Site migration occurs when extensive alterations are made to your site. This often significantly affects search engine visibility. If you follow this complete content migration plan, the effects should only be positive.
In general, site migration includes changes to content, coding, user experience, site structure, or performance.
These changes can often lead to significant drops in traffic and revenue for up to several months. This depends on the extent to which site migration has affected your site and how long it takes you to implement a recovery plan.
But let’s not jump to any conclusions.
With a well-planned and executed website migration, you can avoid this completely. Revitalizing your site should lead to significant growth.
With our content migration plan, you can aim for minimal visibility loss during the first few weeks and long-term visibility growth after.
Different Types of Site Migration
A content migration plan can include all or some of the following changes:
Changes in Site location: Rebranding/ domain change, HTTP to HTTPS/HTTP2, changing mobile set up AMP PWA, site moves with URL changes, and site moves without URL changes.
Platform Changes: Moving to a new platform or updating platform version, introducing new features to your platform, or integrating other platforms.
Content Changes: Adding or removing pages, hiding content, consolidating content, or the introduction of new languages.
Structural Changes: site hierarchal changes, changes to navigation, internal linking, or layout.
Design and UX changes: design and media changes, site performance changes.
What you choose to include in your content migration plan is up to you.
The Do’s and Don’ts of Website Migration
Even though every site migration is different. There are a few common themes behind the most typical site migration disasters. Here are some of the biggest Don’ts:
- Have a poor strategy (your site will be doomed to fail).
- Have a half-baked plan (think detailed and early).
- Forget to consider resources before committing (consider time, effort, budget).
- Lack SEO/UX consultation (the pros and cons of every change you make should be evaluated by a professional).
- Skimp on testing (review all components consistently).
- Respond slowly to bug fixing/ignore technical errors.
- Underestimate how time-consuming site migration can be.
- Always use 301 redirects to migrate content
- Redirect to the most relevant page
- When switching protocol, keep HTTPS consistent
- Avoid redirect chains (update pages on the original site to redirect directly to the new site)
- Use the Google Analytics property from the original site on the new site. This will make a comparison of the pre/post-migration sites easier and keep track of historical data.
These are basic boxes to tick off, but it’s important to have a thorough structure going forward. Here are the five core steps you’ll need on your content migration journey.
Your Complete Content Migration Plan
1. Before Site Migration and Pre-launch Preparation
Planning is key. As website migration can often be complex, your project may even take a few months. You should outline and schedule all tasks and assign them to the relevant team members. Don’t forget to clearly set delivery dates to avoid delays or miscommunication.
You should also clearly outline the objectives behind your site migration. Setting expectations right from the word go will help you to stay on track.
For example, moving from HTTP to HTTPS will have very different goals for a complete site overhaul. Ask yourself: are you trying to retain traffic or are you aiming for growth?
Choose the right date for your site migration is also crucial. It is advisable to avoid seasonal periods and allow extra time for any problems or delays that may occur. You should consider launching the new site at a time when traffic is low. Launching during peak times could have negative effects if all doesn’t go according to plan.
Always remember that it is rare for website migrations to go according to plan. Flexibility is going to be a great asset to your strategy.
2. Identify Priority Pages
You should also determine which pages should be a top priority. This can be done by identifying all indexed pages.
Using Google Analytics, you should review the last 12 months of data as well as carefully monitoring your top pages for a month prior to your migration.
Read More: A Simple Guide to Fast Indexing on Google
For example, you could find your most shared content. This will help you to plan your new site’s wireframe and avoid any UX issues or problems that could cause traffic loss.
A simple example of this could be a top ranking page no longer appearing in your site’s navigation.
Think ahead, compare the old and the new, and adjust accordingly.
3. Preparing the Technical SEO Specifications
Next, you should prepare a detailed technical SEO specification. This document should include all SEO requirements that developers should be aware of. It should also detail how long they will take and how must they will cost.
The technical SEO specifications must be detailed and outline both requirements and actions. Think of it as more of a document outlining ‘how to’ rather than a ‘why’.
You should then run and export a full crawl of your old site and compile a list of every URL on-site that needs to be mapped. Then, you can make a list of the new site’s URLs.
4. Preparing Redirect Pages
Implementing redirects is a vital part of site migration. If your original site’s URLs disappear or are not redirected correctly, your website’s rankings will plummet.
Redirects help search engines and users to find pages that have been renamed or moved to another location.
That means redirects will also help search engines to discover and index a site’s new URLs faster. Not only that, but they also communicate the connection between the old and new sites to the search engine.
This association will let ranking signals pass from the old pages to the new and make sure rankings are retained with minimal negative effects.
5. Pre-launch Testing
You should start testing all aspects of your new site as early as possible.
Some elements may need slight alterations or be completely redone. Reviewing should be carried out from the early stages and continued throughout your project.
User journey or content inconsistencies can be tested early on. This will free up time to review more technical components once they are fully implemented at a later stage.
The sooner problems are identified, the sooner they are solved. This could prevent delays and wasted resources. If you don’t test consistently and thoroughly, you could be left with disastrous effects once your site goes live.
Here’s a quick checklist to keep your reviewing process on track:
- User journey
- Site architecture (including keyword opportunities)
- Metadata & copy
- Internal linking structure (including navigation)
- Meta robots review
- XML sitemaps review
- HTML sitemap review
- Structured data review
- Mobile site SEO review.
Launch Day of Your Content Migration Plan
It’s time to migrate!
While your new site is replacing your old one, expect your live site to be down. Don’t worry, this is temporary. However, damage control may be necessary.
You need to keep downtime to a minimum. While it is happening the web server should respond to URL requests with a 503 response, saying the server is unavailable. This alerts crawlers that the site is only down for maintenance and that they should return to crawl the site later.
Warning: If your site is down for a long time without showing a 503 response, organic search visibility will suffer. If search engines crawl your site without this response, recovery after the migration will not be instant.
Don’t forget: You also need to display an information holding page to tell users that your website is only temporarily down for maintenance.
Technical Spot Checks Post Content Migration
Next, you should perform a technical spot check. Don’t be tempted to skip this step. These may seem annoying now but you know what’s even more annoying? Hours of work going down the drain when your new website is a total failure.
But that won’t happen if you check out the following;
- Make sure search engines are able to crawl your site. Checking the robots.txt file will tell you if they are blocked.
- Do the top pages from your old site redirect to your new site correctly?
- Are the canonical tags of top pages in order?
- Check the server responses of top pages.
- Check all noindex/nofollow directives, in case they aren’t supposed to be there.
Don’t forget that you must carry out this spot check on both the mobile and desktop versions of your site.
Search Console Actions
Now your site is live! Congratulations! However, your content migration plan doesn’t end here.
As soon as your site goes live, you should carry out the following steps;
- Test & upload the XML sitemaps
- Set the preferred location of the domain (whether it’s www or non-www)
- Set the international targeting (if you need to)
- Configure the URL parameter. (this will target any duplicated content early on)
- Upload the disavow file (if needs be)
- Use the Change of Address tool (this only goes for sites changing domain)
After the Launch: Website Maintenance
Don’t hit the celebratory refreshments too hard, your work has only begun.
If you want your new site to be even more successful than the old one, you need to keep up the work. Your site needs to be maintained on the daily if you want to secure that top ranking spot.
After your website has launched, you will need to carry out a review. See what’s working and what isn’t. Adjustments may need to be made. Every day you need to review any crawl errors and check your site’s loading speed to keep it in tip-top shape.
This also gives you a chance to give yourself and your team a pat on the back. Here you should start to see the fruits of your labor.
To Migrate or Not to Migrate?
When you break it down, you’ll see website migration is very doable.
As long as you have the time and want to put in the effort you can carry it off without a hitch. However, you really need to be able to plan ahead and be ready to tackle any disasters along the way. This involves constantly keeping on top of things and reviewing your progress every step of the way.
If done properly, you’ll see explosive traffic growth. Content migration is worth the effort. This step by step content migration plan will be here to guide you all the way.