SEO Migration Checklist: 24 Steps to Migration Success

There is nothing more nerve-wracking in SEO than a site migration. Whether you’re migrating to a new platform, you have changed all of your URLs, you’ve redesigned your site, or you just want to start afresh, SEO migrations are tricky. With so many variables it can be difficult to get everything right. But Embryo can help. We have worked with site migrations for sites both big and small and here, we have pulled together a checklist of everything you need to get right, to ensure that your migration goes off without a hitch.

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The different types of website migration

There are actually many different types of website migration and depending on the type you’re embarking on, you might find the work involved a little more complicated / a little easier.

Site redesign: This can include minor design changes to help improve UX or complete overhauls of how your pages and the content on them look and feel. This is the migration where SEOs are most often left out but it’s imperative that an SEO oversees the changes to ensure that rankings & visibility aren’t lost.

CMS change: This involves changing the platform your site is built on (i.e. WordPress> Shopify). It’s important to ensure that URLs stay the same and to move all meta information over.

Site structure reorganisation: This migration involves significant changes to the way in which your site is structured. Think URL changes, site hierarchy changes, nav changes, and adjustments to internal linking.

International migration: If you’re hoping to start ranking internationally you’ll have to make adjustments to your site like including international subfolders, hreflang, and content tailored to a user’s location.

Domain switch: This involves switching the domain of your website. Typically this is done as part of a rebrand or part of overall business growth.

What do we mean by ‘SEO migration’?

The types of migration we have described above typically heavily rely on web developers and involve a lot of technical work. So what do we mean by SEO migration?

An SEO migration involves ensuring that the changes you make to your website guarantee that rankings for a website are kept, along with site authority and indexing signals. The hope is that organic traffic losses from your changes are minimal.

What are the risks associated with site migrations?

Site migrations gone wrong can be disastrous for businesses as they result in a loss of visibility, traffic, and ultimately, leads / sales. The severity of that loss will depend on how much has changed and what new issues the new version of your site is contending with.

To mitigate these risks it’s important to properly plan your migration and respect the magnitude of the task. Even small changes to a website can, when not properly planned for, cause dramatic effects on traffic.

How much does it cost to migrate a site?

Unfortunately, this question isn’t the easiest to answer. It all comes down to how much is changing on-site, the size of your site, auditing the staging site, assessing on-page content, and implementation.

We advise looking for a company that has experience working with large-scale site migrations and who can show you a detailed plan of how they are going to take your site from A to B.

How long does an SEO migration take?

This will largely depend on the type of migration you’re undertaking, how many 301 redirects you need to implement, copy changes, and the size of your website. The key thing to note when considering how long this project will take is: to give yourself enough time. There’s far more to a migration than just mapping old URLs > new URLs.

SEO migration checklist:

Is a site migration necessary?

The first consideration before embarking on a site migration should be: whether it is necessary. Many businesses look to change their brand or their domain name for vanities sake, rather than considering the ROI.

Suppose you feel that the change to your site will reap rewards. But if you aren’t sure how the migration might benefit your business, don’t do it.

Define your goals

If you have decided that migration is the right move, then start to consider your goals. What are you hoping to achieve with your migration? This will likely inform the type of migration you embark on. Are you trying to improve UX? Are you hoping to move to a simpler CMS? Have you changed your branding?

Know what you want to get out of the project and you’ll find it easier to plan for.

When’s the best time to migrate?

Does your business have peak seasons? Do you see more traffic over the summer? You’ll obviously want to avoid migrating in these key periods. Assess when your quietest time is and plan your migration work accordingly.

Backup your website

Create a full backup of your existing site. Even the best-laid plans can go to waste, so it’s best to be prepared. You can always reinstate your previous site if something goes terribly wrong in this migration.

Crawl and benchmark your existing site

As well as creating a backup we suggest creating a thorough crawl of your existing domain using a tool like Screaming Frog. This will help ensure that you have a list of all your current indexable URLs and their corresponding meta. Super useful when it comes to creating a redirect and migrating metadata over to the new domain.

Create some traffic benchmarks too. Understand your existing site’s performance, keyword reach, conversion rates, so that you can see how much better (or worse) your new site performs.

Prioritise URLs by importance

As well as knowing general performance, it’s good to know which of your existing pages has the most SEO value in terms of both links and traffic. You can use this data to ensure that pages that do very well in organic aren’t changed too drastically in terms of on-page content. You should also understand which URLs are relied on by paid marketing channels to ensure that those move over, too.

  1. Identify URLs with good traffic
  2. Identify URLs with a high number of backlinks
  3. Identify which URLs are being used by paid

Map old URLs > new URLs

Make sure that any URLs that are set to change are 301 redirected to their new site equivalent. This will ensure that all traffic and SEO value is passed from one URL to another. Again, tools like Screaming Frog can make your life easier here, allowing you to pull all URLs from both your new and old sites and match them up.

Create a test environment for your new site

Create a test site that will allow you to try your new designs, test new functions and assess the structure of your new website. You’ll be able to use this to troubleshoot potential problems here, too, without diminishing the UX of your current website.

  1. Make sure it’s blocked from crawling

Ensure all meta has been moved to the new site

Review all on-page elements on your new website. They should be the same, as good as, or better than the on-page SEO elements of your old site. Doing so on your test environment will allow you to A) make sure your new site is SEO ready from the off and B) check that everything is optimised as well as it can be before going live.

Update internal links on the new site

If some or all of your URLs are changing, make sure that you update internal links on the staging website. Failing to do this may mean that you’re left with lots of internal redirects or worse, broken internal links when your new site is pushed live.

Perform a full audit of the new site on the test environment

Once you’re confident that links have been updated and that on-page data is up-to-date then we advise conducting a full technical audit of your staging site. This should ensure that nothing’s fallen through the cracks. Developers can often build beautiful websites but may miss some fundamental SEO components.

Ensure the XML sitemap is up-to-date

Review XML sitemaps to ensure that all of them contain links to the new site rather than older URLs if applicable.

Make sure robots.txt is up-to-date and correct

It’s important that if large-scale changes have been made the robots.txt file contains the correct directives to disallow certain areas of the site. Remember, your staging site should be no indexed within the robots.txt and this will need to be updated on go-live.

Move all schema over

Make sure that any schema that existed on your previous website has been moved to your new site. This is also a great opportunity to review where schema may be beneficial on your new website.

Launch the site

If you’re confident that all of your preparation tasks are completed and you’ve left no stone unturned then it is time to go live. Remember to schedule go live during off-peak hours so that you can avoid causing disruption to users.

Make sure it can be crawled and indexed

Now it’s live, you need to make sure that search engines can both crawl and index it. Review your robots.txt and crawl the site using Screaming Frog to check that all URLs are crawlable and indexable.

Update Google Search Console

Once live make sure that you update your Google Search Console by submitting your new sitemap. If you’ve changed domains entirely, you will need to setup a new Google Search Console account.

Test your redirects

This is another good opportunity to test your redirects. You want to make sure that they all point to URLs that return a 200 status code, aren’t part of a chain, and that they do not point to the staging site.

Getting your redirects wrong can dramatically affect rankings so don’t be afraid to double-check these.

Update tracking codes where necessary

Make sure any important tracking codes on site have been moved over. Think Google Analytics, Google Search Console, Google Tag Manager, and Facebook. Doing this will mean you can track your site’s performance post-migration and allow you to monitor whether you’ve achieved your goals.

Crawl and audit the new site again

Now the site is live, do another crawl and audit the website. Check for broken internal links, links that point to the development domain, and on-page elements that might have been overlooked. View the site as if it’s brand new and address any remaining issues on site.

We also recommend reviewing page speed here. Are there any new opportunities for your site to be optimised in relation to site speed?

Track visibility with rank-tracking tools

You can use Search Console and other tools like SERanking & Ahrefs to monitor your keyword rankings. It isn’t uncommon for successful migrations to see a temporary drop in visibility while search engines work out what’s changed. Keep a close eye on your main keywords to make sure that they bounce back to positions they were in before (or improved positions).

Setup regular crawls post-migration

It’s important that you set up regular crawls of your new site now it’s live. You should (if you have a good SEO strategy) be constantly adding to and updating the content on your site. As it grows, your site will become susceptible to more SEO issues, which will need to be addressed regularly.

Assess the impact

After a couple of months, you can assess the impact of your changes alongside the goals you laid out at the start of the project. Have you seen an increase in conversions? Has your brand redesign affected CTR or conversions? Has your site restructure impacted organic traffic?

Evaluate the project

Would you consider the migration a success? If you were to embark on one again in the future, what would you do differently? Website migrations are complex and have many moving parts, so evaluating what went well and what didn’t will not only help if you do another in the future, but it’ll also make you a better marketer.

So there you have it. These tasks we believe to be the foundation of a good migration strategy. Remember, proper planning can help guarantee your migration goes as smoothly as possible.

There’s more to an SEO migration than mapping old URLs to new URLs. It’s the perfect chance to improve your site, enhance your SEO strategy and super-charge your site’s UX. Be patient, be diligent, and plan and your migration will be a success.

If you are looking for help with your site migration then Embryo can help you plan and implement it. Find out more information here.

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