Website migrations are difficult. People underestimate the migration process and then their site ends up in shambles. You’ll lose traffic. Pages won’t work. A bad migration is a nightmare. I’ve learned the hard way how this works.
Working on technical SEO is my profession. I live and breathe technical SEO, but there have been times when a new site migration has been passed to me that made me question my profession. These sites, often large enterprises, have thousands of pages and just so many areas where things can go wrong.
One site, in particular, had over 1,000 pages, and the team doing the migration didn’t do any of the prep work I am going to share with you below. When I was passed the site to fix, it was filled with issues.
These were just some of the issues on the site.
I spent countless hours fixing the site. During that time, the company lost revenue because a lot of their high-traffic pages:
- Lost rankings
- Lost traffic
The moral of the story? You need a plan of attack in order for a website migration to go as seamlessly as possible. I’m sharing my personal plan of attack below to help you migrate a site the right way, save money on having someone else fix issues, and have an overall better experience.
Before that, I do want to mention a few tools you’ll need:
- Screaming Frog
- Google Analytics
- Google Search Console
- PageSpeed Insights
You’ll find a bunch of other great tools to use, but these are a must-haves in your migration toolbox.
Let’s start preparing your site for migration.
Preparing for a Website Migration Like A Pro
Prep work saves you time. No one wants to do it, but you need to prepare as much as you can before you begin migrating the site. Here are the steps that I took.
1. Review Any Prototypes or Revamps
If the site isn’t undergoing a design change, you can skip this step. Otherwise, you’ll want to review the new layout and changes, and ensure that they’re ready to be deployed. Contact the design team if any issues exist and have them corrected so that you still offer a good user experience.
2. Get Hosting in Order
Migrations will require one, or maybe a combination, of the following:
- New domain
- SSL certificate
- Hosting change
- Mail hosting
You want to go through all of these to ensure that they’re set up and ready to go. If you have a CDN on the site, be sure that it’s set up for the migration.
3. Create a List of Key Pages
Open up Google Analytics and search for pages with the most traffic, revenue and pageviews. In a separate Excel file, create a list of these pages from most to least important. You don’t need to do this for every page, but you want a list of the pages that:
- Bring in the most leads
- Drive the most revenue
- Are landing pages
When you’re done with the migration, you’ll be reviewing these pages to ensure that everything went smoothly. If there are issues, fixing the most trafficked pages first will lessen the impact on the company’s bottom line.
4. Create a Staging Site to Test the Migration and New Layout
Next, set up a staging site where you can test your migration and new layout if you have one. This will be used for a test migration and will help you identify any major issues before going 100% live with the migration on the official site.
5. Run Screaming Frog to Create Lists of Everything
Screaming Frog is another tool that I rely on, and it lets you create a picture of the website by crawling it. You’ll want to crawl the site and save it so that you have information on:
- 404 pages
- URL structure
- Much more
I recommend keeping lists of this information handy so that you can review the redirected site to compare data.
6. Backup the Site, Database, Etc.
Create a backup of the site, database and anything else that’s relevant before the migration. If something goes wrong, the backup will save you time and likely your job. Try explaining to a company that their site is down with no way to restore it.
7. Run Your Benchmarks
Finally, you’re going to run benchmarks on the site. Benchmarks allow you to see where the site was and where it is after migrating. You’ll need to include a few key data points here:
- Keyword rankings
- Indexation errors
- Crawl errors
- Site speed
You can get all of this information using the tools listed previously. However, you will want to use something like SEMRush or Ahrefs to learn more about the site’s keyword rankings.
If the site isn’t on Google Search Console, you’ll want to add it at this time because it will help you detect errors in the very near future.
We’re halfway through the process, but hang in there. You still have a lot of work to do before you can actually launch the site.
Implementing a Site Migration While Reducing the Risk of Errors
Migrating a site requires you to move everything from one server to another. You may need to also change domain names, so this will also require a setup. I recommend doing the following:
- Setting up the database
- Transferring all site files
- Changing DNS information
- Changing CDN information
You’ll want to keep the new site private while you check everything over initially and fix any major issues, such as images not loading or key template files not working. Once you’re done, you’ll want to work on your robots.txt, redirects, and then run a major audit on the site.
1. Site Audit
Begin running Screaming Frog to find key issues really quickly. You want to look for a lot of details here and will do a ton of comparing for items that matter for SEO. Most importantly, you’ll want to focus on ensuring that the following items work:
- Internal links
Go through the audit to find issues, such as random redirect issues, missing content and images that don’t work properly. You’ll want to go through each issue one by one to fix any of these problems and then rescan.
You want to fix server response errors and redirect issues first before anything else.
Errors will have an impact on the site’s SEO if they’re allowed to persist for long periods of time. Once you’re confident that everything looks good on the audit, you can go to the next step.
2. Setup GSC and Bing Webmaster Tools
If you’ve migrated to a new domain name, you’ll want to set up:
- Bing Webmaster Tools
- Google Search Console
Both of these tools will need to be reviewed over time because they’ll show you issues with indexing or errors on the site that are overlooked in other steps.
3. Check Your Key Pages and Content
Remember the key pages list that you made earlier? Go through each URL and check:
- Meta tags
You’ll want to click on products, add items to carts, fill in forms and more just to ensure that the pages and features work. Next, go through your previous list of content and make sure everything matches up.
Screaming Frog or any crawl bot will help a lot here because doing all of these steps manually is a very time-consuming process.
4. Run Your Usability Tests
Usability issues always seem to happen during a site migration, even if you think you’ve done everything 100% right. You’ll want to go through the site and check:
- Live chats
- Adding/removing/updating items in shopping carts
Since usability is so crucial to both search engines and users, it’s something I recommend spending a lot of time on. If the site has hundreds of pages or more, try working with an internal team to check usability and for errors.
If you’re tracking keywords and rankings as you should be, it’s important for you to review these in the coming weeks, too. For example, you might notice a complete ranking loss and will find that the robots.txt file is set up improperly or that the site speed took a major dive and will need to fix these issues.
Unfortunately, once a site is migrated, there is a lot of additional work that needs to be done.
Prepping a migration and launching it is a lot of work. You’ll want to continue monitoring the site and testing it against your past benchmarks to fix any issues that may have occurred. Monitoring the site for lost rankings or broken pages for a week or two is critical.
However, at this point, everything is complete with the migration, and you’ll be left with a bit of cleanup work.
Prep takes a lot of time, but it will also help you save countless hours in the future if something goes wrong. I believe that you can never spend enough time prepping a site for a migration because a flawless transition is the goal.