Moving a Food Blog from Blogger to WordPress

As there aren’t any detailed guide that tells you everything you need to know about moving from Blogger to WordPress, I thought I’d share my journey.  I’ve also called out additional specific information that pertains to setting up a food blog on WordPress.

History: Starting a Food Blog on Blogger.com

When I started this blog back in 2012, the real driver was to have an easy way to share recipes with friends and family when requested. I had a notebook full of things that I had made along with stacks and stacks of papers with in-progress recipes. Eventually I typed them up in Google Docs and passed them along when requested.

Eventually I wondered if starting a food blog made sense. I figured that I could crank out one to two new recipes each month to keep the content fresh, and Simple Awesome Cooking was started. I chose to put it on Blogger since 1) it was owned by Google and 2) it was free. There are a lot of free services that come and go, by choosing Google owned Blogger, I figured that it would be around for a while (true) and also be regularly updated (false).

As the world of SEO has become more complicated, so have the technical details required to make your content readily available to Google’s crawler. This meant more than having unique, high quality content, it meant a lot of programming as well. Since I have a software development background, I don’t mind getting my hands a little dirty in the code. However, family demands also meant I didn’t have a few hours a week to be my own tech company to maintain the blog.

Since 2012, we’ve gone from having one blog template to separate mobile and desktop designs to responsive design. Blogger was progressive in letting you specify two different designs in one template. Though making it responsive involved a lot of clunky hacking. Then Google introduced AMP pages, essentially going back to having separate mobile optimized pages. Blogger had no answer.

Getting into the Code

Additionally, Google started relying on things like metadata, microformats and JSON to describe your recipe. This lets the crawler know where to find your picture, the ingredients, how long it takes to make and more. By standardizing all of the details of the recipe in a published format, Google is able to make the Rich Data cards that appear when you search for a recipe.

Keeping up with those standards is complicated because Blogger lacks a true template. Originally I had to hand-code the look and feel of a recipe card and manually add in all of the extra metadata. Each time the standard changed, I had to go change all of the pages. The error messages I was getting in Webmaster Tools kept increasing. With 100+ recipes, this became a losing battle.

And then there were more introductions of microdata. First hentry. Then schema.org. Now it’s a separate JSON-LD file. But if you don’t keep up, you basically won’t appear in SERPs (Google Search Engine Result Pages)

On top of that, site design needed to keep getting leaner and leaner as Google penalizes you for having slow, clunky web pages. I consistently kept scoring worse on the Page Speeds Insight Tool. You would have thought that using a platform owned by Google would mean you’d always be on the cutting edge of SEO. Not so much. Blogger hasn’t been actively maintained in years. It’s a product from the late 2000’s that’s just limping along. And it’s clear that isn’t going to change.

Moving the Food Blog from Blogger started becoming necessary for survival.




Becoming a Self-Sustaining Blog

Somewhere along the way I was seduced by the thought of putting advertising on the blog. I’d read the posts from other bloggers about the big money they were making on their site and wanted to get in. The rule of thumb always seemed to be to hold off added display advertising until you have 10,000 pageviews or more per month. I’m not sure where that originated, or if it’s even valid, it’s sort of like the folklore that you should take 10,000 steps every day.

I had crossed that threshold and signed up with AdSense. And before long, I too was making big money. We’re talking dollars a month. Single digit dollars. My wife used to tell me that in exchange for holding up dinner at times to shoot a plated dish, I owed her my earnings in Champagne. Well, that ended up being Cava, and it wasn’t very often.

Fast forward to 2018 and I have a bit more traffic and a bit more ad revenue. I’m not quitting my day job just yet, but it’s enough that it can be self-sustaining if I were to pay for hosting and invest in a quality template.

Web Hosting

How To Choose a WordPress Host

With Blogger dying a slow death, I started looking into WordPress hosting options. There is a Blogger-like free equivalent with WordPress, but you don’t get your own domain. You end up with myblog.wordpress.org and are severely limited in plug-ins and templates.

The next step is to pick between Self-Hosted and Managed WordPress. Self-hosted with a cloud provider is the next cheapest and means you get your own server (really a Virtual Machine) and need to install and configure your own WordPress site. For the uber-technical, this means complete control. But you also have to do your own patching, upgrades, server monitoring, restarting and more.

That’s interesting to me, but it’s still a lot of work. So the next best option is Managed Hosting. Here you get a pre-configured WordPress setup that’s ready to start publishing. You also get all of the monitoring, malware detection, server management and maintenance included.

And there are a lot of options.

After doing some research, the best balance of features and price for me was with SiteGround.  They let you run an unlimited number of web sites, don’t charge for traffic, offer advanced WordPress features, allow shell access (very developer friendly) and rank highly on site speed.  After signing up with SiteGround, I started to migrate from Blogger.

 


 

Migrating Posts from Blogger to WordPress.

I found some guides about setting up food blogs on WordPress, a few about migrating from Blogger and bits and pieces of the rest.  It was all really scattered.  If you’re about to move your own food blog to WordPress, I hope you find this helpful.

First off, you’ll probably be very excited to start shopping for a new theme.  This is what WordPress calls the template.  It contains all of the layout information as well as the style.  Here’s the first big difference.  Blogger has one theme, one design.  Though you do have some layout control over the post page.  WordPress functions more like a CMS in that it has multiple layout templates available define your posts and pages.  You also have the ability to load third-party widgets, for which there are thousands, into your sidebars.

You might be tempted to pick up a free theme.  That’s what I’d done for years and blogger and started browsing the “free wordpress themes” sites.  What I found is that, while attractive in design, what you don’t get is ability to customize.  If you want to alter a layout, control different options, even adjust colors and styles, these can all be configurable in a paid theme.  In the free version, you’ll need to know PHP, HTML and CSS to do this.  In many cases, you don’t even get the source files with a free theme.  So they are good to start out with, but if you’re short on time, a professional theme is a better investment.

Additionally, I know what kind of time is involved in designing and developing a web site design.  Someone put a lot of effort into the product and it’s worth the purchase.  It also helps that I had just received a check from Google Adsense, so the first few months of hosting and a theme were paid for.

So then I started looking for themes and found there were a lot of options.  The theme that best fit my needs was Foodica from WPZOOM as it was spot on for the visual aspect, had a lot of flexibility in design options and also provided all of the source files.  I ended up buying the full WPZOOM Theme Package because it wasn’t that much more and gives me a lot of flexibility to change my current design or launch new blogs that look totally different.

Set up a Food Blog on WordPress

Alright, if you’re feeling like you are ready to move your food blog to WordPress, here are the basic steps that I went though.  There’s a lot.  You’ll want to dedicate an afternoon to this and then be ready to triage over the next few days.

This all assumes that you’ve picked a hosting platform and have a basic WordPress installation ready to go.

  1. Import your Posts, Pages and Comments from Blogger:  I used a plugin called “Blogger Importer Extended” which worked great.
  2. Fix Permalinks:  The WordPress default is a little different, so go to Settings -> Permalinks and choose Custom Structure.  Use /%year%/%monthnum%/%postname%.html for the value.  And then click on each post’s View link one-by-one to see if you get the page or a 404.  I had to manually edit about 20% of my links
  3. Categories: Your categories will all need to be reset
  4. Social Sharing:  I had been using Shareaholic, but with SiteGround, you get a free SSL certificate.  This means your share counts may be lost.  I bought the Warefare Pro  because it had an option to combine your share counts from your old site to the SSL version.  It’s also extremely customizable.
  5. Recipe Plugin:  This is a huge benefit to WordPress because the Recipe plugins give you a nice interface for ingredients/instructions and all the recipe information.  They also generate the print views and all of the SEO metadata.  I’m using WP Recipe Maker.
  6. Fix Images:  Early on, I wasn’t very diligent about file naming, alt tags and image sizes.  These are all very important to fix and it’s a laborious effort now to add them in.  One great plugin for optimizing your Media Library is Smush.
  7. Akismet Anti-Spam: I’m using Jetpack, which includes Akismet.  If it doesn’t come preconfigured in your WordPress, you definitely need this.  It will protect your comments and contact forms from spam.
  8. Contact Us:  My old blog used a contact form service that I’m not sure is even still around.  The most popular for WP seems to be Contact Form 7
  9. 301 Redirects: You’ll have a lot of page, sitemap and feed requests that won’t map cleanly to WordPress.  You’ll want a good Redirect plugin to put 301’s in place.  The plugin Redirection also has a 404 checker to show you all the Page Not Found errors that are coming in.  From there you can easily add a redirect.
  10. XML Sitemap:  There are many sitemap builders, I’m using the one in Yoast.  Be sure to submit your new sitemap URL to Google Webmaster Tools and delete the old one.
  11. Blogger Mobile Redirects: One of the legacy problems with Blogger was that it would add “?m=1” to the URL when a user was on a mobile device.  This happened at the server level, wasn’t configurable and indicated which template to load.  The problem is that Google’s index, and many other sites, stored that ?m=1 depending on how they crawled the site.  You’ll get a lot of 404 errors and need a Redirect in place.  Fixing this means editing your .htaccess file to add these two lines after the RewriteBase / line:

    RewriteCond %{QUERY_STRING} ^m=1$

    RewriteRule (.*) $1? [R=permanent]

  12. Robots.txt:  The next thing I discovered was that Google couldn’t crawl my site.  In Webmaster Tools, it said that crawling was blocked by robots.txt.  So I installed the “Virtual Robots.txt” plugin to make the needed changes.
  13. DNS Cutover: After you have all of the basic configuration set, you should be ready to cut over.  This means changing your DNS records to point to your new WordPress site instead of pointing to Blogger.  Details of how to do this should be covered by your new hosting provider.

Optional Tasks for Optimizing WordPress

That should take care of the basics.  If you’re monetizing, or boost performance, here are some additional steps to optimize your food blog on WordPress.

  1. CDN: On Blogger, images in your posts were served up from Blogger’s servers and there wasn’t any way to change that.  Moving to WordPress, you have the opportunity to integrate with a Content Delivery Network (CDN) to speed page load time.  On SiteGround, there is free basic usage of Cloudfare’s CDN.
  2. SSL: Google has made it very clear that they are favoring sites that are encrypted via SSL.  Many hosting companies offer a no-charge SSL certificate.  If you go this route, it’s important that your social plugin will add your non-SSL sharing counts to your SSL-based sharing counts.
  3. Adsense – If you run ads, most professional templates should make it easy to integrate Adsense.  This means simply copying your ad ID number into a form.  The alternative is manually inserting AdSense javascript into a page.  The first few days, my AdSense revenue and impressions were way off and required some digging to find out why that was the case.  Pay attention to the reports in AdSense and compare trends.  It helps if you have each of your ad units named for where they live on the page (Right Rail Ad, In-Content Ad, Footer Wide Ad, etc.)
  4. Google Tag Manager – One challenge I had on Blogger was managing all of the javascript tags and pixels.  If not done right, you can be penalized for slow/blocking load times.  An easy fix is to use a Tag Manager, which Google provides for free, which can handle loading tags like Google Analytics, Facebook, Quantcast and more.  Use the GTM for WordPress plugin to integrate it.  Then you can do a lot of more advanced tracking like link clicks, events, social and more from GTM and not in code on your site.
  5. Google Analytics – You should be using GA as well so that you get more analytics data that was comes out of the box with WordPress.
  6. AMP Pages – Another big optimization is having AMP enabled pages.  This was nearly impossible in Blogger, but is as simple as adding a plugin (AMP for WP).
  7. RSS Syndication Feeds – For a while, everyone read blogs with a feed reader.  Google had a great one they shut down, there were apps for Windows and Mac, and I thought they were kind of dead.  But people do still use Feedly, and many News apps look for feeds as well.  I found a lot of 404 errors for clients trying to find a feed so I installed the Custom Simple RSS plugin and set up redirects to point to it.
  8. Sticky Menus – You know how some sites anchor the site menu at the top of the browser when you scroll? If that’s not part of your template, then install the myStickyMenu plugin.
  9. Page Optimization – Finally, you’ll want a plugin to optimize your site for speed.  This includes minifying page assets, setting cache parameters and other tweaks.  If your host has a built-in tool, check that out.  But also check out plugins like WP Fastest Cache which offer a ton of extra settings.

Health Checks for WordPress Blogs

Finally, you need to check in each day for the next few weeks to ensure everything is running OK and nothing was broken in the migration.

  • PageSpeed Insights: It’s a good idea to run this a few times before migration to get a baseline where you are now.  Check it after you migrate and as you add plugins to validate that you’re knocking off issues and improving your score.
  • Webmaster Tools: There are a lot of areas to pay attention to here.  Your Sitemap is the most critical.  Make sure Google has your new sitemap and can crawl it.  It’ll take anywhere from days to weeks for Google to absorb the changes.  Not only is the code different, but the content is probably changing a lot too as you optimize with new tools like Yoast.  Pay attention to any errors as well as the Structured Data section.  Ideally you have far fewer Critical Errors and more content that’s Fully Optimized
  • Page Not Found: Use a plugin that can parse your log files to highlight 404’s and tackle them right away.  Interestingly I had a lot of 404’s for the Googlebot (which is bad) and had to keep tweaking.  You’ll also find pages where permalinks are wrong or simply didn’t translate correctly so you can add 301’s.

Over the next few weeks I’ll update this page on how the transition went and if I saw any measurable difference in traffic, revenue or search visibility.

I hope you find this useful.  Let me know if there’s anything I missed or wasn’t clear.


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