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How To: Move Your WordPress Blog to a New Domain

Last Friday I announced that our site has moved from Hack WordPress.com to where we are now, at WPHacks.com.   Towards the end of the post we got a lot of positive feedback from people wanting to know what all was involved with the process, so I’ve decided to attempt to document it here.

Here are the initial steps you’ll want to take when moving to a new domain name.

Existing Domain:

  • Export Your WordPress Posts – You can find the Export option under the Manage tab in your WordPress dashboard.  You’ll want to save the file somewhere on your hard drive where you can find it a little later.
  • Download Your wp-content Folder – This step requires FTP access.  You’ll want to copy over your wp-content folder on to your hard drive or place it somewhere you can find it later so that you can upload it to your new domain.  This should grab all of your existing plugins, themes, uploads (pictures), etc.   You’ll also want to download your favicon and Robots.txt file (if you have either).
  • Sub Domains and Sub Directories – This won’t apply to everyone, but if you’ve set up any sub domains or sub directories for your blog, you’ll want to grab the same files from them as well.

New Domain:

  • Install WordPress on the New Domain – This can be done manually or via Fantastico if you have CPanel.
  • Upload Your wp-content Folder – This requires FTP access to complete.  Just override the existing wp-content folder from your fresh WordPress install.
  • Import All WordPress Posts – You can find the Import option under the Manage tab in your WordPress dashboard.  When it asks for the import file, use the one that was exported and saved on your hard drive earlier.
  • Activate Your Theme & Plugins – Head into the Design and Plugins tabs and make sure you have the same theme and same plugins activated as the old domain name.
  • Update Your Settings to Match the Old Domain – Update all of your settings to match the old domain, including all of your plugin settings you just activated.
  • Inspect Your Theme – View your theme with your plugins activated and settings in place to ensure that everything looks like it matches the old site on the new domain.  Test some of the functionality as well to ensure everything is working properly.
  • Upload and Run the Update URL’s Plugin – The Update URL’s WordPress pluginis brand new (just came out this month) WordPress plugin and the timing couldn’t have been more perfect for me!  Once activated, simply enter your old domain URL and the new one.  It will go through all of your old posts and update the domain part of the URL with the new one, and it only takes a matter of seconds.  Note:  I won’t update anchor text, only the domain in the URL.
  • Repeat Steps for Sub Domains and Sub Directories – Upload and setup your sub domains and sub directories using the same steps above.

Domain Move Troubleshooting:

  • For some reason, since WordPress 2.5, the export/import feature of WordPress works great but sometimes causes problems with an unresponsive script error whenever you access the Write panel.  I will be publishing a post tomorrow that explains how to fix this error, so make sure you are subscribed to our feed.

Once the move is completed and everything seems to be working well, here is a mini checklist of extra things to do before making the move official:

  • Update Your Feedburner Feed – You need to edit your feed details in your Feedburner account with the new domain’s source feed (example: http://yourdomain.com/feed/)
  • Update Your Email Address – This one is optional.  Setup an email account on your new domain name (for example, I setup Kyle AT WPHacks DOT com for the new site).  I recommend using Google Apps which makes it really easy and lets you take advantage of the Gmail spam guards that Google has in place (plus all of the other Gmail features).
  • Update Your Gravatar – This one is optional as well.  Log in to your Gravatar account and add the new email address you just setup.
  • Update Your PPC Campaigns – If you purchase PPC advertising with AdWords, Yahoo, or whoever, you’ll want to update the destination URLs.

Once you’re done, all that is left is to go to your domain registrar and forward the old domain to the new domain (also known as a 301 redirect).   Depending on your registrar, this is usually really easy and self-explanatory.  I would also wait 6-12 hours to make an announcement on the new domain name so that the DNS can resolve at the new domain name (it can sometimes take up to 48 hours).   Depending on your web hosting, you may also be able to do the forward there to avoid this problem.

Doing this will cause all links to your old domain name to be redirected to the equivalent URL on the new domain name (assuming you use the same URL structure on the new site).   It will also let Google and the other search engines know you have moved.  Usually within a week, depending on the search engine, they will have gone through and updated their index with the new domain URL’s.

This of course means that you shouldn’t use any human traffic, but you will take a hit when it comes to your search engine rankings.   This is because the links are pointed towards the old domain name, so when Google determines your rankings, they will see the new URL has zero backlinks.  This is why it is beneficial if you can get people to update the links in their sidebars or posts to the new domain URL.

Any questions?  Need clarification on anything?  Please let me know in the comments below!

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