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.