Website Migration: A Best Practices Checklist for Before, During and After
:: By Nick Rojas, @NickARojas ::
The decision to migrate your website to a new URL should not be taken lightly. Your current website represents a huge investment - creating the copy, layout, and amplification tactics to improve visibility. However, sometimes change is simply unavoidable. Whether you are migrating to a new content management platform, changing your domain due to international expansion, or doing an entire website makeover, migrating your website has the potential to create improvements in your bottom line - if done correctly.
No matter what reason you find yourself needing to migrate your website - be warned that a short-term dip in ranking is likely. But by following a best practice checklist, you can preserve your site’s rankings and domain authority. Here is a list of best practices to follow during your website migration migration:
Before the Migration
1. Created a detailed site map. There are multiple ways to do this, but make sure that you have created a hierarchical list starting at the home page that includes ALL your assets and pages. Don’t forget to add URL’s that contain videos, PDF’s and other assets.
2. Put a list together of ALL your current URLs, whether that’s by building a website crawler using PHP, using analytics tools, or exporting from your CMS. Don’t forget to include your Adwords landing pages, or you can wreak havoc on your Adwords account.
3. Are you keeping all the same URLs? Are you dropping and adding some? Make sure you have a list of TARGET URL’s that will be a part of the new site.
4. Map your pages one to one. Every old URL should be mapped to a new URL. If the old URL will not be replaced, don’t simply allow it to end at a 404 page. Plan on redirecting it to the most relevant page possible.
5. Have you checked your rankings? Rank a keyword ranking report so you can see where you currently stand with all of your site’s main keywords. Download a ranking report from SEMrush which includes all the keywords they’ve identified as ranking, not just the ones you track directly.
6. Download reports from Google Search Console and Google Analytics for the last 30 days. This will help you get an idea of traffic levels, traffic to specific pages, and bounce rates, etc.
7. Register the new domain with Google Search Console.
8. Run a backlink report from Ahrefs so you can get a comprehensive list of your backlinks, as well as what pages they link to. You’ll want to get this ready so you can contact those domains, and ask them to switch out the URL from an old URL to a new one.
9. Generate an XML sitemap for the new domain to be uploaded to Google Search Console.
During the Migration
1. Test every single 301 redirect to ensure they are linking to the proper page. Use a redirect checker, like Link Redirect Trace, to make sure all of your pages are resolving correctly. Make sure all the content you planned for you on your sitemap is present and accessible.
2. Tell Google your address has changed using the “change of address” within the Google Search console.
3. Crawl the homepage and main category pages using “Fetch as Google” within the Google Search Console of the new domain. Be sure to “submit to index” once you are done.
4. Update the URL of your social sharing buttons and on your social pages.
5. Contact affiliates who have links to you and ask them to update their URLs. This way, you avoid needing to use a redirect from these backlinks.
6. Check your Time to Live variable within your Domain Naming Server. This feature determines how long it takes a computer to propagate your new content. Around the launch, make it as short as a few minutes, otherwise users could end up at the old site.
7. Update meta elements like the title tag and meta description to be sure they match the new domain.
After the Migration
1. Be on the lookout for crawl errors in the Google Search Console for the new domain. You should be checking this routinely, as errors may not appear immediately.
2. Don’t just rely on internal testing of redirects and navigation. Recruit some real users to test your links, navigations, and taxonomy of your new domain. Have them provide feedback and tweak if necessary.
3. Continue to test your 301 redirects from the old URL pages to ensure they are working properly.
4. Confirm that the indexation of the old domain is going down as the new one goes up. Hopefully, the old domain disappears entirely. To do so, go to Google and search for your domain by adding the site search operator: site:yourdomain.com
5. Compare your new analytics with the analytics for the old domain to make sure you are matching and eventually surpassing those numbers.
This process will take time, so be patient as Google updates its search rankings and you wait for traffic to resume its normal activity. Carefully pick when you are doing your site migration to make sure you are not hurting a peak traffic season. Whatever reason you have for website migration, don’t let yourself be intimidated by the risk for your SEO. Follow these best practices to ensure a successful migration where you reap nothing but benefits.
Nick Rojas is a business consultant and writer who lives in Los Angeles. He has consulted small and medium-sized enterprises for over 20 years. He has contributed articles to Visual.ly, Entrepreneur and other leading industry publications. You can follow him on Twitter @NickARojas, or you can reach him at NickAndrewRojas@gmail.com.