Four Kitchens

Considering a WordPress migration? How to find the right approach for your organization

5 Min. ReadDevelopment

One of the core strengths of WordPress is its flexibility. Once launched, you can continue adapting the platform’s capabilities indefinitely to suit your organization’s needs.

However, when it’s time for a redesign, you inevitably reach a crossroads. Do you want a redesign to deliver a better user experience by also shifting to a new theme and backend? Or do you want to roll all your existing content and processes to a new design along with any out-of-date plugins hampering your site’s performance?

Planning the do-it-yourself migration in the second scenario may be the easier path for your business. But if you’re using a WordPress editor like Gutenberg and want to explore the possibilities of a more specialized theme, your migration stands to be more complex.

Often, the only way to ensure you’re launching a new and better site is by migrating to a new platform. The right approach for your business ultimately depends on how much you want to gain.

How WordPress page-builder themes create roadblocks to migration

While the simplicity of WordPress allows your website to technically run on the same system for a million years, the platform hasn’t remained stagnant. Not long ago, Gutenberg constituted a dramatic shift in how teams create posts and pages using the Block Editor.

At the same time, many website managers are opting for recent WordPress themes that have taken the WYSIWYG — or “what you see is what you get” — concept of site editing to another level. Plugin themes, such as Divi and Elementor, grant your users even more control over how your website is built. Using a drag-and-drop interface, page-builder themes allow you to easily create complex layouts and new sections of your site.

However, the power of these page-builder themes also constitutes a limitation. Instead of your developers deciding how your content is organized, the theme makes those choices behind the scenes. As a result, your effort to seamlessly migrate to and from a block editor system like Gutenberg becomes very difficult.

The creators of page-builder templates want to encourage migration to their ecosystems. However, the two types of WordPress themes don’t yet speak the same language.

WordPress block editor introduces migration challenges

Since its release with WordPress 5.0, the Gutenberg block editor has become one of the most popular tools to manage content. Site editors like using these templates because of their similarity to software like Word. But your developers may not be sold.

Just as with page-building themes, it’s difficult to get data out of Gutenberg-based sites. After a migration, you’ll see either strings of HTML on your pages or CSS code that hasn’t been applied the way it used to. Where your site once featured a button, now it’s just a regular link or a line of code that didn’t render correctly. Depending on how you and your editors work, Gutenberg may still be the most powerful choice when it comes time to consider a migration.

If you’re planning a move away from Gutenberg, you must have a compelling reason to gain more widget access or the additional template-creating power of a page-building site. Or, if you’re planning to retu
o the block editor, you may want your team to have more freeform capability to create new features or use a custom word block.

Unfortunately, the flexibility of WordPress should also come with a word of warning. You can buy as many new plugins and themes to enhance your site that your organization can afford. But when it comes to ensuring your content displays properly — or doesn’t get lost entirely — as you migrate, you as a buyer had better beware of not seeing a return on your investment.

The right WordPress plugin aids your transition — to a point

If your goal is to migrate your website from one version of WordPress to another, the platform’s import and export capabilities do most of the legwork for you. You will need a developer’s expertise to sift through the areas of your site where your content has failed to render properly. But if you want your site to run more effectively, you’ll probably want your developer to do more.

Most off-the-shelf plugins only extend how well WordPress exports your site to another WordPress platform. However, for the most part, they’re aiming to replicate the existing abilities of your site. While that may suit your needs, it’s not the best use of the opportunity to optimize your site and start fresh.

Plus, most plugins designed to help with your migration from one WordPress site to another work best on editorial content. For media, all your files, such documents and videos, are lumped into a giant media library. But if you have custom content like polls and quizzes, you have to consider their value to your new site. Recreating these features may be more time-consuming than they’re ultimately worth.

In the end, if you want to see the most benefits from a redesign, you may have to write a custom script to migrate all your website content. Or, alternatively, you can output your site as XML in WordPress and import it into your new site. But if you’re looking to migrate beyond WordPress, your choices become less limited.

Migrating from WordPress to Drupal offers further options

If you use your redesign as a means to look beyond WordPress, your options are much broader. Using Drupal’s WordPress Migrate module means your shift to its platform is fairly straightforward.

Additionally, if you’re currently using WordPress’ block editor, Drupal features a Gutenberg module that will accurately map your content. If your team is reluctant to leave WordPress because they’ve heard that Drupal is hard, you can ease their concerns by assuring them the new platform features a block editor that looks familiar.

Drupal’s migration tool for WordPress is fairly plug-and-play. You can upload your XML file and Drupal will guide you through identifying your site’s components. But that level of ease is coming from the perspective of an experienced Drupal developer. That said, migrating to a different website platform also means you’re changing your toolset. You’re going to need a developer’s expertise to make any platform migration successful.

Whether you’re planning a migration to replicate your current site or improving upon it, a do-it-yourself approach isn’t often the best option. But if you’re already at the point of launching a new website, the potential benefits of a complete migration are too great to pass up.