Switched phpBB SEO to WordPress – affect on traffic long term

My most successful format for creating SEO friendly content was an older version of phpBB modified for SEO.  It was based on phpBB 3.0.x and the person who wrote the SEO version had done a fantastic job.  He knew a lot about SEO and a lot about how to edit the software.  Unfortunately for me, he moved on to a career where he did not have time to maintain the program.  At one point after phpBB switched to 3.1.x, he did create an extension that handled the basic URL features and a few other issues.  There were still a few issues and I’ve been debating for a long time what is the best upgrade path for that content.

Currently, I think the best format for  generating SEO friendly content is WordPress.  It is very easy to use, easy to maintain, very customizable, well supported, and there are very good SEO plug-ins that make things work exactly as they should.

phpBB SEO to WordPress with Yoast SEO

For one of my sites, I converted all of the phpBB threads into WordPress posts.  The site only had a few dozen threads, so I did it all by hand.  I copied the content of the initial post for each phpBB thread into its own WordPress post.  I then copied each follow-up post for that thread as a comment for that post.  I’m not sure if there are any plugins or conversion scripts that will do this automatically, but it was a bit tedious.  There are several good free SEO tools for WordPress, including Yoast.  Yoast is what I had generally used, although I have recently experimented with a plugin called RankMath.  I’m guessing either will provide similar results, but the main purpose for this post was that the general formatting of the website would be SEO friendly.  I didn’t change any of the content to try to target specific higher traffic terms, etc.

The one thing I was experimenting with was to see how much traffic would be affected by the slight change in URL structure.  I used one of the default wordpress permalink formats and then installed one of my favorite plugins called “redirection”.  I went through each of the old URLs and created a 301 redirect in the plugin. The plugin makes it much easier and it will detect any visits to 404 pages and then you can select it and redirect it to whatever page you want.  It still was a bit tedious, but not horrible.

It seemed like traffic didn’t change a whole lot.  It wasn’t a busy forum by any means, and I would have tried to find a more elegant solution with a forum if it were.  I hadn’t thought much about it and I haven’t added content to that particular site.  For whatever reason, I thought about looking at it today.

It looks like I switched the site on December 2, 2019 – so almost three years ago now.  The site initially did get a decent amount of traffic when I was added new content in 2017.  But then life got busy and I found interest in other projects.  I initially set-up the site in 2014, including using Google Analytics, so I have quite a bit of data to look at.

During the peak months from summer 2016 through around December 2016, it was getting about 5-6k page views per month.  Unfortunately, it looks like I can’t go back and separate out how much of that traffic was referrals from Google, which is what I find is currently the simplest measure for me to use for SEO.  Regardless, most of my traffic was organic SEO, which hasn’t changed.  So page views today should be comparable to page views in 2016.

After December 2016, traffic started to decline.  Probably mostly due to the fact that I was not continuing to create new content for the site.

More Detailed Analytics

December 2017, was 1.3k pageviews
December 2018 was 1.5k pageviews
November 2019 was 950 pageviews
December 2019, right after I switched from phpBB SEO to WordPress was 920 pageviews
Jan 2020 – 990 pageviews – so switching to WordPress did not seem to lower pageviews in the short term
Dec 2020 – 480 pageviews
Dec 2021 – 470 pageviews
August 2022 – 430 pageviews

phpBB SEO to WordPress - page views

So – what can I conclude from this exercise?  Not much.  Traffic had dropped throughout 2017, but then was stable for 2018 and most of 2019.  And then it seems to have somewhat steadily dropped since that time.  I guess I can conclude that just changing from old phpBB SEO to WordPress does not increase traffic, but I would have been shocked to find that outcome.

Lessons Learned (or lack thereof)

The important question – knowing what I know now, what would I do differently?  Well, given that I decided to try switching another old (and even less trafficked) site to wpForo instead of WordPress, I obviously am trying a different approach.  These are both relatively low traffic sites that don’t generate revenue, so I don’t mind experimenting.  Looking at the trend graph above, I’m thinking that I’ll need to give the wpForo site a few months to see if it starts trending down.

I know that there are ways to improve traffic to these sites – new content and obtaining appropriate inbound links to the content. Maybe I’ll try that on the site that is the subject of this post and see how much it impacts traffic.  I don’t want to do that with the wpForo site just yet, as I want to see how just changing the software impacts traffic.

If you have any experiences or questions you want to share, feel free to add them in the comments.  Thanks for reading this far.  I hope you found the information useful, even though I couldn’t show a clear conclusion.

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