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WordPress development when you already have a siteIf you already have a WordPress site and have a web firm (like Visible Logic) create a new site, you want to avoid having your current website go down.

What are your options for building a new site when you already have one?

Here are three ways we could build and launch your new site while avoiding the dreaded downtime.

1. Change the theme, not the content

We use the same installation of WordPress and install a plugin that lets us create and test a new theme with the existing pages and content. With this method, your regular viewers see your current site, but administrators logged in to WordPress can see the new design as the theme is being developed. Once all the design changes are complete, you flip on the new theme, and your new web design is immediately live. This is the best way to go if your new site is mostly design updates without many content changes.

Pros: You don’t have to copy any content to a new site. There should be no downtime as you switch from the old website design to the new site design.

Cons: Since both themes use the same content, all content will be reflected immediately on the live site. This is important because we often find that our clients initially think their content doesn’t need updating. Still, they realize that updating the copywriting will improve the overall website. So you will need to decide if you update content first or design first.

2. Switch your host

Sometimes we run into a client’s situation that doesn’t love their existing host. The easiest time to switch is when you have a new site built. We can develop the new website on the new host, and when the site is ready to launch, we point your domain name to the new host. At that point, you can cancel your old hosting.

Because we are developing an entirely new site, you have to copy all of your content over to the new site. If you have only a few pages or plan to make extensive updates to the content anyway, this is not a big issue. However, if you have lots of pages or blog posts, we usually do a backup of the old content and then copy the entire database to the new site.

With this method, we often use an IP address as the development URL, so clients can review and test before going live. Once you update your DNS records, people begin to see the new site. But note that this transition time can vary, from a few minutes or as long as 72 hours to go live.

Pros: You have a clean new site with all of your files up-to-date—an ideal time to transfer web hosts if you were thinking of doing so anyway.

Cons: You will have to transfer all content. This can be done manually by copying and pasting from an old page to a new one or via a database backup. Some people may see your old site during the transition stage, and some may visit your new site. So if you want to have a big splash where you go live with a new site, this can be hard to schedule. You are temporarily paying for hosting in two places, and services like your email may be linked to your current host, which will have to be transferred.

3. Set up a sub-domain at your current host

If you are making significant changes to the site design and the content, we often set up a development site as a sub-domain still on your current host’s server. For example, we set up something like dev.yoururl.com. Clients can review the site, but it can be hidden from search engines and anyone else who doesn’t have the specific URL.

A sub-domain allows us to build out the new theme and start adding content without affecting your current site.

Once the new site is ready to go live, we will work with the host to make it visible. The subdomain’s content can be moved to the root folder, or URLs can be updated to display the website in its new location.

Pros: Keep your same host, so other services like email are not affected. You have a clean new site with all of your files up-to-date. The go-live process is usually immediate once the host changes the settings.

Cons: We sometimes have to run a search-and-replace script to ensure that all links accurately point to the correct URL once we remove the subdomain from your web address. Depending on your website host, we often work with them directly to set up the subdomain at the beginning and then change the settings at go live, although other times, we can do this on our own. Customer support varies from host to host, so getting their help at a critical time may be necessary for a seamless transition to the new site.

Plan for your launch

As you can see, you need to plan for your launch at the beginning of the web development process, not just at the end. It would be best to start thinking about when the best time to make the transition—usually when you have your lowest amount of web traffic.

It’s better to launch in a planned way, well before a big tradeshow or presentation, so you get any bugs worked out ahead of time.

We realize these explanations are pretty technical, and we encourage you to talk with your web developer or us about the process for launching your site. A new website can raise many questions, but figuring out how to maintain your old site as you launch your new site shouldn’t be one of the biggest.

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