Moving your website from one domain/protocol/content/platform to another may look like a nightmare. And a big workload is not the only problem in this situation, huge troubles may come the moment everything is done. You may lose traffic, and your SEO ranking may dip for a while.
If the migration was done correctly, such a drop would be gone in some time. But if not, it can cause a lot of pain to SEO specialists and developers. That’s why we suggest preparing and planning everything before the start of the website migration. How to do this? No panic, we have created a detailed roadmap for you.
Website migration: well, is it really needed?
In principle, there is no direct answer to this question. Sometimes without a strategic migration done on time, it’s possible to lose a lot. Just imagine, that you have created a website, it works, attracts attention, sells, etc. But one of the team members accidentally finds another domain that suits perfectly, or the company needs rebranding, the current CMS leaves much to desire, or it’s just time to change something for whatever reason. What to do in this situation? Of course, you will think about migration.
The most common website migration types are listed below:
- CMS Migration – changing the website’s platform (WordPress, Drupal, Joomla, Wix, etc.).
- Website structure transformation – new design, business rebranding, and content update. This type of migration may seriously affect your SEO ranking.
- When your current web host is not giving what you need and lacks functionality, consider switching to a new Web Host.
- Move from HTTP to HTTPS to secure the website.
- Domain migration (domain name or URL) is a part of a new brand strategy such as internationalization.
Ok, what is the risk for SEO after a website migration?
You already know what types of website migration are widespread. Now it’s time to get acquainted with the most unpleasant part of the whole migration process. So, let’s take a close look at possible risks.
Poor user’s experience
Some users may not be satisfied with the changes that take place on your website. This may even lead to a lack of trust in your brand and other unsatisfactory customer reactions. If you don’t want your customers to misunderstand what’s going on, just tell them beforehand about the upcoming changes and offer some apologies and ask for patience.
Website content lost
This is one of the most common mistakes that often occur with website migration. If the content is really valuable for you and there is no option to lose even a part of it, create a backup of your current website. This will be your plan B in case something suddenly goes wrong.
Traffic and ranking dropdown
A website migration may affect your position in the search engine and even become the reason for traffic loss. But this won’t last for long if you did everything right and followed all the steps of the migration plan. Just give your users and Google some time to understand that your brand is still as great as it has always been, just with some changes.
Conversion rate’s decline
This is the result of a redesign, problems with the contact form, or traffic drop-down. Yes, you may experience problems with conversion on your website after migration. But as soon as traffic starts growing or bugs are fixed, things should return to normal.
Internal link errors
When you move your content from one platform, host, or domain to another, be prepared to spend some time changing internal links. It’s not a secret that internal links are a vital part of SEO optimization. Actually, they directly influence the website’s ranking. You can easily avoid any problems with internal links if you change them before you bring the site online post-migration.
Break of analytics
If you own an E-commerce website or just track your website activity, you definitely use some analytical tools. After website migration, some parts of these tools may not work correctly. Try to fix these bugs soon after migration. Sometimes professional help may be needed.
And what may go wrong with a website migration?
In principle, absolutely everything, in case you don’t care about important details at the very beginning. Here are the most common mistakes that may cause you trouble:
- poor strategy and planning;
- lack of attention to making backups, coping with SEO data, testing, etc.;
- slow bug fixing and no reaction to issues that may occur on the new website.
But don’t worry. Almost all of these possible errors can be excluded entirely with the help of a detailed website migration plan. We made one for you. It is adapted and focused mostly on WordPress website migration but could also be used for other CMS platforms.
WordPress website migration plan
Step 1: Consider everything about website migration
Website migration is an important task that deserves good preparation. It’s better to think about all the milestones beforehand.
Before starting a migration, analyze your website one more time. If you want to switch to another CMS, make sure you have done a detailed comparison of your current platform and the new one beforehand. If your reason for migration is the need for redesign, proceed only after you have done deep competitor research.
Do you still think that making a migration is better for your particular case? If so, we recommend calculating all the costs you have to cover to complete the process. These costs may include:
- a new domain and host (if needed)
- CMS subscription, SEO, and analytical tools
- redesign, rebranding, new content
- freelancer services (if needed), etc.
According to some rough calculations, website migration may cost around $300. The total price may differ depending on the country, market, size of the store or website, and other circumstances.
Step 2: Create your strategy
Your website migration plan has to include all the tasks that should be done from the beginning until the end of the process. You also should assign team members to every task and forecast possible issues that may make the migration longer. Also, think about the right order of tasks.
Your website migration will also affect partners, clients, and all people and companies involved in your business. Inform them about potential problems like decreases in traffic, SEO issues, website downtime, etc. Be sure that everyone got the message and is aware. Think about writing a short post on your new homepage and sending email notifications beforehand. It’s also a good idea to establish a 404 Page in case any pages didn’t port over correctly.
One more point to think about beforehand is the time when you plan your WordPress website migration. It’s better to choose a period when your company faces some temporary slow down. Almost every business knows the time when migration will be the best. For seasonal companies, we recommend choosing a time frame when clients are not active; for others – to plan migration for summer months, for example. At the same time, it’s better to avoid migration during or before holidays. Otherwise, you risk waiting until the end of the holidays with dozens of unfixed bugs. Every change always causes unexpected or even unpredictable problems. You should have enough time to solve them. On the other hand, many stores have more clients and orders before holidays, and they have to work diligently to avoid any issues with technical difficulties, etc.
Step 3: Backup
Website migration affects your SEO results. That’s why it’s crucial to copy all the website data, which is also important for SEO:
- A backup of your website
- List of all the URLs (URL, H1, title & description, content)*
- Google Analytics tracking codes and other tracking scripts (if any)
- List of URLs that were used for ad campaigns (these URLs have to be fixed and checked quickly to avoid loss of traffic and money)
*Small tip: create a spreadsheet, write down all the links you have on your website and how each of them will change after migration. This will help you to keep everything in mind.
So, don’t forget to copy the whole website with every heading (mainly H1), title, meta description, and other relevant information. A full backup will be needed in case you lose some part of the data or access to it during migration. There are different plugins for WordPress or free software that allows you to get a full backup, and you won’t have to worry about possible issues. You will always have the opportunity to come back to the website you had before:
For backups, you can use the UpdraftPlus WordPress plugin.
After copying the content, make some more useful screenshots of your sitemap and permalinks, and check the file robots.txt.
One of the top priority tasks regarding SEO backup is checking the Google Analytics benchmark before doing something. Benchmarking means comparing your current performance with the results in the past and average industry statistics. Here is a short guide on how to enable benchmarking in Google Analytics and using it correctly.
Step 4: Check SEO
An SEO audit is one of the critical steps that should be done before the website migration. Its goal is to collect all the information about the technical SEO parameters of your current website to reproduce them on the new version or to figure out quickly what is working poorly after the migration.
These SEO parameters mostly include:
- Information about organic traffic and rank.
- Crawled and indexed pages.
- Website structure and speed.
- All the texts and images
For completing this step, it’s better to use a special tool that will provide you with core information. For example, SE Ranking site audit allows crawling a lot of web pages in a few minutes (it’s really a good idea when you have to migrate a large platform), finding technical issues, comparing with the previous audit, and sharing results among team members.
One more useful feature of such tools is the possibility to check the level of your website’s health and see suggestions on what to do for better results. Moreover, professional SEO tools alert about indexing issues and help to solve them before facing serious consequences.
In principle, an SEO Audit has to be a regular procedure for the website even outside the migration process. Don’t forget to run one from time to time to be sure that all the steps you make lead you to a better SEO Ranking and not vice versa.
Step 5: Move it
When everything is ready and waiting, it’s a good idea to start the migration. A WordPress website migration may be easier than other ones, thanks to many different useful plugins that will help you do everything carefully.
- So, before starting, we recommend checking your website’s new domain if you change one. Especially if you bought it long ago, be sure that it works, has no penalties or other unforeseen surprises. If you migrate a store, check the capacity of the platform you are moving to one more time. Pay attention to the possible amounts of items, clients, and leads that may be downloaded to the database, available payment systems, and the domain’s customer support that is able to help you in case of any issues.
- Hide your new website from search engines. And don’t make it visible until you are absolutely ready to do it. To complete this step in WordPress, just go to Settings or use your SEO plugin.
- Import all the data from your old website to the new one. You may do it manually or with the help of special duplicate plugins like WP All Export and WP All Import. There are free plugins, but for security reasons, it might be better to use paid ones.
- Check whether all the canonical SEO data like titles and descriptions were transferred correctly. Canonical tags show Google which pages you want to rank and prioritize. This will be helpful in case you have a lot of duplicated pages after a website migration.
- Pay attention to accessibility. If you redesign the website, it may lead to some difficulties with usability and accessibility for some groups of users. So be sure that all your fonts, colors, and solutions are visible/understandable. This is especially important if the goal of the redesign is to get new leads or introduce the company to new markets.
Step 6: Redirect
Redirection or setting up 301 links is the next and, in principle, the key step for SEO that should be made during a WordPress website migration. This permanent type of redirect allows a search engine to understand that this is your new website and not lose your ranking. It also helps your customers get from the old links located on the previous website to the new ones. That means that you will not lose leads and clients and also hold most of the SEO parameters and result in rankings.
One more great feature of the 301 Redirect is its simple setup:
- If you have some coding experience and access to the old domain, just go to the File Manager and add a piece of the following code to the .htaccess file.
Just change www.yourdomain.com to your URL.
- It’s also possible to create 301 Redirects directly from WordPress using plugins like this one. After installation, you will access the user interface and choose which pages should be redirected and how.
As soon as this task is done, check how everything works on the new website. We recommend keeping 301 Redirection for some months (from 6-8). You may cancel it later.
Step 7: Afterwards
The website migration process is not finished on redirecting. Compare all your new URLs to old ones (using a crawl report done right before the migration) – all website pages with good SEO performance should have the same URL structure as before the migration or be properly redirected (301 Redirect).
Now it’s time to publish your website and make it visible to search engines. It can be done by creating a new sitemap. Do this with a special WordPress plugin like Google XML Sitemaps. And upload it to the Search Console.
And of course, check your website constantly after migration for some time. As with every new solution, it can show some unexpected bugs that should be fixed asap. This will help Google to get used to your new website faster and better.
Website migration is not an easy decision. You should only do it after some good analysis, and only if needed. But website migration done in the right way may bring you a lot of profit, new clients, more income, and of course, better SEO ranking. Just don’t forget to make a plan and start your superhero website migration!
Diana Ford is a digital marketing specialist with 10+ years of experience. Diana loves blogging and shares her expertise regarding digital trends, marketing techniques, search optimization, and business strategies.