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Your Ultimate Website Migration SEO Checklist

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SEO

Website migration refers to any operation involving changes that impact search engine visibility, affecting your SEO rankings if not handled carefully. 

These changes typically involve moving to a new hosting location, design and user experience, platform, structure, or content. Failing to coordinate the various moving parts during a website migration can easily lead to loss of organic traffic and your website's ranking signals after the rollout. 

The only way to stay ahead of this challenge is by having a clear roadmap and setting deadlines for each task and fallback plans in case something goes wrong.

If you're planning to migrate your website to a new hosting company, make sure you check out this complete website migration SEO checklist before launching. 

This list of tips and tricks will help you avoid common pitfalls that could harm your site's rankings on search engines and other online platforms, ensuring that your migration goes smoothly and you don't lose the traffic that helped bring in new customers or clients for your business.

Pre-Migration Checklist

Crawl your old site

Before undertaking a site migration, you will need to have a complete list of up-to-date URLs obtained by crawling your old site using crawling tools such as Screaming Frog or SEMrush. 

The crawl report generated by the tool will detail any crawl errors or redirects that require extra attention during the migration phase. 

Keep in mind that crawling cannot identify every page on your website and that you will require to use a link explorer tool to identify pages that are not linked with others on your site. 

You can also rely on Google Analytics data to identify orphan pages and make sure to link to them during the migration. 

Identify top-performing pages

Using the data obtained from the crawling process, you should identify your top-performing web pages. 

Ultimately you will need to pay more attention as they are the primary source of your organic traffic and should therefore be preserved. 

Any errors in them should be identified forehand. 

This step will also shed more light on which website segments support strategic initiatives or make the most money for your business. 

These will be prioritized later when performing validation and active monitoring to reduce as much risk as possible of the migration impacting your business's performance. 

 

Backup your site

To avoid data loss during the migration process, you should maintain up-to-date backups of your old website at all times. 

The backups should include SEO technical factors such as meta tags, alt tags, header tags, response codes, and internal 404s. 

Ensure that the final backup solution takes up your entire site, including the front end and back-end, to eliminate any possibility of data loss. 

Create a staging website

A staging environment allows you to test the various features you intend to change during the migration. 

If you intend to perform a CMS migration, you will need a test environment to compare if the new site can function just like the old one and that all features are compatible and no content is lost due to the changes in the content management system. 

The staging environment should allow you to test new frameworks on a template by template basis so that you can identify any javascript errors that might creep up. You should also test your 301 redirect rules to identify incorrect redirects before migrating your site during this step. 

Benchmark your analytics

The best way to identify errors after a website migration is by comparing analytics from before the migration and after. Ensure that you have the most recent benchmarks of your site's performance before the migration process. 

This can be done using Google Analytics to analyze your traffic and performance metrics. After completing the site migration process, you can perform another benchmark on the new site and compare the two datasets to identify issues with traffic loss. 

You should also benchmark your top linked-to web pages with SEO tools like Ahrefs. The reports obtained from the benchmarks can provide insight into the expected performance of your new site and if there are any impacts on your SEO rankings.

Migration checklist

Remove temporary site blocks on the new site.

During the initial setup of your new website, you probably relied on temporary site blacks to keep visitors and crawl bots away until the website goes live. 

This is mainly achieved via password protection or adding block commands to the robots.txt file. 

Remove no-index tags from your new site. When your new site replaces the old one during the migration activity, you should set the webserver to respond to URL requests with 503- service unavailable server responses. 

These inform search engine crawlers that the website is down for maintenance and that indexing should resume later. 

Test redirects

Various migration scenarios can change your website's URLs, such as changing web platforms, moving to HTTPS, and domain changes. 

When this occurs, you have to test your redirects before completing the migration process and ensuring they are all functioning as intended. 

You should test all of the linked URLs and indexed landing pages collected in the pre-migration step before going live. 

This can be done on the staging environment and eliminate any redirect chains that contain more than three redirects as they occasionally result in mass 404 errors. 

After testing the redirects and eliminating any 404s, you should move the redirection rules to the new site and run a fresh crawl. 

Verify internal links

You should run a check for broken internal links on your new site during the migration process. 

Broken rinks should be fixed immediately before they compromise your traffic flow. 

If you are using canonical tags, verify that they are updated on the new site and make sure that you don't have multiple URLs pointing to the same content, disrupting how your sites get ranked on SERPs. 

Configure web analytics

Start tracking web analytics on your new site once you are done with the migration to gain insights on how the process may be affecting your organic traffic. 

You can do this on most analytics platforms, such as Google Analytics. 

While at it, you should keep a close watch on your top-linked pages to keep track of your authority and ensure that it's appropriately transferred to your new site.

Post-migration checklist

Audit your site and keep track of its performance

As soon as your new site goes live, you should set up analytics tracking to keep track of its performance.  

Frequent audits will help you identify any errors that may have been left unnoticed during the migration, which you should address immediately to safeguard your SEO rankings and web authority. 

Crawl the new website and verify that all URLs are accessible and served without any erroneous noindex tags or redirects. 

Audit your backlinks and fix any broken links to get your new pages ranking faster into SERPs. 

Validate site redirects

Your new site will likely contain redirects from your old website after the migration, and these should be audited and validated to avoid losing SEO performance. 

Investigate how the redirects are implemented and configured on a web server level through .htaccess or need a CMS plugin. 

You can generate a hostname report using Google analytics to check your domains and subdomains for broken redirects and fix them before to avoid chained redirects. 

Update external links

If the migration requires you to change to a new domain or modify your URLs, you will need to update your external links. 

Reach out directly to website owners with backlinks to your content and advise them to update the external links to match your new site. 

While at it, you should update links on your Google My Business, Yelp, and social media accounts to direct customers to your new site. 

Validate third-party extensions

Make sure that all third-party extensions installed on your site are functioning as intended after the migration. 

If you have plugins for social buttons and ads, make sure that their code is integrated into your new site and functioning as needed. 

Any plugins that are not operating normally should be disabled immediately and reinstalled to update their configurations to your new site. 

Monitor how the new URLs are ranking and the traffic

After the new site goes live, you should monitor how search engine crawlers index your new URLs and rank in SERPs. 

Comparing the analytics from the new site to those of the old site can shed light on whether the process was flawless or there's still some tuning left to do. 

Monitor which pages are losing traffic and run an audit to pinpoint the technical issues that could be causing it.

Final thoughts

When done correctly, website migrations entail a seamless merger of your old website content onto a new one without any drops in crawl volume or organic web traffic. 

To achieve a flawless migration, you must plan and account for every moving piece. This will allow you to retain your organic traffic flow and SERPs rankings on your new site. 

Remember to keep auditing and evaluating your new site to identify any hidden impacts the migration may have had on your site's performance and web authority.

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