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Leaving WordPress for GitHub Pages

June 6, 2018

I’ve been a WordPress user since 2007, continuously maintaining personal writing sites. I grew along with the product, moving from a casual hobbyist suffering through the Famous 5-minute Install to a WordPress professional, making my living from the open source CMS.

And while WordPress is a solid foundation for many web projects, a blog isn’t one of them anymore. Often derided as being “just for blogs,” WordPress’s product roadmap has steadily veered further and further from a platform for low-volume sequential writing with each jazzy release. While it’s empowering for a non-technical writer to wield plugins to tweak their WordPress blog in any way they see fit, be they janky or no, plugins rarely fully satisfy out-of-the-box. WordPress could only be the writing tool for me because I knew what chaff to deactivate, uninstall, or otherwise work around to get a post published.

With the slapdash future that is Gutenberg in core, I started to seriously question maintaining a WordPress site for my web publishing endeavors. Plus, I missed the small technical hurdles of old WordPress, digging around in PHPMyAdmin to remedy some side effect I introduced to the codebase by installing a must-have social share button plugin. Was it worth the (admittedly small) annual cost for web hosting to prop up a shoddy McMansion when a 3-bedroom ranch would suffice?

I started searching around for no cost, no frills alternatives to blogging with WordPress and quickly Googled my way to GitHub Pages. With a little technical knowhow—or comfortability with following online tutorials—I could have a blog with no out-of-pocket costs (unless I chose to add a custom domain which, at the time of this writing, I have not done). Frankly, with the ebb and flow of my article publishing, it didn’t make sense to me to spend any money to have a website up and running.

Moving from WordPress to GitHub Pages

While I could manually hardcode every piece of my publishing process, I chose the static site generator Jekyll to provide templates for my soon-to-be site. There are oodles of online tutorials for setting up a GitHub Pages blog using Jekyll, so I’m not going to detail all my steps here. Rather, I do have a few broad pieces of advice.

Note: Since this original posting, I have swapped out Jekyll for Hugo. They are close cousins, but I found Hugo to be snappier overall.

If you embark on migrating your WordPress blog to GitHub Pages, know that you will make a lot of false starts. Rather than starting with the site content migration, take the time to get comfortable generating a Jekyll-powered GitHub Pages site using the command line. You don’t have to use the command line but it’s kinda cool and not as scary as you may think.

I created a GH Pages site again and again, testing out this tutorial and that Jekyll theme again and again and again until I was fully satisfied with what I created.

From there, I had to get all of my content out of WordPress in a Jekyll-ready fashion. I wound up using the Jekyll Exporter plugin, which extracted all of my posts, pages, and media in no time. The only snag I found was in how image tags were structured inside articles; the URL path was incorrect. A find-and-replace in my IDE took care of this hurdle rather painlessly.

So now I have a no-cost online presence that scratches my writer itch as well as my web dev inclinations. For me, it’s the best of both worlds.

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