Website Migration Checklist: Everything You Need to Know While Migrating Your Website
A website often gets migrated during its life cycle. Website migration is basically a process of moving your website from one server or hosting provider to another. However, a simple update cannot be considered an act of migration. The change needs to be significant enough to affect some of the core functionalities of the website. These migrations are often necessary when a business needs to change web hosts or domain registrars or when they need to upgrade their current web host’s server software.
However, website migration can be a confusing process. And if you’ve decided to migrate your website, you’re getting yourself into a web of intricate decision-making, flexible planning, and technical challenges. But you don’t need to worry, as we have got you covered. In this article, we have created a checklist that includes everything you need to know while migrating your website. But before that, let’s see what website migration is and the common reasons for migrating a website.
What is Website Migration?
Website migration is a process where a website undergoes changes in terms of its setup or technology. As mentioned above, simple website updates are not considered website migration, as site migration implies serious changes, typically regarding the website’s structure, platform, UX, content, location, or design.
Although website migration may be a problem-solving necessity, it has the potential to bring in risks, if not executed properly – from losing your website’s rank on search engines to completely losing part(s) of your website. Thus, website migration is a challenging process, and you really need a significant reason to take it on.
Common Reasons to Migrate Your Website
You may face various situations as a website owner where migration may seem like the best or the only option. Here are some common reasons that can be considered for website migration:
Restructuring Your Site
Reworking your site is not something you should do on a whim. Suppose you feel that your conversion rate or sales are weaker because of your website’s look or the customer experience it offers. In that case, you should first prove it by excluding design or architecture-related issues, respectively.
Moving to a New Framework/CMS
Having your website on an outdated platform can be a limiting factor for you and a disruptive factor for your audience, which often results in a loss of sales. Choosing the right CMS is a different topic altogether, but there is no single answer about the right framework as each website requires a specific approach.
Make sure to think about whether moving your website to a different technology is the only option or if there’s any other way to enhance your current setup to meet your needs.
Adding a Mobile Version
In this mobile-first age and considering the immense ratio of mobile to desktop traffic, there’s no way you’re not thinking about optimizing your website for mobile platforms. Still, it is important that you analyze your audience’s preferences and find an appropriate cost-to-benefit balance of creating a mobile-specific experience.
Moving from HTTP to HTTPS
Implementing the HTTPS protocol on your site is not only crucial from a security standpoint, but if you don’t have an HTTPS protocol on your website, it can negatively affect your users’ experience as most browsers will pop up a warning message for the unsecured pages. Though you might not need to switch your entire website to HTTPS right away, you can start with the web pages that store users’ personal information.
Moving To a New Server
If you’re not satisfied with the performance of your server hosting conditions, you may want to switch to another host. But before making the final decision take time to research and find the right host, as you wouldn’t want to jump out of the frying pan into the fire!
Changing the Domain Name
You may want to change your site’s domain name due to rebranding or getting your hands on a better URL. But like any other reason for website migration, changing a site’s domain name is a major decision that you shouldn’t make lightly.
Moreover, things can get very complicated rather quickly when you take into consideration the infinite number of combinations of the above-mentioned reasons.
The Website Migration Checklist
Depending on the scope of your website migration project, you will need to take into consideration some if not all of the following:
Benchmark your existing “old” site
This is a highly crucial step as it’ll allow you to compare your old website with the new one. Capture all the important metrics, website performance, and rankings. Additionally, at this step, you should try to fix all the broken links, find all the status codes of your links, and see if you can find all your server errors. However, this can be done now or at a later step, but it is necessary to crawl your legacy website and create a map of all the URLs.
If you want to redesign your website or change the architecture, that means you’ll most likely need to develop a new prototype. Do all of your web pages appear where they should? Is the content in the right place? These are some of the questions you must keep in mind while migrating your website.
SEO specification for the new site
This is a very crucial step. You need to have thorough and in-depth documentation about all the technical aspects of the new website. This document should encompass things like URL structure, XML sitemap(s), metadata, redirects, custom 404 pages, page loading times, etc. It is better to have an SEO expert or consultant on board if you want this step to go smoothly.
Identify priority pages
It is important to determine the most important pages of your website, especially if your website has a lot of pages. This step involves a few sub-steps. Start from your old website. You will need to determine the following:
Identify all the indexable pages and top-performing pages.
Redirects are very important when you are migrating your website. A poorly implemented site may land users on 404 pages or irrelevant pages that don’t match their intent. Since the site ranking signals won’t be passed from the old pages to the new ones, this will lead to an organic search visibility loss.
The main redirects are 301s and 302s.
301s redirects are the permanent ones, and they tell search engines to index the new URLs as well as forward any ranking signals from the old URLs to the new ones. 302s redirects, on the other hand, are temporary ones.
Use 301s redirects if your website:
- Is moving to a new domain/subdomain
- Is switching from HTTP to HTTPS
- Is being restructured
Furthermore, here are the few pre-launch, launch day, and post-launch activities that you must keep in mind.
Block your new website before the launch. You can use robots.txt for doing this. It is vital to test your new website to find out any potential loopholes or weak points at this stage. Review it for its architecture, metadata, website copy, internal linking.
Perform a technical check regarding:
- robots.txt file
- Canonical tags reviews
- Prepare XML sitemaps of the new website & the old one. The old XML sitemap is important for Google to be aware of the redirects, and the new sitemap for being aware of the new website’s indexable URLs.
Check for the mobile version of the website. Pay attention to its SEO review.
During the launch day, your website may temporarily be unavailable, and this is expected. Just make sure to configure the webserver in order to return a 503 (service unavailable) server response.
After launching your website, you would need to:
- Check crawl stats & server logs
- Review crawl errors regularly
- Measure your website’s speed
In the end, you would probably want to know the migration project was successful. The website’s visibility can be quite random in the first weeks after the migration. The best solution would be to wait for that period to pass before jumping to any conclusion. Keep in mind that larger websites need more time, so this period might even be more than a month or two in certain cases.
While measuring the success of your website, take the following things into consideration:
- Level of organic traffic
- User engagement
- Desktop and mobile visibility
- Desktop and mobile rankings
- Sessions per page type
- Conversion rate per page type
By now, you must have understood that website migration is a very critical project. If your website has more than a few dozen pages and you need to perform more than just one migration act, it would be a good idea to consult an expert on the topic.
If you’re running a big website or an eCommerce business and if you don’t already have an in-house team of expert professionals, then you must seek external assistance.
Contact BigRock to ensure that even your most complex website migration process goes smoothly as a team of experts help you through every step of the way.
If you have any questions or suggestions, feel free to leave them in the comments section below! Also, head to our Websites category on the blog to know more and stay updated.