Guide to Migrating off WordPress
The following guide outlines the steps you need to take if you are considering migrating off WordPress to a Headless CMS like Contento.
Co-Founder / CEO
October 13, 2022
Migrating off WordPress
WordPress is the most popular content management system (CMS) in the world. Since its origins in 2003, it has grown to power about a third of all websites (exact stats vary, but W3Techs claims that WordPress is used by 43% of all websites). There is no close second, instead, the chasing pack consists of a long list of alternatives. Most have less than 0.5% market share but when one considers the global market of 200 Million active websites a tiny % share can translate into a seriously big business. Take Contentful as one example, a leading Headless CMS, which raised $175M in 2021 at a $3Bn valuation will have less than 50,000 customers (Source BuiltWith).
In its 20-year life, WordPress has also spawned a huge ecosystem of developers, designers, and agencies all advocating for its ongoing supremacy. However, in recent years the growth of Website Builders like Squarespace and Wix have become popular, and have become strong growth businesses without needing to worry about winning business over from WordPress.
However, when it comes to the data relating to WordPress dominance, there are additional layers to consider, personal websites versus commercial websites, as well as websites for high-growth tech companies versus basic brochure-ware sites.
For those looking to pick a CMS to power a fast growing B2B SaaS scale-up the picture is very different with a host of alternatives from Webflow to the use of a Headless CMS solution being much more prominent.
This is very much the focus of this article, viewing WordPress in terms of its suitability for B2B SaaS websites. B2B SaaS companies have some unique characteristics that I’ll describe below which means that WordPress is not an ideal fit for those aspiring to drive growth (as I’ll argue below).
Benefits of WordPress
The benefits of WordPress are all too apparent as it allows users to quickly and easily create basic websites. The ecosystem of Plugins helps users to then get the most out of the platform. In technical terms, WordPress sits in the monolithic camp, where the content management system and user-facing website are combined in contrast to the Headless CMS camp that has been emerging.
Key Benefits of WordPress
Lots of plug-ins help extend the functionality of WordPress e.g. Yoast for SEO
Lots of WordPress developers are available to help manage and maintain your site
Lots of available themes to style the site without needing to start from scratch
In general, it can be easy to use but in many instances, it is not
There are several WordPress issues that users need to be aware of. As stated above a B2B SaaS context is relevant here. B2B SaaS companies take years to build and the marketing team can go through many leaders who all leave a mark on the setup, adding plugins and users over the years.
Hence, a WordPress site that is several years old is likely to suffer from website bloat, site speed issues, and stability challenges.
Main WordPress Issues
1- Need for a WordPress Developer on Retainer
It is commonplace for B2B SaaS companies to have an external WordPress developer on a retainer for site maintenance and management.
2- Poor Site Speed
Again for B2B SaaS sites running on WordPress, site performance can degrade significantly after a few years. Certain themes can contain surplus code which can negatively impact the speed of the site and cause slow load times.Slow sites impact SEO ranking as well as lead conversion rates.
3- SEO Limitations
WordPress sites can perform well especially when Yoast is installed correctly and is used properly. However, it is common for WordPress sites to lack Yoast and thus SEO can be suboptimal resulting in poor Google ranking. Most B2B SaaS companies rely heavily on Inbound marketing and thus need to ensure a strong SEO foundation.
4- Need for 3rd Party PlugIns
Sourcing, managing, and maintaining 3rd party plugins is a real headache for most marketing functions, particularly in the case of legacy plugins that were installed by a previous marketing person no longer working at the company.
5- Access Credentials
As referenced earlier, marketing functions can run through several different personnel over the years. In some instances, the clean-up exercise after someone leaves is non-existent so you can end up with several people retaining access even after they have left the company.
6- Security Vulnerabilities
Given that WordPress is an Open Source platform, and it relies heavily on plugins to extend the functionality as well as themes for customization it can easily contain bugs or malicious code. Similarly, WordPress updates can often render parts of your theme or some plugins usable. The more plugins you use, the more likely it is for you to encounter more compatibility problems.
As of December 2021, WordPress.org has 59,756 plugins available, each of which offers custom functions and features enabling users to tailor their sites to their specific needs.
— Source: Wikipedia
In short, the whole maintenance process for WordPress can be quite daunting, and you have to be prepared to manage plugins and themes to ensure you continue to have a functional website. Again this explains the reliance companies have on WordPress developers.
Given these issues, an increasing number of B2B SaaS companies are turning to Headless CMS [What is a Headless CMS?] solutions to manage their websites, migrating off WordPress in the process.
Headless CMS - A Definition
So what is a Headless CMS and why is this approach becoming popular?
A Headless CMS is one where the front-end and the back-end are decoupled with the content, which is housed in the back-end content management system, being exposed via an API.
Taking a website as the endpoint, using a Headless CMS approach creates a delineation where the developers can focus on the front-end design and the marketing function can concentrate on ‘the content’ (everything from content creation through to SEO).
The Headless CMS has one primary function: storing and delivering structured content and enabling the marketing function to easily generate new content.
Benefits of Headless CMS
So what are some of the benefits of Headless CMS?
By decoupling the front-end from the back-end you can easily update the visual appearance of the website without needing to change the content structure. Future website redesigns can also be delivered quickly since all you have to do is make changes to the front-end rather than need to re-platform your entire Content Management System. You also have full control over the site’s appearance as you are not constrained by templates or themes.
2- Clean Separation
There is a much clearer delineation - developers can focus on creating a visually stunning website while the marketing team can focus on content creation. And the good news for those working in SaaS - most front-end developers will be quickly able to support the marketing team. You won’t need the specialist skills of a Webflow or WordPress developer that you’ll have to outsource to, you can use developers that are already part of your product team on short sprints to assist the marketing department.
The underlying architecture is a common framework called Jamstack which is designed to deliver a fast, secure and scalable website.
4- Ease of Use
With a Headless CMS like Contento, the marketing team can easily manage and maintain the website without needing to outsource to specialist developers. If a new page needs to be designed an in-house front-end developer will be able to assist.
For a longer, more detailed outline of the advantages: What are the Key Benefits of a Headless CMS?.
Drawbacks of Headless CMS
1- No Template to Build Your Website From
As the front end is decoupled, a developer will need to build the website themselves and use the APIs of the Headless CMS to access the content. By decoupling the CMS from the front-end they can choose any technology they are already familiar with to power the site.
2- Making Content Live
Because most sites that use a Headless CMS are statically generated they typically only get updated when a build process is run. This process takes place away from the Headless CMS e.g Contento, usually on something like Netlify or Buddy and it needs to be triggered when you are ready to push your new content live. Contento lets you do this at the push of a button, but it can still be confusing that your content is up-to-date in the Headless CMS but not yet live on the site.
3- Seems More Expensive
It can seem more expensive to run a Jamstack site that uses a Headless CMS. You have a lot more connected services, usually provided by other SaaS businesses [see list below] - and these costs can add up. On the flip side, things usually go wrong a lot less and you don’t need to keep a specialist platform-specific developer on retainer to put out fires and to add new pages.
Headless CMS and B2B SaaS
So why is Headless CMS a popular choice for those working in B2B SaaS?
As software companies, they will have developers who are au fait with Jamstack. Jamstack is an architecture designed to make the web faster, more secure, and easier to scale. As Headless CMS is a Jamstack approach, it tends to be very popular with front-end developers.
From a maintenance point of view, it also means that there is in-house developer capability if needed (unlike other CMS’ like Webflow or WordPress that need more specialist help).
As B2B SaaS companies place a particular emphasis on inbound marketing, the importance of content is paramount. A fast, high-performing site that can drive leads is a table-stakes requirement.
Finally, applications like Contento offer value to both sides of the table, developers and marketers alike, in stark contrast to other approaches that tend to favor one side over the other.
Why Migrate off WordPress?
The motivations for migrating off WordPress tend to be a mix of push and pull factors.
Internal dissatisfaction can be high especially in the marketing function, particularly in instances where the deployment is a few years old and some of the problems listed above are prevalent e.g. slow clunky site, challenges updating etc.
Other issues may include a new Chief Marketing Officer or Head of Marketing looking to make their mark, a brand refresh, an investment raise, or a desire to grow without being hampered by the CMS.
Site conversion rates depend on a site's ability to generate high-quality SEO-optimised content, run on a fast well-designed website, and one that the marketing function can easily maintain in-house.
The Broader Tech Stack
Before you commence the migration process there are a few elements to note. When you were using WordPress you only had PHP & MySQL hosting with the CMS installed on it. Everything your users saw on the front-end of the site came directly from the server that had WordPress installed on it. For a Jamstack site, you will require some additional tools alongside the Headless CMS.
Jamstack is an architectural approach that decouples the web experience layer from data and business logic, improving flexibility, scalability, performance, and maintainability.
Below is a list of all the typical pieces in the stack, with suggested tools or services that we either use ourselves or know work well:
The 5-Step WordPress Migration Process
Once you have decided to migrate to a Headless CMS setup like Contento, you need to undertake the following steps.
Create your site structure / content model (create content types that define the schema of each piece of content on your site - you’ll create fields, define validation rules and figure out things like what is a blog post vs what is a generic page).
Migrate your content from WordPress to Contento - you can either do this manually by re-creating it afresh or for larger sites, you will want to handle this by exporting it from WordPress and then by getting in touch with us and we will import it for you.
Connect the front-end of your site to Contento via our Content API.
Deploy to Netlify or similar.
Pre WordPress Migration Activities to Perform
As part of the migration process, there will be several activities that need to be undertaken beforehand to ensure a smooth transition. These include
List of all pages (list of URL’s)
List of all top Performing Pages (including conversion rates)
List of Third-Party Apps and Integrations
The following website migration checklist can help you identify many of the tasks that need to be undertaken as part of the transition: B2B SaaS Website Migration Checklist.
Post Relaunch Tasks
When you have upgraded the legacy site and replaced it with a brand-new Headless CMS it is important to run several checks to ensure it is performing optimally.
Key Activities to Perform Include
Reindex via Google Search Console
Ensure all Forms are Firing Correctly
Add an Annotation to Google Analytics to Tag the Date of the switch
Run a 404 check using Broken Link Checker
Run a Site Audit using aHRefs, SEMRush or Uber Suggest
Recommended Resource - B2B SaaS Website Migration Checklist
The following article contains a much more detailed overview of the main tasks that need to be performed as part of a site migration: B2B SaaS Website Migration Checklist.
In summary, as B2B SaaS companies look to grow, a CMS upgrade is usually one part of the process that is considered. Many B2B SaaS companies prioritize inbound marketing and thus optimizing the content performance becomes paramount. It is at this point that the decision to upgrade to a more enterprise-grade solution happens and migration off WordPress or other similar template-based solutions naturally occurs. A growing number of SaaS scale-ups are looking to Headless CMS as an approach that meets the needs of both the marketing function and the technology function.