Website migration. The idea that makes executives jump for joy as they think of a beautiful new site with endless possibilities, while simultaneously making web development teams cry out in fear as they imagine the hours of work with countless technical issues that could go wrong.
Maybe I am being a bit over dramatic, but having gone through a fair share of website migrations I can say that they are no simple task. But sometimes they really are necessary.
If your business is getting ready for moving day and you’re not sure what to expect, allow me to try and calm your fears. Here is a quick overview of website migrations, along with three things you should know about them.
What is a Website Migration?
A website migration (typically called a site migration) is when a website goes through any changes that can potentially affect search-engine visibility (SEO), and typically refers more specifically to the process of migrating a website from one domain to another. A few possible changes within this process include the site’s platform, design, structure, server location, UX or even consolidation of subdomains.
1. What are the Risks of a Site Migration?
What are the risks you ask? Let’s just say you could be attacked by a ghost. I’m joking, but even so, a site migration isn’t something you can’t take lightly. So get your quarters ready, because we are about to get retro with some Pac-Man analogizing.
Just like the ghosts that constantly chase Pac-Man into corners and wait for the player to make a mistake, the negative consequences that can come during a site migration are always close on your heels. If you do lose focus and pass an item in the site migration process… BOOM; the ghosts are there to bring you down.
Now if this were Pac-Man, the game would be over and you could stick another quarter into the arcade and try again (yes, I realize it’s 2019; bear with me).
But site migrations aren’t Pac-Man, and instead of losing a life, you lose organic traffic — not just a little bit of organic traffic, but buckets of it. And it doesn’t stop there. The ghosts go after Ms. Pac-Man, but in this case Ms. Pac-Man is the keywords you have worked tirelessly to get ranking for your target SERPs, and in the blink of an eye they can drop off the map. Again, this may sound dramatic but it is the reality of the situation. Failing to follow through with even a few steps of the process can cause your site to completely disappear from Google.
With great risks however, comes great rewards; site migrations can lead to greater user experience, more capabilities and an increase in organic traffic. Just be sure that as you move forward, you’re being diligent with each step of the process — it’s the only way to keep the ghosts off your case.
2. What is the process of a site migration?
Due to the many variables in play, the exact timeline of a site migration can be hard to nail down. The size of the website, the website platform and resource bandwidth all are important factors that need to be taken into consideration, and can change the timeframe by weeks or even months. Although an exact set of days, weeks or months is subject to change based on each unique site, the process of the site migration is straightforward and can be broken into three different steps:
- Launch Day
Before you can start migrating the site, there needs to be a deep audit performed of the legacy site. This will allow you to establish a foundation and set baselines moving forward. This step is imperative and will save you hours, if not days, of frustration if ignored. Here are a few of the task you will be looking at in the pre-launch phase:
- Identifying priority pages
- Preparing the technical SEO specifications
- Set Benchmarks
- Making sure the search engines cannot access the staging/test site
- Reviewing site architecture
- Reviewing meta data & copy
- Reviewing internal linking
- Reviewing mobile site SEO
- Addressing mixed content errors (use of crawler applications, Google’s Lighthouse, etc.)
- Reviewing image assets
- Reviewing site performance
- Reviewing analytics tracking
- Testing redirects
After all the planning and preparation, the day has finally arrived to push the new site live and migrate the old site over. This is no small task, and an enormous amount of time and attention should be devoted to make sure the project goes off without a hitch. Here are a few items to be mindful of during the launch day:
- Keep the down time of the site to a minimum
- Perform technical spot checks
- Get involved with Search Console
You have done it. The new site is live and ready to be vetted to make sure everything is running correctly. At this point a new round of audits should be queued up for the site. Many of the audits will be similar to the audits performed during the pre-launch phase. However, this time as you audit the site, any problems that arise will have direct negative implications to the site’s organic traffic performance — so the stakes are even higher. Review the pre-launch list to see what audits to run, and also be sure to go over the following:
- Checking crawl stats and server logs
- Reviewing crawl errors regularly
- Measuring site speed
- Evaluating speed using Google’s tools
- Measuring speed from real users
3. What are the best tools for site migrations?
A website migration is a task no SEO should have to go through alone. And luckily there are many people within the web-dev community who have put together invaluable resources to make sure that others know what they are doing and how to do it. Below are a few of my favorite resources:
- This article goes deep into the technical weeds to make sure all possible precautions are taken during the site migration process.
- This is an in-depth checklist of everything you need to know to execute a site migration
- If you are looking to migrate a WordPress site, this has all the answers you need to get the job done.
Site migrations are no joking matter, but as you understand the risks, follow the process and use the tools and resources available, there is no need to fear. Ghosts or no ghosts, you’ll be able to navigate through the project and come out with a much more robust and beautiful website — a website that will be able to take your SEO efforts and elevate them to a new level. And in the end, that will make all the time and effort worth it.