Web Development

Website migration – moving a website

min read

Why perform a website migration?

Website migration is one of the most challenging tasks especially if you need minimum to no impact on ranking and overall business performance.

This can be only achieved with a website migration plan and SEO considerations – eCommerce SEO migration is even more complex.

Most of the pain points clients are experiencing is that they can’t update their website easily or certain content can’t be changed.

Often feedback from users is that the experience is poor, or the website loads slowly, sales are down or they can’t use modern technologies on the current platform.

One example we found, the proprietary platform a client was on, didn’t allow for responsive images and they would have to pay for a third-party service every month, for all images to be re-linked and served from that web service.

Migrating them to WordPress they got this functionality out of the box for free!

Deciding what the priorities are at an early stage and setting goals will help keep everyone on track.

stacked box with fragile label

Common challenges to consider during the migration process

Technical

Technical challenges of a migration are normally related to the actual migration of sites, as well as the integrations of any third-party systems, such as a customer-relationship management (CRM) system, with the new website platform.

Therefore technical challenges are very dependent on the extent of the migration that you envisage.

Design

Design challenges normally stem from the inability to make a perfect design conversion, where the migration design goal is to get as close as possible to the original site design.

Another design challenge can be that functionality existing in the legacy system is not available in the new system (or vica versa), and may therefore require additional custom development to meet your needs.

Management

In terms of management, migration poses several challenges. First of all, there is the internal management and re-training of your team in the new system.

Secondly, there is the external challenge of communicating and ensuring customers that their website will be successfully migrated to a new platform.

magnifying glass placed over a laptop keyboard

Does it affect website SEO?

Rankings will fluctuate, traffic may fall and onsite conversions can be effected.

Choosing a time in the year the business is quieter can be optimal to reduce the impact to user or buyer experience and marketing / ad campaigns.

Migrate during a low-traffic time if possible; this will minimise the impact in case something goes wrong. Plus, a reduced server load will allow GoogleBot to crawl and index your new website faster.

It’s useful to be mindful of Google releasing updates to their algorithm – Google Developers Search blog https://developers.google.com/search/blog/

Also, focussing on one type of change at a time will keep things simple – avoid mixing multiple migration types, such as changing the domain name, hosting and site architecture at the same time, can reduce the potential for issues.

Evaluate your existing resources

Take a look through your website’s current resources like PDFs, images, videos, landing pages, subdomains, active redirects, etc. Take note of what should be included on the new site, and what will be removed.

Search engines have a historical index of every piece of content on your website which they use for influencing rankings.

If you don’t properly transition these resources and tell the search engines where to find them, you will lose rankings that Google assigns to your site and hinder new traffic opportunities.

Monitor your key metrics

Keep an eye on analytics, webmaster tool accounts, and other SEO tools you use to ensure your plan minimised the negative effects of the site migration.

Google often takes a pause when a website migration occurs, and IP addresses change because they’re noticing a change and wait until the dust settles then begin re-crawling.

John Mueller confirmed this in a few videos, for example: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FHjVmi1tkEw

Generally, a ranking drop of ten or more positions indicates an error that needs to be addressed – if there are significant drops in traffic to your pages, then you need to investigate.

Check site error reports to ensure your site is being crawled correctly and errors logs don’t get out of control.

Take care of any errors as soon as you can; if a third party tool’s crawlers come up with errors, search engine crawlers will certainly find them too, and your performance in search could suffer as a result.

finger pointed on a backlit map of rail roads

How is a website migration done?

A lot of planning goes into a website migration. Sometimes it can be an opportunity to make changes to website navigation and structure, to the design to improve the user journey, or implement changes to increase scores for Google Core Web Vitals.

In some instances, an automated migration can be performed, however, we’ll be talking about a manual migration in this article.

If the web design or functionality is to be changed, often using a phased approached is better. Performing the migration “like for like” from one platform to another, then making the changes, then performing further SEO audits and tweaks can help ease the process.

Planning your website migration

The biggest and most common mistake people make when migrating a website is lack of careful planning. Another frequent reason for failure is underestimating the scope of the work and required expertise.

  1. Set the objectives. Ask yourself why you are migrating and when you want it done.
  2. Estimate the timeline. You can use our checklist to layout milestones.
  3. Get help. Make sure you have on your team webmaster engineers, SEOs, analysts, UX and content specialists.
  4. Collect the data for reference and analysis. You can use a variety of analytical tools, Google has many free options
numerous books laid flat on a floor, all open on various pages

Ideas for preparing a successful migration of Content

Assign a Project Manager to oversee the entire content migration project – as with any large scale undertaking, having a designated team member who takes the lead is imperative for success.

Here we list some suggestions to planning your content migration as part of the overall website migration process.

  • Perform a legacy site content review
  • Perform a content audit and rewrites – How long has it been on the site? When was the last time it had visitors? Would anyone miss it if it was gone?
  • Create Word document templates for all content types or pages
  • Create an images folder and optimise all of the contents – a great opportunity for resizing, smushing or converting the formats
  • Make separate folders for all other exterior site assets – PDFs, Doc, spreadsheets, powerpoints, Excel, Videos
  • Metadata, alt tag and keyword strategy for website search optimisation

Consider a content freeze in your timeline

This is to ensure that content is “frozen” avoiding a potential issue with a content author creating or editing something in the old environment, only to have it missed during migration.

The content freeze should be scheduled right down to the day and even time, just to be certain that you won’t have to go back and rework anything that’s been added.

several floppy disks spread on a table

Backup, backup, backup

Always make a backup of the existing live website. It doesn’t do any harm to have several backups in different locations, should the need arise.

Having a working copy of the website either on the same hosting or an accessible machine can be useful to reference for both yourself as the Client and the Developer or Agency.

How much does it cost to migrate a website?

This question can be like asking “how long is a piece of string” – it can depend on several factors, as mentioned in this article.

Depending on the size of the website, if it is eCommerce, if the design varies between templates (2 designs or 12 designs), will there be a need to write new code to accommodate moving from one platform to another?

How big is the team working on the migration, how many stakeholders are involved and how much does it impact other areas (think Marketing, Ads, campaigns, writing new content, selling products) can impact the time and ultimately the cost of the project.

Setting aside a reasonable budget for a website migration would be advisable.

european bank notes
pile of wooden clocks

How long does a website migration take?

A high-level project plan for migration of legacy sites could look as follows, but note that time consumption for each phase can vary greatly depending on complexity:

  • Analysing and technical preparation: 2-4 weeks
  • Preparing designs, templates and migration scripts: 3-4 weeks
  • Importing content and data: 1 week
  • Manual quality check and design adjustments: 2-4 weeks
  • Domains and 301 redirects management: 2 weeks

Ideally, several weeks buffer time should be built-in to account for any unexpected delays.

Free website migration checklist

Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst. Website migration is a serious undertaking that has a lot of potential issues and pitfalls. Use our checklist along the way to facilitate the process.

How to prepare for a website migration

We’ve collated some key points to consider when planning your website migration.

Planning

  • Establish the potential impact of a website migration
  • Time migration for minimal impact e.g. seasonal
  • Communicate scope of work required
  • Where domains are being changed consider staggering site redesign.

Before Migration

At this stage of the migration, it is important to review changes to ensure they’re matching what is documented and feeding back required changes to meet agreed requirements.

  • Ensure test environments of the new site cannot be indexed by search engines
  • Take full crawl of old site
  • Establish the website url structure
  • Export list of all pages of old site with links, with more than one visitor in the last 12 months, shared on social media and currently indexed by search engines
  • Create a spreadsheet of the old urls in preparation for redirects
  • Audit redirect map for wildcard and regular expression simplification opportunities
  • Generate .htaccess file encapsulating all required redirects
  • Make and keep backup(s) of old website
  • Benchmark the old site’s performance, number of indexed pages across major search engines and entry pages within your analytics platform
  • Carry out extensive website audit of the current site
  • Prepare a robots.txt file and XML Sitemap for the new site
  • Tests for broken links

During Migration

  • Ensure crawlers can access the site and webmaster verification codes are live
  • Check robots.txt file, XML Sitemap and Tracking codes are s expected
  • Ensure that noindex in the <head> has been removed for all pages
  • Check that your redirects are 301s and are working as expected
  • Upload XML Sitemap to search engines
  • Ensure all title tags and meta descriptions have been implemented
  • Test for broken links
  • Ensure that the live site doesn’t show soft 404s
  • Monitor real time analytics for immediate usability issues
  • Speed up re-indexation with social signals
  • Check all internal links are followed

After Migration

Following the launch of the migration it’s critical to keep monitoring performance to spot any problem areas and ensuring search engines are correctly understanding page elements.

  • Check Google and Bing webmaster tools for new error messages
  • Contact key linking websites
  • Change all urls on owned properties
  • Check cache for important internal pages from the legacy site
  • Compare site performance and site indexation to benchmark
  • Compare number of search engine entry pages with benchmark

Top tip: Log file analysis is the best way to understand how search engines are crawling a site. Compare log data before the migration and after to identify new pattens and pages search engines are visiting frequently and any page errors they’re hitting.

broken shards of glass

Common migration mistakes and how to overcome them

Pages are removed and not redirected to a relevant page

Redirects are critical for maintaining SEO performance as they help inform search engines about the relationships between pages.

Pages which are being removed should be mapped 1:2:1, meaning each page is mapped to its most relevant corresponding page.

This takes time but will help protect SEO performance. Ensure 301 redirects are used when creating redirects.

Pages are removed which had significant SEO value

Always ensure page performance is evaluated before being removed.

It might be that you still decide that the content will be removed, but the team will be aware of the impact.

Analysis of top SEO driving pages should be completed as well as identifying the reasons why they are performing well at the start of a migration.

Technical SEO requirements are not fed into the site build

Always try and ensure SEO is considered at the beginning of the project.

If they are not, Technical SEO recommendations can’t always be included at a later stage and the site might have to be launched with technical issues – which then might impact SEO performance.

Not setting performance benchmarks and SEO objectives for the migration

To understand if a migration was successful you need to have objectives set and trended data to demonstrate performance improvement.

For example, if one of the goals was around improving site speed and benchmarks of old site pages hasn’t been documented, you’ve now lost your chance to capture this data and review performance.

Our website migration service

Are you ready to take the leap and move your website?

We believe that moving too slowly in digital is the biggest risk your business faces.

If you are ready to move faster in digital, we are here to help. For more advice and top tips, get in touch, to discuss our website migration service.

We’ve performed several migrations over the years, which have included moving from Magento to Shopify, Wix and Squarespace to WordPress, and proprietary CMS platforms to Hubspot CMS.

It’s a tough job, but it’s just as rewarding when you see the results. Careful consideration and even more careful migration will keep your site in Google’s good graces.


Caroline Hagan

Caroline brings over 15 years as a Designer and Developer; featured in .NET magazine, the only woman in the UK accredited for Google Mobile Sites. A business mentor with Enterprise Nation, STEM Ambassador and Google Women Techmaker Ambassador Previous client projects include Blackberry, FIAT, Clark Shoes and Sky.