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How to Address Common Challenges During a WordPress Migration

Last Updated on June 2nd, 2023

WordPress migration may not require the kind of advanced, technical wizardry that many newcomers fear it might be, but that doesn’t mean that the process doesn’t present some unique challenges.

From losing a few mission-critical pages during the moving process to more complex issues like phpmyadmin timing out, there are any number of potential problems that could slow down the migration process and turn it into a much bigger headache than it really needs to be.

That’s why WPLift put together the following guide.

Below, we’ve outlined the 8 most common challenges that can arise during a WordPress migration and outlined the simple steps you can take to overcome each one.

Common WordPress Migration Challenges and How to Overcome Them

1. Losing Files During the Migration Process

Speaking from experience, we can confirm that few WordPress migration problems are more frustrating than files which set sail from your old hosting server yet, for whatever reason, never make it to the promised land of your new one.

This is especially true if the files that get lost are those mission-critical pages or resources that are the cornerstone of your website.

Here’s where the old adage about an ounce of prevention being worth a pound of cure certainly rings true.

If your files are gone and you realize it too late, it’s going to be difficult, if not impossible, to get them back.

However, by taking the time to learn how to backup your WordPress website before migrating, you’ll save yourself a world of trouble, ensuring that there’s always a reserve copy of every single file in case you ever need it.

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The easiest way to do this is by using one of the popular tools featured in our guide to the best WordPress backup plugins.

Install any of those tools on your website, and simply follow your preferred plugin’s documentation to backup your entire website into a compressed zip file that you can then store somewhere secure should you ever need it.

2. Migration Downtime

While missing files may be the biggest headache for you, there’s nothing more frustrating to your users than not being able to access your site when they need to.

Of course, that may be one of the reasons you’re migrating in the first place, to switch to a faster and more reliable server that helps keep your site online and performing at its best.

Still, once your migration is set in motion, all kinds of factors such as DNS propagation, domain configuration changes, data transfer delays, and any number of technical glitches could easily render your site inaccessible.

As a result, everything from your rankings in search engine results to your daily business operations could be negatively affected.

Considering all that, you can see just how important it is to plan your migration carefully, taking the following key measures to minimize your downtime as much as possible.

Ideally, it pays to schedule your migration during your “off-peak” hours, i.e; the periods when your website gets the least amount of traffic.

A look at your favorite analytics tool will reveal which times you have the fewest users on your site. Planning your migration for such a time reduces the number of people likely to be affected, resulting in a much smoother transition.

That said, even if you schedule your WordPress migration during the wee small hours when most of your users are asleep, it still pays to inform visitors that your site will be down during that time.

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Place a notice on your homepage and take advantage of your email marketing, social media, and other communication channels to let your visitors know what’s going on.

That way, you limit, if not completely avoid, the risk of users having a poor experience due to migration-related downtime and switching to a competitor’s website.

3. Domain Name Configuration

So, you’ve done all you can to prevent downtime from affecting your site’s accessibility and usability, but for some reason, pages still aren’t loading and nothing seems to be working.

If that’s the problem you face, chances are that incorrectly configured domains and URL settings may be the culprit.

Once you’ve successfully transferred your site to its new home, be sure to log into your domain settings and update your DNS records to ensure that your site’s URL points to the right place.

We put together this complete guide on how to update your DNS after a migration to show how it’s done.

If you’re moving your site content to a brand new domain, you’ll also need to ensure that you take care of redirects so that your old URls point to your new ones.

With all that done, remember to head into your WordPress settings to ensure you have the right URL set in the site address and WordPress address fields, complete with the right HTTP or HTTPS protocol.

After you’re done, be sure to use a tool like Ahrefs Site Audit to check for any residual broken links and 404 errors,

You can then use our how to fix broken links tutorial to resolve any errors. 

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4. PHPMyAdmin Timing Out

Sometimes, the one thing getting in the way of a seamless WordPress migration may simply be the size of your website.

Large-scale sites with enormous databases can push the capabilities of phpMyAdmin up to and beyond their limits.

If you’re unfamiliar with phpMyAdmin, it’s a tool used to manage MySQL databases such as the ones that power WordPress sites.

Although the tool is excellent at its job, its default configurations can mean that it times out while trying to carry out certain operations (such as transferring data) on an extensive scale.

The good news is that as technical as all this sounds, there’s actually a pretty easy fix.

First, use either FTP or your host’s file manager to find the php.ini file in your root directory.

Next, search for the line that includes “max_execution_time” and increase it to a higher limit such as 300 (5 minutes) or 600 (10 minutes).

Depending on the capabilities of your server, you may also want to adjust the “max_input_time” and “memory_limit.”

Doing all this will ensure that phpMyAdmin is set up to accommodate a large migration process, meaning no more time outs.

If that didn’t quite do the job, you can also consider using popular database migration plugins such as WP Migrate DB and All-in-One WP Migration which helpfully move your database across in small parts and put them back together again at the other end, reducing the strain on your server resources.

5. 500 Internal Server Errors

A 500 Server Error, also known as an Internal Server Error lets you know that something’s wrong with your server configuration or that there’s some unexpected error preventing your PHP code from executing properly.

While a 500 error is useful for making you aware that there’s a problem, its generic nature means you get no indication what that problem actually is.

The most common causes of Internal Server Errors tend to be incorrect file permissions, misconfigured PHP, and incompatible plugins.

To begin identifying which one is hindering your WordPress migration, first access your error logs.

These logs provide valuable information about the specific cause of the error. Depending on your hosting environment, you can access error logs through the hosting control panel or via FTP. Look for error log files, such as “error_log” or “error.log,” and review them for any error messages or clues about the source of the problem.

Alternatively, it may be that an incompatible or poorly oded plugin is triggering that 500 Server Error. To check, deactivate all your plugins and reload your website.

If you no longer get the error, that’s confirmation that a plugin was at fault.

But which one?

To find out, simply reactivate each plugin individually, making sure to refresh the page after each one. If your website continues to work but suddenly stops after you reactivate a particular plugin, that’s the guilty party.

Be sure to remove that plugin and replace it with a more up-to-date one.

Elsewhere, checking your directory settings and file permissions can also help you get to the root of any 500 error problems. Our guide to common WordPress problems provides more details on how to tackle both.

6. Error Establishing a Database Connection

Encountering the dreaded “Error Establishing a Database Connection” message during a website migration is enough to give even the most seasoned WordPress users a major headache.

This troublesome error typically occurs when WordPress is unable to establish a connection with the database, often due to misconfigured database credentials or server issues.

The first step to fixing it is to verify the database credentials used by your WordPress installation.

First, access your root directory via FTP or your hosting account and find a file named wp-config.php.

Open it using a text editor and verify the database name, username, password, and host details defined in the file, ensuring that they match the credentials provided by your hosting provider.

You can also use phpMyAdmin to test database connectivity. If you can connect successfully, it confirms that the database credentials are correct and everything is  accessible.

Of course, it may be that your “Error Establishing a Database Connection” message is caused by the database server itself.

In that case, you’ll first want to check with your hosting provider to make sure there aren’t any issues at their end getting in the way of your site’s accessibility.

If there aren’t, your next task is to look at your server resources and check that you have enough memory and disk space for your WordPress installation.

If all else fails, restarting the database can often be an effective last resort for reestablishing a connection.

7. Broken Database Tables

It’s not uncommon for database tables to become damaged or corrupt during a WordPress website migration, a problem which could also be the cause of those pesky database connection errors.

Fortunately, there’s a quick and easy fix you can deploy using the built-in WordPress database repair:

A.  Open your wp-config.php file and add (‘WP_ALLOW_REPAIR’, true) before the “/* That’s all, stop editing! Happy blogging. */” line.

B. Open a browser tab and point it to Yourdomain.com/wp-admin/repair.php then click on the “Repair Database” button to initiate the repair process.

C. Once the repair process is complete, remove the added line from the wp-config.php file to prevent unauthorized access to the database repair tool.

8. Functionality and Compatibility Testing

So, you’ve overcome almost all the major WordPress migration challenges, navigating your way around various errors and connection issues with relative ease, but that doesn’t mean you’re in the clear just yet.

There may still be all manner of small but significant errors affecting your pages, navigation, and interactive elements.

This is why it’s so important to learn how to test your migrated WordPress site so that you can smoke out any such problems that may have otherwise fallen under the radar.

How to Address Common Challenges During a WordPress Migration: Our Final Thoughts

As you can see, there’s a lot that could potentially go wrong when moving your site to a new server, but, as you’ve hopefully learned by now, overcoming most of these common WordPress migration challenges is much easier than meets the eye.

Here’s a quick recap of the main things you need to remember to ensure your migration runs as smoothly as possible:

  • Thorough planning and preparation is essential – Before you start your migration, be sure to backup your files and schedule the process for your least busy hours to minimize service disruption. See our guide to preparing for a WordPress migration for more planning tips.
  • A successful migration doesn’t end with a file and database transfer – You’ll need to ensure your domain names are configured correctly and check whether your php.ini and wp-config files are properly set-up to accommodate your migration.
  • Test everything – Running a comprehensive test of your newly migrated site will help you identify any small errors with your site’s functionality that may be preventing you from delivering optimum user experiences.

Keep this guide to hand as you start your migration, and you should have no problem getting your WordPress site to its new home as effortlessly as possible.

A team of WordPress experts that love to test out new WordPress related software, WordPress plugins and WordPress themes.