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How can I import a website into WordPress?

import a website into WordPress
The key to switching to WordPress? Planning. And coffee.

With more than 30% of sites on the internet using WordPress, you may decide that you wish to join the crowd. But how do you import a website into WordPress?

Create your WordPress site

First things first, you’ll need a WordPress site to import your current site’s content into. If you host your own website, you can download WordPress for free, but it’s more likely that your current web host provides a quick installer to do that automatically.

If you can’t see an option to create a WordPress site in your administration area, it could be that WordPress isn’t supported (this can be the case with basic hosting options). You may need to upgrade to a more expensive package or consider moving to a different host. If in doubt, contact your current host to see what options are open to you.

From this point on, I’ll assume you have a WordPress site ready and waiting to migrate your old site into.

How to export your existing site

Once you’re signed into the Administration area, click on Tools and then Import. This will provide a list of platforms that you can, by default, import from. These are Blogger, Blogroll, LiveJournal, MovableType, TypePad, Tumblr, and, yes, another WordPress site.

If you’re importing from a platform not listed there, such as Drupal, then search the plugin directory to find a tool that will help you.

You can also import from RSS (Really Simple Syndication), which is important to emphasise because it comes in very handy later.

Other hosts may have their own importers. For example, WordPress.com can also import from other big platforms, such as Medium, Wix and Squarespace, as well as smaller players such as Ghost, Israblog, Posterous, Storylane and Xanga.

If you’re not using a specific platform (e.g. a hand-coded site) or it’s not one that currently has an import plugin, then your best bet is the RSS option. Otherwise, a manual transfer of content may be required (sorry).

Beware of lesser alternatives

The portability of platforms such as WordPress, which is open source, is in stark contrast to others, which are not only closed source but don’t even allow exporting. Wix is an example, and WordPress.com has had to create its own proprietary method to allow Wix customers to import their site into WordPress.

When looking for a platform to run your website, carefully consider how portable your data is and whether you can move it elsewhere later. As WordPress.com says:

It’s your content; you can do whatever you like with it.

We’ll get to the WordPress importing in a moment but, as a comparison, WordPress works by creating all exports in a standardised, open format – a format that any other platform can use to ensure that they can import from WordPress, if they wish.

Importing into WordPress

Now you’ve exported your existing site, you should have a .WXR file ready to import. 

Head to Tools -> Import and select the WXR file. It can take some time to import but, once done, you should have the existing site content imported.

What might be missing from your WordPress import?

Just bear in mind that WordPress export/import is all about the content, not the styling. The look of your site will not be preserved, so you’ll want to look for a theme. It also doesn’t include any configuration, so you will need to transfer that manually.

The other thing that you may find is that some images have gone missing. This is particularly the case if you’re transferring from one WordPress site to another. To understand why, you need to know a little more about the WXR file that’s used for the imports.

The WXR format is based on a popular dialect of XML. It contains all the text and data for your site but doesn’t include the images. Instead, the WordPress importer looks for any images mentioned in your site data and then imports those before updating the links to point to them.

However, with WordPress being so immediately expandable via plugins, there’s a chance you may have additional features on your old site that store data outside of the main content. This means they won’t be part of the export (the WordPress exporter can’t be expected to know about every one of the 56,000+ plugins, after all).

Manually transferring the data is probably your best bet in this case, or look to see if the plugin in question has its own export options (many themes have this so they can export theme-specific configurations).

Tips for transferring to WordPress

I’ve moved many a website to WordPress and can offer four main tips:

  1. Plan in advance what you need to do, broken into stages
  2. Create a test plan, ensuring that each part of the site is checked to ensure it’s working as it should 
  3. Make sure you give yourself plenty of time to do it – avoid artificial deadlines, if at all possible
  4. Try to keep both sites running at the same time for as long as possible, so that you can identify any missing data and correct it

I hope you find that useful. If you have any questions, feel free to post them in the comments below or contact me via @davidartiss on Twitter.

Read this next: WordPress.com vs WordPress.org – what’s the difference?

Full disclosure: David Artiss is an employee of Automattic, the company behind WordPress.com

About the author

David Artiss

Currently working for a technology company based in San Francisco, David has worked in IT for nearly 30 years. He is a keen gamer and happily admits to being a gadget nerd too.

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