An outdated website will not represent your brand well. Web design experts recommend a site redesign every 2-3 years to keep up with web standards and design trends. This can often be achieved with a simple face lift or new skin. However, in some cases, you may face a site migration.
<h2>What is site migration?</h2> Site migration describes the process by which a website is largely renewed in areas that affect visibility in search engines. Generally, these areas are design, user experience, platform, site location, and structure. The end result of a site migration can include a cleaner interface, a new or improved user experience, a simpler editing experience, and more. However, the decision to migrate your website should not be taken lightly. If it runs poorly, you could end up with status code errors, negatively impact SEO performance, and even irritate website visitors.
Why should you migrate a website?
These are the circumstances when you might need a site migration rather than a simple redesign: You need to move your site location from one server to another. You are changing the CMS platform your site operates on. You are changing your domain name or URL. You need to make major changes to your site architecture (not just aesthetics). Website migrations can be done on your own or professionally. (For example, HubSpot offers migration services to customers who switch to HubSpot CMS.) If you are considering migrating a website, keep in mind that you should allow time to prepare and execute. Migration specialists typically take about three weeks, so plan accordingly. Now, let’s get into the details of a website migration.
<h2>Website migration checklist</h2> Track the existing site. Record your waypoints. Assign your URLs. Make sure to keep the titles, meta descriptions, and HTML markup. Test the new build on a test server (also known as a sandbox). Choose the correct date for migration. Get ready to update your site's DNS settings. Launching. Track the new site. Identify and resolve missing and duplicate content. Check for redirect chains. Make sure Google Analytics and Google Search Console are in place. Mark the date in Analytics. Submit site maps. Monitor performance. Run site audits. Update your platforms. Have publishers update backlinks.
1. Track the existing site.
A website crawler retrieves the URLs and bookmarks on your site, “viewing” this information in a similar way as Google would. 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 gets lost in translation. You can track your website yourself with a third party tool like Screaming frog.
2. Record your landmarks.
In some cases, analytical data can be erased during a site migration, and these historical landmarks can be valuable, so it’s best to retain them. You should also take the time to review your analytics and make sure you know how visitors are currently navigating your site and which pages are the most valuable. This context can help inform your site architecture and redesign decisions.
3. Assign your URLs.
If you make major changes to your site URLs, you will need redirects instead to guide Google and your website users from their old URLs to their new URLs. From a usability standpoint, if a page no longer exists, you don’t want your users to get a 404 status code error. Instead, they should be guided to the page that has taken the place of the previous page. Inappropriate redirects can take a huge toll on your SEO. They tell search engines and your website visitors that a page has changed, 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 the history, backlinks, and (essentially) the “authority” that the previous page amassed. A redirect tells Google where to attribute those signals. To implement redirects, you must first create a strategy by mapping your URLs. This involves creating a spreadsheet with two columns: one for the old URL and one for the corresponding new URL. Don’t worry if there are no “perfect” replacements for every content. Just do your best to direct your users according to your original intention. If you have tons of pages, manual mapping is probably not on your cards, so to save time, look for patterns in your URLs that can be redirected into groups or sections. Existing redirects must 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 the redirects, to make sure you have backups if you lose them. For more information on how to update URLs, check out this article.
4. Make sure you keep the titles, meta descriptions, and HTML markup.
Remember that website migrations help with the organization of the website. As such, the pages must be consistent and contain the same information that they had before. To illustrate, if the HubSpot Marketing blog were to undergo a site migration, the content and descriptions for each blog post would be the same, just different. You can always update or rewrite titles, meta descriptions, and HTML markup, but you still need to make sure that each page includes the proper information.
5. Test the new version on a test server (also known as a sandbox).
Viewing mockups or tests in a local environment will not give you a complete picture of the functionality and implementation of the new site. For a smooth transition, take it online for a test drive before official migration.
6. Choose the correct date for the migration.
Hiccups can happen no matter what, but you can minimize it by avoiding rush hour.
7. Prepare to update your site’s DNS settings.
If you are moving your site to a new server, part of the process will include “pointing” to the new site location. Coordinate with your web / IT team and / or your hosting providers (new and old) to achieve this.
Set up your forwarding redirects, unpublish and deploy. If there were DNS changes involved, the site may go down momentarily. If you are not changing servers or platforms, the migration should be almost instantaneous.
9. Track the new site.
After the new site is active, you can perform a crawl to see if it has migrated as expected. One thing to look for is proper indexing and crawling capabilities.
10. Identify and resolve missing and duplicate content.
With the crawl report, see if you find any anomalies, including duplicate content or 404 errors and broken links. Also, you need to click on the new site and look for trouble.
11. Check for redirect chains.
Now that your site has been migrated, you have a lot of new redirects on your hands. If redirects already existed, chains may have been created. This is what I mean: if you were already redirecting 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 down your site and affect performance. You can avoid this by breaking the chains, redirecting A to C and B to C.
12. Make sure Google Analytics and Google Search Console are in place.
To avoid data gaps and reports, they must be up and running the same day.
13. Mark the date in Analytics.
Google Analytics allows you to do “Annotations“of important dates or events. This can help you contextualize your data and measure performance before and after migration (unless you’ve opted for a new Analytics setup).
14. Submit site maps.
Once everything is up and running, make sure the XML sitemap is error-free. You can then submit the sitemap to Google Search Console to invite Google to crawl the new implementation.
15. Monitor performance.
While temporary drops in traffic are common after a migration, you still need to stay on top of your analytics to make sure you don’t miss anything important that could affect performance.
16. Run site audits.
Sometimes third-party tools can find problems that you didn’t know about. SEMrush Site Auditor it is excellent in situations like this.
17. Update your platforms.
If you have ads running or other platforms that may be using old URLs, make sure to add new links.
18. Have editors update backlinks.
If your redirects have been implemented correctly, you will continue to receive traffic and authority from your backlinks. However, it is still good practice to use the most up-to-date URLs possible. With that in mind, reach out to the publishers of your top-value links to notify them of the exchange. Website migration can be a long process, but it is not impossible. With preparation, you can have a migration that is successful and friendly with your existing SEO efforts. Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in December 2019 and has been updated for completeness.