January 12, 2023
Migrating a website is a complex process. Add to that the nuances of SEO and you've got a big task ahead. Fortunately for you, we created an in-depth website migration checklist!
Updated: 22 November, 2023
IMPORTANT WARNING - IF YOU ARE ABOUT TO MIGRATE A SITE YOU COULD LOSE YOUR SEO RANKINGS.
Maintaining (and improving) your SEO meta data, internal links, structured data, accessibility config, page load times, information architecture, keyword density and optimising the user experience are just some of the SEO factors that need to be considered when migrating your website. If these items seem foreign to you, please contact our technical SEO department for some friendly guidance, or contact your local EngineRoom SEO Agency:
Alternatively, if you feel comfortable implementing the steps in this guide then please proceed with care. Migrating a website can be a tricky process that stretches your problem-solving skills to the max.
Not to mention that in the wrong hands, you run the risk of losing traffic, de-indexing your site in search engines or completely losing parts of your website. Ouch.
Thankfully, if you need to migrate your website to a new platform or a new domain name, we’ve got you covered. Below we share our 23-step website migration checklist that can help you avoid common pitfalls and risks so your website continues to function properly after the migration.
We’ll also share top tips from our SEO experts to keep your site migration SEO-friendly too! But first, let’s cover some essential basics.
Website migration is the process of making major technical changes to your website. It often involves moving to a new technology stack or website platform. However, in other cases, you may need to change the domain name or completely re-design the look and feel of the website.
In any case, a website migration involves making serious changes that affect the foundations of your website’s functionality.
Implementing a successful migration takes careful planning and is not for the faint-hearted (or beginners, for that matter). Having successfully migrated hundreds of websites over recent years, we suggest avoiding a site migration unless absolutely necessary.
If you think you need to migrate your website but would like professional help to manage the complete end-to-end process, book a strategy session with one of our senior digital advisors today.
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Some of the most common reasons to validate the need for a website migration include:
No matter the reason, we can’t stress enough that a website migration should not be undertaken unless there is a very solid business case for it.
A poorly managed website migration can have devastating effects on the website’s search engine optimisation (SEO) performance. The risks are quite serious and can affect all of the following performance indicators:
Depending on the severity of the performance loss, it can take from weeks to months to get your website’s performance back to where it was before the migration.
Prevention is the best cure for many ailments, and the same can be said here. Our website migration checklist is designed to prevent the loss of SEO traffic and performance so that your business's bottom line doesn’t suffer after the migration takes place.
So let’s get into our end-to-end site migration process!
Before any site migration project, you need to make sure you have all your ducks in a row. You’ll need to prepare some data in advance so that when the site migration takes place, it can run as smoothly as possible!
The very first thing you need to plan is the type of website migration you are undertaking and what information it will require.
For instance, if you are changing over to a completely new website builder, will you also be upgrading the site architecture, design and content? Will you be removing content or needing to ensure proper redirects are in place?
Proper planning of your site can save you many headaches down the line!
Before changing anything, it’s worth benchmarking the following so you can check the new site against these data points:
You’ll also need to crawl the website for errors and ensure these do not get carried over to the new website. Ideally, you should remove any broken links, images and pages or create a plan to fix them during the site migration process.
Instead of working on your live site, it is best to save a backup and then create a new staging environment to work in. The backup will ensure that if anything goes wrong, you can always revert your website to the current state.
A staging environment allows you to change anything you like without affecting the live website. Essentially, it is a duplicated site that is not made available to the public. Once you’re happy with what has been created in the staging environment, you can then proceed with the site migration by swapping out your live website with the new one.
Make sure your staging site cannot be found, even by search engines.
If you are rebranding and changing to a new domain, make sure you thoroughly check the new brand name and domain to ensure it has not received penalties in the past.
For some site migrations, you will need to adjust the server and/or domain name system (DNS) settings. This is especially true if you’re migrating from HTTP to HTTPS, changing your domain or switching servers.
Once your new site environment has been configured, it’s time to set up some analytics and performance tracking. It is essential you incorporate these elements before the migration takes place so they can start collecting data straight away once the new site goes live.
We recommend the following tools:
If you are using other analytics tools, that’s absolutely fine. Just make sure they are set up and ready to receive data after the site migration takes place.
One of the most challenging aspects of a site migration is handling the URL changes required. URL mistakes can have costly consequences that take a long time to recover!
Start off by documenting every single URL that is live on your website. The best way to do this is to check your current sitemap, which gives you a list of all the live pages.
Make sure you also note if any of the URLs will be changing or if you will be removing any of the pages on your website after the site migration.
If you notice URLs that will change or pages that will need to be removed, you will need to create a redirect map before the site migration takes place. A redirect map should contain a list of the current URLs that will be changed or removed and then the new URL you want people to go to instead.
At this stage, we recommend updating all your marketing teams. In all of the website migrations we have managed, we find it is best to set a specific date when the migration will take place and prepare your teams with a specific action plan once the site migration occurs.
All teams will also need to update any URLs in their marketing copy to reflect the new site structure. It is best if they have some time to make these changes so that they can have all updated URLs ready to go straight after the site migration.
This phase is essential if you are making changes to the content or the look and feel of the website. Your designers will need to create the new layouts and add new images and content well before you migrate your website.
Once you know which pages will be changing, your design team can get to work planning out the new layouts and sourcing all the assets required. They can also start building the new pages in the staging environment.
In addition to the design changes, you may need new content written to match the new designs. You may also need to update the titles and descriptions of the pages on your website to display more accurate information in search engines after the site migration takes place.
In any case, it is ideal to have all of the new content created and ready to add to the staging site once the new pages are designed.
By this stage, you have mapped out all the changes required, updated your teams and also created new content and designs that are ready to go on the staging site (as needed for your project). So now it’s time to start your website migration!
Start off by implementing all the URL changes you mapped out in steps 7 and 8. You will also need to implement the redirects and update all internal links to match the new URLs.
The rest of the website migration can happen one step at a time. Since you will have all the layouts, content and image assets ready to go, you can start by bringing all the new pages to life in your staging environment (if you haven’t already done so).
This aspect of the process is quite variable and depends on the nature of your website migration. In general, you will want to ensure you have migrated all of the following:
Even if you are not changing any of the content or layouts, you will likely still need to check your URLs. For instance, if you’re changing from HTTP to HTTPS, every single URL on your site will need a redirect from the old version to the secure version.
If you’re changing website builders or server environments, you may need to rebuild your site from scratch and you will need to pay attention to every aspect of the design, content and URLs being moved over correctly.
Before you can publish the new site, it's critical that you thoroughly check everything is working as expected.
When you’re 100% sure there are no errors on the staging website, generate a new XML sitemap. This will need to be submitted to search engines so they can crawl your new website after you launch it.
You will also need to remove any temporary blocks you have that prevent search engines from crawling the new website.
In the hours before you push your site live, you’ll need to ask your marketing teams to pause all paid activities. You can also initiate the action plan you established in step 9 and make sure all the URLs and content have been updated across all campaigns.
After all this preparation and planning, it’s time to go live! Here’s what to look out for as you prepare your launch.
It’s time to push the big red button and launch all changes! Depending on the type of migration you’re working on, you may need to move your files from the staging environment to the live environment.
In other cases, it may just be a matter of updating your hosting or DNS records to point directly to the site you used for staging. This is common for rebranding projects that involve changing the domain name.
Either way, it’s time to go, go, go and launch all updates.
Repeat all the tests and audits you ran in step 14 to ensure the site migration went according to plan. If you face any major technical challenges, remember you can always revert to the previous version of your site by using the backup you took in step 3.
If any new errors have popped up that do not show in the staging environment, you will need to troubleshoot these and fix them live.
Once you’re satisfied the entire site is as it should be and it is working properly, you can proceed with the next steps.
Once you’ve confirmed that the new site is live and working correctly, it’s time to get all your marketing teams back on board with re-activating paid campaigns and launching the new content with updated URLs.
Once you launch, all your analytics and tracking tools should have been firing from the get-go if you set them up correctly in step 6. However, you still need to make a few manual updates. For instance, you’ll need to submit the new XML sitemap you created in step 15 to Google Search Console.
You can also update Google with the website’s change of address if you have rebranded to a new domain.
Another consideration, which we highly recommend, is to make a manual note in all analytics tools that allow it. Take note of the date the new site went live. If you had a few technical challenges along the way, it’s worth making notes of these and also documenting the end of your successful site migration. These notes will help your marketing teams enormously if they notice performance drops, especially when it comes to SEO.
For peace of mind, we suggest that you closely monitor your new site after the migration has taken place. Keep an eye out for the following.
When you’re certain there are no errors on the new site, take a complete backup of the entire site so you can revert back to this version if anything were to go wrong in future.
Woohoo! You came out the other side of your website migration project and it’s time to celebrate. Site migrations are a complex endeavour and you totally deserve a pat on the back for handling it like a pro.
Book your free 90-minute strategy session and get a clear plan for your website migration project.
Despina is a Senior SEO Consultant with 8+ years of experience growing B2B, e-commerce, SaaS, and national brands.