A site migration takes place when a website is re-vamped from some reason. This could be a new design or adopting a new CMS.

It is sometimes more complicated than it looks depending on the size of the website.

Site migrations come with a lot of risks which can potentially cause your business to lose revenue while the problem is fixed.

Common problems include:

  • Loss of current traffic.
  • Page errors (404's).
  • Drop in search rankings.

I've been involved in several critical site migrations of large scale websites.

We recently worked on a university website and as per their requirements we had to provide a month-on-month action plan that we would perform while they developed the website.

In this post I will provide you with the migration plan as a downloadable Excel document and explain how you can create a successful site migration plan with a monthly task list.

Brief

Our client was focused on creating a fresh website with a new design and CMS that was expected to go live in six months.

So, we created a six-month plan that was divided it into pre- and post-migration according to:

  1. User experience
  2. Strong infrastructure (technical SEO)
  3. Same URLs for new webpages and images (or redirection plan) - URL Structure
  4. Navigation menu links 
  5. Removal of old pages
  6. Quality check for the addition of new pages
  7. Current keywords ranking
  8. Structured Data
  9. Source code
  10. Page speed
  11. Robots.txt

Pre-migration

Here I'll cover off several of the most important pre-migration tasks.

1. User experience

User behavior depends on the website design and how it enables the user to interact with any calls-to-action.

The obvious rule of thumb is that better designed websites convert more, so you need to make sure that the new website improves the conversion rate and doesn’t frustrate any current or potential future customers.

On this topic, here are some interesting reads about user experience: 

2. Page removal

Page removal is often one of the reasons why site migrations don’t meet their objectives.

This can happen while re-structuring and re-designing websites. For example, the organization might remove or change the URLs of some of the important, high-ranking pages.

To make sure this doesn’t happen during your site migration, you need to create a list of the top 500–1,000 pages (depending on the size of your website) which were getting the most traffic.

Then double-check if they are present on the current website using Google Analytics or any other web analytics tools you are using.

If the site owner decides to remove any pages, make sure to implement 301 redirects on these pages to the most relevant content pages.

3. Adding new pages

When revamping a website, the site owner often wants to add new pages.

Create a list of newly added pages and carry out the below quality checks: 

  • Pages don’t contain thin content.
  • Title & meta data is up to date.
  • Page load time matches the other website pages. Ideally you want it to be below one second.
  • Webpage layout and content alignment.

4. Strong infrastructure (technical SEO)

Technical SEO is vitally important for achieving high rankings, so you must ensure the new site adheres to Google's guidelines.

These resources will give you all the advice you need in this regard:

5. URL Structure

URL structure is a tricky subject. To migrate your website successfully you can either follow the old URL structure or create redirects to sustain the previous traffic.

Different CMS platforms develop their own URL structure which sometimes can’t be controlled.

If your URLs are dynamic or you cannot follow the old URL structure, you can use 301 redirects to the new page URLs.

There are three main URL types on the website that could affect the website traffic after migration.

We have similar advice for all of them - either follow the old URL structure or 301 redirect the old URL to the new URLs. This should apply on the following type of URLs:

  • Page URLs
  • Image URLs
  • Attachment URLs

6. Page speed 

Page speed has become one of the major ranking factors on Google. New websites often include large images that can impact negatively on the overall page speed.

According to Kiss Metrics, "If an ecommerce site is making $100,000 per day, a one-second page delay could potentially cost $2.5m in lost sales every year."

Before you begin the migration, analyze the page load times for the site and try to identify some quick wins to optimize page speed (e.g. resizing images).

Compare the pre- and post-migration load times. Ideally you want the new site to be as fast as the old site, if not faster.

7. HTML structure

Although source code optimization (HTML structure) comes under page speed optimization, we want to cover this separately to give it the attention it deserves. 

Even if your page load time is fast, having good HTML structure allows Google to crawl your entire page quicker.

For this you need to make sure that:

  • All hard-coded JavaScript and CSS should be covered in separate .js and .css files.
  • Ajax scripting is used on the internal pages.
  • Wireframes are not used on the overall website.
  • Navigation menu links are structured as the proper hierarchy level.

Ref: Hard-coded JS and CSS. Image Producer: Caliber Dubai

Ref: Nav-gation menu links. Image Source: KissMetrics

8. Current Google rankings

To ensure that hard-fought Google rankings are not lost after the site migration, you need to track all keyword rankings before you push your website live to re-check the performance.

It's unlikely that everything will remain completely stable during a site migration, but a major drop off should be cause for concern.

9. Google Analytics tracking on overall website

Ensure that you have Google Analytics or other traffic tracking code placed on your site.

This is usually done on the last day before going live.

10. Robots.txt management

Robots.txt should be handled carefully. Minor mistakes can mean that pages aren't indexed correctly in Google.

You can encounter massive loss in traffic if you make any unnecessary additions.

You can read up about this important topic here:

In conclusion...

I hope you enjoyed the article and found this brief overview useful.

Please feel free to download the month-on-month site migration plan, here.

Good luck with your site migration!

And for more on this topic, check out Econsultancy’s range of SEO resources:

Kumail Hemani

Published 30 August, 2016 by Kumail Hemani

Kumail Hemani is SEO Director at Search Interactive Dubai and a contributing author at Econsultancy. He blogs here, and you can connect with him on Twitter.

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Comments (2)

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Michelle Hay, Account Executive at Sitemorse

From our experience with clients we have found that there a few key things to consider in the migration process:

• Understanding the inventory of what is really out there on the site – so often actual scale is unknown and comes as a surprise, as documents etc. have been added over time.
• Reporting of things such as current redirects
• Assessing the templates during the build stages
• Assessing current publishing process with the implantation of UX, SEO and GRC assessment as part of a new more efficient publishing process – publishing faster and ‘right first time’
• Run pre-launch assessments of the content – remove any 404’s, ensure spelling, brand and accessibility are compliant Following launch monitor availability and uptime – including SLA monitoring and hacking protection
• Set up daily, weekly and monthly reporting as to publishing quality and compliance by editor and/or team
• Set monthly KPI’s and review against the sites. Breaking it down across the organisation by sector
• (Continual Content Assessment) Content read continually with any issues arising directly routed to the content editor or technical team who owns it.

over 1 year ago

Levi Phillips

Levi Phillips, Marketing Executive at Towards Maturity

Wish this article was written six months ago! We're into the backend of what we thought would be a simple migration of our content to WordPress, but we've hit several snags along the way. The project timeline has been expanded twice as a result and we're finally on a realistic schedule.

You can never over-plan the steps that might be needed along the way - it will take longer than you think!

over 1 year ago

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