Migrating Your Website From Justia to WordPress and More
Chris Dreyer | January 02, 2014
“I moved from Justia to wordpress and did not lose ranking and love having my own WP site. They key is keeping your good links. Also migrate to a good host like synthesis and use a good theme provider like studio press. Also use the Yoast SEO plugin.”
~+Robert Ottinger1 owner of OttingerLaw.com2
Moving your site can be a nerve-wracking experience no matter where it currently resides. Many attorneys use the popular marketing and web development services of Justia. Whether you are checking out your options or deciding to make the move to a WordPress site, this post is all about the experiences others have had as well as a checklist for what you need in order to move your website from Justia when you are ready.
This post is not meant to be one-sided and unfair but practical and factual. You can only learn so much from a company’s website so in order to get more detail on Justia’s services, we did what any other person would do to find out more. We called them.
After speaking with a consultant at Justia.com, I was able to glean the following positives from what I might get with the service.
The process works by Justia assigning a consult to your firm to assess your needs like if and how you would like to promote your site as well as how you would like the firm’s site to look. In this regard, all you have to do is tell them what you want and they take it from there. They show you a mockup once it is ready and if you pull the trigger they launch it for you.
They Handle the Technical Stuff
So with a traditional website, you or whoever you hire would set up hosting and a domain name and all that backend stuff that goes along with having a website. In Justia’s case, they do that for you. The benefit here is that this is all part of the package and you do not have to think about it.
Use Your Own Domain
If you have a domain you would like to use, you can transfer it over to Justia which is a plus. They can help you handle that process as well.
Write Your Own Content
Justia.com will sell you content for your website (more on that later) but they claim you can opt not to buy it and write your own content. Having the ability to purchase content is a nice feature as long as it works out and is high-quality.
They Update Back End Coding
Pretty much anything really, really technical Justia will take care of for you. For instance if you want to handle your own content production but do not want to deal with nuances of handling the coding part, they will do it.
Your Website is Yours
If you are worried about getting your website files back after you term of service is up, you don’t have to. People familiar with Justia report it being very easy to get your files from them if need be.
The following are some things that may become troublesome down the road. Note that depending on your firm’s goals and future plans for web hosting, marketing and development, these may or may not be cons.
No Hosting by Itself
Yes Justia handles your hosting but you are essentially locked into their service. Unlike a traditional hosting service, you are not only paying for space, email and other technical features but an overall marketing, development and hosting package. You are required to purchase a 1 year contract (more on that too) and you cannot just purchase hosting. So for example if you want to take away marketing services and only host a website with Justia, that is not an option.
1 Year Commitment
You will have to commit to one year with Justia for development and marketing services. A commitment of this length is not a bad thing. In fact many marketing and web development companies contract out for a year or more. Of course long term agreements for marketing services are relatively standard even if you aren’t doing something web-based. The only issue with this scenario is that lawyers are locked into a website and marketing agreement. If in 6 months they decide that the marketing services are not producing the return they had expected, they cannot just revert to hosting.
Picking Up and Moving Can Be Painful
In my talk with the sales rep, they claimed that you could get a copy of your website after your one year term is up however it is not as easy as setting up shop on another server. Its great that you can get a copy for free (especially when some other services charge you for it) but you will need some help moving your site (more on that in a moment). Conversely if your site is built by an agency or freelancer and you part ways with them later, you do not have to worry about moving your site.
An External Blog
I have heard instances where Justia allowed a blog to be a part of a website but in general they provide one that is not attached to the main domain. I’ve had the experience with some of my clients where Justia blogs are on WordPress but the main site remains hosted elsewhere.
What Does the Founder Say?
In a recent and running thread5 that many of the quotes in this post are gleaned from, founder of Justia Tim Stanley shares some of the innovative services the company has for its clients. One qualm that has been mentioned is that Justia is not doing a lot of off-site SEO. To that Stan says:
“Okay, let me run through a few things.
First we do a lot more than just host sites. We do a lot of off-site SEO and also assist with onsite SEO. Currently we have a big push of integrating all of the clients’ social media (if you are a client, please fill out the document and send it back if you have not already). We also gave detailed webinars to our website clients on Google+, G+Business/Local/Places, Facebook, LinkedIn and content writing. We have helped setup thousands of Facebook, Twitter and Google Places and Google+ Business pages. We have helped clients on mergers of Google Places with Google+Business. There will be additional Webinars this spring, and they will be good — clients should not miss them. We will be adding some just for blogging clients as well.
A few more things we do, in a somewhat random order based on the thread of this G+ post.
Google+Local Business & Places Pages
We were not late on this. We have been helping clients for years on setting up Google Place pages and have worked with them on merging these with Google+Business. We had a Justia webinar on G+Local Business pages last spring. All our website clients received multiple notices about the webinar, including a more detailed introductory email (it was not offered to blog only clients – sorry +Ron Miller ). We did not do the G+Local Business webinar in 2012 because Google was having real issues merging Google Places pages to G+Local Business pages, and it did not make sense for our clients to risk having problems by getting them focused on that before Google was ready. See http://j.st/gp for what was going on with G+Business in late 2012. We had to help some clients who had merged their Google Places and G+Business back then, and it required multiple contacts with people at Google to get anything fixed. Again, I think our timing of the Spring of 2013 was the right time to more formally present this to clients.
Yellow Pages – Name Address Phone Distribution, Updates, Verification
Our site and directories markup and distribution of NAP info is really good, and does help with Google Maps/Place/G+Local. We have direct relationships with all of the major NAP data companies and are a trusted source of quality local information. We consistently update and verify the NAP information which is then used in the major data providers and our own directories as well as distributed to Google and many other portals and yellow page sites (Apple, Facebook, Microsoft, Yahoo! and thousands of other sites that use this info). This is not something we are behind on. The information provided to these NAP providers includes the URL of the website, which is also distributed to 100’s of other real yellow page Websites. Our data is also used by a number of other websites directly for building out their service directories. Obviously we also do submissions to free editorial sites as well.
We have helped our clients with social media. As stated above we have had multiple webinars on G+, as well as Facebook and LinkedIn. For blog clients, we have helped setup Facebook and Twitter accounts and automated their feeds into their pages. We have helped many clients setup G+ individual profiles and have worked to encourage them to participate.”
Some of the elements Stan mentions in this quote are classic off-site SEO tactics8 that are still pretty effective. Even for non-lawyer specific SEO companies, business listing profiles, directories and social media are pretty standard link and presence-building strategies.
Webinars are also extremely helpful. Justia sets up social profiles but does not necessarily maintain them with content for clients (understandably so as that is a tedious and time consuming process). When you can educate your clients though and let them know what they can do on their own to help market their practice, you are doing them a great service.
Will Your SEO be Affected?
Perhaps the most pressing question many attorneys are asking is whether or not their hard-won rankings in search will be affected by moving their site from Justia to a WordPress. The truth is when you move a site from anywhere (even from one host to another), rankings can be threatened. If you follow best practices though, your rankings should be fine.
Percisely how your SEO could be at risk depends on what you do during the move. For example domain age and configuration can have an impact on your rankings. Will those be changing in any way? Your URL structure9 is the most important component to pay attention to (more on this later).
You also have to think about how your new site will perform. Will the new configuration be as good or better than the old one in terms of page load speed and information architecture?
“Any platform can be migrated to another without issue as long as everything is handled correctly (assuming you own the domain and not Justia). We recently migrated a Joomla site into WordPress for a client and it is doing extremely well in search.
It’s important to remember that a correct migration should also be seen as a chance to “modernize” the site. We’ve seen quite a few migrations where people essentially try to re-create the exact same site (in terms of look, feel, etc.) There’s no need for that and, in fact, trying to reverse engineer an outdated site into WordPress can actually lead to performance problems that will hurt the site in search.”
Sometimes new or migrated websites can exhibit strange behavior in search. A lot of SEOs call this the “Google Dance”. When new websites are found by Google, there are fluctuations in where they fall in search. This can happen even if a site’s architecutre remains completely the same and is just moved from one server to another. Most of the time though, architecture changes with new sites, especially those moved from one CMS to another as is the case with a move from Justia to WordPress. It can take some time but a website that has been moved properly will eventually fall back to where it was before in the SERPs.
“Having conducted around 10 such migrations I can tell you from experience that there is almost always a temporary dip in traffic as search engines get reacquainted with your site. The traffic recovery delay will depend on how well the new site is optimized relative to the old site. New sites typically mean new architecture and new ways for the search engine bots to enter and navigate through your site.
One tip: ensure that as your developers create the new site that it remains password protected and not accessible to search engines. You want to reduce the risk of duplicate, incomplete or incorrect content in the public domain.”
Migrating Your Website to WordPress
Since these two services offer support for databases and are run on CMSs of their own, transferring everything over should be pretty straight forward…as long as you ask the right questions. In Justia’s case, they claim that after your service period is up, you can request a copy of your website.
You should request a copy on a disc as well as a copy of the database associated with your website. The database will contain all of your URLs and other settings important for transfering to a Wordpress CMS website.
A little tip that you probably already know as an attorney but it helps to point it out. Get it in writing from the start that you will be able to get a copy of the source code for your website if you want to transfer it down the road. For example an email should suffice.
Website Transfer Checklist
A website is sort of like a house of cards. As long as it remains undisturbed in its original state and changes to its foundation are done seldom and with utmost care, everything will be fine. When you try to transfer to a new location, it does not always rest on the carpet in the same way and many things have to be tweaked in order for it to look as it did before you moved it.
Half the battle is knowing what you need to have in place before migrating a site from Justia to WordPress.
If you already owned your domain name before you hooked up with Justia, you are in luck. Using it on your new website will just be a matter of changing DNS settings. If you had Justia purchase it for you, there may be some issues with using it on your new site. You will have to finish out your one year contract with Justia before you can lay claim to the domain name. Otherwise they maintain ownership of it.
If you cannot get a straight answer about who is the rightful owner of the domain name or you just do not know, there is an easy way to find out.
Step 1: Go to www.networksolutions.com/whois14 (note that there are many whois information providers. I just like this one because I know it and it is easy to use).
Step 2: Copy and paste your domain name into the search box provided (just the www.example.com part of your domain. No slashes, colons or anything else. )
Step 3: After clicking search, you should get a lot of information related to the registrar of the domain, who owns it, and a lot of other data that may be meaningless to you. The URL I used that generated the search results below is a known Findlaw client. They (Findlaw) apparently owned the domain.
Justia provides their own hosting. If you plan on migrating a site away from them, you will need to setup a hosting account. This is simply a service that stores all the files, images, etc that make up your website.
Hosting is pretty cheap. Most services charge around 70-100 dollars per year or less for basic packages. If all you have are pages with images and content and perhaps a blog, you do not need anything fancy. Popular hosting companies with easy-to-use interfaces (and that are good for WordPress) include :
• Blue Host
• Host gator
There are a lot of different hosts out there. The one thing you should not do is shop based on price. Instead, look at the services the host provides. Services you will need to have for a WordPress site include:
• Support for PHP version 5.2.4 or greater
• Support for MySQL 5.0 or greater
• .htaccess support and the mod_rewrite apache module
Ask a potential host if they have these features. If they cannot answer, odds are you should look somewhere else. The hosts listed above all provide support for WordPress.
A Copy of WordPress
Sometimes hosts will have links to wordpress.org where you can download a copy of the open-source CMS. If you cannot find one or would like to download it yourself, you can download a zip file from wordpress.org15.
Here is a tricky part and where most of the work in transferring your site may come into play. Justia uses a proprietary CMS system so odds are their theme files will not be compatible with WordPress.
One strategy you can investigate is finding a theme that looks similar to the layout your website already uses. You can then install it and have it modified to look like your old website. Alternatively it may be a good opportunity for a face-lift on your site.
A Word on HTML Scraping
I have seen some posts out there guiding attorneys to have someone scrape content from your Justia site if you either do not want to pay to get the content and design code or for whatever reason you cannot get them.
As an attorney, you know full well your hands are tied on any intellectual property however HTML and CSS do not always fall into that category. Even though you can have these things copied, that doesn’t mean you will get all the code necessary to make your new site look like your old one.
Sometimes (and often with CMSs), HTML code is built by server-side processing code like PHP (which just means that all the code is processed on the server and users cannot see it when trying to view the source code of your website). This code cannot be scraped from the internet because it cannot be seen by people or software programs. Only the output can be scraped (typically text or image content). It is only seen in the original HTML files that make up the site. In other words scraping all of the visible HTML may not produce the same site as you would think.
Your best bet is to get the original source code files from Justia so you can pass them along to your developer or re-build the site on your own.
Getting Your Team Ready
Unless you plan on doing coding and design work yourself, you will have to get a reputable developer and/or designer to help you. Let’s explore the intricacies of why this is necessary for a moment.
Architecture of a website
A website is basically a bunch of files all linked together through references in code. In the most basic traditional websites, HTML framework holds things like text, images, and code for a browser to interpret.
When you request a copy of a website from Justia, the locations of the files contained in that copy are often different than what they will be once the copy of the site is installed somewhere else. For instance images in those files might be stored in a folder called images/justia-cms/yourlogo.jpg.
Once your website is installed on your server, that file (yourlogo.jpg) will have to be stored inside a folder named justia-cms which would in turn be installed in a folder called images in order for a browser to make your logo appear on a web page. Typically, when websites are moved, file paths change and a developer will have to dig into the code and change file paths so that images show up, styling looks as it is supposed to and all the things the site did before still work.
If your developer is not a designer, you may also want to have a designer look at your site and tell you how to make it look like the one you had with your previous service. Designers are good at noting little details like drop shadows, gradients, placement and size of images, fonts and other tid-bits that lay people often overlook. Often a lot of your styling and imagery for your website will be ingrained in the code so a designer may not be as necessary as a developer when setting the site up on a new server.
Whether you import a database to PHPMYadmin16 or set up your WordPress site from scratch17, you will want to maintain the same URL structure as on your old website. Keep in mind that over the time you had your Justia site, links were built to it and search engines indexed your pages. It is important that those links and indexed pages still take users to the pages they are expecting to see.
In most cases, you’ll want to maintain site / URL structure as much as possible. Try to avoid breaking links that require redirects. Usually, I recommend having a migration map that dictates URLs, page titles, meta descriptions, page content, etc.
~+Gyi Tsakalakis18 owner of AttorneySync.com19
Your URL structure will have the largest impact on ranking in search as well as how successful (or un-successful) your move is. If you have a new site built and none of your URLs are the same as the old ones or none get redirected, you will lose traffic from old placements in SERPs.
If you change your URLs, those pages will no longer be reachable from those links. People will hit error pages and your traffic will drop. As a best practice you should make your URLs exactly the same as your old website.
If for whatever reason you cannot do this, you will need to redirect old URLs to new URLs. The following are some best practices for redirecting URLs.
• Use a 301 redirect20. 301 is code for search engines and means permanent redirect.
• Redirect URLs using a server configuration file like .htaccess. WordPress also has some nice plugins for this.
• Redirect old pages to similar new pages. That means not redirecting everything to the home page of your new site.
• Once old pages have dropped out of search and links to your site have been changed, remove redirects.
Moving your site from Justia can be a smooth process as long as you know what to expect. As long as you do setup a migration map with the same title tags, URL structure, descriptions, etc..complete with necessary 301s your SEO should recover after a temporary drop. If you need help with the migration of your website contact us today21.