How to Rebuild a WordPress Web Site

Performing a redesign on a WordPress content management system website usually requires replacing the  design theme. It may also include revising page file names, category structures etc. This is best done on a test site, as doing it on a live site is fraught with peril, and seamless transitions are much more impressive than accidentally broken sites…

Note: This article should be read in conjuction with; How To Redesign a Website 

Where To Rebuild?

There are at least two options to pick from in selecting a rebuild location. I usually base the choice on whether or not its a WordPress rebuild, and/or if the new site will be hosted in a new location. Clients often choose the rebuild timing as an opportunity to opt for a better hosting platform, such as a one that includes an Annual Website Maintenance Plan…

Build in a Subdirectory

 If its a WordPress site that is being worked on, the least time-consuming option might be to complete the redesign in a subdirectory of that site. When its completed, all that’s required to go live is to edit the index.php file in the root directory, and amend the path to the WordPress source files. Once that’s done, simple delete the original version of WordPress in the root directory, if that’s where it was. See: Giving WordPress its own Directory

Build in Temporary Hosting

 If the client would like the site to go live on new hosting, I offer to provide managed hosting or an annual WordPress Maintenance Plan that includes hosting. Running my own VPS server allows me the flexibility to add a hosting account in a couple of minutes. I can immediately install WordPress and get the rebuild process underway without any fuss or bother. Having total control over the hosting aspect is helpful, especially when there’s the need to create MySQL databases and upload files.

Prevent Indexing of the Temporary Site

There’s no merit in allowing search engines to index a site under construction if its going to be relocated to a client’s hosting account later. If its in a subdirectory of the  client’s site, that site will be credited with all the 404 page not found errors when the new version’s location changes. That’s always be avoided if possible.

  • Install the “Password Protected” plugin, because that prevents prying eyes and search engines from seeing anything that’s not ready for prime time.

When you are ready to go live with the new sites its crucial that you UNINSTALL and delete the  Password Protect plugin, and check that the Privacy settings allow indexing…

Manually add a real robots.txt, and a insert a reference to the sitemap.xml generated by the Google XML Sitemap plugin…

Rebuilding Tool Set

As my grandfather was overly fond of pointing out – “There are more ways to kill a cat than drowning it in cream…”  This was more illustrative of the availability of multiple tools and methodologies for almost any task, albeit somewhat alarming to any feline within earshot, rather than any malevolent intent towards the aforementioned cat…

Therefore, note that the plugins listed next are my personal choices because; either I’ve grown accustomed to their peccadilloes, or I can’t be bothered looking around for alternatives. You may be aware of, or already use, similar tools that are as good or better….  

BackupBuddy

Compared to what went before in terms of slick backup, site migration and replication tools, BackupBuddy is indeed a thing of beauty and a joy to  behold. I had no hesitation in shelling out the big bucks for a multi-site licence and use it with religious fervour on every site I build and manage.  For the average webmaster, a single site licence for their site is well worth the modest ticket price!

What BackupBuddy facilitates is the breathtakingly easy ability to take a total “lock, stock and barrel” copy of a WordPress website, including the database, and package it up in a password-protected Zip file. The zip file can be downloaded, exported or copied to the new location. The second step is the migration process, handled by the importbuddy.php script. Here’s how it goes;

  • Run a Full Backup
  • Download it to your PC
  • Download the migration scrip – importbuddy.php
  • Upload both files to the destination website/directory via FTP
  • Create a MySQL database and User on the new location
  • Run the Migration Script: http:/www.mysite.com/wordpress/importbuddy.php

This is a 6 step process, requesting the password, unzipping the files, requesting the MySQL credentials, installing the database content and forcing file/path changes to march the new location, and finally removing the Zip and script files. This can all be accomplished faster than it can be explained!  Very rarely do any issues arise – and in my experience, only if the destination is a low-spec shared hosting server with old versions of PHP etc.

Design Themes

In my opinion, its always best to always buy a Premium WordPress CMS theme for any website design or rebuilding project! Pick one from a reputable theme design company, preferably one with an upgrade path and community support built in, such as StudioPress “Genesis” Themes for WordPress .  There are sound reasons for this – not least of which is standards compliance, security, functionality and support for the full WordPress feature set.

Free themes often have little or no provenance, and no comeback. There’s no assurances of adherance to HTML or CSS standards, or compliance with best practice in coding for security. Some themes from dubious sources can even come bundled with your very own malware already built in!   

The same logic applies to mission-critical plugins… $75  is not a big price to pay for an important component!

Mobile Responsive

I’d also advise that, where possible, you try and find a theme that is tagged as ‘mobile responsive‘ because these will future -proof your site for the next couple of years. This type of theme dynamically resizes depending on the device its being displayed on; desktop, laptop, tablet or mobile phone, allowing you to reach out and welcome all manner of visitors!

Smart New WordPress

One of the many cool features of the latest versions of WordPress is that it retains a copy of your dis-used Sidebars and Widgets. Previously, if you forgot to copy the content of those, they’d simply vanish if the new theme did not have corresponding slots for them to mesh into.  

Recommended WordPress Plugins

Complete your website rebuild with a set of robust plugins that will allow you to reap some SEO benefits and ease the pain of creating and publishing content.

SEO Plugins

Here’s the list of tried and true SEO tools I use

  • All In One SEO Pack – add the Branding element in all locations e.g.;  Post / Page Title Format: %post_title% | Website Redesign Co. This save you having to add it into individual pages and posts across the site. 
  • Google XML Sitemap – auto-generates a search engine friendly sitemap. Add a reference to the sitemap in robots.txt
  • WP Realtime Sitemap – auto-generates an HTML sitemap in a page for the convenience of visitors
  • Ultimate Noindex Nofollow Tool II – add noindex to trivial pages; login, author, admin, privacy, terms etc
  • Broken Link Checker – automatically monitors links are specified intervals, and emails you an alert when it detects a problem
  • WP External Links – allows you to force “open in new window” and add “nofollow” on all external links by default. Has an exceptions panel for domains you approve followed links to.

WP Security

This has been the subject of a couple of other extensive WP Security posts I’ve written, and I urge you to implement a security plugin!

  • Wordfence – this is the easiest to use and most robust security plugin for WordPress that I’ve tried. Set it on Level 4 and then tick the options to “Scan core, theme and plugin” files. Its Live View option allows you to quickly identify 404 Page Not Found problems in real time, and apply that knowledge to Quick Redirect and eliminate that 404 stream.

301 Permanent Redirection

Where page file names are being amended to verbose, keyword rich  URLs, redirection of old page name to new page name is crucial to prevent de-indexing and loss of rankings.

  • Quick Page/Post Redirect Plugin is a fine solution to the 301 redirection challenge.

CMS Plugins

How to make WordPress look more like a CMS (content Management System) to search engines and visitors, and gain better leverage from Categories and Tags… Categories and Tags can generate great landing pages, with pathways into your important content. By default, they lack accurate descriptive Header tags, and have no introductory text paragraphs that can be engineered to improve rankings.

  • WP-No-Tag-Base – make your tag pages look more like real pages by removing the “tag” element from the URL
  • WP No Category Base – WPML compatible – make your Category pages look more like real pages by removing the “category” element from the URL
  • Category SEO Meta Tags – generate custom Title and Description meta-tags for each Category and Tag. Add a proper page Heading, and introductory paragraphs for individual Category page. Especially designed to be compatible with All In One SEO Pack. This plugin can make a huge difference to the perceived value of auto-generated Category and Tag pages.

For a website that has very large volumes of content on multiple topics, pages can become deeply nested and conventional menu structured become unwieldy. There are some very good plugins available to automate the appearance of Section sub-menus in sidebars, to provide better access to subpages. These include;

  • Hierarchical Pages – Adds sidebar widgets to display a context-based list of “nearby” pages, and to display nested categories.
  • List Sub Categories (LSC) – This plugin enables a widget that lists only sub categories for the current category page.

Generating conventional .HTML or any such page file name extensions is also possible.

  •  Custom Page Extensions – Allows you to add a custom extension to your page URLs. This only affects pages created under the Pages menu

How To Use Categories & Tags

Used incorrectly, both Categories and Tags can have a severe negative impact on your search engine rankings due to excessive content duplication. The biggest problem is that most people use the “shotgun” approach to both Categories and Tags!

Keep in mind that;

  • Every Category creates a new ‘page’
  • Every Tag creates a new ‘page’

There are some fundamental constraints that should be applied.

  • A Category should never have the same name as a Page, Post or a Tag. Conflicts may create issues with mod_rewite, resulting in an inability to open one or other of the conflicting URLs.
  • Conversely, a Tag should never have the same name as a Page, Post or a Category
  • Categories should be minimised to only those for which you’d like to build search engine rankings.
  • Tags should be minimised to only those for which you’d like to build search engine rankings  AND you don’t have a relevant page or Category.
  • Tags & Categories should have unique Header tags, and introductory heading and paragraphs…
  • A post should not be assigned to multiple Categories unless there’s a very specific reason for doing so.
  • A post can obviously be assigned to a Category AND a Tag, so judicious use is important. When you have lots of posts, its easier to ensure Tag pages generate a very different snapshot of content.
  • Never show the full post / page content in a Tag or Category page, only an excerpt. Many themes have settings to display the featured image thumbnail and a set number of words or characters in archive pages – use this option!

Think more about  ‘either/or’ and less about ‘as well as’ and aim for a broader spread of “relevant keyword search phrases in current use.  The problem is that injudicious use of tags and categories facilitates duplicated content.

  • Some say you should use either Categories OR tags, but I think that if you are careful, you can use both effectively.
  • Some say you should add “noindex” to categories and/or tags, but if you implement them properly, noindex should be unnecessary.  

To get best results, you should build an outline of all the important keyword search phrases you want you site to target.

  • Pages: list page names and primary keyword phrase
  • Posts: list post names and primary keyword phrase
  • Categories: list category name and primary keyword phrase
  • Tags: list tag name and primary keyword phrase

The goal should be a broad spread or carefully targeted keyword search phrases, with minimal duplication…

Website Content Quality

Again, as per the complementary item on How To Redesign a Website, the underlying success factor is content quality! Spitting out dinky 100-word blog posts containing generic trivia is not going to advance your cause over at Google HQ. My sense of it is that to be taken seriously, a page or post needs to in the order of at least 600-800 words. How on earth can you prosecute a credible contention with a 200 word, 2 paragraph? Stating your position, providing a viable defence for it, and explaining why it works is not a 5 minute task…

Personally, I choose to write infrequently, but in a verbose fashion. The word count on this litle essay has gone well past the 2000 word mark, and its the second one for the week…  🙂 

The concept of content quality is a difficult baton to grasp and run with, but making the effort will immediately lift you above the ranks of the mediocre…

Regardless of the industry in which you work, the mere fact that you are employed there indicates that you know more about it than people who are employed elsewhere. Therefore, you are indeed uniquely qualified to express an opinion!

Any time you are asked a question via email, save it with its answer. That’s a potential blog post, a kernel that can blosson into a fruit-bearing tree! Many of my article inspirations germinate in this way, or via real-world problem solving situations on a client’s website rebuild project.

Write as you speak, and use a spell-checker… ask a friend to proof-read. Start off with a list of headings that help clarify your direction and purpose, then arrange those in a coherent logical sequence. Fill those headings in with content one by one.