How to clone your WordPress site to a fast host in 2020.

This post will show you how to clone your WordPress site to a fast host from a free or slow hosting service. I’ll show you an incredibly easy way to move a WordPress site to SiteGround, but this method requires you to install a plugin on your current site. If your current host does not allow you to install a plugin (e.g. a free site on wordpress.com), then you should check out my next post, which will show how to copy your site from wordpress.com to your own domain.

Clone your WordPress site without harm

One important point: the process I am describing does not shut down or alter your existing site. It just copies or clones your WordPress site to another host, leaving your original site intact.

Some of the terminology used, such as ‘migrate’ or ‘move’ implies that it is changing your original site, because the assumption is that you will be shutting down your original site once you see how well it runs on the new host.

If you just want to see how much faster SiteGround is, you can clone your site to a ‘Temporary Domain’ (a sub-domain of SiteGround) and test it out before you decide on a permanent move. SiteGround currently offers 3 months hosting for 99 cents, and you can always get your money back within 30 days, so there is no risk in trying this out.

After you have seen your site running on SiteGround, you could change your domain name servers to point to SiteGround, and then a few days later you could shut down your original site, but that is up to you.

Why clone your WordPress site to SiteGround?

If you currently have a WordPress site on a slow host, or if you want more control over your site than is allowed by a free host, then you would be happy with any of the hosting companies that I recommend, and I will do some posts about migrating a site to other hosts. SiteGround has two main advantages:

SiteGround hosting runs on Google Cloud

For 2020, SiteGround now runs all new shared hosting accounts on Google Cloud servers, so you get very high performance and very reliable hosting.

SiteGround has a very easy to use migration plugin

I recently copied a single WordPress site to a number of different hosts, in order to check their performance (see my blog post about that), and I used the standard manual process of exporting and importing the content on all the hosts. SiteGround, however, makes it so easy to import existing WordPress sites that I felt that I should write a post about it.

Let’s go through the steps to migrate a WordPress site to SiteGround.

Getting started – sign up for a new account with SiteGround

When you sign up for a new account with SiteGround, you get the usual question about whether you want to register a new domain (like many hosts, SiteGround offer a free domain registration with a new account) or use an existing domain. If you sign up for a multi-domain account, they also offer the option to use a temporary domain, which is a sub-domain of siteground.com. This can be handy to spin up a site for testing. In this example, I selected an existing domain:

The easy way to clone your WordPress site to SiteGround

You are now prompted for whether you want a new installation, or want to migrate your existing site. You want to clone your WordPress site, so click on ‘Migrate Website’, and ‘Superfast WordPress AutoMigration’.

clone a WordPress site

You will get a prompt offering you an optional service, and then after a few moments, your new WordPress site will be ready to start the migration. You will be shown a page with three steps that you need to perform:

  1. Download and Install a SiteGround migration plugin on your existing site
  2. Get a Migration Token, paste it into the new plugin and run the transfer
  3. Point your domain to SiteGround by setting the name servers

Leave this page open, and click the ‘copy’ button to get the Migration Token.

1. Install SiteGround plugin on your current site

In the admin console of your current WordPress site, go to the Plugins page, click ‘Add Plugin’, and search for ‘SiteGround’. Install the ‘SiteGround Migrator’.

A new menu option will appear for ‘SG Migrator’. Click that and paste in the Migration Token that you copied from SiteGround.

If you forgot to copy the Migration Token, or it is no longer on your clipboard, just go back to the SiteGround page and click the copy button on the middle option to get the Migration Token.

2. Paste in the Migration Token and start the transfer

Once you paste in the Migration Token, click the ‘Initiate Transfer’ button to start the transfer. Then the plugin will start the process to copy your entire site (files and database) to your new host. This does not harm or change your current site in any way, and it will continue to run while you set up the copy.

You will get a prompt confirming the domain name that will be used on the SiteGround site. The migration process will make all the necessary changes to run under the domain you have set up with SiteGround, even if your exiting site was running in a sub-domain.

You will see a progress bar showing the migration progress.

A small site will transfer in seconds, but even with a large site, within a few minutes, you will see the message ‘Transfer Completed’.

That’s all there is to it, you have just cloned your WordPress site to SiteGround!

At this point, you can test your site on SiteGround without making any changes to your domain by clicking the ‘Check Site’ button. This runs the site via a special testing sub-domain, to let you make sure that the images and links all look good, and that any theme customization that you performed on you site has transferred successfully. The URL will look something like this:

http://1589761838-3955ddede0e89698.wp-transfer.sgvps.net/

Final steps before changing the name servers to point to SiteGround

When you are ready to point your domain to your new site on SiteGround, there are a couple of steps you should take before you change your name servers.

On the SiteGround website list, click on ‘Site Tools’ for your site.

Install an SSL certificate

Select Security / SSL Manager, and install a “Let’s Encrypt Wildcard” certificate. There is an option below for ‘HPPTS Enforce’, but leave that off for now.

Select Speed / Caching, and click ‘MemCached’. Turn on the ‘Cache’ switch for All Sites.

Change the DNS Name Servers to SiteGround

When you are happy that the site looks good, you can change the name servers on your domain to the ones supplied by SiteGround, and (after a period) your site will start working on SiteGround.

If you have never changed the name servers on a domain before, you may wonder how long it takes, and might be concerned that your site might be down for some time. Basically, your previous web host will respond to the domain until the DNS change has propagated throughout the entire Internet. You should allow four days to pass before you shut down your original site, but often you will find that your new site will be responding to the domain in North America within 30 minutes. On a production site, I usually change the name servers during a period when the site is normally not busy – often the middle of the night!

At this point, you should be able to access your site using either HTTP:// or HTTPS://, and it should work whether you add the www. prefix or leave it off.

However, if your previous site used the www. prefix everywhere, you may notice that the new site redirects //www.domain.xxx to //domain.xxx. This works fine, but if you want all your links to point to www., then you need a few tweaks.

A few tweaks to your migrated WordPress site

Sign in to your new WordPress site, using the same sign-on link and userid and password as the old site. E.g. https://hostblaster1.fun/wp-admin

SiteGround automatically installed an optimizer plugin, but you will need to configure it. Select the menu item ‘SG Optimizer’, which has a set of tabs.

At the bottom of the Supercacher page, turn on the Memcached switch. This is not strictly necessary, but it does speed up database operations.

On the Environment page, turn on the switch for ‘Enable HTTPS’, and confirm the warning.

Now go to ‘Settings / General’ and confirm that the links have HTTPS://

If you were using the www on your old site, you should change both links:

When you press Save, you will be logged out, so log back in and take a look at the Settings / Permalinks. They should all be set to HTTPS://www.<domain>.

Press ‘Save Changes’ even if you have not changed anything.

Optimizing performance of WordPress on SiteGround with the SG Optimizer plugin

If you have followed along with this guide, your site is now live on SiteGround, and you are probably impressed by the performance, but are thinking ‘can it be even faster?’.

One of the nice features of hosting your WordPress site on SiteGround is that an optimizer plugin is automatically installed in any new WordPress site.

You can read the tutorial for the SG Optimizer here, but I’ll just touch on a few points.

First, it is worth keeping in mind that many performance-enhancing settings have the possibility of breaking your site. If your site is a blog running on a recent theme, there is less chance of trouble, but if you have a heavily-customized theme, there is a higher likelihood of problems.

As you have seen, it is very quick to clone your site, so you could create another copy with a temporary domain and try out various optimization options.

I can say that with a simple blog and an uncustomized twentytwenty theme, you can turn on every optimization option without any problems.

One of the nice things with SG Optimizer is that it prompts you with likely optimization opportunities, so when you first open it, you will probably see:

If you click ‘Enable Now’ on that option, the next time you open the optimizer you might see:

There are many high-return optimization options are under the ‘FrontEnd’ tab:

So yes, there are lots of options to play with to optimize the speed of your WordPress site, and we all know that page-load speed is very important.

But I do recommend browsing the tutorial for the SG Optimizer, and considering spinning up a test site to play with optimizer settings before flipping the switches on your live site.

The performance testing I did when looking into free hosting showed that WordPress on SiteGround was very fast even without turning on any options in the SG Optimizer.