A Comprehensive Website Migration Checklist

Birds migrating over sunset representing website migration

The process of “website migration” is a widely used term used among SEOs and other digital professionals. Website migrations are more than just simple updates. Website migration refers to critical changes to a site that can often result in changes to a site’s visibility on search engines.

What is Website Migration & Why Does it Matter?

The process of “website migration” is a widely used term used among SEOs and other digital professionals. Website migrations are more than just simple updates. Website migration refers to critical changes to a site that can often result in changes to a site’s visibility on search engines.

  • Some common types of changes made during website migrations include the following:
  • Changes to a site’s platform
  • Transferring to a new server
  • Changes to a site’s location, or a domain name change
  • The structure or navigation of a site
  • Significant changes to content, including adding or deleting content
  • Significant changes to a site’s design
  • Drastic updates to a site’s UX

How does a website migration impact SEO? And how can utilizing a thorough SEO site migration checklist help? Well, when some of these changes occur, for example, a domain name change, the way in which search engines see your site are impacted. For example, if redirects are not included in your website migration strategy and plan, search engines have trouble making connections between your old domain name and your new domain name. That’s why it is essential to take SEO services into consideration when making any major changes to a site.

So, Why Migrate a Site?

Though migrating a site is a big project, it often makes sense because the impacts to your business’ online success is often greatly influenced. For example, choosing a CMS that works for your business, implementing a brand-new web design with a fresh brand name, creating a mobile-friendly design, or migrating to a new server because your current hosting conditions are not working for your business needs, are all reasons to consider a site migration.

Now before making the jump, ripping off the band-aid, or whatever you want to call it, it’s crucial to research and plan for these big decisions before you decide to migrate your site. Even the most experienced teams need website migration checklists to ensure you’re not losing traffic, revenue and those precious leads of yours.

Poorly Planned or Unsuccessful Site Migrations

Site migrations fail when:

  • A website migration plan is not in place. Deciding to change your domain name might sound like a great idea, but thoughtful research on the impacts of that domain name change are encouraged.
  • Poor strategy is in place. Successful site migrations require time for planning and developing strategy including challenges, budget, resources and timeline.
  • An SEO strategy is not in place, resulting in a businesses loss to traffic, revenue or leads.
  • Testing and follow up did not occur. If redirects are in order, that also means testing to ensure the redirects worked successfully are crucial to the success of the website migration.

Successful Site Migrations

Now let’s get out of all that doom and gloom. Here is good news! Site migrations can be successful, and we’re here to help. Many of the scenarios where a website site migration strategy goes wrong can be totally avoided by thoughtful planning.

While there are different types of site migrations, some characteristics of successful migrations (dependent upon your goals) can still include minimal visibility loss or visibility growth after the site launches.

How to Plan for a Successful Site Migration in 3 Stages

1. Before the Site Migration

  • First, consider and clearly define the scope of the migration. Define objectives and goals of the project. Maybe you aim to improve site speed or improve conversions. Document and map the scope out, identifying risk as you go.
  • Plan ahead by:
    • Creating a timeline while also anticipating important milestones
    • Identifying technical SEO specifications like a URL structure, redirect plan and internal linking opportunities.
  • Establish guiding documents such as:
    • Wireframes and site navigation
    • Keyword research
  • Crawl your existing site to determine current performance metrics like speed, rankings, etc. Examples of crawls include:
    • Javascript crawl
    • Screaming Frog crawl
  • Prioritize content and create a sound migration plan.
  • Determine what your measurement model and tracking will look like.
  • Benchmark your current site.
  • Set up a staging site for testing.

2. During the Site Migration:

  • Ensure that your staging site is not accessible to search engines and limit its access to certain IP addresses.
  • Implement technical SEO checks.
  • Review the site’s usability.
  • Review navigation and site architecture.
  • Ensure metadata is present, descriptive, and unique.
  • Ensure pages load at an acceptable speed.
  • Triple check your redirect strategy.

Other Things To Keep in Mind During The Launch of Your Site Migration

  • Ensure the pages on your site are accessible to search engines and individuals.
  • Upload and review your site’s XML sitemap to Google Search Console.
  • Confirm your site’s robots.txt file is working properly and not blocked by search engines.
  • Verify that your redirects are working properly.
  • Confirm that any analytics & measurement tools – such as Google Analytics – are tracking.

It’s recommended that multiple members of your teams explore, review and test your site during this process. What one set of eyes might glance over, another might spot!

3. After the Site Migration

Now for the fun part — letting that baby loose! But not really, not just yet.
In the days, weeks and months after you migrate the site you and your team will need to watch your rankings and traffic closely. Decreases in traffic and rankings right after a site migration are pretty typical. However, persistent drops in rankings over a long period of time after the migration might indicate that something went wrong with your redirects during the migration.

We monitor site migration performance with tools through our Google partnership, like Google Search Console, Google Analytics and others like Brightedge to closely monitor performance in search results.

Embracing Change During Your Site Migration

More than just building a comprehensive website migration checklist, plan and timeline, site migrations require follow-through long after the initial launch.

If you’re struggling with a site migration and need a little help, let our team of SEO experts help guide you through the process!