Website Migration Checklist
Website migration can be challenging for website owners because it can lead to traffic loss and other unwanted outcomes. The process involves changing a lot of things that affect search engine visibility, so taking precautions and following the latest guidelines is highly recommended.
In this article, let’s give you the ultimate website migration checklist that you can use to minimize any negative effects on your website, but let’s begin with a question from Google that struck a chord with a lot of Twitter users.
Google’s John Mueller had to respond. The rumors about a potential loss of traffic after changing domains have been circulating in the online community for quite a while now, and he had to ask website owners whether they really thought that website migration was such a feared thing.
So he tweeted, asking the online community three specific questions.
So, as you can see, he asked for feedback from website owners who have experienced a domain change recently, and whether their fears about the loss of traffic were justified. The last question Mueller asked was about minimizing potential losses.
The tweet attracted a lot of responses from website owners. Many replied by saying the loss of traffic is a real thing and even provided detailed reasons why.
The below response, for example, also supported the claim that website migration results in the loss of traffic, even if the website owner does everything properly. To avoid that, the user named Jake Bohal recommends migrating during ‘slow season,’ which is the time period when a site’s traffic is typically the lowest compared to other periods.
In addition, Bohal says that “careful planning” also helps to complete this process successfully. Many other website owners participating in the discussion supported this advice. In fact, some of the replies with the highest number of likes in the threat claimed that the process of website migration is poorly understood by many people, which led to traffic loss.
So, as the experience of many website owners suggested, website migration can be done smoothly, but it requires proper preparation and planning. By “preparation” and “planning,” I mean following Google’s instructions, and this is exactly what you should do to make sure that your website retains traffic domain change and saves your SEO efforts (and sales!)
In this article, we’re going to share everything you need to know to make that happen.
Website Migration: What the Heck is it?
The term “website migration” is used to refer to the process of moving a website from one domain to another. It can be quite scary and messy, and can seriously affect its position in Google results if done improperly. In addition to domain change, there are more migration types; for example, the level of the migration can go beyond the domain and include Content Management Platform (CMS), servers, or the consolidation of multiple domains.
Let’s take a closer look at each of these types and how they can affect your website’s performance.
Domain Name Change
This is the most common type of website migration (and the easiest one to perform). Many websites change domains for various purposes, such as rebranding or changing market niches; A move from www.mywebsite.com to www.expertcompany.com is an example of a changed domain for business-related purposes.
Even though this change may seem insignificant, it can profoundly affect a site’s SEO.
Consolidating Multiple Domains
This change often happens when a brand gets acquired by another company that needs to incorporate it into their larger web structure. It typically involves two strategies of migration: moving a single domain or multiple ones into one. As a result, the company can achieve a long-term increase in traffic and ranking.
Moving from ccTLD to TLD
Moving to a more internationally recognized domain TLD typically occurs when a website goes from a country-specific domain to a global one in order to reach more readers or customers (for example, a move from www.website.ca to www.website.com).
Web Hosting Provider Change
If a website owner is dissatisfied with the performance of their website due to hosting, they can decide to change the provider (for example, a host can have 2,000 websites in one account, which can profoundly influence their performance). This means that the website will have an entirely new server and the IP address, which, in turn, means potential traffic loss.
Protocol Change (HTTP to HTTPS Migration)
Simply explained, this involves adding an SSL certificate to a website without any domain changes. Since having such a certificate has become an important security requirement, more and more websites have moved to HTTPS in recent years.
Google has been encouraging the move as well; for example, in this Google Domains Blog, the developers provide their recommendations on getting an SSL certificate for a more secure web.
M-Dot Roll-Up Migration
Google has recently released its mobile-first indexing update to accommodate the needs of its mobile users, so it has urged website owners to move to responsive designs. This was the main reason for M-Dot Roll-Up migration, which essentially moving toward responsive site designs that can provide the best user experience for those using mobile devices to browse the web.
This type involves the change of a Content Management System (CMS). For example, an organization can decide to move from WordPress to Joomla, which also means performing a content audit and changing SEO options and coding. As a result, Google and other search engines will crawl it differently.
Website Migration: Common Mistakes and Challenges
While there are a number of website migration types, the mistakes and challenges that need to be addressed during the process are pretty common for each one of them.
A Lack of Awareness of the Migration Process
As the replies to Mueller’s tweet showed, one of the most common reasons why website owners lose traffic after migrating is their lack of knowledge of the risks and challenges involved in the process. It’s absolutely essential that everyone working on the migration (website copywriters, SEO team, developers, DevOps, etc.) knows what they’re doing. Remember: Google doesn’t owe you anything, and the risk of losing a lot of traffic due to unwise decisions is a real possibility.
The lack of awareness of the migration process automatically leads to poor planning. A team that doesn’t have enough information on how to make a smooth transition to a new website can’t come up with a detailed and effective plan that minimizes delays as well as traffic losses.
That’s why it’s important to get everyone involved in learning about a proper migration to create a flexible and detailed plan that considers all factors that can affect the final outcome.
Inbound Link Profile
Inbound links can do miracles for your Google search results, but when you change a domain, you should think about updating them in order to prevent the loss the traffic. This is where an inbound link audit comes in, and unfortunately, some website owners disregard the importance of performing it.
To create a backlink profile for your website, identify the links that should be updated and delete those you don’t want on your new website, you can use the Free Backlink Checker. You can check your website’s backlinks, delete spammy links, and do other things to clean up your backlink profile.
Slow Response to Bugs
Regardless of how detailed and well thought-out your migration plan is, there’ll always be some bugs and other issues affecting your website. A failure to address them right away means running a risk of Google having trouble with crawling and indexing your site’s content, so be prepared to react to technical obstacles such as bugs to slow down the implementation of your plan.
Website Migration Checklist to Avoid Losing Search Rankings
Now that you know the types of website migration as well as the most common issues and challenges associated with the process, we can move on to the actual migration implementation process. In this section, we’ll review it step-by-step so you could start well and end well.
1. Pre-Launch Checklist: Strategizing
The following website migration checklist contains the most important points to remember before the process of migration.
Step 1: Set Realistic Deadlines and Goals
Work with your team to ensure that your website migration plan has only realistic expectations and goals. A failure to do this might set you back because you’ll have a deadline and no progress.
Step 2: Prepare a Plan for Migration
It’ll include all activities necessary to achieve the goals identified at the previous step, as well as the task owners and dependencies for all process stages.
Step 3: Crawl the Website
Since you need to know all the important information about all URLs currently existing on your website, you can crawl it with a tool like Screaming Frog. This data will help you to determine any traffic losses after the migration is complete.
During this process, look for:
- Internal redirects
- Broken links
- No-follow links
- Incorrect canonical tags
- Soft 404s
- Unintentional noindex pages.
Step 4: Identify Priority Pages and Pages to Eliminate
Priority pages are your most valuable pages that you can’t afford to have offline (these are product pages, landing pages, and the top traffic-drivers). On the other hand:
- the pages that you don’t want to be displayed on the new website should have a 404 error
- the URLs that need to be eliminated but have some important links pointing to them should have 301 pages so you could still keep the traffic
On top of that, you should map out new pages that will need to be created so they don’t have URLs.
Step 5: Set Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)
To know that your website has a better performance you need to note all its KPIs such as loading times, organic traffic, top keyword rankings, pages indexed, and organic conversions. With such performance metrics as loading times being important for Google mobile ranking, comparing these indicators after the migration is done will be useful for you.
Step 6: Set up a New Robots.txt
It should have the information about what to crawl – or not – for Google bots once the website has been migrated.
Step 7: Review XML and HTML Sitemaps
First, you should take a close look at your new website’s XML map to check if all indexable links are there and all non-indexable ones are eliminated. Also, the HTML sitemap has to link to all pages that will be present on the new website (pay attention to those that have no direct links to the global navigation because it’s easy to miss them).
Step 8: Add and Verify your New Website with Google Console
This involves selecting a new domain from the list to make sure that Google knows about the change. Then, verify your site ownership using this guide from Google.
2. During Website Migration Checklist
Now that we’re done with reviewing technical SEO and testing the new version of the website, let’s move on to the things that matter the most during the process of migration.
Step 1: Make Sure that You’re Tracking Your Website
You need to have a data analytics platform like Google Analytics up and running because it’s necessary to track all the metrics for the new URLs and redirected URLs. Mark the date of the migration start in the app somehow to see the differences between the performance of the previous and the latest website versions.
Step 2: Check if URL Redirects are Correct
The main goal here is to ensure that every link is redirecting to the proper new URL on the latest website version. If you find a problem, check the redirect map that you’ve developed.
Step 3: Make Updates to the XML Sitemap and send it to Google Console
Your new website should have an accurate SML sitemap to inform search engines about its content properly. This means that an updated map is a must for ensuring that Google can discover the content; that’s why you should submit it to Google Search Console with the link to the map in the robots.txt.
Step 4: Internal Linking Check
Website migration means inevitable structure changes, and in many cases, some internal links may change in the way that wasn’t expected if they’re not checked right away. So, it’s your job to update all internal links and make sure that they point to the new location (check anchor texts, too).
3. Post-Launch Website Migration Checklist
Now it’s time to launch the new website. It’s typically recommended to perform this process during low-traffic hours – such as night hours – to minimize the risk of errors.
Free image from Pexels
Step 1: Track Website Performance
To see any occurring issues with website performance as soon as possible, make sure to analyze error reports in Google Search Console on a weekly basis. In addition to this, the data presented by the Console is also critical for monitoring the indexation levels, crawling stats, and possible missing or duplicate title tags.
Important! Watch out for sudden traffic or performance changes immediately after launch. They can be a sign of an issue that you’ve missed earlier and it can make it difficult for Google to discover and crawl your website.
To measure your website’s performance and get a score, you can use Google’s own PageSpeed Insights.
Step 2: Promote the New Location of Your Website
The online community should know that you’ve moved to a new location. For example, many people may have bookmarked or otherwise saved the old location, so you need to let them know that they should change it in order to be able to access it.
The promotion could be done in many ways. For example, you can share the news on your social media profiles or using emails to contact customers or subscribers directly.
Lots of websites are migrating these days for many reasons, and losing traffic and sales isn’t exactly what their owners hope for when initiating this process. Website migration, indeed, is a difficult undertaking that involves a lot of guidelines to follow and mistakes to avoid.
As you can see, with so much to pay attention to, it’s difficult to meet all the requirements needed to keep your traffic volume intact. That’s why many website owners, including many of those who responded to Mueller’s tweet about website migration, have lost a lot of traffic during the process.
Hopefully, this guide helps you to understand what you need to do before, during and after your website has been moved to avoid performance issues and traffic loss. Yes, it’s a lot of work but if you want the process to go smoothly, make sure to follow all recommendations, including those described above.