If you’re a website owner, chances are you’ll face the challenge of overhauling your website someday. Website migration is the process of changing a site’s location, platform, design, or structure so your web presence can grow.
Website migration is an exciting yet complicated process. Even the smallest of mistakes can cost you in terms of conversions and search engine rankings.
You need a good reason to migrate your website, because not only is it a daunting task, but the repercussions can be devastating. Site migration is, however, a great opportunity to fix legacy issues.
The most common reasons to migrate are:
- Changing your URL.
- Merging content from multiple websites.
- Redesigning your website and revamping the content.
- Changing your website architecture.
- Switching from HTTP to HTTPS.
- Switching hosting providers.
- Switching domain names.
- Adding or changing to a mobile website.
While you might be migrating your website for the sake of improvement, it’s not risk-free. Yes, site migration is a problem-solving necessity, but your SEO and traffic will inevitably be impacted by the changes you make.
To achieve a successful website migration, you need to carry it out with military-level precision. This is to ensure you don’t compromise your customer engagement strategies or any other growth plans you have in place.
Below, we’ve listed the most important steps so you don’t fall victim to poor planning and have a robust migration checklist to hand.
Phase 1: Scope and Planning
Define the project’s scope
Make sure you are clear about the objectives of your migration right from the beginning. These will help manage expectations and define the timeline for the project. Suppose you have a voice over internet protocol (VoIP) business.
You would like to offer VoIP for business users through your mobile app rather than just your website. Such a change is quite different from simply moving a site to HTTPS from HTTP, for example.
You must plan for the changes you are making because site migrations can be complex and span several months. Due diligence in processes, quality assurance and testing is key, so you may want to look into software testing blogs for reference in preparation. Regardless of the final objective, the initial aim should be to retain the site’s traffic levels and search engine rankings. Your next objectives can be related to growth.
Designate tasks and timelines
Every deliverable should have an expected completion date and each task needs an owner. You need excellent coordination across multiple teams, even though they won’t all speak the same technical language.
Lock physical meetings, web meetings, and video conferencing into the calendar for the entire migration period to ensure teams collaborate to meet deadlines. To help facilitate meetings, you could also use collaboration tools like whiteboard apps. Also, identify dependencies so everyone is aware of what’s happening.
To prevent your migration from resulting in a tangled mess of code and slow load times, ensure the following tasks are completed:
- Crawl the existing site. Use a website crawler and see how search engines view your SEO info.
- Record your benchmarks. Your SEO metrics might get erased during data migration so retain them to see how successful your previous website was.
- If you want your SEO strategy to work just as well as before, retain titles, meta descriptions, and HTML markups.
- Try out the new website on a test server (aka sandbox) before the official migration. This will help you perform agile testing for performance evaluation, functionality checks, and data migration checks, ensuring a seamless transition.
- Avoid peak hours and days when selecting a migration date.
- Discourage search engines from crawling your staging site.
Phase 2: Migration
You’ve planned and prepared for this, and migration day is finally here. If you’ve completed all of the above pre-launch steps, you are ready. Now you need to:
Institute a 301 Redirect Map and update the site’s DNS settings
Redirect your URLs. This will help divert traffic from the former URL and retain the authority the old page has built with Google.
Back to our example of a VoIP business. It doesn’t matter if you have a hundred blogs on VoIP vs landline for business; all those URLs need to be replicated and redirected.
Your content helps build your search ranking. Search engines need an explicit change of address instruction. Your link equity and keyword rankings will disappear if you don’t redirect all of your URLs.
Part of the process of migration includes “pointing” to the site’s new location. Your hosting provider should be able to help.
Set your forwarding redirects, unpublish the old website, and launch the new one. If you’re not changing to a new server or platform, your migration should be immediate. With DNS changes, it can take a while for websites to become active.
Once the site is live, tick off the following points to ensure migration success:
- Check for proper indexability and crawlability to ensure your SEO works.
- Find missing and duplicate content.
- Check for 404 errors and broken links.
- Ensure Google Analytics is implemented.
- Save the date of migration in Google Analytics to compare performance pre and post-migration.
- Invite Google to crawl the new website by submitting the sitemap on Google Search Console.
Phase 3: Post-migration
After the migration, you’ll find that traffic and performance aren’t the best some days. That’s to be expected. If you keep a pulse on your analytics, you can avoid missing a big problem. You need to run site audits often and have your publishers update backlinks.
Quality control and performance monitoring need to be ongoing. Crowd testing is a fresh approach to QA and can help if the new site is experiencing more hiccups than usual. For agile teams, there would be significant merit in exploratory testing as well.
Congratulations! You have successfully completed your website migration. Web migration is a lengthy process, but it’s worth it in the end. Remember to acknowledge the hard work each member of the team put in and celebrate your collective win- for remote teams, you could even host a virtual celebration. If you’ve followed the guide above, your SEO strategy will have remained intact. You can now concentrate on marketing and publishing amazing new content to further improve your search engine rankings and conversions.