Curious Rat



Migrating a Website: Lessons Learned

As you may have read, I took Curious Rat down from Squarespace after I’d lost faith in the service. I moved the site over to a platform called Statamic.

I’ve noticed many other current Squarespace users expressing their own doubts about the future of the product and how it’s not living up to everything promised in those podcast ads they hear all the time.

As a result, they’re also looking for something different/better/more flexible and I’m hoping I can shed some light on what it took to get my 1,905 blog posts out of Squarespace and into a new home.

Exporting the Content

Squarespace v.6 (currently) only has one export option: a WordPress XML file. If you’re planning on moving to WordPress, then there’s nothing more to worry about. Install WordPress on your server, import the file, and you’re almost done. Alex Knight over at zerodistraction.com went this route and his outline of the process is worth a look if you’re hoping to do the same.

I, on the other hand, required all my posts to be in individual Markdown files in order for them to propagate on Statamic’s platform. For this, I turned to my Internet friends on App.net.

Max Jacobson did an incredibly fantastic thing and wrote a Ruby script that parses Squarespace’s file and breaks each individual post into its own .md file. Additionally, if you have any images in your posts, his script will also pull those down and dump them into an “attachments” folder in the same directory as your content.

You can get the script here.

Configuring Statamic

I wanted the migration to go as smoothly as possible, so I downloaded MAMP and ran my test environment locally out of my Sites directory, updating and testing Statamic’s CSS and template files on my Mac.

To get the new instance of my site to look as close to the Squarespace version, I just bounced back and forth from Squarespace’s style editor to my local CSS files, changing and modifying things as necessary. The whole process took about a week to get up and running.

Luckily for me, Squarespace uses Google Web Fonts in its templates, so using them on Statamic was just a matter of linking to them in my default layout:

<link href='http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=PT+Serif:400,700,400italic,700italic|Adamina|Montserrat' rel='stylesheet' type='text/css'>

The rest was basic CSS styling.

But Statamic lacked some native functionality I needed, such as the ability to create linked-list posts. Another inquiry on App.net and my new friend, Erik Hess, came to the rescue. After a conversation about how he’d coded a solution to the same problem, he wrote up that solution in a blog post, which you can find here. I was able to apply this to the home page, individual post pages, and even the RSS feeds.

Analytics

I’ve actually got two sets of analytics running on the site right now: Shaun Inman’s Mint ($30) and Google Analytics. I didn’t want to rely on only one set of stats because how would I know if what was being reported was correct? Luckily, Mint and Google Analytics are neck-and-neck in numbers, so I’m confident in both.

The other piece of data I needed to track was my RSS subscriber count. Mint actually comes with a plugin called “Bird Feeder”, which is supposed to take care of this, but I haven’t gotten it to work with Statamic just yet (If anyone has, please get in touch).

Instead, I turned to URI.lv, a new RSS tracker that’s gained in popularity due to Google Feedburner’s impending doom.

To set it up, you register for an account, add the feeds you want to track, then add a piece of code to your site’s .htaccess file. As a reference, here’s the code for mine:

RewriteCond %{HTTP_USER_AGENT} !FeedValidator [NC]
RewriteCond %{HTTP_USER_AGENT} !uri\.lv [NC]
RewriteRule ^/RSS$ http://feeds.uri.lv/CuriousRat [R=302,NC,L]

For those on WordPress, there’s a plugin available to streamline the process, and if you’re migrating from Feedburner, there’s a tutorial here.

Those are the basics. I’m not going to get into every little thing I did because I could go on forever - and I’m still learning as I go. I’ve never rolled my own blog before, usually opting for pre-built services, like Squarespace, WordPress, tumblr, and Blogger.

However, there are some things anyone looking to either migrate or start their own blog should know.

Test, Test, Test

Run your site locally at first using something like MAMP. This way, you can make sure your links and styles all render properly before you upload everything to your server.

And if you have to update something crucial after your site goes live, like a CSS file or your .htaccess file, test it locally first, then upload it to the live site. The worst thing you can do is troubleshoot on the fly because you accidentally overwrote a working file with a busted one.

Seems like common sense, but I’m sure we’ve all done it at some point.

Don’t Isolate Yourself

This is a two-fold statement. First, don’t be afraid to ask for help. I couldn’t have left Squarespace without assistance of some really fantastic people on the Internet. If you’re struggling with a piece of code or how to implement a feature, posit the question on the social network(s) of your choice (Twitter and App.net tend to be the most useful for me) and hopefully someone will have an answer, or can point you in the direction of someone who does.

Is there a forum on that service’s website? Has anyone asked something similar? If not, ask it yourself.

Secondly, if you’re going with a DIY solution like Statamic or Octopress, make sure the platform you choose has some sort of community behind it.

Are there active developers and tinkerers for the platform? Is there a knowledge base or support forum chock full of questions and answers? Is their customer support team responsive? Getting stuck is bad. Getting stuck with no one to help you is worse.

The Biggest Takeaway…

…is that nothing feels better than owning the whole package. Squarespace is fine for most people, but for those who want to really make their site their own, running a home-brewed or heavily customized system (like WordPress or Statamic) is the way to go. I can access every stylesheet, every file, and every database at the drop of a hat and it’s incredibly reassuring.

For me, it’s all about control. I don’t want my templates changing unless I change them and I have to be able to get to all my content easily. I hated loading my site when it was still on Squarespace and seeing that my pagination buttons had moved or something I’d hidden before was now being displayed.

If you’d care to hear more about what caused Alex Knight and I to migrate, I encourage you to listen to episode 56 of The Impromptu podcast.

I loved Squarespace and it was a great starting point for this site, but I’ve moved on and I couldn’t be happier. If you’re looking to do the same, I hope I’ve answered some of your questions.