Site Migration: The 15 Step Checklist for a Smooth Transition

What is a Website Migration?

A site migration is the process of making significant changes to a website that may affect performance, architecture, or traffic. It is a complex process that requires careful planning and execution to avoid any negative impact on the website’s SEO performance. This step-by-step guide will help you through the process.

Why Migrate Your Website?

There are several reasons to migrate your website including to improve performance, SEO, security, and scalability. Top reasons for site migration include:

  • Moving to a new CMS or server
  • Redesigning your website
  • Moving from HTTP to HTTPS
  • Changing your domain name
  • Updating URL structures
  • Adding a separate mobile version
  • Changing your website architecture

Site Migration Overview

Here are the top things to remember when doing a site migration:

  • Expect traffic fluctuations (we can’t control how search engines see the site)
  • Continuing SEO throughout/after the migration is the best tool for weathering any storm
  • The more that’s changed, the “riskier” the migration. Drastic content changes, redesigns, moving from simple site layout to complex, can affect how Google sees the new site
  • Ensure you plan for the migration, take your time, do not migrate unless you’re completely prepared. 

Types of Migrations

  • Domain changes
  • Redesign
  • Site Structure / URL Changes
  • Subdomain changes
  • Hosting provider changes
  • Content merging
  • CMS Change

Things to Consider

  • Consider potential risks based on the size of the migration:
    • Indexing issues
    • Organic traffic loss
    • Conversion rate declines
    • Broken internal links
    • Redirect chains
    • Analytics or tracking problems
  • Consider: Why are you migrating? Will this benefit website performance or is this clearly just to make the site look pretty at the expense of performance? Can you achieve both?

The 15 Steps of Site Migration SEO

To help navigate the intricacies of site migrations, we’ve compiled a detailed 15-step checklist. Following the steps below can enhance search engine optimization and ensure a smooth transition to your new website.

Before You Migrate:

1. Determine your migration goals

  • Before beginning a website migration, it’s crucial to define your clear and specific goals. Migrating without a well-defined purpose can lead to wasted resources, unexpected challenges, and ultimately, an unsuccessful outcome. Be sure you’re migrating for the right reasons, which can include:
    • UX
    • Site speed
    • Organic performance
    • Brand redesigns
    • Frustrating CMS

2. Crawl your entire website

  • You’ll want to crawl your website to take inventory of everything on the site and pick up on any tech issues. This way, you’ll ensure all content is migrated successfully. Additionally, addressing any tech issues before the migration can prevent problems from being carried over or occurring post-migration on the new site.

3. Benchmark your analytics

  • Benchmarking your analytics will help you compare performance before and after the migration.

4. Define areas of improvement/testing

  • Define your reasoning for wanting to migrate and the desired areas for improvement. This process clarifies your reasoning for migrating and guides testing efforts for a smooth and successful transition.

5. Map your redirects and website architecture

  • Compile redirect maps for changed or new URLs and also define the new website architecture (if applicable). This involves listing old and new URLs, specifying redirect types (301 for permanent changes, 302 for temporary), and outlining the new website’s structure. This step ensures a smooth user experience, minimizes bounce rate, can help with user experience, and helps maintain SEO value by directing users and search engines to the correct pages on the migrated site.

6. Create a plan to maintaining site tracking

  • To maintain seamless tracking after your site migration, develop a plan to ensure Google Tag Manager (GTM) and analytics codes remain active and don’t come off of the site. 

7. Backup your website

  • Backing up your website is necessary before making any major site changes. You’ll want to ensure you’ve backed up all content and files, including themes and plug-ins if on WordPress. Regularly test backups and keep them updated to safeguard your website content and facilitate a smooth recovery if needed.

8. Test all new features in a staging environment

  • Before making the migration, you’ll want to conduct pre-migration testing. This isolated environment mimics the live site, but allows for safe experimentation and troubleshooting without impacting user experience or SEO.

9. Determine if migrating in phases makes sense

  • For large and complex website migrations, consider a phased approach instead of a single transition. If your migration is massive, you may be better served with a phased transition. This phased approach breaks down the migration into smaller, manageable stages, minimizing disruption.

After You Migrate:

10. Check your URLs, redirects, robots.txt file

  • After a website migration, you’ll want to verify all URLs, redirects, and the robots.txt file. If you’re migrating hosts, be sure to check every single URL to pick up on any 500-level errors that may have been picked up. This critical step guarantees no broken links or missing pages disrupting user experience.

11. Crawl your entire website

  • Perform a comprehensive crawl of your entire website. This process, similar to step 10, utilizes a website crawler tool like Screaming Frog to analyze all pages and resources, identifying any technical errors that may have slipped through the cracks during the transition.

12. Update sitemaps and submit them to Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools

  • Following a successful website migration, updating and resubmitting your sitemaps to search engines like Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools is crucial. This guarantees proper indexing and crawling of your newly migrated site. You’ll want to ensure all URLs in sitemaps are accurate, otherwise, it can lead to improper crawling and indexing.

13. Submit new URLs to Google Search Console for indexing

  • While step 12 focused on updating and submitting your sitemaps to search engines, step 13 addresses individual URLs. Submitting URLs after a website migration provides a more focused approach, especially for critical pages. This targeted method accelerates indexing, enhances search visibility, allows for granular control, and identifies potential issues.

14. Check for redirect errors

  • After a website migration, verifying all redirects for accuracy is very important. Redirect chains, loops, and 301 redirects leading to 404 errors can negatively impact user experience and how crawlers view your website. Utilize website crawler tools to analyze redirects.

15. Track your old and current keyword positions

  • Closely monitor your keyword positions both before and after the transition. This ongoing analysis provides valuable insights into potential ranking fluctuations and allows for proactive adjustments to maintain search visibility.

By following this 15-step checklist, you can navigate the complexities of site migration with confidence, ensuring a smooth transition that prioritizes both SEO and user experience. Remember, careful planning and execution are key to a successful migration.

Site Migration FAQs

Does site migration affect SEO?

Yes, site migration can affect SEO, but it doesn’t have to. If you’re careful and follow best practices, you can minimize the impact on your rankings. Some of the ways site migration can impact SEO include broken links, crawlability, and mobile-friendliness. 

“Site migrations are always tricky and they always come down to proper planning. Plan out every detail of the migration before you move one URL or make one CSS change. This will help you mitigate any potential SEO pitfalls post-migration.”

Keith Fenner, SEO Account Manager at Digital Third Coast

How long does a site migration take?

The time it takes to migrate a website can vary depending on a number of factors, including the size and complexity of the website, the type of migration, and the experience of the people involved. 

When does traffic return to normal after a migration?

If all goes to plan, you won’t see any drop off in traffic following a successful website migration. However, in the case of removing URLs, or making large website changes, the time it takes for traffic to return to normal comes down to the SEO’s ability to proactively remediate any issues. In general, you may see a drop in traffic a few weeks immediately after the migration, followed by a gradual recovery over the next month or two.

Why should I have an SEO professional help with a site migration?

Migrating a website can be a daunting task, especially when it comes to maintaining SEO value. Using an SEO professional to assist with the migration process can prove invaluable in minimizing downtime, ensuring proper implementation of redirects, verifying and optimizing site structure and content, monitoring and managing SEO performance, and saving time and resources. By using an SEO expert, you can safeguard your SEO efforts and ensure a smooth transition to your new website.

How do you tell Google about a site migration?

To tell Google about a site migration, you can use either the Change of Address tool in Search Console or implement 301 redirects. For the Change of Address tool, verify your old and new websites in Search Console, enter their URLs in the tool, and follow the instructions. For 301 redirects, identify corresponding pages on both websites and configure your server to send redirects. Additionally, update internal links, submit your new sitemap(s) to Google, and monitor traffic and rankings. These steps ensure a smooth migration with minimal impact on search engine visibility.

How do you measure migration success in SEO?

Measuring SEO migration success goes beyond just traffic and rankings. It involves tracking various factors like organic traffic, search engine rankings, technical SEO, user engagement, and other metrics like backlinks and social media engagement.

Set clear goals before the migration to focus your efforts and measure progress. Use a combination of tools to track data and compare it to pre-migration figures to identify areas of improvement. Be patient, persistent, and seek professional assistance if needed to ensure your migration is successful.

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Lyndsey Maddox

Chief Executive Officer

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