HTTP To HTTPS Migration Gotchas!
Doing an HTTP to HTTPS migration can either really straightforward (yay!), give you a little bit of push back (who doesn't like a challenge?) or just be downright nasty for different reasons.
I worked with a WordPress developer a couple weeks ago to do what I thought would be a straightforward HTTP - HTTPS conversion on a nature blog that has approximately 400 blog posts published. It's a pretty simple site, but has lots of great information.
The site owner and I agreed we wouldn't have time to do a content audit, to see if there's old, outdated content that's no longer relevant vs. evergreen content that needs to be left alone or occasionally updated. With that being said, your average, generic, wild card 301 redirect would do the trick nicely, wouldn't you think?
Well, that's where I went wrong. Read on!
The First HTTP To HTTPS Migration Issue
First, we were both in a hurry to do this. There was no real reason why; we just figured since we were going to switch the entire site that this would be a no-brainer. I purchased the security certificate before we both sat down together, computers in hand.
We activated the site through the web hosting provider, who also very thoughtfully went ahead and did the Certificate Signing Request (CSR) automatically. That was nice of them; I've had to do it manually in the past.
Everything checked green, so we rolled onto editing the .htaccess file for the all-important 301 redirect. And here's where being in a hurry and having your mind on many things at once bit me.
For whatever reason, neither the developer nor I remembered we were going to do a wild card redirect to make each URL resolve properly to HTTPS. No, we had brain freeze AT THE SAME TIME and plugged in the standard send-every-URL-to-the-home-page redirect. And we didn't catch it.
We hit save, and checked the site. As expected, since this is a WordPress site, we found insecure content immediately - the image URLs did not update from HTTP - HTTPS. No big deal, it's easy enough to go in and update them.
A day later, the blogger notified me of the redirect problem for posts. I logged into the Cpanel, saw the redirect command in the .htaccess file, cursed and updated it properly, so I thought. I saved it and rolled on.
Second Issue - Probably Not Due To HTTPS, But...
In the meantime, the site was getting steady 503 errors. This means the server was getting too much traffic and was out bandwidth. Considering this blog gets a healthy four figures of visitors everyday and was on the most cheapo of cheapo web hosting plans, I knew it was time to shell out more money for a better hosting plan. So, $300 for two years of hosting and presto! 503 errors GONE.
A day later, the blogger told me some of her posts were now redirecting properly, but others weren't. It looked really random.
Mind you, I am not a developer, and I know my limits. I'd done all I could do to make the .htaccess file right, but it was apparent I had messed something up, which did not surprise me, because the biggest talent I have for web development is destroying the .htaccess file and bringing down a site.
I brought in my guy to apply a fresh set of eyeballs to the problem. Sure enough, he found that somehow I had botched the wild card 301 redirect. I have no idea how I did it; I just did.
See the screen shot below to see how he diagnosed and fixed it. This is your friendly neighborhood SEO professional doing a PSA for you. You're welcome.
Now I thought I had beat the site into submission. Haha. Nope, the blog had one more tantrum up it's sleeve. I checked the site again and got this horrifying screen LIVE ON THE INTERNET:
Now I was pissed. I was out of patience. I called up the web hosting provider and discovered that way back when the web hosting was upgraded, the IP address change lagged behind, hence the big fat screen error.
That got fixed in five minutes and took about 30 minutes to update and show live.
So there you have it. These were my issues that shut the site down intermittently over several days. I hope these issues and solutions help you complete a trouble-free HTTP to HTTPS migration for your site.
If you're interested in diving into more technical website issues that impact your search engine optimization, take an SEO class with Invenio. It'll be at your business location, private just for you, and tailored specifically to your unique website situation.
Until we meet again, keep it safely between the ditches!
All the very best to you,
Screenshots courtesy of author June 2018