Website Migration Checklist: Before, During & After the Process

Website Migration is a broad term used by SEO professionals to refer to any situation where a web page undergoes significant changes that may negatively impact its search engine ranking.  

The website Migration Process is a part of an enterprise’s natural development. Companies may migrate for various reasons, from rebranding to reaching a wider audience through a better domain and many others.  

There are different types and levels of migration, ranging from more subtle site changes to complete restructuring and even sites disappearing and being combined into another site. The most common types of migration that have occurred over the years include the following: 

  • Changing domain names   
  • Changes to platforms and content management systems  
  • Structural changes  
  • URL cleanups  
  • Changes to the HTTP protocol  
  • Consolidating/merging websites  
  • Consolidating/merging/combining different types of content into one  
  • TLD Migrations & ccTLDs   
  • Moving a subdomain to a subfolder  
  • Website Redesign  

SEO professionals fear website migration as it can lead to devastating results in traffic and rankings if not done correctly. Even the most minute change can result in a drop in organic traffic. This guide covers what to do before, during, and after the process to ensure a successful transition with as little traffic loss as possible.

check box icon Website Migration Checklist: Before the Actual Project

Website Migrations can be complicated and challenging, and having a checklist can greatly help. Use this site migration checklist as a reference before migrating to a new website so you know which steps to take next. 

Scope the Website Migration  

When a company decides to migrate to a website, they typically start by identifying the project’s goals. This includes determining the following:  

  • how much time will be spent migrating to the site  
  • whether or not the new site will use the same CMS (content management system) as the old site  
  • who will be affected, and other factors. 

Prepare the Team   

To migrate a website without losing SEO, you’ll need to understand the insights from the team responsible for your backend structures, your content, your marketer, and your designer because each element affects your site’s SEO.  

You want involvement from your: 

  • Web developers  
  • Web designers  
  • Marketing Team  
  • Content Writers  
  • Stakeholders  

During the planning phase, it’s important to choose a specific time frame for its launch. Here are essential things to keep in mind when choosing a timeframe: 

  • Avoid launch dates during holiday periods and peak times 
  • Don’t launch on Friday afternoons because it’s a great way to end the week.  
  • Tuesdays and Wednesdays are the most perfect days to launch because Mondays are usually packed for meetings, and meanwhile, doing it mid-week gives you a few days before the weekend for fixing high-impact issues.  
  • It’s ideal to schedule the launch at 10 AM to allow people enough time to prep at work and do their office morning ritual. Additionally, doing it at this time allows you to focus on the migration. 

During the preparation phase, you should also identify what needs to happen before the actual migration begins. Explain to the team all the details about the process, so everyone knows exactly what to expect. You can create a checklist for them to follow along with. 

Backup Your Site  

Before starting any migration, make sure you back up your entire site so that you won’t lose anything if something goes wrong. Here are key things you should take a backup of: 

  • Meta tags  
  • Internal 404s  
  • Broken links  
  • Alt tags  
  • Header tags  
  • Response code 

Before migrating, you should take an entire copy of your old website (front end and back end) to ensure no important content is lost.  

Crawl Your Current Site  

Make sure you evaluate the current site performance thoroughly before migrating to a new platform. You want to measure the impact of the migration afterwards. Make sure you identify which pages are especially high-performance so that you can give them extra care and effort.  

You can use Google Analytics and Google Search Console to see if any pages have been crawled by Google and should be prioritized. Don’t change high-traffic pages so radically that they become unrecognizable. These three steps are essential: 

  • Run a full site audit to evaluate the current state of the site.  
  • Monitor the site’s keywords’ current rankings with keyword ranking tracking tools  
  • Record the current number of visitors to your site so you can compare it to the number after migrating to another platform.  

There are lots of tools out you can use to crawl your website for errors, such as:  

Screaming Frog: A simple and effective crawler ideal for small to medium websites.  

Sample tool for crawling - screaming frog

Lumar (formerly DeepCrawl): It allows you to compare your existing site and staged environments.  

Sample tool for crawling - lumar

Botify: It generates a to-do list that makes it easy to identify and address errors before launching.  

Sample tool for crawling - botify

Ahrefs: This tool helps you find broken links, duplicate content, and other problems.

Sample tool for crawling - ahrefs  

Moz Pro: It’s an all-in-one SEO tool that provides detailed information about your site. 

Sample tool for crawling - moz pro

Define SEO Requirements  

Make sure that if there is any site redesign or CMS update, you state which SEO requirements apply to the new design. Examples of things that must be addressed include:  

  • URL structure  
  • Meta information (titles and descriptions)  
  • Body content and headings  
  • Hreflang attribute  
  • XML Sitemaps  
  • Structured Data   
  • Load time 

Evaluate the Design  

It’s important that any redesign for websites needs an evaluation by the SEO specialists involved. Why? Because the design dictates if and where content and links appear, this greatly impacts your SEO plan.  

For example, if you discover that the designer did not include any content for the product category page, you might consider including some additional content. To avoid frustration and wasted money (and time), involve an SEO expert from the moment any wireframes are created.

Content Inventory  

During website content migration, you need to know which content needs to be migrated. The first thing to do is list everything you have.  

Create a catalogue of everything currently living on your site by putting all your files into Google Docs folders. Backup copies of all written material, images, video, and other multimedia.  

Even if you’re just making a simple visual update, the details of your site’s content are important to preserve; it’s easy to accidentally delete important information when designing.  

Changing images can change alt texts, and changing font styles can change headings, which can affect your search ranking, so you want to record that information.  

Identify Top Ranking Pages  

To identify your top-perform­ing web page(s), use the KPI(s) you just pulled up and confirm this by verifying them using the rank-tracking tools, including:  

  • Analytics software  
  • Behaviour  
  • Conversions  
  • Conversions  
  • Backlink data  

You should indicate whether pages will still exist when the site migrates and whether they’ll be relocated, consolidated, or even deleted. Decide which pages to keep, change, or delete. While migrating is an excellent way to assess your site’s current structure and links, you don’t want to purge too many pages simultaneously. 

Update Your Rank-tracking Tool  

You’ve identified your top pages and discussed some of the keyword phrases they’re ranking for. It’s now finally the right time to start updating your rank-tracking tool so that you can track all of the keywords you’re targeting.  

It’s important because you want to keep an eye on these queries to know if they’ve dropped off. Check out your top-performing pages and see if any of them aren’t being tracked by your rank-tracker. Use tools such as Search Console, Ahrefs, and SEMrush for verification purposes. 

Setup Redirects  

A redirect plan describes which domain names and URL addresses need to be changed when you launch. Remember that you may already have redirects set up within your current site.

If you don’t migrate these pages, that could seriously negatively affect your SEO performance. Create a detailed list of the domains and URLs currently redirecting in a spreadsheet with three columns:  

  • Column A: the current domain or URL of the redirecting URL.  
  • Column B: the new URL for the existing redirection.  
  • Column C: the target URL for the new redirect.  

Using the list you created, set up 301 redirect rules for your migrated site. Some slugs may be different even if you’re switching from one content management system (CMS) to another. It’s important to update the campaign settings for two main reasons:  

  • If your redirects don’t work, you don’t want them to affect your PPC campaign.  
  • When using paid traffic sources, some ad platforms may pause your campaign if the destination URLs used in your ads are redirected.  

Prepare a Paid Campaign  

It would be wise to set up some pay-per-click (PPC) campaigns for both the old and new brands so that as many people as possible visit your site. Also, when you first begin migrating, and search engine crawlers have to fully index your new website, there’s a good chance you’ll see a temporary dip in your ranking.  

It would be better to have a WordPress migration checklist to ensure everything runs smoothly. You can prepare paid campaigns, or you might need PPC services to avoid having less traffic on your site. This compensates for any lost organic traffic to keep your revenue numbers on par. 

Add a Sitemap to Both Old & New Sites  

You can add an XML sitemap for both your old and new websites during the migration phase. Add /sitemap.xml to your domain. A sitemap can help your team more easily check the old website structure and pages to ensure everything has migrated. It will also help Google index your new website. 

Set up Domain Redirects Correctly  

A typical error when migrating websites is incorrectly configuring domain redirection during the process, resulting in multiple hop counts.   

For example, if you’re requesting a domain already registered by someone else, you’d prefer it to be immediately re­directed to the final destination URL without waiting for the DNS records to propagate.  

If you’re going to redirect an old URL to a new one, always redirect it to the most relevant new URL, not just to the new home page.  

If you don’t use them, these redirects can appear to Google as soft 404s, which results in lower link values passed on in general. You’ll also notice drastic drops in page rankings for all your pages.

Set up a Staging Site  

It’s best to test your code in a separate environment so that you don’t accidentally break something while working on it. To ensure smooth website migrations, you must have a separate development environment next to the live site where you can create new pages, add new features, and prepare for the upcoming launch.  

Make sure your new environment space isn’t open to the public by using HTTP Authentication. You should whitelist the IP addresses at your offices and allow external parties and remote employees access using their usernames and passwords.  

This is better than using robots.txt. Robots have no index directive and don’t prevent access from other people. Plus, search engines will not always honour these directives.

Lower the TTL for Your DNS Records  

Before migrating to your domain name registrar, one crucial step is to lower the TTL of your DNS records. The TTL states how long the DNS server should keep your domain’s DNS records before requesting them again.  

Lowering the TTL means that the servers will ask for updates from the authoritative nameservers less often and propagate changes faster.  

Depending on your current TTL, when to lower the TTL before migrating depends on the duration of the new TTL to be applied everywhere. Setting the TTL to 300 (in several minutes) before the launch of an update is highly recommended.

Update URLs in other places  

While it might not seem like a big deal, URL changes can drastically affect your SEO. Take time to think about all the different ways you use URLs in your marketing efforts. If you’re like most companies, you use them in places like your PPC campaigns, social media posts, email newsletters and brochures.  

To ensure your marketing efforts don’t go to waste, let your team know about your URL changes so they can prepare for them.

check box icon Website Migration Checklist: During the Migration

When everything is ready, it’s time to migrate to your website. The following checklist during website migration will help you plan and avoid any potential issues along the way.  

Make the New Site Accessible  

Before launching, remove any limits you’ve put in place to prevent search engines from crawling and indexing your site, such as:  

  • HTTP authentication  
  • No robots, no Index directives (both meta robots and X-Robots-Tag)  
  • Any Robots.txt disallows 

Update DNS Records  

Once you’ve removed the above limitations, make sure your DNS records are updated with the new hostname. This ensures that visitors who type in your old address get redirected to your new one.

Enable Redirection  

You can now enable and start testing all your redirects. Run your site audit to make sure there are not any new 4xx errors on your issues page. You can then select the “Issues” tab and click on the “Permanent Redirect” button to check if all URL addresses are correct.  

Verify Internal Links  

Ensure your internal linking has been updated correctly on your newly created site. Once you’ve checked for broken links, correct them as quickly as possible. 

Verify Canonical Tags  

Make sure that the canonical tags have changed to reflect the new version of the page and that they don’t show the old version. It’s essential to ensure that your canonical tags are accurate so that you don’t end up having duplicate content and disrupting the progress of your pages appearing in SERPS.

Configure Web Analytics  

You should also ensure that your website analytics monitor traffic on your new site. It’ll be helpful if you add an annotate in your analytics platform on exactly when the migration took place so that you can easily go back later and check for any changes in your traffic that correlate with the date of interest.

Update Robots.txt File  

If you’re using a CMS like WordPress or Joomla, you’ll need to update your robots.txt file to allow crawlers access to your new site. If you use a static site generator, you can simply create a new one. htaccess file and add the following line:  

  • User-agent: *  
  • Disallow: /  

 

Submit New XML Sitemap  

Don’t forget to submit a new sitemap to Google Search Console. This helps Google understand what’s happening on your site and allows us to crawl your new URLs better. 

check box icon Website Migration Checklist: After the Migration

After the migration is complete, you may want to wait a few days before checking for any issues. That way, you can see if anything breaks during this period. Here are critical things to look out for: 

Do a Post-migration Audit  

Before going live, audit the fully migrated website and identify any new issues before the website goes live. After migrating, you should continue monitoring your site’s performance to ensure everything is working properly. Doing so lets you be sure that your traffic is gradually improving over time.  

Monitor KPIs  

Ensure your KPIs (key performance indicators) are working properly after launching the new site. This includes things like SEO and traffic, conversion rates, and so forth.  

Migrating from one web host to another greatly impacts SEO results. Therefore, monitor your SEO KPIs to ensure that the move went smoothly.  

You need to check the number of pages indexed for the old and new sites using Google Search Console. If there has been an increase in the number of indexed pages, then you know that something went wrong.  

If you’ve split up your sitemap into different sections, you can use the XML sitemap to keep an eye on each separately. 

Test Top-Performing Pages

Test your best-performing pages to see if they function correctly and contain the correct content.  

Old & New robots.txt  

Is the new website’s robot file providing the correct access for the right crawler? If you’re dealing with changing domains, does the old site’s robots.txt file allow search engines to crawl through the redirects? You may not realize it, but sometimes an old site’s robots.txt file gets updated with a Disallow: / rule.  

Robots directives  

Does the new website have all the same robot directives as the old website? For example, do both websites have the same Allow/Deny rules for crawling?  

If you’re moving from a dynamic domain name to a static domain name, ensure that the new website’s robots.txt file contains the same Allow/Denies as the old one.  

Redirects 

Are all redirects in place and working properly? This includes 301 redirects, 302 redirects, and other types of redirects.  

Analytics  

Make sure all required analytics tools are working properly, and the correct tracking IDs are present. Sometimes during migrations, either the tracking IDs aren’t active or staging IDs are used instead. These are issues because you’re missing out on valuable data — the first signs of your new site’s performance.  

Validate Your New Website Redirects  

You must verify that the 301 redirect rules are properly implemented by keeping an eye on your status codes days after the migration: 301 redirects, 404s, 500s, etc.  

Request to Have Your External Links Updated  

If your links have been updated because of a new domain name or URL changes, you’ll need to get your partner, influencer, and others who drive traffic to your site to change their links. If you want to contact them, you can reach out to them directly to request an updated link.   

You should also ask for updates on any links on Yelp, Google Maps, and other non-owning properties. In these instances, you likely have access to your company’s profile and can easily make changes. 

Validate your Ads and Third-party Extensions  

Check if your ads and third-party extensions are still working correctly. Ensure your ad code is valid and your landing page URLs are pointing to the proper destination. 

Execute Your Updated Campaigns  

Once everything on the new site is set up, it’s time to execute your campaigns. Monitor your results closely to ensure that everything is running smoothly. Implement your ads, emails, and affiliates to correctly refer to the latest version of your site. 

Monitor Log Files   

You can use tools like Log Analyzer to track how Google adjusts to your migration. As you continue to grow your site, you should start to notice Googlebot crawling less of the pages from your old domains and more of the pages from your new domains.  

Ensure that the main, strategic web page you identified during the pre-launch phase is working well after migration and isn’t suffering from any mistakes like accidental no indexing. 

Monitor New URLs  

Keep an eye on both versions of your website to monitor traffic and rankings activity. Over time, you’ll see fewer of your old URLs ranking well for keywords and get more of your new URLs ranking well for keywords.

Troubleshoot  

If you notice any problems with how your audiences behave, or if you haven’t regained your organic traffic income, follow these five simple tips to troubleshoot your issues.  

  • Find out whether you’re losing traffic evenly across all web pages of your site or if it is due to a specific web page.  
  • Find out where your lost traffic comes from.  
  • If you’ve lost traffic from backlinks or ads, recheck the redirects.  
  • If you’ve lost organic traffic, check whether your site’s ranking is okay by checking your position-tracking campaign.  

Post-Migration Evaluation  

As part of the migration planning process, everyone involved shared their concerns and expectations for the migration. This helped clarify what it would take to ensure the migration was successful.   

Now it’s time to reflect on the migration:  

  • Did we address all the issues?  
  • Did we meet all our goals?  
  • What was the most important thing we learned?  
  • What improvements could you make next time?  

How Does Website Migration Affect Seo?  

Website migration can affect SEO in a number of ways, some of which may be more detrimental than others. Migrating to a new server can lead to a temporary drop in traffic, but SEO should return to normal after the migration. Moving to a new domain can mean that duplicate content or backlinks must be removed, but the benefits of a domain change may outweigh these slight disadvantages.  

Website migrations affect SEO just like any other major changes. However, migrating for good reasons can create a better and more secure user interface for site visitors.  

Google prefers fast, user-friendly sites. Switching to a faster hosting service might help improve your site’s performance in the long run.  

If you move your site, then Google has to re-index it, which causes a temporary drop in your organic visits. Ultimately, having a good website migration strategy can help keep your existing SERP positions and even start to move in the right direction. 

The Best Way to Handle Website Migration  

As you’re planning your upcoming website migrations, the next piece of advice is to avoid doing the migration completely and keep changing things little by little until everything works perfectly. You should plan for the site migration to be a multi-step process because any change you make to your site could affect its ranking.  

It certainly sounds appealing to launch on a new domain while simultaneously creating a new site design and implementing a new SEO strategy. However, successful website migration is planned well and executed with meticulous attention to detail. 

orange paper boat with a flag

The Bottom Line  

A website migration process is a big undertaking. It requires careful planning and execution. But when done correctly, it can positively affect your business. You don’t want to lose your hard-earned traffic during the transition period.  

And you don’t want to lose those valuable conversions. So, before launching your website migration, make sure you have a solid plan. Seeking help from expert web design and development and optimization services providers can make this process easier.  

Trust the Experts at BrandLume for Your Website Migration Needs and More  

If you don’t have an internal team to help you complete the website migrations, contacting an experienced web development and SEO provider is highly recommended, as they can provide a comprehensive solution for your website migration needs.  

When you’re ready to start focusing on your SEO, we’re here to help. Don’t delay scheduling a call with one of our experts. At BrandLume, we can help you with everything from managing your content to optimizing your site and securing a higher rank in SERPs.