The Ultimate SEO Site Migration Checklist

SUSO 06 September 2022

Thinking of migrating your website? Follow the steps outlined in our checklist to ensure the ultimate SEO site migration.

Author: Lukasz Trzpil, SEO Specialist

Lukasz

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Site migration can be an exciting yet scary operation. 

Exciting because it marks a new beginning for one’s brand. Scary because if not done correctly, it may cause a significant drop in your search engine rankings, introduce a host of technical issues, or result in fewer conversions. 

Sure, it’s nothing that cannot be taken care of later. However, fixing it will cost you precious time and resources. And why deal with issues you could’ve avoided in the first place?

Here’s the deal. Many people believe that migrating a site is like pressing a button. It’s not. Site migration is a complicated and highly technical process that requires careful planning. 

Once you have a plan, migrating your website suddenly becomes a much less scary venture, ensuring a smooth and effective transition. 

Most importantly, a transition that doesn’t cause any dents in your site’s performance. 

And how to ensure a smooth domain migration, you may ask? Simple. Read our ultimate SEO site migration checklist to find out.

smooth domain migration

What Is Site Migration?

First, let’s talk about the basics, so we’re all on the same page. 

What is site migration exactly?

In SEO terms, site migration is the process of making substantial changes to a website. It involves alterations to the site’s UX, structure, design, content, or location. It can apply to anything from changing the site’s URL structure to moving it to a new domain. 

The ultimate goal of site migration is to improve the site’s online visibility. However, the reason for migrating a website may vary from one site to another, and so do the changes. 

SEO professionals divide site migration into several types. These are:

  • Protocol migration. Changing the website protocol from HTTP to HTTPS to improve encryption and help secure users’ data. 
  • Subdomain change. Switching the website to a new subdomain, e.g., from www.youroldsite.com.uk to www.uk.youroldsite.com.
  • Domain migration. You can change your domain name when rebranding, for instance, from www.myolddomain.com to www.mynewdomain.com. 
  • Top-level domain change. Changing your site’s URL from .com to .uk, .au, etc., or vice versa. 
  • CMS change. Switching from your current content management system to another, for example, from WordPress to Joomla. 
  • Structural changes. Website structure changes usually include improvements to the site’s layout and URL structure. 
  • Redesign. Redesigning a site can range from small aesthetic changes to the layout, all the way to comprehensive, a full website reorganisation with code and copy changes. 
  • Content migration. It may involve rewriting, optimising, expanding, or pruning the existing content to the new website. 
  • Server change. It means switching to a new server host. 

Deciding on these changes will depend on your individual circumstances. For example, you can decide to change a server host when your site is expanding, and you want to maintain or improve its current speed. Moving to a new CMS is typically based on improving the site’s performance, security, and functionality. 

Think of site migration as performing a house renovation. You can do it one step at a time or perform a whole-house overhaul. However, both these approaches require careful planning and a necessary set of tools. 

Otherwise, you risk ending up in an endless circle of costly repairs. 

The same goes for website migration. You can opt for the one component at a time approach, combine several processes, or execute a whole website reconstruction. 

However, one mistake can cause a circle of constant site corrections and repairs. In other words, having a detailed site migration plan is a must. Otherwise, your entire venture might fail spectacularly. And that leads us to the next question.

Does Website Migration Cause Visibility Drops?

does website migration affect seo

Many site owners fear that site migration will result in visibility drops. Is this fear justified? As the favourite SEO answer goes… it depends.

Yes, site migration affects SEO. That’s a statement of fact. As for answering how it may impact your SEO, that depends on how well you perform the entire website migration process. 

When planned and done correctly, a site migration can only provide rewards. Migrating your website can enhance its safety, speed, performance, and overall user experience. And that’s something Google loves. 

Google adores user-friendly sites. If your website becomes one, you can expect to reap tremendous long-term benefits from migrating your website. 

That’s the key thing to understand, however. Long-term. 

Like any other SEO operation, site migration may take some time to provide someone with benefits. Indeed, since migration includes re-indexing, you might even experience a slight dip in your organic traffic for a short period. 

If the site doesn’t start to perform after a while, however, it may indicate something went wrong during the website migration process. The only solution here is to analyse and identify what went wrong during the migration. That takes time and resources you would very much like to invest elsewhere. 

That said, let us rewrite the question above. 

How can you avoid visibility drops after a site migration?

Having a plan would be a good starting point. Considering SEO is also a must. And for that, the best idea is to reach out to SEO professionals who know the ins and outs of site migration processes. 

Ultimately, however, you need a checklist. And that brings us to the main point behind this guide. 

SEO Site Migration Checklist: What to Do Before Migrating?

At first, performing site migration may look overwhelming. Don’t worry, though. Preparing a proper checklist can save tons of time and trouble. Most importantly, it ensures you implement all the necessary steps. 

That alone is enough to increase your chances of succeeding. 

Now to the checklist. Use the following steps as a point of reference when creating your plan. It will help you estimate the timeframe and resources needed for smooth and effective website migration. 

So, without further ado, here’s our ultimate SEO site migration checklist.

Crawl Your Current Website

Considering how complex a process site migration is, you must ensure that you address all the issues with your current website. That is why it’s so important to conduct a thorough site crawl before you start your migration. 

Crawl for URLs, metadata, page titles, content, redirects, broken links, etc. Doing that will provide you with crucial information on your current website, helping you pinpoint any issue you should address when migrating the site. 

A great tool for this is Screaming Frog. It’s a very straightforward to use crawler, perfect for smaller and medium-sized websites. 

Identify Your Top-Performing Pages

Crawling your website has an additional purpose. It can also help you identify your top-performing pages. Why is that important? Because these are your gems, and you don’t want anything bad to happen to them during the migration process. 

Look at your crawl data and identify the pages that:

  • have the highest conversion rate
  • have the most referring domains
  • generate the most organic traffic
  • drive the highest revenue

Doing that will help you decide which pages to prioritise if any post-migration issues arise. 

Most importantly, it will show you which pages you should preserve. 

Optimise the On-Page SEO Elements

Once you’ve migrated your website, you’ll want it to be crawled and indexed as quickly as possible by search engines. In order to give yourself the best chance of this, you need to optimise your on-page SEO elements beforehand. 

That said, you will have to take care of your site’s:

  • Navigation. Ensure that your website is easy to navigate for your visitors from any location via internal links. 
  • Content. If necessary, update your existing content and perform keyword research to ensure you rank for the necessary key phrases. 
  • Metadata. Ensure that all your pages have optimised meta titles and meta descriptions. 
  • Alt tags. Add alt tags to all your website’s images to help them rank on Google Image Search. 
  • Structure. Perform the necessary changes to your site’s layout, structure, and URLs. 
  • SSL. Change your website protocol from HTTP to HTTPS (if you still haven’t done that). 

Take Care of Indexing

You want Googlebot to access your new site without any issues. For that, you will need to add the temporary hostname of your test subdomain to Google Search Console using the Coverage report. Doing this will also allow JavaScript to be crawled and indexed. 

Note that it will grant Googlebot access to your test website. We’d recommend restricting it once you make sure it can correctly crawl and index the site. You don’t want it to appear on the SERP and compete with your current website before you finish the migration. 

Create an XML Sitemap

Creating an XML sitemap is essential. It shows search engines how your site is structured and helps them navigate throughout it, ensuring they correctly crawl and index your website. 

You can ask your developers to create a sitemap for you, or you can do it yourself using a dedicated generator tool (you can find a handy list here). 

Here are some points to remember when creating your XML sitemap:

  • It should have less than 50 thousand rows. 
  • The file also shouldn’t exceed 50MB.
  • Make sure you don’t include URLs that have been blocked by your Robots.txt file.
  • URLs that are redirected or return a 404 error shouldn’t be included

Once your sitemap is ready and you’ve ensured it works correctly, submit it to Google Search Console.

Optimise Your Site Speed

When buying a new car, you wouldn’t want it to be slower than your previous one, right? The same goes for your new website. 

Site speed plays a significant role in how Google ranks your website. If it’s slower than your old site, it may negatively affect its rankings, putting it far below where you would like it to be in the SERPs. 

That said, you should ensure your new site is at least as fast as the old one. Ideally, however, it should be faster. 

Use Google’s PageSpeed Insights to calculate your new website’s speed and how it compares to the old one. If it’s slower, you will need to fix it by optimising images, improving server response time, or reducing the number of redirects.

optimise core web vitals

Optimise the CWV

Core Web Vitals (CWV) are relatively new metrics designed to measure page performance and experience. They are critical factors in search rankings, and if you haven’t optimised your old website for them, migration is the perfect opportunity to do that. 

CWV are made up of:

  1. Largest Contentful Paint – this measures how fast the largest piece of content on a web page loads.
  2. First Input Delay – this measures the interactivity of your web page.
  3. Cumulative Layout Shift – this metric measures the visual stability of a page.

You can identify any possible issues with CWV using the Core Web Vitals report in Google Search Console.

optimise for mobile devices

Optimise for Mobile Devices

Don’t forget about your mobile site when proceeding with website migration. Review the mobile version of your website to ensure there aren’t inconsistencies between it and the desktop version. 

Your mobile website should serve the same content, markup, and links, no matter the device. It should also be responsive and optimised according to the Core Web Vitals pillars discussed earlier. 

Implement Your 301 Redirects

Now to the absolutely essential part of site migration – 301 redirects implementation. 

301 redirects are especially important when changing the site’s top-level domain or switching its protocol from HTTP to HTTPS. In essence, redirects tell search engines where to find the pages you might’ve renamed, moved, or deleted during the migration. 

To set up 301 redirects, create a list of your current URLs (use Search Console or Google Analytics). Using that list, identify URLs that require redirects, create a 301 redirect map, and set them up when launching the new site. 

Why is it so vital? Well, without redirects, your new pages won’t get traffic, which can lead to drastic rank drops. Needless to say, it’s a massive visibility killer. 

The lack of 301 redirects can also cause web users to land on 404 pages or pages with irrelevant content.

migrating a website

Migrate Your Site

Okay, the big day has come. It’s time to launch your brand-new website and show your beautiful creation to the world. However, as great as it would be, completing your site migration can’t be done with one flick of a magic switch. 

A smooth and effective migration requires following a few crucial steps. Let’s go through them one by one:

  1. Record your current site status and perform necessary backups to analyse and fix possible issues later (if such issues occur, of course). 
  2. If you’re switching to a new server, make sure to change your DNS settings for the server to point to your new IP address. 
  3. Make your website available for search engine crawlers and users. You can disable any website blocks using the Coverage report in Search Console. 
  4. Make sure all the URLs are correct and enable redirects. 
  5. Check whether your new site is verified within Google Search Console and submit a change of address using a dedicated Search Console tool. 
  6. Send your old and new URLs to Google Search Console to help Googlebot discover your redirects and help yourself monitor them. 
  7. Update all your links, including internal links, backlinks, links from ad campaigns, and links from social media pages.

You should also set up your Google Analytics for the new website at this stage, provided you still haven’t done that. Without it, you won’t be able to track your new site’s progress and how the migration impacted it. 

Monitor and Scan the Site After the Migration

Going through the entire website migration process is quite an effort, so congrats if you’ve made it this far. The hard work doesn’t stop here, though. 

Now it’s time to ensure it works properly. 

Think of it as post-operation rehabilitation. The major issues are fixed, but now it’s time to ensure there aren’t any setbacks and you can get back to your normal form. 

Site migration works exactly like that. It’s an open-heart operation that, once finished, requires constant control, especially right after it’s done. By monitoring how your new site works, you’ll be able to identify and resolve any potential problems fast, ensuring there aren’t any drops in its visibility. 

But what do you need to do exactly? Well, there are several good practices here, with the most important ones including:

  • Conduct technical spot checks. Once the website migration is complete, run a report for broken links (internal and external), test 301 redirects, check metadata and content, etc. 
  • Monitor your site’s performance. Check the loading speed of your website and see how quickly your users interact with your pages. 
  • Track indexing. Ensure search engines can freely access, crawl, and index your pages. 
  • Track your SERP positions. Monitor the SERPs to see if there are any drops in visibility. If the website can’t recover after a few weeks, run a thorough analysis to identify the reason. 

Pro Tip: When it comes to monitoring your website’s performance post-migration, you can use several tools. The best ones here are definitely Google Analytics, Search Console, Screaming Frog, and Site Audit from Ahrefs. 

Final Word

And that’s a wrap on our ultimate SEO site migration checklist. 

As you can see, it’s not as terrible as many try to paint it. Sure, it requires a lot of planning and effort but using our checklist, you can rest assured the entire process goes smoothly. Most importantly, it will ensure migrating your website delivers the results you want. 

The key advice here is to stick to the plan. Go through each step steadily, and don’t rush things. It will help you eliminate any potential post-migration problems. 

Remember to keep your finger on the pulse during and after the migration. Keep monitoring how your site is performing and address any issues immediately. 

Apply these two pieces of advice when migrating your website, and you can rest assured the entire operation will be a massive success. 

Read our blog for more handy SEO tips, and check out our free SEO Textbook if you crave more technical SEO knowledge!

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