Five Questions to Answer before Migrating a WordPress Site

Migrating a WordPress Site Should be Straightforward

If you've never migrated a WordPress site, from one host to another, it shouldn't be difficult. After all, WordPress has been around for a long time. So it's not like you're splitting apart an atom. This is stuff others have done before – a lot of times. It should be easy, right? But before you get started there are a few questions you need to answer.

Tools Make it Easy

Moving a website isn't like moving from one house to another. When you're making a physical move you have to worry about packing, loading, transporting, unloading and unpacking. That's a lot of work! But when you move a site, there are a lot of tools to help and it will feel like magic. If you've never heard of BlogVault, BackupBuddy, or Duplicator, these solutions will do the packing, loading and unloading for you. All you need to do is give them your origin and destination.

But Sometimes There Are Complexities

At Liquid Web, we host more than 50,000 sites, so we've navigated our fair share of migrations. And over time we've noticed a series of little issues that drive the complexity factor way up. What do I mean by complexity factor? Imagine you were moving, and you rented a van and movers, and they showed up to your home without knowing that you lived 10 flights up (without an elevator) and owned a grand piano. That's a tricky problem.

So here are the five questions that you should take note of and make sure you have answers for before starting a migration of your WordPress site.

Five Questions to Ask & Answer before Migrating WordPress Sites

1. Did you add non-WP applications to your site?

So let's imagine you've been hosting your WordPress site on a shared host that powers everything with cPanel. Nothing wrong with that. But here's what we know – cPanel makes it really easy to install other software that isn't WordPress. And it's so easy that you might have clicked on a single button and added an application to your WordPress install.

Again, nothing wrong with that. But when you're migrating a WordPress site, this detail is important to call out to the movers (like that piano, or the stairs). So remember to make a note of it and be able to explain what the application is, where it's located, and how you're using it.

2. Have you stored critical files outside of your WordPress installation?

Another question you should answer focuses on other files that may be outside of the folders that normally contain WordPress files. Maybe you are using fonts that you purchased and you placed them in a different directory. Or maybe you took key download files (digital products maybe?) and placed them in a folder outside of your web root. These are all scenarios I see every week. And when everyone is aware of them, it's a simple thing to manage.

But when no one knows about them, and a migration tool is used, that external dependency will likely be missed. And if it's a font, for example, it might have a profound effect on the way your site looks after the move. So make sure to take note of anything critical that is stored outside of your WordPress install, so that you can tell someone about it.

3. Do you have scheduled tasks set up that you need migrated?

So far we've been talking about files that may be running inside your WordPress install, or stored outside of it. But those aren't the only complexities that you'll face when migrating a WordPress site. Sometimes it's not file related at all.

You might have scheduled tasks that take care of routine work for your site. These are often called cron jobs. Sometimes it's an internal backup plugin that is scheduled to run nightly at 11 pm. Other times it's something that a plugin schedules, like Yoast SEO.

What's important is to know what cron jobs you have so that you can ask for help getting them re-established on your new site. One of the ways to see all the cron jobs you have in place is to install WP Crontrol. That way, when planning your migration, you can also make sure all cron jobs are taken care of.

4. Do you have more than one WordPress site installed under a single domain?

We're talking about the questions you should answer when migrating a WordPress site, but what if there are two sites? I'm not talking about multisite. I'm talking about those situations (rare as they might feel like they are) where you have one site installed at and another site installed as You literally loved WordPress so much that you put some WordPress in your WordPress. It's crazy, but I see it happen.

If you have this situation going on, a migration tool or expert won't have problems moving over your core database and all the files in the root folders, but they could easily miss the second database. Especially if it's named something like 340985037_db. Nothing about that says it's connected to the database they're working on when it comes to a migration.

So make sure that you let someone know if you have one site embedded in another.

5. Have you thought about your email?

Not every host will offer you email. But some do. And if that's a part of your deployment, you need to make sure that your new host will offer something similar, or that you have email account migration on your checklist. More importantly, your mail is routed and domain names are resolved via MX records wherever you're managing your DNS. If you're changing servers, and you want email to come with you, you'll need to make sure to bring it up so that people can help you make sure it comes along with the rest of your site.

Of course, if you're using an external system for your email – like Google Accounts – you may not have to make any changes. But since everyone does it differently, this is one of those areas you can't afford to skip over.


If you have answers to all of these questions, I promise you that your migration will go a lot smoother. When we do migrations at Nexcess, I know we use a custom migration tool designed by BlogVault. And I know that these five areas are places where tools could be fooled into thinking they've done 100% of the job when in fact, there's a 3% extra that was missed. But that 3% means a lot if your site doesn't look right (because a font isn't loading). Hopefully this helps.