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Website Migration 101: What Website Owners Should Know

Website migrations can sound like a vague, confusing task—but it doesn’t have to be! No business remains static, so website migrations are always a good idea for your brand.

It’s no secret that it's very exciting to watch your business evolve and grow! However, a change in your business could also mean changes to your website. Maybe you need more high-powered features for your eCommerce business, or maybe your branding is no longer aligned.

Whatever the case, in today’s digitally-driven world, things like SEO, local SEO, and page speed are critical to the success of your website—and your business. This is how customers find and get to know you before even becoming customers, that’s why designing a website is an important aspect of being a business owner. And if you already have an established website, chances are you may need to eventually migrate your site.

Yet, any reservations you may have about site migration are not unfounded. Migrating your website can put all of your hard work in danger if it’s not done correctly. Luckily, there are several tried-and-true steps for migrating your website with as few risks as possible. Let’s take a look at what website migration is and why and how to do it.

What is a website migration?

Firstly, the term website migration can actually have different meanings and interpretations. For one, a website migration could be the act of moving your entire website to another location online. This is the definition that a web designer or developer might give you. So, a site migration is similar to a business physically moving from one location to another, except that it’s done in cyberspace.

You could move your website because you’re changing platforms or web hosting, or you’re changing your domain name. A website migration could also be as simple as changing your URL from HTTP to HTTPS. But really, any significant change to your website that could affect your visibility in search engines is considered a site migration.

These changes could be big or small. You may also be making multiple changes at once, which can actually be the most efficient way to go about it. A site migration might involve your website’s content, design, structure, platform, or domain. It may also aim to improve user experience (UX) or the customer journey in some way.

No matter what the changes are, you need to make sure you’re performing a migration correctly so you can keep doing business like normal. And, of course, you don’t want to lose any of your hard-earned search engine visibility.

What is the purpose of a website migration?

Reasons for doing a site migration vary. Some common reasons involve alterations in structure, design, platform, UX, or location. It all depends on your goals.

For instance, you might move the site to HTTPS instead of HTTP for increased data protection. If you’re rebranding your business, that might include changing your actual domain name and URL to something that fits better with your branding.

Another reason for migration is to change your web hosting or platform service. Maybe you want to upgrade the functions of your site or gain additional features. If you sell physical products, you might need a new eCommerce platform that can do more. Or maybe moving platforms will make it easier to improve your site design. Alternatively, you may not be entirely migrating to a different platform but rather upgrading your current one.

You may also need to change the structure or content of the site in some way. For example, adding pages or content, changing the way your site links internally, or altering your navigation could all be reasons to migrate. You might need to improve your site’s performance and UX by redesigning how it looks or what media you use.

Chances are, there are multiple reasons for migrating your site. But whether the changes are big or small, you should understand what happens during site migration and how to prepare for it.

What happens when you migrate a website?

The migration process will look different depending on your reasons and how many changes are being implemented. However, there are a few steps that are almost universal when migrating a site. You’ll need to plan the entire event well ahead of time to minimize hiccups. And you might need to hire a team of professionals to make sure everything is done right.

You’ll need to complete pre-launch technical activities to get everything in place ahead of time. Once you have a plan and more information about your website, you’ll do a test launch in a closed space.

Then, once it’s all ready, you’ll execute the site launch and bring the new site live. Lastly, you’ll evaluate your metrics for several months after the migration to see what kind of results you’re getting and if anything still needs to be fixed. Let’s take a closer look at some of the steps you might need to check off your list for a successful migration.

1. Define your goals

Naturally, the first step to making any sort of change is to clearly define goals and expectations. You can get super specific with this. You should know exactly why you’re migrating the site and what end results you’re going for. The more granular you are, the better.

One goal is likely to keep your traffic. You don’t want site migration to negatively impact how people find you! Additionally, your goal could be to grow your reach and gain even more traffic. You should also think about what pitfalls could arise and how to deal with them. Migrating your site should be a strategic process, and you should clearly define what you hope to gain from it. You should also consult with specialists as needed to make a good strategy.

2. Come up with a solid plan

Once you have your forecasted goals in place, it’s time to really nail down the work scope. You’ll likely need a team of specialists to complete the necessary tasks, depending on how complex your migration is. For example, you might need to enlist a web developer and/or designer, an SEO specialist, and a copywriter. You should also determine your budget since these services come with a cost.

Next, set clear expectations for everyone on the team. What tasks need to be completed, who is in charge of them, and when are they due? Clear communication is vital. It will keep everyone on the same page and will help the migration run smoothly.

3. Freeze content before migration

If you’re changing your URL, you’ll need to map out all the content on your current location before moving everything over. You need to see exactly what’s there to make an informed decision as to which pages will move over, which will be redirected, and which can go away. In addition, this will help you locate and fix errors, so you don’t take them with you to the new site.

A content mapping tool can help you map out all your content and pages. To simplify things, you should freeze content several weeks before the site migration occurs while you’re preparing to make the big move.

4. Review the new site’s wireframes

Before moving forward with anything, it’s worth evaluating the new website wireframes. This will allow you to see ahead of time whether any issues exist. You don’t want any new or old problems with SEO, navigation, or UX to carry over.

5. Crawl your original site

It’s important to crawl the legacy, or existing, website and save the crawl data in a file in case you need it down the road. Crawling the legacy site will enable you to define which pages on your site perform the best or get the most traffic. The number and quality of migrated pages will affect how smoothly the migration goes.

It’s important to see which pages convert the most or perform well. That way, you’ll know to prioritize them in the site migration process. To determine which pages perform the best, you can look at Google analytics for things like site visits, revenues, and page views. You should also consider the number of recent clicks and links to those pages.

6. Prepare site visitors for the change

Communication is essential to keep your business running smoothly. You don’t want to lose any valuable search engine rankings that you’ve built up over time. So if you plan to move your entire site to a new domain or change it to HTTPS, make sure to use a 301 redirect. This will alert search engines that they should associate your old ranking signals to the new URLs on your migrated site.

Also, your customers need to know you’re moving. This is why it’s a good idea to get the word out beforehand. If you're changing your domain, it’s a good idea to announce it. Put it on blast to your email list and social media outlets, so everybody knows what’s coming. Additionally, you could put up a “coming soon” message at the new URL’s location.

7. Perform pre-launch testing

You’ll want to test everything out in a closed space before the big event, meaning your site can’t be indexed by search engines. This way, you can catch UX issues or any other technical problems before going live. When you perform testing, you should look at things like site usability, mobile responsiveness, how well special functions work. You should also make sure your internal linking is optimized.

Of course, this is only a test run. So you don’t want the site to be live or indexed while testing it out. You can ensure search engines don’t index your new site by restricting site access to certain IPs or instituting password protection.

8. Make sure your analytics are set up

You don’t want to lose track of all your analytics once your new site is live. So before the actual migration, you should also review your analytics tracking. You may need to consult a specialist to make sure tracking is set up correctly.

9. Test your redirects

Redirects are vital for a smooth site migration. You should make sure they are all working properly in a test environment before migrating your site. This will potentially save you a lot of headaches. Redirects are important because they direct people to your new site, so you don’t lose traffic.

Crawl your redirects to see if visitors will be taken to the correct URL, and whether there are any technical issues. Do any of your redirects loop back to themselves? Do they give server error messages? Do any of the URLs contain invalid characters? Do any redirects contain canonical loops, leading back and forth to each other? These are just a few issues to look out for before going live.

10. Launch your new site

Once you’ve successfully completed pre-launch testing and ironed out any problems, it’s time for the real event! The timing of performing your site migration should be considered. You will be offline during the migration, so you want to complete it as fast as possible.

If you’re offline too long, it could have a negative impact on your search rankings. You could consider doing the migration at night or at a time when you typically expect less traffic.

11. Complete technical checks

Once the site is fully live, make sure your robot.txt file isn’t blocking search engines from indexing your site. You’ll also need to upload an XML sitemap to Google Search Console. Make sure your top performing pages from step #5 are redirected correctly. And, of course, you’ll want to fix any other issues that crop up.

12. Assess your site’s performance

After your migration and launch are complete, the work isn’t over yet. It’s important to track your analytics for some time after site migration. You should eventually see the traffic to your legacy site decrease to nothing within a year. If it doesn’t, you could have an issue with redirects for some of your pages, which could be making you lose traffic on the new site.

Your metrics for the new site should also be in line with your anticipated results. If you’re not doing as well as you thought, double check for any issues that could be affecting your rankings.

Advantages of a website migration

Website migration can be a great fresh start. It can enable you to rebrand or grow your business when done correctly. As we have seen, site migration allows you to improve your website. You could gain better functionality or advanced features by migrating to a new platform. Migration is also a chance to uplevel your UX. As your business evolves, it’s advantageous for your website to evolve, too.

If you’re migrating from HTTP to HTTPS, you’ll be adding a layer of security to your data. Improved security is always a good thing. Site migration is also a chance to refresh your copy and locate any technical problems your site may have.

Risks of a website migration

If done incorrectly, a website migration could be disastrous. One of the biggest complications could be a drop in your visibility. And when users can’t find you in an organic search, your revenue could drop significantly. You may or may not be able to recover from such a loss.

Your site’s authority could also decrease if your old web pages aren’t redirected properly. This could happen because of the newly migrated pages not registering old backlinks. If you had external sites linked to your old web pages, those pages have to be redirected to the new ones, or the backlinks won’t show up.

You could also have issues with your analytics tracking, mobile responsiveness, or page speed. To avoid issues like these, make sure you prepare thoroughly for your website migration and work with a web developer as needed.

Does migrating a website impact SEO?

The short answer is yes. Migrating a website will impact your visibility in search engines. But it’s not always for the worse. Preparing a website migration plan will lower the chances of negatively impacting your rankings. In fact, part of the preparation process might be drafting an SEO specification document.

This document should contain detailed SEO migration requirements that the developer should use during the website migration process. These items will help keep your SEO right where it should be. In short, website migration can seem like a complex and intimidating mission. But if you follow some crucial steps, it can be a great new horizon for your business.

If you’re looking to create a website or update an existing one, check out Mailchimp’s guide to designing a beautiful website or our guide to wireframe design. You don’t have to be a web designer to make a professional-looking website you love. You can do it for free with Mailchimp. We can also help you craft attractive emails for your email campaigns. Get in touch with Mailchimp to learn more.

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