When you’re changing web hosts, domains, or CMS, you might have to relocate your website.
But if you don’t have a website migration checklist, you could face issues. For instance, your search engine rankings might drop, or the user experience could suffer.
That’s why it’s essential to have a reliable website migration checklist to make sure everything goes smoothly. In this article, we’ll discuss some key steps for a successful website migration.
Let’s get to it! ✅
What Is Website Migration?
A website migration happens when there are big changes to a website’s URL, domain name, structure, appearance, user experience, content, or platform.
The keyword here is ‘significant’ because small tweaks and adjustments don’t count as a website migration. To be considered as such, the changes must noticeably affect how well the site shows up on search engines.
This is why SEO professionals are concerned about the moving process – it can lead to a big drop in traffic and make your site lose its ranking.
For example, let’s say you have a group of landing pages that regularly show up on the first page of Google’s search results. These pages are crucial, bringing in traffic and generating new leads for your business.
Ensuring your website’s survival demands a shift to a new CMS. Post-migration, you might notice not just a drop in ranking but also a disappearance from Google. This occurs due to glitches with Googlebot’s crawler or other migration-related issues.
These are real challenges numerous businesses encounter during website migrations.
It’s not to say that migrations lack purpose. In certain situations, transferring your site becomes crucial, especially when transitioning from an outdated CMS with limited features to WordPress.
Why Site Migrations are Hard
Adjusting pages that rank in search engines is akin to rocking the boat. Once you start making changes, you might jeopardize your rankings. It’s true: there’s no guarantee that your rankings will bounce back after the adjustments.
It’s a scary thought, and it means even seasoned SEOs need to be on top of their game.
The bright side is that with careful handling of website migrations, you can minimize or eliminate any negative impact on the website’s rankings.
Why Website Migrations Tend To Fail!
When website migrations fail, it’s usually because of:
- Not knowing the risks of website migrations.
- Bad planning.
- An unreliable migration checklist (or not having one at all).
- People involved not knowing enough.
You might be thinking, “How do I ensure a successful migration?”
By now, you’re probably motivated to steer clear of any unawareness about the associated risks.
Next up, we’ll cover the essentials: how to prepare effectively and craft a top-notch website migration checklist. Plus, we’ll offer insights into key factors to keep in mind throughout the transition.
Pro tip: Remember, even with a flawless website migration, regaining organic traffic might take a while. Sometimes, circumstances beyond your control can affect this, and it’s ultimately Google’s job to boost your visibility.
Recovering from domain migrations could sometimes span six to twelve months.
Understanding the Type of Migration You Need
Site Location Migrations
Moving your website to a new place usually involves altering your website’s web addresses, like:
The protocol we’re talking about here is the starting part of your website addresses – you know, the “http://” thing. Lots of websites need to move from HTTP to HTTPS or HTTP2.
Why switch to HTTPS?
The main reason is to boost security. This is especially important if you plan to have online shopping on your website. To keep customer information safe, every online store should use HTTPS.
The subdomain is like the ‘www.’ part of the web address. If you’re making a website in another language, you might have to adjust your subdomain. Take, for instance, the French Yahoo site (fr.yahoo.com). The ‘fr.’ in the subdomain shows that the page will be in French.
If you’re making a mobile version of your site, you’ll also have to tweak your subdomain. (Example: m.yourwebsite.com)
Domain Name Changes
Your website’s name, also known as the domain name, is the one you initially pick for your site. Changing the domain name usually happens when you’re giving your brand a new look. If your business name and brand are getting a makeover, it’s a good idea to update your domain name to match.
Top-level domain changes
The part after the dot in your website link, like ‘.com,’ is called the top-level domain. If you want to change it, you might switch from ‘.com’ to ‘.net’ or ‘.org.’ You can also consider adding or removing a country code at the end, like ‘.au’ for Australia, in new or existing web addresses.
Here are some more reasons to think about changing to a new CMS:
- It takes a lot of time to get things out there.
- It’s not making money for you anymore.
- It doesn’t work well on mobile devices.
- It doesn’t connect with important marketing tools.
All of these show that upgrading to a stronger CMS will help you. Moving to a different platform might mean changes to your URL structure and how your site looks, mainly because of technical challenges and limits. The final outcome will probably be a website that resembles your old one but has some noticeable differences.
Making big changes to your content can affect how well your website shows up on search engines, especially if they’re extensive. This includes:
- Making major rewrites.
- Organizing and cleaning up both old and new pages.
- Making lots of changes to meta descriptions and page names.
- Keeping the material out of sight.
- Getting rid of identical stuff.
All of these things can influence your SEO and how users experience your site. So, when you’re shifting around a bunch of content, be careful to avoid any negative outcomes.
Modifying the way your website is organized, connecting internal pages, and sorting content is known as structural migrations.
It could be as easy as including breadcrumb links in your menu or as challenging as completely revamping how your website is laid out.
Design Migrations (UI & UX)
Are you thinking about making some significant tweaks to your technical SEO, like speeding up load times and setting up 301 redirects for 404 pages? If that’s the case, you’re gearing up for a design migration.
This kind of migration also includes making changes to how your site works, like interactive forms, internal search, blogging, and more.
This covers everything that adds to how your website looks and feels, including media. So, if you’re planning a major revamp for your website, be ready for it to affect your SEO.
A Thorough and SEO-Friendly Website Migration Checklist
Step #1: Create a detailed roadmap for the migration
When planning your roadmap, be sure to actively involve your stakeholders and team members. To simplify things, think about using project management software such as Asana.
This makes it much simpler to assign specific migration tasks to each team member. Project management software is also helpful for visualizing each step of the process and setting specific deadlines. If you don’t have access to software, you can use a basic Gantt chart.
It’s also a good idea to decide on a launch date during the planning stage. This gives you a long-term goal to aim for, along with deadlines for each task. When picking a date, make sure to allow enough time for:
- Redesign and approval
- Any necessary development work
- Content creation and updates
- Search engine optimization migration
- Tasks for the day of launch
Step #2: Create a backup of your old site
Before you start the switch, make a backup of your current website. This means saving a copy, so if the move doesn’t work out, you can go back to your old site without any costly downtime.
It’s also smart to have an unchanged version of your website handy in case you run into any issues during the switch.
Gather your team and come up with a plan to revert to the old version if things go south. This way, you can tackle the move with confidence, knowing you have a working copy of your previous website if you need it.
Step #3: Create a staging site for making changes
Even if you have a backup, it’s smart to create a staging site. This is like a clone of your old website that acts as your testing ground.
Feel free to make mistakes or experiment because it’s just a copy. This eases the pressure during the move, giving your developers more flexibility.
With a staging site, your developers can carefully check the content and test how the new site works. You also get the chance to use 301 redirects before making it live.
Without a staging site, you’d need to update the URLs in internal links and XML sitemaps multiple times before and after launching. This is a bothersome and time-consuming task, so setting up a staging site is definitely worth it.
Step #4: Crawl your old website and monitor the log files
For a thorough check of your website, try a tool like Screaming Frog. It will create a detailed report highlighting any errors found, and you should fix them right away.
Make sure to check not just your main website but also your test site or staging environment. Since you’re actively making changes for your site migration there, it’s important to scan it for issues as well.
Step #5: Identify your top-performing pages
After the scan, the report will tell you which of your web pages is doing the best. So, you’ll want to keep these pages after the move to keep their SEO value.
Besides checking your top performers, also look at things like visitor traffic and HTML tags. This info will help you figure out what to keep and what to get rid of when moving your stuff around.
Step #6: Check the organic health of your new domain and conduct a backlink audit
This step is only needed if you’re moving to a new domain.
To check the health of the domain, use Moz’s free Domain Authority Checker Tool. It thoroughly assesses how strong your web pages are and their likelihood of ranking well in search engines. It’s best to shift to a domain with high authority for better SEO results.
For backlinks, you can use Ahrefs’ free Backlink Checker Tool. It shows you the quality of backlinks going to the domain. This will notify you of any questionable or penalized pages linking to your new domain.
In the end, it’s a smart move to inspect the content from the previous website with a tool such as the Wayback Machine.
Step #7: Register both the old and new versions of your site on Google Search Console
Don’t forget to sign up your old and new websites with GSC. It’s often as easy as copying and pasting a code into your content management system.
But why bother signing up two websites?
You want to make sure your website shows up on Google. GSC will show all the pages it knows about, and if there are any issues during crawling. Sometimes, problems can happen during discovery, crawling, and indexing.
If Google can’t put your website in its list, it won’t show up in the search results. That’s why you always want to make sure Google can add your web addresses – it’ll help you avoid drops in visitors and rankings.
Step #8: Use the robots.txt file to block access to your new site
As you handle the site migration, you want to avoid your trial site showing up alongside your old one on Google. If Google spots identical versions of your site, it can’t decide which to prioritize in indexing and ranking, negatively impacting your SEO.
You need to tell Google (and other search engines) not to include your trial site in their index while you’re still working on it.
The simplest and most dependable way is to adjust the trial site’s robots.txt file. Remember to reopen access once the site is live; otherwise, Google will keep overlooking it. Make a mental note that the trial site is currently restricted, and you should lift the restriction before the launch date.
Step #9: Create a list of the most Important site URLs for SEO to redirect
Once you’ve run Screaming Frog (or another crawler) on your website, it’s time to gather data from a few different places to figure out how search engine-friendly your site is. We recommend checking out:
These three tools give you accurate details on how well your website addresses are set up for search engines. This info helps you decide what content to focus on, manage 301 redirects, and handle other parts of moving your site around. It also pinpoints which pages might need an update, merging, or removal.
Step #10: Implement 301 redirects
Moving on to the next task in the website migration checklist: creating a map for your 301 redirects. Use the SEO information you gathered earlier to build this map. This step guarantees that your old URLs lead users to the correct new ones and that all internal links work as intended.
Hold off on putting the redirect plan into action once it’s ready. Take a moment to go through the list and make sure there are no broken links or redirects. Once the check is done, and everything looks good, you can go ahead and set up the redirects in your CMS.
Step #11: Create a new XML sitemap
After creating all your new website links, make a fresh XML sitemap and connect it to your site. Then, upload it to Google Search Console.
Why is this important?
This is because the sitemap helps search engines discover your service, product, and business pages, making it easier for them to list and rate them in the search results. If you share a new sitemap right after your site goes live, Google will catch the updates quicker compared to not doing so. It’s another way to tackle the SEO decline that can happen during website moves.
Step #12: Go for a responsive design for mobile devices
In today’s world, Google gives more importance to mobile-first indexing. This means that Googlebot checks your site’s mobile version first before looking at its desktop version.
Moreover, Google likes responsive designs. To put it simply, it’s best to have one version of your website that functions well on both desktops and mobile devices. If you’re uncertain about whether your website is mobile-friendly, you can use Google’s Mobile Friendliness Test.
Step #13: Migrate or add new schema
A schema is like a plan for organizing information or a guide for creating a database. How does this plan affect moving your website?
Schemas are mainly used to help search engines better grasp the content on a webpage. If your website doesn’t have a schema, consider adding one. This is because a schema can boost your rankings and show enhanced snippets, both of which are good for your SEO. If you already have a schema on your old website, transfer it to the new one.
Step #14: Update your backlinks and robots.txt file
You wouldn’t want to lose the value of the links you’ve built on your old website. That’s why using a backlink checker is a smart move to identify all the connections leading to your site. After that, reach out to each link and ask them to update the backlinks to point to your new site.
It’s a bit of a process, and it takes some time. So, it’s a good idea to have one of your team members keep an eye on backlinks and handle the outreach.
Make sure to maintain control of your old domain until all your backlinks are updated. If you let go too soon, someone else might snatch it up and get the benefit of your backlinks.
For larger websites with pages you don’t want search engines to index, you’ll need a new robots.txt file. If you prefer none of your pages showing up in search results, that’s something you won’t need to worry about.
Conduct a Thorough SEO Audit Before and After Launch
Once you’ve finished all the tasks on your website migration checklist, it’s essential to do a thorough SEO audit on the new website. Make sure everything is where it should be – check URLs, pages, content, links, and tags. Before your new website goes live, do a crawl, check Google Analytics, and test it on mobile devices.
Even after the launch, do another audit to confirm everything is still functioning well post-migration.
Next, assess how your website is performing after the launch. Keep an eye on organic search traffic, rankings, page speed, and engagement data.
Here you have it, everyone: a comprehensive SEO migration checklist.
I trust you’ll find this guide incredibly helpful, laying a solid groundwork for your website migration checklist. Remember, careful planning is key to a smooth transition, which is precisely what we aim for!
In the grand scheme of things, website migration is more than just shifting from one site to another. It’s an opportunity for enhancement, a chance to elevate beyond previous standards. It’s about reevaluating your SEO tactics, honing in on specifics, and crafting a more immersive user journey.
However, it’s crucial to understand that website migration isn’t a one-and-done deal; it’s an ongoing process demanding constant vigilance and adaptation.
Don’t fret if things don’t go according to plan right off the bat; it’s completely normal. The ultimate triumph of website migration hinges on how swiftly and effectively you identify challenges and address them.
Stay patient, stay proactive, and above all, embrace change. See it as an avenue for advancement because every hurdle is an opportunity for growth. And as always, prioritize your users; they’re the driving force behind everything we do.
Thank you for taking the time to delve into this website migration checklist. If you found it valuable, do share it with fellow SEOs.