Website migration is a long and intricate process that requires careful planning and clear goals. Since it is a long process, it requires considerable time to plan, test, execute and monitor.
In this blog, we have compiled a website migration checklist for you. If you are undertaking website migration for the first time or are wary of it due to the risks, we have you covered.
This checklist covers everything from planning to the execution process, outlining the factors to consider in planning, how to test and what results could be achieved.
Reasons for website migration
People and businesses migrate their websites for many reasons. Some have sound research behind them; others are based on whims.
However, here are some major reasons for website migration:
- Changing your website’s structure or navigation
- Moving to a new CMS
- Changing the domain name
- Migrating to a new server
- Adding a Mobile Version
- Change of protocol (from HTTP to HTTPS)
Types of site migration
Google clearly describes what a site migration process is. It doesn’t consider website redesign as website migration, even if it involves adding more URLs.
According to Google, website migration means moving your web pages in one of the following ways:
Site move without URL changes
In this case, the website’s structure is modified without any changes to its URL. For example, if you move www.abcclothing.com to a different hosting server and the URL remains www.abcclothing.com.
Site move with URL changes
A website moves with changes in its URL when:
- the protocol is changed from HTTP to HTTPS
- when the domain name is changed
- the path of the URL is changed
How to migrate a website
Website migration is a complex process with innumerable tiny pieces that have to come together to migrate without a significant loss in traffic and visibility.
In this blog, we have broken down the website migration checklist into three stages and have identified the key points that you should check in each stage. These stages are:
The process of website migration involves several tiny details, each requiring attention and careful execution. So, it is ideal if you can break down the entire website migration plan into small fragments.
A good starting point is to initially move some part of your website to see how your traffic and online visibility are affected on those pages. Say you have a blog section; you can move some of your old blogs and see the change in numbers.
However, before moving the pages, do note down the numbers to compare them with the numbers after you have moved those pages.
Migrate when your traffic is at the lowest
Website migration entails a lot of risks, and there are more chances of things going wrong. So, would you take a risk during a season where you expect the most traffic and sales? No!
During the planning process, find a window where you get minimal traffic on your website. Set that period for migration so that if any error(s) occurs post-migration, you have the time to fix it without worrying about your revenue.
Moreover, low traffic makes it easy for search engine bots to crawl your website quickly.
Give your users a heads-up
If you have set a date to implement the migration process, inform your users and customers beforehand.
Tell them to expect minor inconvenience and hiccups in accessing the website. Placate them by saying that the inconvenience is worth it. They would be pleasantly surprised when the new website is launched.
Now that you have planned the migration process, it is time to test the elements of your new website. Pre-testing is done so that all the faults and errors come to the fore before the website is launched.
It gives the team time to fix them without them causing any loss.
Here is the website migration checklist for the pre-testing stage:
The first step is to let the website designers inspect and give feedback on the prototype and wireframe of the new website. Analyzing them will give you an idea about all the SEO and UX issues to be fixed at an early stage.
Identify priority pages
Priority pages are the most important pages of your website. Consider them the money pages where you can’t afford to lose visibility.
Note pre-migration analytics
Note the analytics of your website, especially of money and priority pages, to compare them with post-migration numbers. Some key numbers to compare are the site’s page loading times and top keyword rankings.
Download data from Google Search Console so that you don’t lose it after migration. It will help you gauge the success of your migration.
Review pages for SEO requirements
Before launching, review all the pages to ensure that they are optimized for all the essential SEO factors. These essential SEO features are:
- Page titles
- Meta descriptions
- Headings (h1-h6)
- Keyword placement
- Images with alt text
- Robots.txt files
- Canonical tags
- Hreflang tags
- Amp tags
Review technical aspects
In the testing phase, it is also important to check the technical aspects of the SEO so that it doesn’t affect the website’s SERP ranking after the launch.
Here are some tips for reviewing the technical SEO of your website before migration:
- Identify crawl-time issues: In the pre-testing phase, crawl the new website to identify broken links, internal redirects, non-index pages and no follow links, 404 errors, incorrect canonical tags.
- Cloaking checks: Use both Googlebotregular and Googlebotsmartphone to crawl the new website to ensure no cloaking issues when accessing the website from both desktop and mobile phones.
- Check for mobile: See how the website is opening on mobile phones. If there are any issues with page design or text alignment, fix them.
- XML sitemap: Make sure that the XML site map of the new website has all indexable URLs. All the non-indexable URLs, like 404s, redirect pages, are excluded from the XML sitemap.
- HTML sitemap: Review the HTML sitemap to ensure that it links all the pages, including those deep into your website.
- Review hreflang: If your target audience is scattered across the world and your website targets them in various languages, then all the hreflang targeted annotations should be correctly implemented.
- Site speed test: Conduct the site speed test and check the loading speed of each page with Google’s PageSpeed Insights and Lighthouse to see how the pages compare with each other in terms of speed.
- Check redirect implementation: In the testing phase, check the redirect mapping of your website to make sure that all of them are working as expected and are redirected to correct pages.
- Google Analytics set up: Finally, check that the analytics are set up properly, and all the important metrics are being tracked.
Customize the Analytics as per your new goals and add new metrics in your Analytics if needed. There might be some numbers that you weren’t tracking with the older website, but now, you want to see their results.
Reduced down time
When you are moving to the new website, the chances are that your website will have to go offline. In that case, you will have to avoid extensive downtime and make sure it doesn’t remain offline for long.
If search engine crawlers see that your website is down for a long time, it will hurt its ranking and visibility.
If the website goes offline, add a 503 (service unavailable) server response for the webserver to respond to any URL request. It tells the crawlers that the site is down temporarily for maintenance and they should return later.
Here are few things you should check as soon as the website goes live:
- Robots.txt file for any major crawling issues.
- Response time for key pages across desktop and mobile
- Errors in canonical tags for
- Any unintentional noindex or nofollow directive
- Cloaking issue
If all these checks turn out to be fine, check your website Analytics next to find out what Google thinks of your new website:
- Request indexing for priority pages so that they are indexed as soon as possible.
- use the URL inspection tool to check the blocked resources on key pages
- Submit each sitemap for search engine bots to crawl redirects that are in place.
- Use the URL Parameters tool, which is available as a Search Console legacy tool, to identify and fix duplicate content issues.
Check the website to see how it is optimized for various search engine ranking factors, like:
- Page titles
- Meta descriptions
- Internal links
- Alt text on images
Carry out a thorough check of all the redirection to see that they are implemented correctly. Make sure that:
- Old URLs are correctly redirected to the new site
- All the redirects are permanent, i.e., 301 redirects
- Redirection on legacy pages is correctly implemented
- All other redirects like non-www URL requests to www, HTTP URL request to HTTPS, lower case URL request to upper case URL requests are working correctly
Risks involved in website migration
Website migration is like dominoes stacked in a row. One falls, and your entire structure falls to the ground.
Here is what Google’s John Mueller has to say about the adventure of migration and the horrors associated with it.
This migration process hosts a lot of challenges for the proprietor. It is a risky process due to the following reasons:
- Loss of visibility and reduction in traffic
- Risk of losing parts of the website
- Poor audience feedback on changes
- Broken internal links
However, all these issues can be addressed if the migration is undertaken with a clear plan and preparation. The input of SEO experts is also important to ensure smooth implementation of the process.
In the SEO community, every person has one horror story of a bungled website migration process. How can you ensure that you don’t become a character in those tales?
By implementing this website migration checklist.
Website migration isn’t a job to be carried out in hassle. If you have pinned down the need for migration, invest time and money to implement it to perfection.