Are you planning a website migration? Do you dread the day when you will have to do it? If the answer to these questions was a resounding “Yes”, then you’ve come to the right place.
Website migrations are always dreaded by any online business owners not just because they require a lot of work to complete, but also because they pose a huge threat to your site’s SEO and data.
In this article, you will learn more about the most common mistakes that people make when migrating a website, how to avoid them, and what you can do to not harm your SEO in any way. It will also provide a step-by-step site migration checklist that you can make for your own site prior to the migration.
SEO Site Migration Checklist and Overview
There are 14 items that should 100% be present on your website migration checklist that cover the basics of what you should do before, during, and after the migration. These 18 steps are absolute must-dos and you should never try to complete any migration without them in place.
Let’s check them out.
Before the Website Migration
Record Your Benchmarks
There are some cases where all the analytics data gets erased during the process of the migration and more often than not this data can contain valuable historical information that you may need in the future. That’s why it’s important that you retain it.
Furthermore, by analyzing this data, you can figure out which pages are the most valuable ones on your website and how visitors navigate around them. This can be of aid when creating the new version of the website.
Crawl Your Website
By crawling your website, you will be able to retrieve all of the URLs and markups on your site. This will also serve as a starting point for your URL mapping and can be used as a list from which to retrieve information, should you need it.
In order to crawl your site, you need to get some third-party applications that can do the job.
Once you’re done with the first two steps, you can move on to URL mapping, one of the most vital parts of website migration. If you’re making changes to the website URLs, it’s key that you have redirections set in place, so that you can guide both your customers and Google to your new webpage.
There are two other reasons why you must do that:
- So that your clients can seamlessly go from the old URL to the new website, without receiving errors such as “404 page not found”.
- For SEO purposes: you don’t want to lose all of the backlinks and history that the old page has built up. By redirecting the URL, you’re essentially telling Google where to attribute those signals from now on.
In order to implement redirects correctly, you first need to start by mapping the URLs. This process requires you to create a spreadsheet with two columns: one for the old URLs and one for the new ones. Don’t worry too much if you don’t have perfect matches for each row, just do your best to redirect users to content that corresponds to what they’re looking for.
If your site has a ton of pages, mapping might be a little too difficult for you to do. In such instances, it’s recommended that you look for patterns in your URLs so that you can redirect them in groups or sections.
Test the New Build Before Implementation
Always try to test out the new site’s build on a test server (a sandbox). Developers will often show you the website in local environments or through mockups; however, that won’t give you the full picture of how the website works and whether it’s exactly as you want it to be.
To ensure a seamless transition, always test out the site on your own by checking it thoroughly and utilizing all of its functionalities.
Retain all the Meta Descriptions, Titles, and HTML Markups
For a website migration to be successful, it has to be able to keep the information on all the pages just as it was before. For example, if you have a blog page, all of the articles that were in it before the migration should be there after the migration, and not a word from them should be different.
That means that the meta description, title, and HTML markup of every page should be retained as well. Of course, you can always make changes if you want to, but it’s always a good start to have everything saved exactly as it was prior to the migration.
Choose the Right Date and Time for the Migration
Hiccups are bound to happen when doing a big migration; however, it’s a good idea to avoid them during your busiest days of the year. That’s why the best practice is to plan for the migration to happen when you have the least amount of traffic going to your website.
For most stores, these are usually the days right after Christmas and before the new year, when everyone has already bought all the gifts in the world and has no money to spend anymore.
During the Day of the Migration
Ensure Good Communication with Your IT Team
There are a ton of little steps that have to be completed throughout the day and it’s important that you have a fast way of communicating with your IT staff. For example, If you’re moving the website to a new server, you will need to update your website’s DNS settings so that they point to the new location. It’s highly likely that this important step won’t be done by you, but by members of your IT department or by the people you hired for the website building. However, it’s crucial that you are aware of every single step and when they make it. This will allow you to test the site in real-time and ensure there aren’t any problems with it post-launch.
Crawl the New Site
After the new site has been launched, it’s time to do some crawling again. The idea here is to check whether the website migrated correctly. Look for proper crawlability and indexability and check whether the site’s structure is as you designed it to be.
These are very important steps that you have to take in order to ensure minimum damage has been done to the SEO of the website.
Check for Problems with Missing Content and Redirect Chains
After getting the crawl report, use it to locate problems with duplicate content or broken links that give you the 404 error.
Additionally, check if any redirect chains were created during the migration. Here’s what I mean by that:
If in your previous site you had A redirect to B, the migration may have added a redirect from B to C as well. This creates the so-called redirect chain A to B to C, which is not a good thing as it can make your website slower and badly impact its overall performance.
That’s why it’s important that you find these chains and break them by creating new connections from A to C and from B to C.
Implement Google Analytics and Google Search Console
Both of these have to be up and running all the time from the moment the site gets launched. They’re crucial for keeping historical data and being able to draw reports.
Also, make sure you mark the date of the migration on the Google Analytics platform. This can help you later on when you’re trying to measure the performance pre- and post-migration.
Submit Your Sitemap to Google Search Console
Once everything is up and running and the site is live, you have to make sure that your XML map is without any errors as it is incredibly important for SEO purposes.
After you make sure your XML map is good to go, you have to submit it to the Google Search Console and invite Google to crawl the new website.
Post Migration Activities
Monitor the Performance Regularly
When a site goes through migration, it’s normal that it experiences a decline in traffic. However, this is only temporary and the website should be able to bounce back soon enough. In order for you to keep an eye on that, it’s important to check its performance regularly.
Additionally, it’s a good practice to run site audits regularly, in order to check for any issues that may be there, but you haven’t noticed. Here, it’s best to use a third-party application that will do the audit for you.
Replace Your URLs Everywhere
If you have an online business, it’s likely that you use social media platforms to promote the company. That’s why it’s important that after your site has been migrated, you remember to update the links you use in your posts, bio, and everywhere else on your social media accounts to the new ones.
Even though this sounds like an obvious task, it often gets forgotten by store owners. However, it’s 100% must do, as social media is the place where most people will find your business and you don’t want their first impression of your company to be a broken link that leads them to a 404 error page.
Have Your Partners Replace Their Backlinks
Generally, if the migration was done well, all of the redirects should be working correctly and you will still be getting traffic from backlinks. With that being said, it’s still a good idea to ask all your partners to update all of your URLs to the newest ones.
Website migration is a lengthy process that takes a lot of time and effort to complete. However, if done correctly it can be in line with your previous SEO initiatives and not impact traffic too much.
That being said, many business owners don’t have the time to spend migrating a website on their own or with just a few of their employees. That’s when companies that offer site migration services come into play.
By opting to pay for someone to take care of your website migration, you avoid having to deal with all the technical issues and possible SEO problems on your own. Instead, you get a team of professionals who have already gone through dozens of migrations and who are able to deliver the right end product. By using a website migration service you ensure that all your SEO efforts will be preserved, while also getting a boost in some elements of technical SEO. Basically, it’s a win-win situation.
However, if you choose to preserve your money and carry out the migration on your own, don’t worry. Even though the process takes a long time and is sometimes difficult to manage, it’s definitely not “Mission Impossible”. If you ever get stuck, go back to this article and look through the checklist.