Probably, every SEO expert has dealt with a situation when a well-performing website needs to be moved to a new domain or a CMS. Sometimes, it’s more of a question: Is it worth it to migrate a website that already has satisfactory organic traffic results?
After all, it’s a resource and time-consuming undertaking, not to mention the possible loss of organic traffic and keywords positions. So it’s understandable when the site owners require a proper professional risk assessment followed by a recommendation.
However, quite frequently, the question – or a request – comes in after the decision has already been made, and now an SEO team must plan to prevent major negative impacts and ensure a sleek transition to a new domain or a CMS. In such cases, having a well-structured and comprehensive website migration SEO checklist is beneficial to ensure your plan has covered all the bases – and to save you some time and effort. With that in mind, we’d like to offer first-hand tips on a successful website migration.
Why Businesses Decide to Migrate Their Websites
Every plan should start with clear goals defining the priority and course of action. There are two major reasons for website migration:
- Technical reasons
- Business reasons.
The need for the website migration might stem from your current hosting plan restrictions. At some point, you’ll need faster hosting to ensure seamless site performance for consistently growing traffic.
Website migration might also be the case of switching from one tech platform to another for integration, performance, legacy modernization, or other reasons.
Business reasons are quite varied and could evolve as the business evolves. For example:
- Changing a root domain name for rebranding purposes
- Updating for regulatory and compliance reasons
- Scaling up, focusing on a new business direction (i.e., a new service or industry), or launching new products
- Increasing conversion rates by switching to a newer, responsive framework
- As a way to improve website performance in SERP due by updating the existing website structure and cross-linking between categories.
However, retaining the current traffic level and ensuring its further growth should be put first regarding site overhaul. And that’s why a website migration SEO checklist is necessary for the work teams involved.
3 Most Common Migration Scenarios
Let’s start with the purposes each type of website migration scenario is meant for.
Migrating From One Domain to Another
Domain transfers commonly occur in the process of rebranding or company acquisition. Changing your domain name might also be a good idea if you’ve come up with a more concise and catchy name for your organization – and it just happened to be free or not too expensive.
Additionally, switching from a regional domain extension to .com might drive additional traffic if you’re about to re-purpose your commercial website for global reach. According to HubSpot observations, users trust .com websites more than those with .net or .biz domain extensions.
From One Subdomain to Another
Subdomains enhance and diversify root website functionality. The typical situation when you might need to migrate website content from one subdomain to another would be:
- moving duplicating content parts between subdomains with localized content (for instance, nyc.yourshop.com)
- transferring sites from subdomains that start with www. to those without www
- moving your best-performing content-focused subdomain (i.e., blog.yourwebsite.com) into your primary www subdomain to increase its traffic.
From One Tech Platform to Another
Switching to a new CMS or framework can become a burning issue when your current platform reaches its usability limit. Website migration can solve the problem of recurring security breaches, lack of flexible UI customization tools, page speed, or consistent ordeal with updating external plugins.
The latter is a common reason for site owners to opt out of WordPress in favor of Webflow CMS. The case of DNSFilter eloquently reveals how reliance on WP plugins caused site crashes more than once.
In contrast, Webflow excludes such a reliance on third-party plugins as it provides built-in functionality for adjusting layouts, SEO, CMS, and forms.
3 Possible SEO Risks of Website Migration and 1 Solution to Avoid Them
The migration process usually implies radical changes in site structure, which may impact SEO performance.
#1: Loss of Keyword Rankings
URL structure changes when transferring a website to a new domain or subdomain. So to avoid ruining your existing keywords rankings, you must inform Google that the new page is the same as the old one. Redirecting with a proper 301 from old pages to new ones is the right way to ensure that.
That said, you should keep your new domain entirely blocked from search engines’ crawlers until you set the redirect rules. Otherwise, your new site might appear on SERP and start to compete with the old one or even cause a duplicate content issue.
#2: Loss of Rich Snippets
Loss of rich snippets might also occur due to website migration. SERP features are essential to provide users with definitive, concise, and highly relevant answers to their search queries. So retaining them is crucial to stand out among your search engine competition.
Unsurprisingly, proper implementation of 301 redirects will surely help you retain rich snippets. Additional Google bot recrawls after you set 301 redirect rules for new sites will speed up the occurrence of featured snippets in the SERP.
#3: Traffic Loss
There’s always a chance of organic traffic loss shortly after the site overhaul. It occurs mainly due to a loss of website visibility since it will take time for search engines to index and rank all new pages.
However, a thoughtful website migration SEO checklist allows you to account for every detail that underlies sustainable visibility. Before launching the migrated site, an SEO specialist should do the following:
- Optimize site taxonomy and implements logical URL structure with human-readable URLs
- Ensure proper cross-linking so both users and crawlers can navigate through the site easily
- Set up redirect rules (for changed URLs) for external links to preserve link equity
- Implements structured data markup for crawlers to indicate what the website is about.
Finally, experienced SEOs always remember to request a fresh crawl in Google Search Console so the Google Bot would scan all indexable pages. Thus, the renewed site would quickly regain its previous visibility levels. It might even get a significant boost if Core Web Vitals metrics (site speed indicators) improve, thanks to the new optimized tech platform.
Check out the example of one of our recent migrations, and we’ll delve into more detailed cases in the second half of the article:
Solution: Go Step-By-Step and Double-Check Changes That Might Impact SEO
As you can see, SEO specialists and content marketers can prevent and offset the negative impact on a site’s performance in SERP and traffic. But achieving that requires following a structured and consistent website migration SEO checklist.
Moreover, it’s crucial to break down the entire scope of website migration into separate stages – and double-check and assess their results after completion. See, when you implement too many changes at once, it will be tough to figure out what exactly went wrong and spoiled the post-migration SEO performance.
Website Migration SEO Checklist: 7 Things You Should Do to Avoid Loss of Traffic and Keyword Rankings After Migration?
Let’s now focus on the actual step-by-step process for successfully carrying out website migration and circumventing the undesirable pitfalls. Note that there are pre-migration and after-migration steps that should be taken.
#1. FIND POTENTIAL ISSUES: Conduct a pre-migration technical SEO Audit
The first pre-migration step of our website migration SEO checklist is an in-depth technical audit for preparing the migration – and, of course, benchmarking. At this step, you might combine data from whichever cloud-based or desktop software you prefer to extract crawl reports and Google’s Search Console reports. Those will provide you with a full picture of existing on-page SEO issues:
- pages with 404 errors and 301 redirects
- missing meta tags
- missing ALT attributes
- H1 headings that duplicate title tags
- Canonical tag issues, etc.
It is essential to fix the flawed on-page content and broken external/internal links to avoid carrying over the existing problems to a new domain or framework. If time permits, you can parallel the old site audit with pre-launch preparations of the new domain.
#2. PRIORITIZE: Analyze all of your content and pay attention to TOP Performing Pages
It might seem like a secondary task, but it’s essential to know what high-value pages earn you a consistent traffic inflow. These should be prioritized when migrating a site. Your task here is to save (and improve) current pages’ rankings within Google’s SERP’s even after a migration.
In order to complete this step, you have to make a snapshot of the current pages’ positions and keywords you rank for. To do so, you might want to use:
- Position tracking tools provided by SEMrush, Ahrefs, MOZ, or similar web analytics services
- Queries report in Google’s Search Console.
Queries reports can provide you with keywords not present on the page, ensuring impressions. It would be wise to use them in re-optimization.
#3. BENCHMARK: Create Google Analytics traffic and behavior Data Benchmark
Another snapshot you need to make is traffic and behavior data available in Google Analytics. Saving Google Analytics’ historical data of your old site is vital, especially if you are moving to a new domain and creating a separate Google Analytics account for it. You can use your benchmark report to compare the previous traffic volume with newly-collected data to check whether there has been a considerable change after a website migration.
GA traffic tracking allows you to detect what particular pages suffer from traffic loss most and inspect them more thoroughly. Therefore we recommend that you include tracking of TOP linked-to pages in the website migration SEO checklist. In case you spot steep fall traffic to those pages, it might point out that authority wasn’t successfully transferred to the new site.
#4. PLAN: Plan New URLs Structure and Prepare Redirects Mapping from Old Links
This is a crucial step since you don’t want to lose any of your pages and, consequentially, traffic. To complete this step successfully, you need to crawl the latest version of your website using tools like Screaming Frog or SEMrush and export all of the URL’s the crawler will get. Once you have your old URLs spreadsheets, you should map them to the addresses of new pages. Your tech team should clearly understand every single redirect they have to make.
To avoid launching the new site prematurely, you should re-run the crawl after you put all redirects in place and ensure they lead to new corresponding URLs.
*Pro Tip: A very useful Chrome extension, Redirect Path, will provide you with a clear view of any existing redirects.
#5. SITEMAP: Add a New Domain/Subdomain to Google Search Console and Upload New Sitemap.xml File
In case of domain or subdomain change, you’ll have to add a new root domain and separate subdomains to your GSC account to track your traffic performance and SERP position growth. Creating and uploading corresponding XML sitemaps for each subdomain is essential as search engines deem them independent web resources. Thus you’ll speed up their indexing.
Submitting XML sitemap files both for the old and new domains is essential; embed this into your website migration SEO checklist. It will help crawl bots detect 301 redirects on old indexable URLs and point them to the new pages. Thus search engines will adequately transfer authority from old pages to newly-created ones.
Note: Remember that each sitemap.xml file should contain no more than 50,000 rows and cannot exceed 50 Mbs.
#6. CHECK & FIX: Run Post-Migration Website Technical SEO Check
Post-launch inspection is the bottom line of the website migration SEO checklist. You should focus on the following:
- 3xx, 4xx, and 5xx pages. Ensure there are no broken internal links, which might harm site indexing and degrade rankings.
- Pages with soft 404s. Those return 200 server responses but usually either redirect to the home page or provide some time of “thin” content.
- Pages with duplicate content
- Correct canonical tags, especially for pagination, search, and filter pages
- Pages with a meta robots noindex and nofollow/dofollow directives
- Ensure robots.txt file is in place and contains an updated sitemap.xml file location.
It is a crucial step of your website migration SEO checklist, an audit that will determine what on-page optimization measures to take immediately.
#7. MONITOR: Monitor Website Performance
Monitor site performance consistently to measure the success when migration is done. Your short-term goal is to ensure the pre-migration level of traffic volume and the number of indexed pages – immediately or in the shortest term possible. Improved visibility in SERP should signify that you’ve reached the long-term goal with your website migration.
Keep This in Mind!
- Migrate Within Slow Periods
Schedule the migration process for the period with the lowest traffic rate. Thus, you’ll unlock additional servers’ powers to facilitate Googlebot crawling and lower the impact on your audience.
- Try not to implement too many changes at once
If you’re re-platforming your site, try to avoid changing the URL structure simultaneously. It’s better to carry out website migration step-by-step to properly track and analyze the outcome of every change you make. Take a little break and proceed once you see traffic and rankings stabilized.
- Don’t remove redirects prematurely
It takes a while before Google crawls the entire site and indexes all redirected pages correctly. So you risk losing a massive share of referral traffic from old inbound links if you remove redirects prematurely. John Mueller from Google Search Central YouTube channel insists that redirects must remain in place for at least one year.
Results from Website Migration: Marketechy’s Experience
Here are some real-life cases from our website migration experience: note the pre-migration and post-migration differences. As you see, introducing some optimizations BEFORE the actual migration, combined with the correct migration steps, frequently results in a nice performance boost for the website right after the migration process. Some of the optimizations might include a page load speed increase, adding the ALT attributes for on-site images, cross-linking, and some other commonly overlooked SEO elements, which we’ll focus on more in the next article.
Post-migration organic traffic trend
That’s it; we’ve introduced you to our website migration SEO checklist that should help you succeed in your own migration. Remember to share this post with your colleagues, and feel free to request our qualified assistance. The Marketechy team will ensure a smooth and hassle-free site migration experience to unlock new opportunities for your business growth.