Website migrations are a part of an enterprise’s natural evolution. Companies may migrate because they’re rebranding, going to the cloud to scale their site easier and numerous other reasons.
However, while migration may seem simple on paper, one misstep can lead to SEO problems, such as:
- 404 errors
- Lost rankings
- Missing content
Before you begin with your migration, you’ll want to run a site crawler to take an inventory of your pages. A tool like Screaming Frog can help. The goal is to have a list of all pages that you can refer to when the migration is complete to verify that everything is migrated correctly.
Once you’ve got your list, you’re ready to move on. What follows are 10 steps that will help you have a successful website migration.
1. Setup hosting, DNS, CDN, mail
Migrations have a lot of moving parts. First, make a backup of your site and database. If something goes wrong, you’ll be thankful that you have a backup to restore your site. Ideally, you’ll also create a staging site to test the migration to reduce any initial hiccups that can occur along the way.
Once you’re done with the staging site, you’ll want to:
- Setup your hosting environment and transfer all files over
- Setup the DNS information
- Change your CDN information
- Change mail parameters
Complete these preliminary steps done before moving into your redirects.
2. Create a list of redirects
Internally, you and your team should have a list of redirects that you need to create and ones that already exist. You’ll refer to this list to ensure that all existing redirects are in place on your new site.
Thankfully, if you don’t have many redirects and are changing domains, you’ll need a single redirect to redirect the site.
3. Review SEO structure
SEO specifications should be put in place. You’ll need to check the following to make sure the migration is successful:
- Custom URL
- Alt test
- Canonical tags
- Internal links
- Structured data
- URL structure
- Mobile setup
Review your current site’s SEO structure to ensure that you can check it when the migration is complete. The key to site migration success is creating lists and reviewing them multiple times.
4. Run benchmarks
Benchmarks are going to tell you a lot about your migration and site. From a technical standpoint, you’ll want to view the following data:
- Page load speed
- Page indexing rates
- Crawl errors
- Keyword rankings
You’ll be returning to these benchmarks multiple times over the coming weeks. If you notice that the site speed is slow or you lost rankings, you’ll want to look through your site more to pinpoint the issue.
If you have this data available, you’ll also have something to show your client (if you’re working with one) that can highlight the success of the benchmark.
5. Analyze key site pages
Your key site pages are the most important revenue-generating pages and should be the first that you target. Analyze these pages to make sure that they’re running properly. Even if you have 1,000+ pages, choose the top 5% pages and go through them one by one.
These are pages that:
- Have high keyword rankings
- Generate the most revenue
When you look through your analytics, you’ll want to keep a close eye on these pages while continuing through the rest of these steps.
6. Rerun site crawlers to compare
Rerunning your crawler is a good idea at this point. You’ve already gone through most of the tedious steps, but now it’s time to compare your old site crawl to the new one. The goal is to check the following:
- Broken site links (404 errors)
- Meta titles
- Meta description
Compare your metadata to ensure that everything migrated properly. Sometimes, metadata is lost during the migration, especially if you change content management systems that try pulling data from a database column or table that doesn’t exist.
7. Audit the site
Audits come next, and you can also use some of the data collected in the last step. Your audit should include checking:
- Internal links
- Server response times
- Noindex/index information
You’ll also want to create your robots.txt file, set up canonical tags and ensure that your key pages are running well.
If you’re changing domains, add your site to Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools. You’ll want to follow this up by requesting that your site be indexed and submitting your XML sitemaps.
Google Search Console allows you to change your site address. You can set up the change of address by going to Settings (Gear icon) > Change of address
The Search Console’s change of address allows you to alert Google of your site’s address change. However, you will need to verify that you’re the owner of both sites before submitting your change of address.
9. Run usability tests
Usability is one aspect of a site migration that people overlook. Your site may maintain its rankings, yet you’ll lose revenue if usability diminishes. Manually testing key areas of your site is the next step, and these tests should be performed on mobile and desktop devices.
Check the following areas to ensure that they’re working properly:
- Downloadable content
- Full checkout process
- Live chat function
- Mailing lists
You want to ensure that all of your site’s features run properly. If you come across any issues, correct them as necessary.
10. Monitor analytics and perform any necessary cleanup
You’ve reached the final step, but it’s important to remember that this is an ongoing process. Over time, you’ll want to look in your Google Search Console for:
And you’ll want to review your analytics or keyword rankings for your top pages. Traditionally, you’ll want to view your highest traffic-generating pages and see if they’ve experienced a loss in traffic. If they have lost significant rankings and traffic, start analyzing key issues, such as:
- Improper redirects
- Slow load times
- Lost internal links
- Missing meta tags
You’ll want to keep a close watch on Google Search Console’s Coverage tab, which will show you any critical errors on your pages and warnings. As these errors pop up, go through them one by one and fix them.
Website migrations require a lot of diligence and time to execute properly. While there may be a few steps that you can add to the list above to streamline the migration process further, they’re a good foundation to build off of.
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