There are a bunch of ways to build a new WordPress website while the existing site is live. None are more technically right than any other method, but all of the ways you could approach this have varying demands of your technical capability. BUT you DON’T have to be a developer to be able to replace an existing WordPress website with a new one that’s built in the background.

Of course the goal here is to make sure that the existing website still functions right up until the point where you want to switch the new site on – with almost zero downtime. No one wants to put their site in maintenance mode whilst the new WordPress site is getting built!

As always our content is NOT written for the developer. Although, we might dig into some more technical steps in a couple of the options just to demonstrate how technical things CAN get if you don’t take the more simplified routes presented. We’ve got your back non-developers!

How to work on WordPress site without going live

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New Site Build Approach for WooCommerce vs WordPress

It’s worth noting that there is a fundamental difference between the recommended approaches to building a new website in the background to be later moved onto an existing domain if the website is also an eCommerce store.

If you’re interested in the difference between WordPress and WooCommerce you should check out my detailed article here.

If it’s a WordPress website without WooCommerce, you have a range of options without too much compromise in any area. You can ultimately achieve your desired goal of moving the new website onto the existing domain whilst keeping the existing website entirely operational up until the point that you want to switch on the new site.

IF you have WooCommerce installed and the site is a functioning WooCommerce website that’s taking orders, you have to think more carefully about what you’re doing. Developers have more flexibility in their approach as they’re more comfortable playing with database tables and merging or syncing data. For the non-developer, you want a “front end heavy” solution that DOESN’T require you to be diving into lines of code. Which is absolutely possible, but the work you do will have to be challenging in other ways to keep your existing WooCommerce site live whilst you design a new WooCommerce website and then eventually make the new website design live.

Firstly we’ll cover off building a new WordPress site while the old site is live (WordPress without WooCommerce)

Building a new WordPress site while the old site is live

I’ve used all of these options and I’ve listed them in my order of preference based on their ease and effectiveness.

Equally – when choosing which way to build your new WordPress website whilst the existing site remains live you should consider the benefit of being able to collaborate with others on your new site design with it being located at a specific URL accessible from anywhere.

I collaborate with clients and team members alike on new projects and the benefits of installing WordPress on a subdirectory, subdomain, temporary domain or staging site are that collaboration is easy (in contrast with the 4th option I list below – using a local install).

So here we go – your 4 options for building your new WordPress website whilst keeping your current site live!

NOTE: This also answers how to create a WordPress website without a domain (as long as the existing site is located on a domain of course!)

Option 1 – Install new WordPress site on a Subdirectory of your existing domain

A subdirectory is just a file location on your existing website. What does that mean?

So for example;

websitename.com/newwebsitesubdirectory/

It looks like the URL of just another web page – but it’s not.

You can install a whole new fresh installation of WordPress on this subdirectory and essentially build a brand new WordPress site on the existing domain.

To install WordPress on a sub-directory you should consult your hosting provider’s technical documentation. If you’re using CPanel and Softaculous installer is available, you can literally specify a new directory to install WordPress on right there in the installer – see screenshot

install wordpress on subdirectory

One of the relatively big benefits of doing it this way is that you can move this new website onto the main domain with ease by copying and pasting a couple of files in your hosting provider’s file manager and make a minor edit to one of them.

Don’t panic. This is probably the MOST technical solution I would propose – and I’m presenting it to show that this is an option, but there are others that don’t require you to go anywhere near your CPanel or File Manager.

The files to copy are;

  • index.php
  • .htaccess

You’ll copy these files from the subdirectory folder that your “new” WordPress website is currently located in – remember; websitename.com/newwebsitesubdirectory/

You’ll then take these files and paste them into the domain directory folder.

Now if you’re familiar with File Manager, you’ll know that the main directory for your existing website will be located in the public_html folder and most likely named something very similar to your website name.

So in our example it would be in the following folder;

public_html > websitename

We should also at this point rename the EXISTING index.php and .htaccess files in the main directory – just add a “1” to the end of the file name for now.

Now the files are located correctly, we’ll need to edit the index.php file to make the new website work.

Editing the index.php file

Once you’ve got these files copied and located in the right folder, you’ll need to edit you index.php file.

You’ll need to find this line in the index.php file;

require(‘./wp-blog-header.php’)

and replace this line with the following piece of code;

require(‘./subdirectory/wp-blog-header.php’)

but don’t use the words ‘subdirectory’ you’ll need to swap this out with the name of the subdirectory you created. i.e. in my example about the subdirectory I created was websitename.com/newwebsitesubdirectory/ therefore I would modify the line in the index.php file to say;

require(‘./newwebsitesubdirectory/wp-blog-header.php’)

Save the file and exit!

There are a final few steps to making your new WordPress site live

When logged into WordPress (finally, away from the file manager!) You’ll need to edit your URL settings.

In the WordPress admin dashboard go to ‘Settings > General’ and change the URL for the ‘WordPress Address’ and the ‘Site Address’.

You ned to change the subdirectory URL to the main website domain URL.

For example, in the General Settings tab you’ll see your subdirectory URL, like this:

https://websitename.com/newwebsitesubdirectory/

It needs to be changed to this:

https://websitename.com/

And that’s it for using this approach to building a new WordPress website whilst the existing site is live.

The above instructions were simplified and adapted from the blog at WPMU Dev – you can see it here.

Of course, if making these minor edits to files in your directory feels way too technical – that’s not a problem. You can actually still simply “migrate” the new site onto the existing domain.

I’ll provide more details on migrating in explaining your next option when it comes to building a new WordPress site whilst the old site is live.

Option 2 – Install new WordPress site on a Subdomain of your existing domain

This is my preferred solution when advising non-developer WordPress site builders.

Of course a subdomain would look like this: newsite.maindomainname.com

This in combination with using a “migration plugin” is a really great way of keeping things simple.

First you’ll need to create a sub-domain and install WordPress on that Sub-domain.

If you’re using our recommended WooCommerce Hosting, SiteGround, here’s their instructions on how to create a subdomain on your existing domain using SiteGround.

Of course if you’re using another hosting provider, just search Google for: “how to create a subdomain with <insert hosting provider here>”

But why wouldn’t you be with SiteGround? They’re awesome and you can read our SiteGround review here.

Of course once you’ve created your subdomain, it’s just the standard process for installing WordPress.

If you’re using CPanel – use the provided WordPress installer such as Softaculous

If you’re using SiteGround’s site tools – just follow their simple step by step process once you’re logged into your hosting account for adding a new WordPress website to your hosting account.

You can now build your new WordPress site independently of the existing website, completely in the background – keeping the existing site live whilst you build your new WordPress website.

When you’ve completed your new website design you can then use a “migration plugin” to move your WordPress site from subdomain to main domain.

Migrating your new WordPress site from subdomain onto an existing domain

Ok, so you’re set to move WordPress site from subdomain to main domain.

Again, SiteGround users will find this bit a piece of cake.

The SiteGround “SG Migrator” plugin essentially takes care of it all.

You basically follow these steps:

  1. Install the WordPress SG Migrator Plugin on your NEW website
  2. You generate a migration token inside Site Tools or CPanel under the “SG Migrator” section
  3. You enter the migration token into the SG Migrator Plugin options on your new WordPress site and click “migrate”
  4. Then you just wait for the migration to be complete.

*note. Depending on your account setup, it may be advisable to also migrate your existing website onto a subdomain, away from your main “root” domain. This way the old site would sit on a subdomain such as oldsite.maindomainname.com. This will then allow you to remove the WordPress installation from the main domain to allow you to migrate your new WordPress site design onto the main domain.

If you need help with the above SiteGround support are awesome. Other hosting providers have support, but it can be highly variable in quality.

There are other solutions in terms of migration plugins if you don’t host on SiteGround (if not, you should check out our review of SiteGround hosting here).

A plugin that gets recommended frequently is All In One WP Migration

With 3 Million+ installs from the WordPress.org repository, it’s a fairly well used plugin!

As mentioned, you can use this approach of “building a new WordPress site and then migrating it onto an existing domain” regardless of whether you’ve built the site on a subdirectory or subdomain.

This is a great choice for the “non-technical” or “non-developers” and it’s the type of thing you can do whilst backed up by solid hosting support – something which SiteGround offers in abundance.

If you’re thinking that using these plugins is technically challenging, you should check out this guide from Quicksprout essentially explaining what it is these plugins are doing in the background for you.

For the non-coders of the world – some of these steps will induce significant levels of anxiety! Be warned.

Option 3 – Use a staging site to build a new WordPress site before going live

More on this coming soon.

Option 4 – build WordPress site without hosting with a local install

Building a WordPress site without hosting using a local install of WordPress isn’t necessarily all that difficult. That being said, it does present more technical challenges and demand you at least know a little more about code – especially if things don’t go completely to plan. Troubleshooting without code knowledge would be all but impossible – or take a LOT of Googling.

This option is therefore to be avoided if you can as the complexities far outweigh the benefits – especially when you consider you can get hosting from SiteGround for less than the cost of a cup of Coffee a month!

Building a new WooCommerce site while the old site is live

One of the HUGE problems you have with building a new WooCommerce website to replace an existing WooCommerce site is that your database gets completely out of sync.

Ok. Why can’t we just sync the new database?

To cut a long story short, WooCommerce appoints post id’s to each post, page and… order you receive via WooCommerce. Yes, they’re all in the same table.

This means that a fresh install of WooCommerce will have a completely different table setup, different id’s and ultimately you’re going to end up with clashes between the 2 databases.

Messy!

There are solutions and plugins out there designed specifically to help people overcome this WooCommerce order syncing issue – but ultimately they’re doing things like divorcing order numbers from post id’s and other quite technically impacting stuff.

This has become the norm.

And this is how things work if you’re using a staging site with WooCommerce also. The staging site will get out of sync with the main WooCommerce store.

Nightmare…

So we have a few approaches that have helped us to be as efficient with our time and energy to produce an outcome that works.

Minimising downtime from the WooCommerce store being offline

Maximising the ability to review and test the new site before pushing anything live

Our approach is centred around using the Divi Theme by Elegant Themes and SiteGround hosting.

The combination of this amazing hosting service and powerful theme means that we waste less time and energy trying to fix problems that simply don’t exist when using this theme and hosting.

To checkout the Divi Theme and how powerful it is, click here or the banner below (affiliate link).


And to checkout SiteGround’s awersome WooCommerce hosting click here – or the banner below (affiliate link)

Replace old WordPress site with new WordPress site – Your Options Covered

So we’ve covered your options when it comes to replacing your old WordPress site with a new one whilst keeping your existing website live!

Some options are more technically challenging than others – and for that reason we always suggest working with technology that makes your life EASIER!

The combination of the best hosting for WooCommerce and WordPress and the Best Theme for WooCommerce and WordPress makes updating your website, or even completely redesigning it from the ground up a LOT simpler.

Ditch the developer – hire a website integrator instead!

FAQs

How to make a new WordPress site?

If you already have a WordPress website but you’d like to replace it with a new website design you have a number of options to keep the existing site live whilst you create a whole new website in the background. My preferred option is to use a temporary domain, which you can then migrate onto your live website domain when you want to make the switch. This is all made very easy by the Siteground hosting setup that we use and it’s another reason we recommend Siteground for WooCommerce Hosting.

WordPress site says coming soon?

Your WordPress website will typically say “coming soon” when WordPress has initially been installed and left in maintenance mode. Notoriously Bluehost provides a landing page for a WordPress site before it’s been made live that says “WordPress website coming soon”. To disable this, you’ll need to disable maintenance mode on your WordPress website.

More coming soon…

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