Best Practices for Migrating Websites

Best Practices for Migrating Websites

When it comes to website migration, most web developers and marketers fail to take into account how search engines react and what the process will do for organic performance. Website migration, particularly when it comes to search engine optimization, is not a simple strategy that can be done fast. This article will show the best practices that make the whole process easier, safer, and surer.

Migration takes extensive planning, research, execution, and monitoring. These help ensure that the website builds and maintains as much visibility as possible. Furthermore, migrating a website requires the resources of several teams, which include SEO, web development teams, and digital marketing, to make sure that tasks are done correctly and on time. The end result of website migration could include an improved or even new user experience, easier editing experience, cleaner interface, and so on. The right website migration maintains and hopefully boosts organic performance.

Site Migration and Common Types

With migration, a website gets largely revamped in areas that affect search engine visibility. These areas include user experience, design, website location, platform, and structure. The following are the common types of site migration.

Domain Migration

Domain migration is moving a website from a domain to a new domain that involves migrating all resources and content. There are several considerations when it comes to this migration type to ensure success. Often, this is done by organizations that need to upgrade systems as well as transfer data to new systems, like when making a web page. All code, in this case, regardless of content and markup language used, must be transferred from one domain into another. The idea is to move data in any format so it will remain usable even in a new system. Simply put, it’s transferring all files while keeping the original format.


HTTP to HTTPS Migration

For Google, security is paramount and in order to ensure https integration, Google is considering HTTPS as a ranking signal. Migrating a site from HTTP to HTTPS will be treated as a site move with changes in the URL, which could temporarily affect some traffic numbers. Nobody wants to visit a website when it has scary pop-ups telling them it’s not safe. Switching from HTTP to HTTPS fortunately helps secure a website by encrypting the information of visitors and warding off scary notifications. The first reason to migrate to HTTPs is security, of course. This is particularly true for eCommerce. Having a kind of encrypted protection with payment processing is crucial.


CMS/Platform Change

A website is built on a site platform. A site could be built on Shopify, WordPress, and so on. Furthermore, you could also have a custom website built by a development team. You may want to change to a better platform. When changing the platform on which your website is built, it’s important to test the SEO functions of the new platform. When you have a clear vision of what you need and want from your new platform, you can start exploring options. A lot of factors should be taken into consideration. These include flexibility, scalability, functionality, compatibility, cost, security, and support. Moreover, it’s important to check out testimonials, reviews, and case studies from others who have made the switch. Depending on your needs and preferences, you could opt for a self-hosted or hosted solution, a headless or traditional architecture, an open-source system, or a specialized or hybrid platform.

Website Migration Best Practices

Before you start migrating your website, it’s advisable to run a site crawler to make an inventory of your pages. The goal is to have a list of all the pages that you could refer to when you have completed the migration process to verify that everything is done correctly.

Define Scope and Migration Objectives

First things first, you have to establish your primary goals and the scope of your migration. For instance, try to determine what you want to accomplish and will the change impact all the site pages or just a few subsections. Often, migrating a website has goals that are not related to search engine optimization, such as a redesign that’s entirely a branding decision. Nevertheless, if you expect to benefit from SEO, like switching to descriptive URLs for Google to understand your content better, you would want to be able to measure the result. You could, for instance, begin with a hypothesis that your migration could result in 10 percent more organic traffic. This will provide you with a concrete metric to track to be able to evaluate whether the migration process was successful or otherwise. Now, let’s see how this best practice can be implemented. First, identify the major stakeholders, and the team members who will be responsible and involved. Ask questions like why this migration needs to be done. What you’re looking to achieve? What happens after migration? How much traffic loss will be there? Identify major pain points of migrations and discuss those with team members.

Create a Duplicate Copy of your website

To test and revise all changes you make, you would need to upload a duplicate copy of your website to a new server. Using a test site on a separate domain or subdomain is a good idea. This lets you compare the new site to the existing version and tweak it prior to launching. For WordPress CMS, you can get help from available [free WordPress plugins] to create a duplicate website. Duplicating a website, in essence, means replicating its layout and appearance and its underlying code and content as well. If you are, for instance, using a content delivery network, make sure to set it up for the test site. Now, let’s see how this best practice can be implemented. You can either do it manually using FTP or get some help from available plugins. For example, if you’re using a WordPress website, then you can get some help from available WordPress plugins like Duplicator or some other according to your requirement.


URL mapping

If the structure of the URL has changed, the existing URLs should match the new ones. A search engine optimization that does this best ensures that the process of migration goes smoothly without any loss. Matching the new URL against each of the existing ones is necessary.


You can get help from free tools and download all the available URLs by crawling the website.


In migrating, refrain from including URLs with poor content, those that do not have visitors, and those that you think hurt your crawling budget in the Mapping file. Keep in mind that Google has a reserved place for your website in its data center, and this space is used for your most efficient pages. Now, let’s see how this best practice can be implemented. First, download or fetch all the existing website URLs. To do this, you can either take help from tools like Screaming Frog or else you can even go to website sitemaps. Then, in a simple Excel sheet, you can add the URLs and parallel match old website URLs with New URLs. This will ultimately help you to set up an easy redirect.

Define your 301 redirect Map

If you have changed to a new domain name, setting up 301 redirects following migration is also important. This way, when customers visit the old URL, they will be redirected to a new website automatically. There are a lot of ways of setting up 301 redirects, which will be discussed below. Some SEO plugins, for instance, enable this functionality. Nonetheless, the most solid and effective method is to make use of a dedicated plugin, such as Redirection. A redirect is a way for a site to send a fast message to the browser of the readers, telling them that the page they want to visit has been moved. Now, let’s see how this best practice can be implemented. Create an Excel sheet with columns for ‘Old URL’ and ‘New URL’. List all the relevant URLs in their respective columns. This sheet will serve as a reference to determine which old URL should be redirected to which new URL. The setup of the Excel sheet can be as follows:


Once you’ve finalized your 301 redirection map in an Excel sheet, you can use the .htaccess file of the old domain to set up the URL redirection manually.

Redirect 301 /12

You can do the same for every URL that needs to be redirected. For a WordPress CMS, you can install available plugins like 301 Redirect and set up an easy redirection. The following image is just for representation.


Inform users about the Update

A website migration could only be completed if the customers are informed. While you could time your migration so it’s more convenient for visitors, it’s still important to alert them of it. For instance, you could display a notice on your site. You could also directly email your subscribers. Customers would know to avoid your website while the work is ongoing. This is particularly important for an eCommerce store since it lets shoppers get their orders before the website becomes unavailable. Thus, you can minimize the revenue impact that the migration could cause. Now, let’s see how this best practice can be implemented. Use the help of your social media channels and email newsletter to inform users about your website migration.

Test before Launch

A thorough test in a closed environment could help you determine issues or errors that, if left unaddressed, could create havoc with the UX or traffic of your website when the migration goes live. Consider testing your migration in a closed environment. Why? First, any changes made won’t affect the live site. Second, keeping the old website live enables customers to use it and provides you with a reference point for changes. Third, if there is anything wrong, you could always do away with the closed environment and begin again. The kind of migration determines when you could begin testing. For instance, if you’re launching a new design, you can start testing as soon as it’s developed. The earlier you test, the better. Now, let’s see how this best practice can be implemented. Testing in a closed environment means that you’ve uploaded your new website to a staging server, which cannot be accessible to the public. Websites hosted in testing environments can be used like a normal website. Only shared public URLs can be given to certain users to identify the pain points. You can get help from a web hosting provider if they’re providing a staging server to help you with migration. For example, BlueHost and Siteground provide staging environments. In WordPress CMS, you can get help from different plugins available like WP Staging.

After Launch Monitoring

After migration, you can keep a close eye on your search and referral traffic daily. If there are any shifts in traffic, plunge down to the page level and make a comparison of the traffic on the old website to the new one to determine which pages lost traffic. In particular, the pages should be checked for linking issues and crawl errors. Consider having external links point at the old page version changed to a new one, if possible. Moreover, it’s also important to closely monitor the most linked pages, both by authority and external link count. Pages play the biggest role in your website’s overall ability to rank; thus, changes in performance are indicative of the site’s overall performance. Now, let’s see how this best practice can be implemented. Tools like Semrush, Ahrefs can help you with this. You can set up a project in these tools and be able to locate errors like 404 (not found), redirection issues, 5xx errors, broken links, and more. Also, Google Search Console will also help you with Core Web Vitals issues. In GSC, you can also analyze and compare your old URL with a new URL and measure the performance.

Update your SEO changes in GSC

It’s important to check if the website ownership is still valid after the move in the Google Search Console settings. If you use an HTML file as your verification method, make sure that the new site has the file. Update changes in SEO in GSC to help Google index the new URLs and minimize ranking loss. You can submit both old and new URLs to monitor how the old URLs are removed and how the new ones are added to the index. Now, let’s see how this best practice can be implemented. Use Google Search Console’s Change of Address tool to inform about the website migration. Create a new property in GSC and then select the newly created website in the Change of Address tool and click on validate and update.


Run SEO Website Audit

There are instances when third-party tools could find issues that you are now aware of. Running an SEO website audit is a great thing to do in instances like this. An SEO website audit determines how well-optimized the website is for search engines. Furthermore, it finds problems that could hurt the rankings of the site and provides opportunities for improvement. An SEO audit enables you to stay ahead of the competition and boosts the user experience. Furthermore, it helps identify valuable SEO opportunities that could maximize your ROI. Running an SEO audit also lets you refine your SEO strategy and enables you to communicate the importance of SEO to your business. Now, let’s see how this best practice can be implemented. This process is similar to after-launch monitoring. All you have to do is set up a website audit in any of the mentioned tools and check out the issues it fetches after crawling. You can also make use of free tools like Screaming Frog and download the website audit report.


Keep Tracking

Keep close tabs on your traffic daily, at least a week after migration. Continue tracking and keep a close eye on the most linked pages, track your success, and improve where needed. Moreover, it’s also important to keep track of the metrics outlined at the beginning of the process. Determine if the metrics are in line with your expectations, and if not, find out what’s wrong. After migration, it’s normal to see changes and possibly a decrease in your traffic and rankings. You may also want to keep tabs on the traffic levels and rankings of the legacy website. Now, let’s see how this best practice can be implemented. In order to measure the website traffic performance, Google Analytics is a go-to tool. You can clearly track the ongoing performance of the new URLs and also checkout the engaged session you’re currently getting.



Website migration could be stressful, but don’t be afraid to make the move. There could be errors with the process, but still, don’t be afraid. Adhering to the website migration best practices is always a good idea to avoid common problems and ensure success. For instance, you can build a fresh website backup and disable firewalls and caching plugins. Moreover, testing your web functionality, SSL certificate, and web performance is also paramount. You can always follow the best approach when redesigning your website. Migration takes a lot of research, planning, strategizing, and execution to succeed. Again, there are so many considerations when maintaining and boosting organic visibility. Nevertheless, as long as you take the time to do the best practices, you can be sure to get the most visibility. Website migration could pave the way for more traffic on your website and boost profitability.

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