An outdated website doesn’t represent your brand well.
Web design experts recommend a website redesign every 2-3 years to keep up with web standards and design trends. This can often be accomplished with a simple face lift or re-treatment. In some cases, however, site migration can occur.
What is site migration?
A website migration describes the process by which a website is largely revised in areas that affect its visibility in search engines. Generally these areas are design, user experience, platform, location, and structure.
The end result of a site migration can include a cleaner user interface, a new or improved user experience, an easier editing experience, and much more. However, the decision to migrate your website should not be taken lightly. Bad execution can result in status code errors, affect SEO performance, and even irritate website visitors.
Why could you migrate a website?
You may need a site migration via a simple redesign in the following circumstances:
- You need to move the location of your site from one server to another.
- You are changing the CMS platform on which your site operates.
- You change your domain name or your urls.
- You need to make significant changes to the architecture of your site (not just the aesthetics).
Website migrations can be done alone or professionally. (For example, HubSpot offers migration services for customers who are migrating to the HubSpot CMS.)
When considering a website migration, keep in mind that you need to take your time to prepare and execute. Migration specialists usually need around three weeks. So plan accordingly. Now let’s get down to the details of migrating a website.
Website migration checklist
- Crawl the existing site.
- Write down your benchmarks.
- Map your URLs.
- Make sure you keep the titles, meta descriptions, and HTML markup.
- Try the new build on a test server (also known as a sandbox).
- Choose the correct date for the migration.
- Prepare to update your site’s DNS settings.
- Crawl the new site.
- Identify and fix missing and duplicate content.
- Check to see if chains are being redirected.
- Make sure that Google Analytics and Google Search Console are implemented.
- Highlight the date in Analytics.
- Submit sitemaps.
- Monitor performance.
- Conduct site audits.
- Update your platforms.
- Let publishers update backlinks.
Before the migration
1. Crawl the existing site.
A website crawler pulls up the URLs and markup on your website and “sees” this information much like Google does.
Performing a crawl gives you a starting point for your URL mapping (more on that later) as well as a list to refer to in case something is lost in the translation. You can crawl your website yourself using a third party tool like Screaming Frog.
2. Write down your benchmarks.
In some cases, analytics data can be deleted during a site migration, and these historical benchmarks can be valuable. Hence, it is best to keep them on.
You should also take the time to review your analytics and make sure you know how visitors are currently navigating the site and which pages are most valuable to you. This context can help you make your redesign and site architecture decisions.
3. Map your URLs.
If you make major changes to the URLs on your website, you’ll need redirects to direct Google and your website users from your old URLs to your new URLs.
- From a usability perspective, you don’t want your users to get a 404 status code error when a page is gone. Instead, they should be directed to the page that has taken the place of the old page.
- Improper redirects can mean a great success for your SEO. They tell search engines and visitors to your website that a page has changed, whether it has been removed or no longer exists. They also tell search engines which new pages have replaced old ones.
- From an SEO perspective, you don’t want to lose all of the history, backlinks, and (essentially) the “authority” that the old page built. A redirect tells Google where these signals should be assigned instead.
To implement redirects, you first need to establish a strategy by mapping your URLs. To do this, a table is created with two columns: one for the old URL and one for the corresponding new URL.
Don’t worry if every piece of content doesn’t have “perfect” substitutions. Just do your best to guide your users based on their original intent.
If you have tons of pages, manual mapping is probably not on your cards. To save time, look in your URLs for patterns that can be redirected in groups or sections.
Existing redirects should also be migrated. Try to keep as many existing redirects as possible to reduce the workload and make sure your URLs are mapped before testing redirects to make sure you have backups if you lose them.
For more information on how to update URLs, see this article.
4. Make sure you keep the title, meta description, and HTML markup.
Remember that website migrations are helpful in organizing the website. Therefore, the pages should be consistent and contain the same information as before. If the HubSpot Marketing blog has been website migrated, the content and description for each blog post will look the same, and just look different.
You can update or rewrite titles, meta descriptions and HTML markups at any time. However, you should make sure that each page contains the correct information.
5. Try the new build on a test server (also known as a sandbox).
Viewing models or tests in a local environment will not give you a complete picture of the functionality and implementation of the new site. For a seamless transition, take a test drive online before the official migration.
6. Select the correct date for the migration.
Hiccups will happen no matter what, but you can minimize them by avoiding peak hours.
7. Prepare to update your site’s DNS settings.
If you are moving your site to a new server, part of the process includes “pointing” to the new location of the site. Coordinate this with your web / IT team and / or your hosting providers (new and old).
Set up your redirects, stop publishing them, and implement them.
If DNS changes were involved, the site may be temporarily unavailable.
Unless you’re switching between servers or platforms, the migration should be almost instantaneous.
9. Crawl the new site.
Once the new site is online, you can crawl to see if it has migrated as expected. One thing to look for is having proper indexability and crawlability.
10. Identify and fix missing and duplicate content.
Use the crawl report to check for any anomalies, including duplicate content or 404 errors and broken links. Also, be sure to check out the new website and look for any issues.
11. Verify that chains are being redirected.
After your site has been migrated, there are many new redirects available to you. If redirects already existed, chains may have been created.
This is what I mean:
If you have already redirected A to B.Your migration may have added a redirect from B. to C..
This creates a chain of redirects: A to B. to C..
Redirect chains can slow your site down and affect performance. You can avoid this by breaking and redirecting the chains A to C. and B. to C..
12. Make sure that Google Analytics and Google Search Console are implemented.
To avoid gaps in data and reports, they should be operational on the same day.
13. Highlight the date in Analytics.
With Google Analytics, you can “annotate” important data or events. This allows you to contextualize the data and measure performance before and after the migration (unless you have decided on a new analytics setup).
14. Submit sitemaps.
Once everything is working, make sure that there are no errors in your XML sitemap. You can then send the sitemap in the Google Search Console to invite Google to crawl the new implementation.
After the migration
15. Monitor performance.
While temporary traffic drops are common after a migration, it is still a good idea to keep an eye on your analytics to make sure nothing major has been overlooked that could affect performance.
16. Perform site audits.
Sometimes third-party tools find problems you didn’t know about. SEMrush’s Site Auditor is excellent in such situations.
17. Update your platforms.
If you run ads or other platforms are using old URLs, you’ll need to add new links.
18. Let publishers update backlinks.
If your redirects are implemented correctly, you will continue to receive traffic and authority from your backlinks. However, it is still recommended to use the most current URLs. With that in mind, reach out to the publishers of your links with the highest value to let them know about the exchange.
Migrating websites can be tedious, but it’s not impossible. With the preparation, you can undertake a migration that will be successful and friendly to your existing SEO efforts.
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in December 2019 and has been updated for completeness.