, you can create a fresh WordPress install, upload your theme to it, redirect your domain name (which may take some time to propagate), upload the blog data from Typepad’s export feature, then start the customization which the theme itself offers. Now is the time to copy the stylesheet.css from your test blog and paste it into the new template.
You will probably then have to go through individual posts to clean them up. This will involve deleting embedded images which no longer resolve, sorting out some formatting issues (like carriage returns), adding in new SEO terms and checking the categories/tags if you are cleaning those up at the same time. This is a pretty dull and repetitive. I’d do it for recent posts (like the last 3-6 months) and those which have high traffic from search engines historically. There may be diminishing returns here depending on the volume of posts and how much new content you will create. Those old posts aren’t going to look great unless you fix them, so you need to decide how important that is for your community.
In terms of time, clean-up of old posts aside, the transition of this blog took about a day. Once you start, you need to crack through it. I’m pleased however to be off Typepad at last. Hello World!