Jade Coleman identifies the seven key technical SEO stages of migrating a website, from identifying risks through to final site checks and continual monitoring.

This post is adapted from our FREE eBook: Best Practice Guide to Planning & Managing a Site Migration. Get your copy now.

1. Identify Risks

A site migration comes with a whole host of risks. Being aware of them, and organising your site migration to best avoid them, is a great way to get your site migration project off to a great start.

We believe the five most important risks of a site migration are:

  • Ranking declines and organic traffic loss
  • Drops in conversion rate
  • Broken internal links
  • Incorrect indexation
  • Manual actions against unnatural links

Discover how to identify and avoid these risks in our blog post Top 5 Risks of Site Migration and How to Avoid Them

2. Plan, Plan, Plan

Think of a site migration like moving house. If you don’t plan ahead it will be chaos when you come to moving day. Creating a detailed plan is vital. It will show you, and the rest of the team involved in your website migration, all the actions needed and potential stumbling blocks, to keep you on track and on deadline.

Think of the common objectives of your site migration. Is it to maintain rankings, reduce technical difficulties or improve usability and increase conversion? Once you know why you are doing a site migration it will be easier to work out how to organise it.

When you write up your plan, make sure you consider the following:

  • Budget, costs and internal resources
  • Time line – consider using a Gantt chart to show all parties what is required and when
  • Technical limitations when switching platforms
  • Best time to launch your new site – always aim for a date and time that will have minimal impact on sales

3. Work with PPC

It’s easy to see a site migration as a purely web development and SEO project. However, integrating your site migration with your paid search plans will help provide a seamless migration that has minimal impact on sales at launch.

Working with your paid search team or agency, make sure you find a quiet time to roll out your new site, pause all PPC campaigns while you move across content assets, and then work together on key SEO and PPC considerations post-launch.

Other elements to consider include:

  • Tracking codes
  • AdWords account structure
  • Shopping feeds
  • Quality score
  • Keyword rankings

Look for PPC and SEO synergies across all of these, and work together to ensure the optimum schedule and management of your site migration.

4. Legacy Site Actions

A site migration is a good time to get everything in order – even on the site you plan to leave behind. Good site housekeeping at this stage in your site migration process will reap rewards later down the line.

First, create a URL mapping document and make sure that all legacy site URLs will 301 redirect to your new pages.

Then, make sure you fix any technical issues you have with your current site. You don’t want to migrate over glitches and bad practice. We suggest you look at:

  • Broken links
  • Internal links to redirects
  • 404 error reporting
  • Canonicalization
  • Slow load times
  • Duplicate and missing meta data
  • <h> tags in banner and footer

Review your site navigation and layout, and decide which internal links provide the most benefit.

And finally, complete a backlink audit. Make sure that all backlinks meet with Google best practice.

5. Iron Out Errors on the Test Server

Working with a development server gives you an environment in which to test and re-test the changes you are making through your site migration. Make sure you do as much testing as possible – include testing time in your site migration plan (see point 2).

Use your test server to pick up on:

  • Duplicate content
  • Mobile-friendly optimisation
  • Technical problems such as broken links, redirects, meta data, canonicalization and more.

6. New Site Actions

Your new site has rolled out – hurrah! But don’t celebrate too early. There’s still more testing to carry out before you can mark your site migration project as complete. Run through all the checks you completed on your test server. Test, test and test again every time you make a site change. This may sound arduous, but it will be worth it in the long run.

Now is also the time to check your Robots.txt file and submit a Google change of address notification if required.

More technical checks? Yes, rerun all the tests from point 5.

Once you have completed your tests you can start to build fresh links to your site and work on improving your new site’s domain authority. Now is also a good time to contact owners of quality sites that were linking to your old site, and ask them to repoint their link to your new site.

7. Measure Your Success

Your site migration is complete. Now is the time to measure your success. Look at data on traffic to understand what areas of the site are doing well, and what needs improving.

Record and review all areas of traffic to compare year on year figures. It’s not uncommon for traffic and conversions to be slightly down year on year following a site launch, because it will take a few weeks for the new website to bed in and be crawled and indexed.

Monitor rankings on a weekly basis, benchmark rankings from the week before launch to date. In an ideal situation, about six weeks after launch your rankings should be higher than before launch, although this isn’t always the case.

Also look at your site speed. A slow page load time can cost you money as well as rankings, as potential clients bounce and go elsewhere. Google doesn’t offer a recommendation on what load time a website should be. However, we suggest two to three seconds.

Finally, monitor your indexation. Search console is a great tool for this. The index status report can be found under google index > Index status. A few weeks after you have launched your new site you should start to see indexation stabilise, as Google starts to crawl and index your new pages.

Your new site is up and running, but don’t stop there. We recommend you conduct quarterly reviews of your site, to constantly look for ways to improve rankings and performance.

If you have your own in-house SEO team, or have limited SEO budget, our team of Technical SEO Specialists can conduct an SEO audit of your site, focusing on key areas of Technical, Strategy, Content and Social. Contact us today to find out more.

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About the author:

Jade Coleman is senior technical SEO specialist at ClickThrough Marketing. She is an experienced SEO strategist and analyst, delivering technical SEO insights to improve the performance of websites. Jade also has a degree in journalism and editorial design under her belt.