Site Migration SEO Checklist: Everything You Need to Know

March 21, 2024

Any website owner or administrator may find embarking on a site migration challenging. Whether upgrading your platform, changing your domain, or restructuring your website, ensuring a smooth transition while maintaining rankings is crucial.

A poorly executed migration can lead to significant drops in organic traffic, loss of rankings, and diminished online visibility.

Learning how to do it properly from an SEO perspective is mandatory. Meticulous planning and effective execution are needed.

What is Website Migration?

Website migration refers to any sitewide changes that are major enough to impact the site’s indexability and visibility to search engines. It includes activities such as changing internal structures or visual redesigns.

Many changes are implied during this process, and all of them can be very challenging, even for specialized agencies. Due to this difficulty, only companies and users who really need to complete this task do it.

Common Causes of Migration

The site migration process involves profound changes that can deeply hurt and affect your site’s visibility. Companies must have a very important reason to do so, such as:

  • Refreshing the site: Sometimes, old sites need a makeover to look fresh and modern. This also applies when site structures and navigation are very complicated and scare crawlers away.
  • Moving to a new framework: moving to a new CMS or framework is a common cause when looking to improve performance, security or functionality.
  • Adding mobile versions: Sometimes, migrating a site is needed to add functionality for other devices like phones and tablets. This is very important to reach new audiences and improve user experience.
  • Moving from HTTP to HTTPS: having an HTTP site means that users will see pop-ups telling them the site isn’t secure to browse, often scaring people away. Switching this to encrypt users’ information is vital.
  • Server switch: Getting a new host can greatly speed up a site when it’s growing. This is good not only for the site but also for improving the user’s experience.
  • Changing domain name: When rebranding, it’s very common to change the site name, which always implies site migration.

All of these reasons are some of the most common reasons companies migrate their pages to other sites.

Does It Affect SEO?

Making drastic changes to a website will always affect SEO, and site migration isn’t the exception. However, doing this can improve SEO long-term by creating a safer, more intuitive, and more positive visitor experience.

This long-term goal benefits SEO because Google favors those sites with fast speed and user-friendly interfaces. Search engines must also re-index it when moving it, which will undoubtedly take a hit in short-term traffic.

Proper site migration can help keep SERP positions and help them start moving in a better direction.

SEO Migration Checklist (and Important Data for Devs) – 15 Points to Keep in Mind

Developing a site migration SEO checklist ensures the new domain doesn’t suffer many traffic changes. While it’s suitable for new or low-traffic sites, it is not recommended for pages with stable traffic and audience.

While it’s not recommended to migrate until strictly necessary, there are some vital points that experts must have in mind when doing so, such as:

1. Benchmarking and Previous Planning

One of the most common mistakes that unprepared people make when migrating is not creating a careful plan first. Another big fault is underestimating the scope of work and required expertise.

Hiring a professional agency can easily avoid these issues with a prior analysis of the situation to assess your site’s visibility and SEO rankings, mainly to check if migration is needed. After that, developers can take over and begin the migration planning phase.

Setting objectives and goals should be the main priority. After that, a timeline must be estimated to determine the duration of the task. Last but not least, getting the proper help from webmasters, SEO experts, and content specialists is a must.

Collecting data for reference and analysis is also mandatory for planning. Setting up analytical tools eases the process of having a point of reference when planning how to migrate correctly.

2. Making a Site Copy

Creating a copy of the site is a highly recommended step that shouldn’t be avoided when migrating a site. These backups are used to test and revise all the changes that will be made on a new server.

Using a test site on a different domain or subdomain is the best way to compare the new and old versions and do the necessary tweaking. Setting it up for the test site is essential for those using a CDN (content delivery network).

3. Blocking New Site Access

Preventing search engines from indexing your new site before the migration is completed is extremely important. This is done to keep the pages from appearing on SERPs before they should.

There are a couple of ways to block access. Experts use it very easily by creating a robots.txt file. Password protection can also set up authorization rules that prevent others from entering, and no index tags also prevent bots from crawling.

4. Checking If Google Can Access

Adding a temporary hostname to the test subdomain is necessary to ensure Googlebot can access a newly migrated site. This also ensures that JavaScript is ready to be crawled and indexed.

It is recommended that Googlebot be given only temporary accessibility. After testing, restricting access shortly is needed to ensure that no indexing problem is present.

5. Search for Penalizations

When acquiring a new domain, you should always check if any manual actions were issued against it. When searching the Manual Actions report in the Search Console, let’s review the history and ensure there’s no issue or existing problem with Google.

6. Checking DNS TTL Values

Visitors use your site name instead of IP address to enter your site, but computers need IPs to serve such websites. A domain naming system (DNS) always translates these names to IP addresses.

When the migration requires a site to change its IP address, DNS records will also need to be updated, resulting in page downtime for a period of time. To minimize this, developers can tweak the TTL values of DNS entries.

7. Analyzing Server Performance

Googlebot has to crawl to your site and do it as soon as possible to lose visibility. If the server response is slow, it will also affect Googlebot, making it take more time to recrawl. This also affects the site’s performance, no matter how well it’s optimized.

To ensure that pages load quickly, experts must check the performance report in the Site Audit and use the HTML page speed.

8. Mapping URLs

After the planning is done, mapping URLs is the next step. It is crucial to keep a list of every URL that needs to be matched up to reconnect them correctly. Not doing so can have drastic consequences for SEO, taking a huge hit in visibility rankings.

To create a list of existing URLs, experts must find the most important pages of a site, content-wise, traffic-wise, and link-wise. They also need to gather all images and videos and make them available on the new site.

Some of the most relevant tools experts use are Search Console to find all indexed pages, Google Analytics to find which pages have traffic, and In-Site Audits to filter out pages with specified status codes.

9. Finding What URLS Require Redirects

When a site’s URL structure completely changes, matching old URLs with the new ones is mandatory to determine whether a 301 redirect is needed. A wrong redirection process will prevent pages from receiving the traffic and PageRank of old sites, drastically affecting the whole new site.

10. Creating a 301 Redirect Map

Addressing which pages are missing is the next step in migrating a site after the URL mapping. For each missing page, experts must find a relevant destination to receive referral traffic from any existing hyperlink pointing to that page.

This step must be taken carefully when setting up so that old URLs are excluded from the index and redirects are kept working when current hosting is canceled.

While it’s very common to use the host page as only a redirect, leaving this task to professionals like Kala Agency is what you should do. Experts can find the most relevant page or create new ones with relevant content to avoid dead ends, loops and chains.

11. Migration in Chunks

When it comes to migration, different pages may have issues. When most pages move at once, some mistakes are likely made, making it harder to spot the difficulty.

When migrating large websites, it’s recommended that experts move bit by bit and test after each move to make it easier to detect mistakes.

12. Updating All Links

You need to try updating as many links as possible after the move. Reaching out to sites that link to you and ask to change them is very important. If this isn’t possible, make sure there’s a 301 redirect to solve this.

If the page is running ad campaigns, make sure the ads point to the new landing pages. Checking the social media links is also important.

13. Cancel Old Hosting

Once the migration is complete and Google finishes indexing the new site, you can cancel the old hosting server. Again, experts must ensure that 301 redirects are set up properly and redirect people away from the old, unused page.

14. Update Google My Business

If you have a linked profile, your Google My Business site will likely be affected when you change your domain. Google gets all your information from the web, automatically generating a listing, so updating it is also necessary.

Specialists can easily carry out this task with their listing management tools, creating a comprehensive business profile distributed amongst many directories.

Other relevant information non-domain related to the business itself might be changed. To modify it, owners must access the Google Business manager, edit the business listing, and then apply changes.

15. Carry Out an SEO Audit

An SEO audit is a very important process that needs to be done before the whole migration phase to carefully detect what needs to be modified. In addition, another SEO audit should always be done once the migration is done.

This last SEO audit is an organic health check that helps specialists see if everything works correctly: pages optimized with relevant keywords, working URL links, etc.

Conclusion

Executing a successful site migration requires meticulous planning to avoid drastic changes to your website’s SEO performance.

By adhering to a comprehensive site migration SEO checklist, experts can mitigate potential risks and safeguard your website’s organic search rankings. Keep in mind that hiring a marketing agency like Kala can significantly simplify this process, as well as enhance your ranks.

Prioritizing user experience, technical excellence, and content optimization throughout the migration process is paramount for maintaining visibility and authority in search engine results pages (SERPs), safeguarding digital presence and ensuring online success.

In addition, leveraging insights from analytics data, user feedback, and industry trends can help refine SEO strategies, enhance user engagement, and maximize the ROI of your site migration efforts, positioning your website for sustained growth and competitiveness.

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