Your website is your most important digital asset, serving as the online gateway to your business.
But the value of your site is also why website migrations can be so daunting.
Whether moving your site to a new domain, hosting platform, or content management system (CMS), you’ll want to follow a migration strategy that minimizes the risk of data loss, performance dips, and website downtime.
That’s why we’ve created this post. Here, we’ll outline the nine key steps you should follow to help make your website migration a success.
But first, let’s briefly discuss what we mean by website migration.
What Is A Website Migration?
Typical examples include:
- Switching hosts.
- Switching to a new domain.
- Switching to a new CMS.
- Restructuring your information architecture.
- Changing URL structure.
- Switching from HTTP to HTTPS.
- Overhauling your website design.
There are several reasons why you might engage in a website migration. For example, your goal might be to enhance your website security, update your brand image, or improve your user experience.
Whatever the reason, you’ll need to follow a rigorous migration process to successfully update your site without jeopardizing SEO rankings, traffic, and revenue.
So let’s turn to that now.
The Website Migration Process (9-Step Checklist)
1. Plan Carefully
As with any multi-dimensional project, thorough planning is essential for achieving a seamless website migration.
Before you begin development, be sure to iron out the following:
- Project scope: What are your goals for the migration, and how much of the site will it affect?
- Migration team and responsibilities: Who will lead the project? An in-house SEO team or an outsourced SEO agency? If you’re managing the project internally, be sure to set up a project management framework so everyone can keep tabs on tasks that belong to them.
- Manage stakeholder expectations: Which other departments will the project impact? Outline what you need from them and explain how and why performance will likely take a temporary hit.
- Define your timelines and launch date: Ideally, your new site should go live when site traffic is at its lowest, and your team has the bandwidth to respond to any unforeseen hiccups quickly.
2. Consult Your SEO Team
Your developers will need to understand key SEO requirements to minimize the migration’s impact on SEO performance.
Your SEO team should address issues such as:
- URL structure.
- Internal linking.
- Canonical tags.
- Mobile responsiveness.
- Structured data.
- Page speed.
3. Define Benchmarks And Set Up Tracking
The next step is to build a detailed picture of your site’s existing performance so you have something to compare your new site with.
At this stage, it’s a good idea to back up your existing site in case you need to restore it at some point down the road.
You’ll want to pull benchmark data for the following:
- Organic traffic.
- Keyword rankings.
- Site speed.
- Crawled pages.
- Crawl errors.
- Indexed pages.
- Indexing rates.
In addition to benchmarking, this is a good time to double-check that you’re tracking all your target keywords in your rank-tracking tool.
4. Set Up A Testing Environment
It’s best to develop your site in a closed testing environment to verify the new site functions properly before launching.
Of course, you’ll need to block public access to the testing environment and prevent search engines from indexing your new pages too soon.
You can do this by creating a robot.txt file to block search engines like Google, adding the noindex tax to your new URLs, and setting up password protection.
5. Conduct A Content Inventory
Now it’s time to build a complete overview of your existing content and pages.
A content inventory lets you identify if anything goes missing during the migration. Moreover, creating a list of URLs will draw your attention to any existing bugs (like broken links or bad redirects) for you to address before the migration.
You can use a combination of methods to create a comprehensive list of your pages and content assets, such as:
- Pulling all your URLs with a site crawler.
- Downloading page data from your CMS.
- Exporting URLs from Google Search Console.
Also, be sure to identify your most valuable pages when assembling your list of URLs.
High-value pages are those with important content, high levels of traffic, good conversion rates, good rankings, and quality backlinks. Collecting this data lets you know which pages to prioritize during the migration.
Finally, if you plan to add additional pages and categories to your new site, this is the time to check that they can fit into your existing architecture. If not, you may need to reconsider your website structure.
6. Create A Redirect Map
The next step is to use your URL list to determine which pages should be moved to the new site, which ones you can merge, and which ones you can drop altogether.
Start with the most important pages you identified in the previous step.
You’ll need to implement a 301 redirect for each page you’re moving to the new site. Your URLs should point to the most relevant page on the new site.
Avoid redirecting old URLs to your new homepage. This can result in soft 404 errors, which will dilute overall link equity and harm your rankings.
Instead, if you can’t identify an appropriate new page to point to, either create a new page or simply remove your old URL.
When you’ve completed your redirect map, share a list of your new URLs with your broader marketing team so they can update their campaign links once the new site launches.
7. Run Pre-launch Checks
Before launching your new site, you’ll need to run various checks in your testing environment to ensure the new site functions as expected.
Work with your SEO team to confirm elements like the following meet the required standards:
- XML sitemap.
- txt file.
- URL structure.
- Canonical URLs.
- Structured data.
- Status codes.
- Internal linking.
- Title tags, header tags, meta descriptions.
- Body content.
8. Launch And Promote Your New Site
Once you’ve thoroughly tested your new site, it’s finally time to execute the migration!
When your site goes live, you’ll need to lift any user and search engine restrictions you set up during the development phase.
Remember, the quicker you implement the migration, the better. Your site will temporarily go offline during the migration, so minimizing downtime will reduce the impact on traffic and revenue.
It’s also a good idea to plan PPC campaigns to coincide with the site launch. Not only will this spread the word about your new site, but it can also help make up for the short-term organic traffic dips you may experience.
9. Monitor Your New Site And Make Any Necessary Improvements
With your new site up and running, you’ll need to monitor it closely to verify everything is in working order.
Once again, you should work closely with your SEO team to conduct checks on key aspects of the site, including your new robot.txt file, XML sitemap, redirects, usability, and analytics.
You should also be keeping a close eye on how your website is performing compared with the benchmarks you measured for your old site. It’s natural to experience a dip in performance for a while, but as the weeks go on, your rankings and traffic should start to return to their original levels.
If your KPIs don’t improve as expected, you’ll need to troubleshoot the causes. These could include things like:
- Pages on your old site still being indexed.
- Slow load times.
- Bad redirects.
- Missing internal links.
Your Google Search Console dashboard will alert you to any errors and warnings, helping you diagnose and fix critical issues.
Website migration can be a complex undertaking.
Following the above steps will set you up for success, allowing you to prepare, execute, and monitor your migration while minimizing the associated risks.
- Site Migration Issues: 11 Potential Reasons Traffic Dropped
- Managing Successful SEO Migrations
- The Ultimate SEO Audit Checklist
Featured Image: Miha Creative/Shutterstock