How to Convert a Static Website to WordPress, Part 1

In today’s tutorial I’ll show how to convert a static website to dynamic WordPress CMS (content management system).

Is your website STILL with SBI! and you want to jump straight to WordPress?
Your tutorial is now here. This tutorial is for those who already have static websites on other hosts (other than SBI) and will teach them to convert their sites gradually.

If you prefer videos, I have a video version of this tutorial. Here it is:

And here is the text version. Please take time to read it even if you watched the video…

I assume you have a static website hosted by a decent host, such as ASO or Hostgator, who allows you to use cPanel for managing your website’s files. What we are going to do now is this:

  • Go to your websites cPanel, which is located at yourwebsite.com/cpanel.

    Enter your username and password and login. You will see something like this:

    Under Files, find File Manager (NOT Legacy File Manager), click on it, make sure you choose the right “Document Root For” (in case you have more than one website under the same account or if you have subdomains you will have a drop down menu) and click “Go” to enter. Something like this will open in new window:
    Hostgator's cPanel File Manager

    See that folder list to the left? Make sure public_html is highlighted.

    Scroll down the file list (to the right) and locate your homepage, which will be under index.htm, default.html, index.aspx, index.php, home.html or whatever you were using (ex-SBIers: index.html), right click and choose rename. I usually call it index-2.html. This is necessary for backing up your homepage just in case something goes wrong. You also want to access the contents of your homepage easily. Once you rename your homepage to index-2.html your homepage will be not available to your visitors for a short while (while you do the installation). If you open your homepage you will see this:

    index of

    This is basically the list of all your files and folders available in File Manager. You don’t want to leave it that way for very long, so if you reached this step, continue your work until you convert your homepage. Don’t stop here. After you convert your homepage you can take a break and go as slowly as you wish. You can open in a new tab yoursite.com/index-2.html. Your homepage will show here. Keep it open, you will need it soon.

    If you edited your .htaccess previously to add www. before your domain, you should edit once again and remove the following code

    RewriteEngine On
    RewriteBase /
    RewriteCond %{HTTP_HOST} ^yoursite.com [NC]
    RewriteRule ^(.*)$ http://www.yoursite.com/$1 [L,R=301]
    

    Once your remove it your domain will be available with www. and without www. That’s ok for a short period of time. Once you install WordPress you will be able to fix this right from your WordPress dashboard.

  • Now go back to your cPanel and find Softaculous (for A Small Orange users, Fantastico de Luxe icon OR QuickInstall icon (Hostgator users). All these allow you to easily install WordPress and are located under Software/Services. Here is Softaculous at ASO:

    Softaculous at A Small Orange

    As for Quick Install or Fantastico, these are available with Hostgator. Both allow you to install WordPress (and many other interesting platforms with a click of a button). There is not much difference between the two, except that QuickInstall will assign you a default username “admin”, while Fantastico allows you to choose your own username.

    Click whatever you will be using and choose WordPress. Here is how your settings should be with Softaculous (click to enlarge):

    Softaculous settings

    In case you are using QuickInstall:

    QuickInstall settings for root folder installation

    And in case you prefer Fantastico de Luxe, here are the settings to use (for root folder):

    Fantastico de Luxe settings for WordPress

    Once again “Install in directory” should be empty if you want your installation to be in the root folder.

    Follow through the instructions until the end and once you are done refresh your website’s homepage. You will see something similar to this:

    Wordpress default installation, homepage

    This is the default WordPress theme (or template) called twenty ten. It doesn’t look very good, so perhaps you’ll want to change it anyway. There are a few ways to go about this. If you are really new to WordPress, are not technical or / and have no time to obsess about details, start with another WordPress theme called twenty twelve. It is one of their three official themes and comes with your installation. This theme is safe, mobile optimized and you can customize it to something you can live with. Check Appearance –> Themes, find twenty twelve and activate it.

    If you are a fashion victim, there are a lot of free WordPress themes, but sometimes they have technical issues, security issues or even hidden links. That’s why I suggest that you stick to default (twenty twelve) for a while and buy a professionally built premium theme later.

    I will not discuss custom theme installation in this tutorial. So I will continue using WordPress default theme just to show you the basics. A few days in, you will figure out this type of details yourself. In addition, theme authors usually provide videos or written instructions on installation.

Not feeling confident? You can make a test installation of WordPress in a folder. This means that while your site will be running as usual, you will have your special area where you can perform tests. Use Fantastico de Luxe to create your test site. Instead of installing WordPress in the root directory of your site create a special folder and install it there. In this case you should postpone renaming your homepage until you are ready to work with WordPress in your root folder.

When you reach the place where Fantastico asks you in what directory you want to create your WordPress installation specify something like “test”. You don’t have to create this folder manually, Fantastico will do it for you. Once the installation is complete you will be able to access your test site at yoursite.com/test and your dashboard at yoursite.com/test/wp-admin.

You don’t want search engines to index your test site. Once you are done with installation, go to Settings –> Reading and check the box next to “Discourage search engines from indexing this site” and hit Save Changes. THIS IS ONLY FOR TEST SITE. Also DO NOT add www. to your test site. However you can try everything else, like themes, plugins, and all other WordPress features.

When you feel confident enough to make installation in your root folder and actually convert your website don’t forget to remove this test installation. You can remove it via Fantastico under “Current Installation”

This post is becoming too long and I have a lot more to say. I will split it in several parts. Here is Part 2 (text and video). If you have any questions please post in my forum.

44 Replies to “How to Convert a Static Website to WordPress, Part 1”

  1. Hey Elana,
    after having a look at my site, can you recommend another theme apart Akita if necessary.
    I have many more images i want to add to my site with links to affiliate sites eg. (mensjewlery.org)
    Do many affiliate links affect your rankings?
    Thanks,

    Tony

  2. Hello Tony, I only recommend Akita because it was best from what I have tried (I bought about 8 themes from ThemeForest), so it’s a kind of sure thing. This doesn’t mean there is no other great themes out there. The problem is that many themes look better than Akita, but when you get to working with it it’s not nearly as flexible and easy to work with as Akita. Some are hard to install, something that beginners might find frustrating. You can also check other places than ThemeForest. The reason I talk about it all the time is because I have experience with it, but it’s not the only place by far.

    I am sure there are good themes though. Check the ratings and comments. Some authors include dashboard screenshots, study them. You will definitely find what you like. ThemeForest has many gallery type themes that are excellent for presenting jewellery. Many of them are simply stunning!

    If you are too confused by all this – don’t be. You can always stick with one of default WordPress themes. Twenty Twelve is particularly good for this. It’s basically a blank page with two columns and menu at the top, but you can modify it right from your dashboard. You can add your own header, change background etc. It will give your site a clean and professional look.

    WordPress has a default gallery function – a piece of code that makes managing your gallery easier. http://codex.wordpress.org/Gallery_Shortcode

    Plus you have a number of great gallery plugins. This is just a random one, you could find even better
    http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/nextgen-gallery/

    When you feel at ease with WordPress you can switch to other theme with no problems.

  3. Hi Elena,

    After I renamed my homepage index-2, instead of having a list of all my files and folders available in File Manager when I refreshed the page, I had “Host Gator getting started page” with a list of things I could do such as cPanel login, video tutorials…

    So I renamed it index.html and got my normal homepage back as I don’t want to mess up anything.

    Do you think my files are actually not available in File Manager?

    I haven’t moved my domain name yet but I could see in betterwhois.com that my dns had changed since I made the move 2 days ago.
    Does it matter? Should I wait longer before doing this tutorial?

    Thanks 🙂

    Annette

    1. Did you rename just index-2 or index-2.html with .html at the end? Your DNS is ok, and your files are definitely in file manager otherwise they wouldn’t display. I am not sure what the problem could be besides that. Check exactly how you renamed your page, hopefully the answer is there 🙂

  4. Hi again,

    I renamed my homepage index-2.html, so it should be fine..?

    Then I kept going. So now http://www.learnfrenchlab.com appears with WordPress theme whereas http://www.learnfrenchlab.com/index-2.html is the SBI version.

    After you said we should delete index-2.html in File Manager to avoid duplicate content. But when I renamed it index.html, I had the SBI version instead of WordPress… So I put index-2.html back.

    Also, I could notice that I have now an index.php file in File Manager whereas I’m almost 100% sure it wasn’t here before.

    Did I miss something? Why do I have a php file now? Is it normal?

    Last thing, when I added a picture to my homepage, I had to upload it from my computer. Is it normal too?

    I’m lost…

    Thanks 🙂

    Annette

    1. Everything looks great Annette and you did it right. index-2.html should be deleted as long as you copied all content and don’t need it anymore. index.php comes with WordPress installation and you should never attempt to do anything with it or you’ll break your WordPress. Just delete that index-2.html now and continue conversion 🙂

  5. Amazing!!!
    Thank you so much.
    I can’t believe you’re even helping on a Sunday!
    I hope I’ll be able to find a Donate button on your site 🙂

    Bless you!

    Annette

    1. Thanks for kind words Annette! I’ve been out in the morning so I got my dose of fun for today. No donate button on this site, but the fact that it’s helpful to someone is a payoff by itself 🙂

  6. Ohhh, Elen , this “Not feeling confident” section perhaps needs re-fining. I followed the steps, but somehow w totally messed up the index page. It’s really a dsiaster.

    1. Hi Chris, sorry to hear that. I re-read that part once again and I can’t find anything wrong with text. I suspect that something went wrong during installation. Did you install it in a folder? Because if you installed it in a folder it shouldn’t affect your main site at all. If it messed up your homepage means you have it in root directory.

      Whatever happened it can be fixed 🙂 Can you tell me more about what you are seeing? I am not sure if your are have that herbal site?

  7. Sorry Elena.

    I have resolved the last question. i still had to change the rewrite rule….

    Thanks

    Jason

  8. Hi Elena

    I did manage a trial run with with a test mange, however, Im not getting it to work now Im working with my root directory.

    Im just getting the string of links as i did before but then i was able to change to a WP template.

    Here is the url http://www.smartpocketknives.com/?page_id=10&preview=true .

    Im not sure if this is an issue with the htaccess again or what. WP has changed that file to:

    # BEGIN WordPress

    RewriteEngine On
    RewriteBase /
    RewriteRule ^index\.php$ – [L]
    RewriteCond %{REQUEST_FILENAME} !-f
    RewriteCond %{REQUEST_FILENAME} !-d
    RewriteRule . /index.php [L]

    # END WordPress

    Any ideas what the issue is please?

    Regards

    Jason

    1. Hi Jason,

      What you gave me is a preview link and nobody other than you can see it, but I went to your site’s homepage and it’s a redirect loop. It is definitely because of redirect issues. The part added by WordPress should be there, don’t modify it but make sure you remove any redirects you have added yourself previously. To be on safe side just make a backup copy of your .htaccess and then clean up any redirects you added yourself BEFORE WordPress. Now to be clear by redirects I mean www. redirect and index.html to domain.com redirect.

      If you have any redirects for internal pages it shouldn’t cause any problems.

      1. Thanks Elena

        I actually deleted the htaccess file because it had changed its file name and i ended up with two. Ive kept the one with just the WP text inside it.

        I still have problems and its proving to be much more difficult than expected. I have deleted the whole of WP twice and deleted pages ive created to try and get this up and running.

        Do you know what the front page is? I was thinking this is my home page, but i don’t know.

        I’m noticing every-time in customize i try to change to a static page it changes back again.

        The home page is now live and the index.html redirects to .com. The problem now is this is not the page i created with the index.html extension.

        Im sure this is something small im not getting right. it seems there is already a page for .com created (not the one i deleted).

        Thanks

    1. You say .htaccess changed its name? How come? Don’t get this one. You should only have one clean .htaccess called precisely .htaccess

      The redirect from index.html to .com is WordPress default. It will redirect to whatever you have as your WordPress homepage at the moment.

      Front page is your homepage. So basically you should create a page and put there whatever you want there, give it proper title and then go to Settings –> Reading and set Front page displays a Static page and choose that page from drop down menu. Everything should work.

      When you delete WordPress how do you do that? The correct way to delete is to use same system you installed it, like Fantastico or QuickInstall. If you just deleted WordPress files in cPanel you’ll have issues too but it’s not hard to correct.

      1. And right now it doesn’t seem you have page info in place for your homepage.

        Also some issues can be sometimes caused by your theme. Are you using a free theme? If so, I would revert back to one of WordPress defaults for a while to make sure all settings works as they should and eliminate possibility that it’s the theme that causes issues and once everything is tuned properly revert to a custom theme.

  9. Thanks for getting back to me Elena.

    What happened was the htaccess file was changed by WP and then another was created with numbers added on the end.

    The theme has been paid for from themeforest.

    I will revert back to the free theme that were automatically given after install – to see if this helps. Ive also deleted the index.html page that had content in it (again).

    How do i add content to the frontpage if this is the homepage? And why do we creat another page index.html if frontpage is already .com and index.html?

    Sorry Elena you have an awkward person at the moment 🙂

    Thanks

  10. It usually takes some time to figure out how each particular theme works and this could add to confusion.

    In WordPress any page can become a homepage but, as I said above, you have to create it first and then go edit reading settings. It will then replace whatever you have there now.

    The theme you have now requires you to use posts (not pages) and assign tags to them, like featured etc. Once you do that you will see them appearing on homepage slider and featured areas. This is a cool option but if you are just discovering WordPress it might be too confusing for you right now as you didn’t master basic functions. This doesn’t take long though.

    In this original tutorial I suggest using pages feature when converting your content but if you want to use this particular theme and feature some of you articles based on tags you should use posts instead.

    In this case you don’t need to install .html on pages plugin but you need to modify your settings like i described in forum here
    http://webmasterdiary.org/forums/topic/posts-or-pages/#post-1689

  11. Thanks Elena

    This has proved to be more of a problem than i thought it would be. Im lucky i have tested this out on a site that i don’t mind losing rankings on, because i do want to move a site that is at the top of google particularly for this WP theme.

    I have found using SBI, and even moving SBI sites to upload your own html on hostgator a lot less time consuming and better. On WP i cannot even add content to that particular page (without it wanting to create a new page or post). There seems to be know h1 2 etc tags either.

    I can see now, this is learning a whole new way of building sites and is quite hard to transfer the same info from one site to another.

    I will keep plugging away for a few days and see what i can do. Im just glad i haven’t used the site i really want on this WP theme, as yet.

    Thanks for all your help Elena.

    Jason

    P.S I know i want pages and not posts. Its not a blog i want but a static website, just with some of the wp bits and bobs.

  12. Hi Elena

    Ive been spending some time trying to get to know WP. Im going to use posts and redirect pages, i think.

    Can you tell me when an SBI’r has moved from SBI to WP how have they arranged the tiers? I know how to create the homepage and tier 3’s (or posts) but im struggling to be able to create a tier 2 (category) page.

    I did create a category page in WP but this doesn’t seem to allow me to have a page to put the tier 3 (posts) links on. The category is just what they call a slug, but when i remove the rest of the url string from a url and leave the site name with slug – example.com/slug/ – this just goes to a 401?

    Any ideas would be appreciated.

    Thanks

    Jason

    1. You can simply create a page and put there whatever you had in your Tier 2 page. It’s really very simple. SBI didn’t actually provide us any tools to do so, they taught us to do that manually instead but WordPress offers you more options, which probably confuses you at the moment but soon you will realize how much easier and more comfortable it is.

      You don’t need any redirects. You can modify your posts to have .html at the end and there will be no need for redirects.

      If you have any issues can you please start a forum thread? We will delude this post with comments.

  13. Thanks Elena

    I thought it may be about just creating a page, adding it to a menu and then adding tier 3s to it.

    Anyway thanks very much – and i will start a new thread instead of clogging this one up.

  14. Hi Elena,

    am finally moving from Sbi.

    Hosted at Gator courtesy of you 🙂 Uploaded my site and changed name servers.

    All went well until i loaded wordpress. Nothing is changing when i refresh my site.

    Where am i going wrong? Its staying the same as when it was hosted at sbi.

    T

    1. Great news Tony! I am looking at your site now, I can see default WordPress blog page. Did you have it sorted already or you are still confused about something? If you have any questions please ask me. It’s best to start a thread in forum (here on this site) as we will probably need much space. http://webmasterdiary.org/forums-index/

  15. Hello,

    I really need help.

    I have a sbi site that isnt built yet, but i have my content saved on my computer, ready to upload into sbi.

    HOWEVER, i recently fell in love with a wordpress theme, and now i want my sbi site to work with the wordpress theme, WITHOUT loosing sbi’s tools and benefits.

    Please tell me if there is a way to have sbi tools work with a wordpress theme, OR if there are free or cheap alternatives for the sbi tools.

    I really am stuck here. help is greatly appreciated.

    1. Hi Alex,

      my answer may shock you but I don’t believe you need to replace their tools because WordPress is so much better, easier and more advanced. If you still can get your refund I would suggest you do that as quick as possible and build your site with WordPress instead of SBI’s proprietary system. If you just take a look at forums here you will see how hard and painful the move from SBI to WordPress was for some – it’s totally another matter when you start with WordPress from the beginning. If you already bought your domain with SBI and want to use it for your new site just transfer that domain to another registrar, get a standard web hosting package for 4-10 dollars per month (instead of $30 SBI is charging you) and build your website with WordPress.

    2. Alex,

      if you are still following this discussion – two days ago I learned that after years of bashing WordPress SBI actually released WordPress plugin that includes Brainstormer and Action Guide. Free version is for 14 days and then you have to pay $150 per year. Not that I suggest you do it, but there is a way for you to test it and see how things work for free. Plugin is called bizXpress. You can download right from your dashboard, here is their page in official plugin directory

      http://wordpress.org/plugins/bizxpress/

      This is very unexpected and basically tells that SBI probably won’t last for much longer anyway. You did right by taking decision going with WordPress, you will avoid all nightmare we have been through and if you want to test SBI’s most valuable tool you can do that now with bizXpress.

  16. Wow, really? That is very suprising to hear wordpress has similair (if not better?) tools than sbi offers!

    I have been up all night, and decided to just get a fresh domain from godaddy, and use wordpress.org’s interface since it seems to be cheaper (?) .

    I am now trying to install wordpress and install a theme using ftp.

    This is all new to me, actually. And I hope sbi lets me keep my other domain once i request a refund.

    Honestly, are there any suggestions for tools similair to sbi? That is my onl worry of switching completely to wordpress, becuase of what they compared to wordpress and sbi are the tools….

    1. Alex,
      in my opinion SBI is a bad product. It was more or less okay before but it deteriorated very quickly during past few years. Some of it is due to their own arrogance and unwillingness to keep up with the web and a lot of it is because of Google changes that began in the beginning of 2012. You cannot manipulate Google like you could before; that’s what SBI basically taught. They don’t want to acknowledge they were teaching people to game search engines nor they want to acknowledge their methods do not work. There are many other points different people made. Here are just some links:

      http://www.addicted2decorating.com/site-build-it-scam-a-site-build-it-review.html

      and

      http://www.joetrent.com/life-is-good-1-year-after-leaving-sbi-1-year-after-leaving-sbi/

      I also have this but kept it hidden from public for most part. I published it again especially for you just in case you want to take a look

      http://webmasterdiary.org/forums/forum/your-experience-with-sbi/

      there is much more.

      They treat people who criticize them with hostility and don’t generally allow to discuss it in their forum. This is the reason why you will see some ex-customers feeling so strongly about them which shows in some posts and comments. Most people of course simply move on.

      I don’t suggest you take too much time on reading negative things though. It is not productive and may distract you from your goals. I just brought this up to show that I am not alone in my opinion about them.

      Regarding new domain, just get

      – web hosting package with any standard host. Usually this cost about 60 dollars for 12 month for new site with no traffic. Most hosts have auto-install for WordPress, which doesn’t take more than a minute.
      – get domain registered somewhere nice
      – point name servers to your new host
      – and start publishing your content

      My WordPress tutorials are largely irrelevant in your situation because you are not converting an SBI site. So find some other good WordPress tutorials and videos (which are plenty). Good luck 🙂

      It is THAT simple. SBI might tell you about keyword research, which is a valid point but having seen so many technical issues in SBI I don’t trust their keyword tool either. If you Google SEO tips for 2013 and SEO for WordPress you will learn everything you need to know.

      1. Ah yes, I forgot to say most WordPress themes can be uploaded directly via WordPress dashboard using Upload button in Appearance –> Themes. Using FTP is not necessary for most themes.

  17. hi elena

    I want to install wordpress as it can provide me the cms facilities. I have done some work on the look and feel of the site, so have the style sheets and everything ready. Now would I be able to keep the old look and feel, and still have wordpress installed? Do i still have to install a theme or in that case just installing wordpress will be sufficient?

    1. Hi, yes you can but this would need custom coding. If you are not a pro-coder you are probably better off by getting a theme that was built for WordPress from the beginning. When people try to convert existing designs to WordPress themselves or hire someone who is less than a code poet, they often have technical issues and blips. Some WordPress features may be not available. You might have issues with updates and plugins. So to answer your question: yes you can, but usually this is much harder than finding a well-built WordPress theme.

  18. Hi Tony,
    Great site very useful and helpful,
    just one question
    If my hompage file is index.php What should i rename it too index-2.html. or index-2.php or something else?
    Thanks Mark.

    1. Hi Mark,

      you probably meant to address your question to me 🙂

      If your homepage original url was index.php you can rename it to something like index-old.php BEFORE installing WordPress. The reason why I say before installing WordPress is because WordPress also has index.php file and that one is important to keep.

      1. Hi Elana,
        I’m so sorry i only joined last night and had clicked send when i realized to my total embarrassment that i got the name wrong.
        Anyway thanks for the reply and information your site is one of the best with a wealth of information that a lot of people would often charge for.
        Warmest, Regards Mark.

  19. Hi Elena,

    Please help! Love your site – I followed your instructions to go from SBI to static and it worked a dream. I’m now moving to WP and have run into problems straight away.

    I changed the index page to index-2.html but didn’t get the list of files you mentioned – just a Hostgator login page. Still tried to install WP with Fantastico but it just set me up with a new site (without the www.) rather than transferring the old one. I’ve uninstalled WP but now don’t know what to do.

    Also, all my external links are broken. Should I sort that after WP or do it now. I’m pretty rubbish with code – tried to find/remove the line you mentioned but couldn’t.

    Any help would be much appreciated!

    1. Hi Andy, sorry about problems you are facing. I looked at your site, all pages are live except homepage. I suspect you made accidential mistake somewhere but can’t tell where it is. If you give me access to your cpanel and your wordpress I can figure out that for you as it should be something simple. That would be quicker than as trying to figure out in comments. You will be able to change password later. My email faletova (at) gmail.com

      Another option would be to uninstall WordPress (via Fantastico if you used it or via Quick Install if you used Quick Install) and rename your index2.html back to index.html to bring back the static version of your site. Don’t worry, it’s ALL fixable as long as you don’t delete your site which I don’t think you will do.

    2. In addition to what I mentioned earlier, external link problem is something I warned about is an SBI problem that they add a piece of code to track your links onclick=”return FIX.track(this); You will have to fix that manually as you convert to WordPress. It is mentioned at the end of my original tutorial.

      As for WP problem, I suspect it is because you didn’t remove code that added www to .htaccess but still better if you let me look at it.

        1. I am so happy that you like it. Believe me, WordPress is awesome and you will be discovering things even years later. Thanks for your comment 🙂

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