Part of the adventure for us in Costa Rica has been trying to make a living online and for that we need a great website. When we first started out in 2011, we thought we’d just be promoting our book as a sort of side project. We quickly picked a web host that was a good deal, was eco-friendly, and made it easy to design a website. Little did we know that almost four years later we would be living in Costa Rica, running a business through our site, and quickly growing out of our simple website builder, Weebly. Something needed to change. Luckily, our host, FatCow, recently began to offer WordPress too, one of the most highly regarded platforms. If you’re looking for Costa Rica travel info, go back to the home page now because this post is all about how we made the switch from Weebly to WordPress.
Why We Switched
When we first started, the Weebly Drag and Drop Builder was easy and fast. It uses building-block type modules that stack on top of one another to design your site. Pull in some columns here, add a picture there, insert a little text, click, click, and voila, you are well on your way to a nice looking website. But making a pretty website and one that does everything you want are two different things. As we got farther along and wanted more customization, we kept finding limitations with Weebly. For example, it was difficult to find plugins that would work properly for comment platforms like Discus, display widgets for blog posts, social media sharing features, etc. With Weebly Premium, we were able to access the site’s code and make changes, but without great knowledge of html, we found it hard to create the look and functionality we wanted. Everything was pointing to WordPress.
In WordPress, you can still use a sort of building-block structure, which is good for the beginner, but there is much more under the hood. Plugins are the major draw as there are thousands of developers creating them to do just about anything. They are simple to use and make it easy to do advanced customization without knowing much or any code. Another big factor was that there are whole communities, including help forums, focused on WordPress that provide a robust knowledge base, something that Weebly was lacking.
How to Switch
If you are just starting a website, you can choose to use WordPress right from the start (and you should) so disregard the rest of this post. But for those who originally set up their site through Weebly, here’s how to switch. These instructions are for FatCow-hosted accounts but also might be helpful to others with different hosts. Disclaimer: We are not experts on this subject so if you feel uncomfortable, it’s best to hire a professional. When we were researching we didn’t trust just one article, we read lots of them to gain a consensus and suggest you do the same.
1. In Fatcow’s File Manager, create a new folder under the Root Directory. Call it something like WP. Don’t worry, once you’re done with this process your website domain name can remain the same as your old one.
2. In Fatcow’s Control Panel, click the WordPress icon and go through the setup. Make sure to download it into the new folder you created in step 1 (the WP file).
3. Sign into WordPress and start creating your new website. This will take some getting used to; however, you can still use your Weebly account during this time until you are ready to make the switch official. Although it is probably possible to bring over your old Weebly template and all of the pages you have made, it’s complicated. For us, we decided to start fresh with a new theme in WordPress and just bring over all of our old content (the 52 blog posts we had written). We created similar looking pages using the new theme and set it up like our old site, but better.
Tip: It’s important to pick a theme that has a lot of support behind it. Look for developers who have active forums and respond to help tickets promptly. For us just starting out on WordPress, these help forums have been invaluable for learning how to customize our theme. We ended up choosing the Divi theme from Elegant Themes and have been really impressed with its flexibility and support team so far.
4. Once you have your new pages set up in WordPress, it’s time to bring your old blog content over from the Weebly site to the WordPress site (note: it will actually be in both places until you’re done). This was the tricky part as all of the websites we found were outdated and used Google Reader as the RSS feed to bring the info over, which doesn’t exist anymore. Our timing was good, however, since a new WordPress plugin called Weebly to WordPress Import had just come out. It cost $17 and we were a little leery at first, but the developer quickly got back to us when we had questions, which greatly boosted our confidence.
Before you use the plugin, make the following changes in your WordPress site:
- Make the URL/permalink of your posts match how they appeared in Weebly. This is important for preventing broken links, which hurts SEO, and for keeping all those Facebook likes, Twitter shares, etc. associated with the link that you worked so hard to get. Under WordPress Settings, click Permalink Structure. Select the Custom option and insert: /1/post/%year%/%monthnum%/%postname%.html
- Make the URL/permalink of your websites pages (i.e., Home, Contact, etc) match how they previously looked in Weebly by adding the ending html. To do this, search on the WordPress plugin site for the Add HTML to Page plugin, download and activate.
- Download a plugin to import external images (explained below). We used this one.
- Now download the Weebly to WordPress Import Plugin and follow the instructions. When you’re done, you’ll see that all of your blog posts have been added to the Posts section on your WordPress dashboard and into your blog, if you have set one up on your Pages. The posts will contain the comments you had before and your pictures as well, but you will want to run the Import External Images plugin to save them into your WordPress media gallery.
Warning: Your posts might need some serious cleanup after the import. Go through each one and change as necessary to make them look the way you want. We found that ours were cluttered with old code from Weebly. We deleted all the code and just copied and pasted the clean text back in. We also needed to re-center our photos, change some headers, etc. It was a couple days of work but better than losing all of our old content.
5. Now that you have the site looking the way you want, you need to point your domain to the new website. This part was confusing to us so we used the FatCow Help Center and chatted with someone who pretty much did it for us. To find pointing tools, go to Domain Central and click on My Domains, then select the domain name of your website. Click on Pointers. Select Subdirectory and then insert the name of the folder you built your WordPress site in (i.e., /WP/). This will tell the server to use the contents of that folder for your domain.
Note: Once we changed the pointers, some of our settings in WordPress defaulted back to the original for our theme, messing up some of our pages and navigation bar. This took another couple of hours as we had to go back in and clean things up again. We also had to take care of some broken links that were formed on a few posts (ones we had changed the name of over the years). A good practice would be to make a spreadsheet of the exact URLs of all your old posts before making the switch. Once you change over, go through them and check to make sure they work. For the ones that don’t, set up 301 (not 302) redirects to the new WordPress link that was formed (they make plugins for this).
So that’s how it worked for us. We officially made the switch to a more comprehensive platform so that we can keep growing our site and living the dream in Costa Rica. Over the next few months we’ll be doing even more upgrades, so stay tuned to see how our site changes.
Did you make the switch? Let us know below if you have any tips to share.
Post by: Matthew Houde and Jennifer Turnbull-Houde