Whether you have a personal blog or you’re managing a company website, there might come a time when you need to consider migrating your site to either a new domain, server, or host. Regardless of your website’s size, you need to have a strategic plan in place to organize the migration process and avoid running into problems.

When is website migration necessary?

Moving websites is usually a positive sign, indicating significant changes in the right direction. Here are the top reasons to migrate your website:

  • Changing your domain name – You might want to change the domain name or URL of your website from oldname.com to newname.com. This could be a result of rebranding or a recent strategic move in your business.
  • Upgrading or downgrading servers – You may experience website accessibility issues if your current server cannot handle the traffic you’re currently receiving or is too far from your local address. Your website may also slow down, which equates to a poor user experience.
  • Switching host providers – You may want a dedicated server and manager from your hosting service, one that your current host does not have. You might also explore features from other providers or opt for a more cost-efficient plan.

What happens if you don’t plan your migration correctly?

There are many moving parts behind a website. An ill-thought-out migration could ruin all those delicate things that were previously in harmony. For one, you could lose search engine rankings if you don’t point your content to your new domain name. Your website could go down for hours or days without a quick resolution. You might also encounter tons of 404 pages as a result of poor redirections.

To achieve your goal for migrating your website, you will need to plan every step of the way and implement every detail meticulously. Read on for a detailed website migration checklist and a step-by-step guide you can follow where we cover the 4 key phases of website migration:

  1. Scoping and Planning
  2. Pre-Migration
  3. Migration
  4. Post-Migration

How to Migrate a Website Successfully

Phase 1: Scoping and Planning

A. Determine what’s changing

1. Improving site structure or navigation

This is mainly done if you want to map out new pages for your website and improve visitors’ user experience. You will need a blueprint and a staging site to test out what you want to happen before anything goes live.

2. Switching to a more compatible CMS

Content management systems (CMS), such as WordPress, Joomla, Squarespace, and Wix, to name a few, power websites. If you feel like the types of content you’re releasing are not compatible or limited by your current CMS, you should consider migrating. It’s also wise to move to a different CMS if your current one limits the extent to which you can optimize your content.  

3. Moving from HTTP to HTTPS

It is recommended to switch your website to HTTPS since it is more secure. Search engines also trust HTTPS sites more. If you run an online shop or process payments and other financial transactions on your websites, you must have an HTTPS address.

4. Upgrading your server

Often, websites start with shared hosting services. Depending on the plan you choose, around three or four websites share a server, with RAM sizes ranging from 500MB to 5GB on average. 

If one of the server’s websites gets high traffic, yours could slow down and suffer downtime as a result. Getting a dedicated server with the right size means you can serve your web visitors and guarantee higher uptime.

5. Changing your domain name

Whether it’s a management decision to rebrand or you’d like to switch out your top-level domain (for example, .io to .com), changing your domain name is a huge decision. Renaming makes sense if you are reflecting partnerships, like a merger and acquisition, or changing or adding to your services.

B. Build your site migration team

Gather your web developers, web designers, SEO specialists, and copywriters to bring the new and improved website to life. From here, you should be able to map out your tasks.

Delegate, cement your plans, and make sure each person in your team knows their deadlines to ensure your migration stays on schedule. Have a shared tracker for bugs and issues if there are any encountered in the staging site.

C. Schedule migration and web launch

Have a target date for the migration, and make sure this is a couple of weeks ahead of the target website launch. You want to make sure you have enough time to cover any bug fixes or errors you might encounter during the migration. 

Schedule the migration during low-traffic hours (for example, after midnight) so you won’t have as many potential visitors on your website. Don’t plan it around busy seasons when you know visitors are seeking information or to purchase services.

Pencil in your launch date and be sure to post an announcement of your migration on your website and social media pages.

Phase 2: Pre-Migration

A. Prepare a Thorough 301 Redirect Map

When you migrate your website, especially if you’re changing anything that has to do with your domain name, you will have to redirect the old URL to the new one. Simply tracking this in an Excel sheet will keep things organized for you. List down all URLs in one column and the new URL beside it. Indicate the status of each item to keep the team updated.

If you are wondering how to redirect a website, there are three common ways: You may either choose to encode it in your site’s .htaccess file, manage this from your host’s control panel, or use a plug-in.

B. Define your SEO requirements

SEO migration is something you will inevitably have to address during this process, as you wouldn’t want to lose any rankings or performance metrics you’ve already built on your existing website. A website migration is as good of a time as any to do a thorough SEO audit. Make sure you discuss the following with your SEO team and web developers:

  • URL structure – Decide how you want URLs to appear in your site. For blogs, a typical structure looks like newsite.com/category/post-title.
  • Metadata – Ensure each page has proper title tags, heading tags, meta descriptions, and the like to let search engines know what each page is about.
  • Structured data – Adding schema markup will also clue search engines in on how a page should appear in SERPs.
  • Canonicals and robots.txt – Make sure to set canonical URLs for any set of duplicate pages on your site and that your sitemap and robots.txt files can be easily crawled and indexed by search engines.
  • Main and secondary navigation – Confirm that your website navigation reflects your site structure and is easy for your web visitors to use.

C. Review the new site’s prototypes or wireframes

Check how the design of your website is coming along. By now, your web design team should have a proper prototype of your website and you can see how everything’s coming along.

During this review, it would be best to identify priority pages. Priority pages are typically your home page, landing pages, service pages, and the like. If you have a blog, you should see how your blog pages can be optimized; if this is a shop, you want the checkout process to be smooth and streamlined for customers.

D. Perform a content inventory

Do a rundown of every page and post on your old website and make sure all of them are included in the migration plan. The only time something shouldn’t be present is if there’s duplicate content. Ideally, you want everything to be up to prevent 404 pages and broken links.

E. Benchmark the legacy site’s performance

Think of this as your website health checklist. You’ll be referring to these numbers once you’ve migrated your site successfully to see if the changes are having a positive effect.

  • Backlinks – How many websites are currently linking back to your content? Noting your current backlink profile is vital in case you need to do reclamation later down the line.
  • Keyword rankings – What is your current performance for all your target keywords in the search rankings?
  • Organic search traffic – Do you have high or low organic search traffic? Note the numbers and see if anything changes during the migration.
  • Search Console Data – Are there any errors present on your Google Search Console account you can fix during the migration? If you don’t have issues, make sure not to bring in new ones to the migrated website.

F. Create a staging site and enforce all changes there

Your staging site will be a creative and technical playground where you can implement new designs and see if your proposed changes work well together. This controlled environment allows you to evaluate the UX and detect any bugs before you launch your website to the public.

G. Do a pre-launch test

Now that you’ve got all the working parts in one place, it’s time to do a stress test on your website in the staging environment. This QA phase is critical so that there will be no significant changes to your site once the migration process has begun.

  • Site architecture review – Check if subpages are nested correctly in their corresponding parent pages. Make sure one page intuitively makes sense to link out to the next page.
  • Metadata and copy review – Look at all your pages and see if they have the correct metadata and target keywords are included.
  • Internal linking review – Check if you are still linking to old or non-existent parts of your website.
  • Mobile SEO and Mobile Friendliness review – Make sure your web design is responsive and mobile-friendly. Remember, mobile-friendliness is a ranking factor for search engines like Google.
  • AMP site review – If you value the option of having accelerated mobile pages, make sure you check Google Search Console for missing attributes that could otherwise affect their experience when visiting your site.
  • Analytics tracking review – Make sure Google Analytics is installed correctly in your new website. Migration often loses the Analytics tracking ID, so be sure to have your web developer encode it into every page’s heading tag.
  • Redirects testing – See if your redirected URLs are pointing to the revamped version of your pages. Fix any improperly redirected page.

Phase 3: Migration

It’s time to put all the hard work into action! Considering the timeframe you’ve set, you can now proceed with the migration process.

A. Flip the switch as fast as possible

  • Apply the 301 redirects based on your mapping document.
  • Update all the rel=canonical tags on your sites so that they point to the new URLs.
  • Update all the internal links on your sites so that they point to the new URLs.
  • Update your XML sitemap and submit it to Google Search Console and Bing’s Webmaster Tools.

Ideally, you should finish these changes quickly so that your site is not down for too long.

B. Do your spot checks

  • Make sure search engines are not blocked from crawling your website.
  • Review if your top-performing pages have been successfully redirected on the live version of your site. 
  • Assign the canonical tags for your top-performing pages.
  • Monitor the server response to your high-traffic posts.
  • Double-check all your noindex and nofollow directives in case they are unintentional.

C. Reach out to anyone still linking to the old URL and ask to update their links

If your 301 redirects work perfectly, there may not be a need to contact each webmaster to update their links to your website. However, it’s worth emailing them to let them know that you’ve changed your domain name so that they can link to your updated URL in their subsequent links.

Reaching out to your linkers also matters if you’ve changed or updated your branding and the anchor text happens to be your brand name.

Phase 4: Post-Migration

Now that you’ve successfully migrated your website, it’s time to keep an eye out for your performance.

  • Check against your benchmarks – Be on the lookout for any drastic changes in the backlinks, keyword rankings, and organic search traffic on your site for at least six months. Note that higher page views may not always mean a good thing. Improperly placed analytics markers could cause this, so be sure to look into it before writing it off as a win. 
  • Note Search Console errors – Pay attention to any notifications from Google Search Console like broken attributes, server issues, or missing tags from your SEO efforts. Watch out for and fix indexation issues ASAP so all your pages can be crawled and indexed by search engines. 
  • Check links and 301 redirects – Review your traffic and see how many hits your 404 pages have or how many exits web users make when stumbling on a specific page. This may indicate that you missed redirecting a page or your old URL is still appearing in a different website with outdated links.

Out with the Old, In with the New

It may seem daunting at first, but once a website is migrated properly, the results will work to your advantage. Aim for a smooth transition so visitors who navigate in and around your site won’t run into any issues. 

A website that works correctly can deliver a great user experience for your visitors or customers, helping you achieve your goals. If you need help with migrating your website, Spiralytics can handle everything, so you can focus on what’s important: growing your brand. 

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