How to Prepare for a Site Migration

Are you considering a site migration, for whatever reason – a new content management system (CMS), a change in your primary domain due to expansion, or even a total rebuild of your existing site?

Then you need to ensure you follow some key steps to reap the full benefits and avoid costly pitfalls that could take you months, and even years to overcome.

Regardless of the reason, and how carefully you prepare, be warned that you will experience a short-term decline in organic ranking. But by following this list of best practice steps, you can minimize the negative impact and retain, and even improve, your domains rankings and authority.

Pre-Migration Phase:

Create or update your sitemap. If you need help, Google provides excellent information to help you create a detailed hierarchical list that includes all your pages and assets, including videos and PDF files.

List all of your current URLs. If your current CMS doesn’t provide a tool for exporting a list of all your pages, there are several resources online that can help.

Map your pages. Map every site page from the old URL to the new one. Every existing page should have a target URL.

Check your current rankings. Run a report showing the current ranking of all your target keywords. You can use a tool like SEMrush to help you.

Save reports from Google Analytics and Google Search Console so you know where you were when you started the migration.

Register any new domain with Google Search Console.

Run a report showing all your current backlinks. You can use Ahrefs to help gather this information.

Create an XML sitemap for your new domain so you can upload it to Google Search Console.

Migration Phase:

Test your 301 redirects. You can use a tool like Link Redirect Trace to find any errors. Make sure all the pages on your sitemap redirect correctly.

Let Google know your domain has changed. You can do this in the Google Search Console under “Change of Address”.

Use Google Search Console’s “Fetch As Google” tool to index your new primary landing pages and Submit to Index.

Update your social sharing buttons and links from your social sites.

Notify any affiliates and let them know to update links to your site.

Check your “Time to Live” variable within your Domain Name Server. This feature determines how long it takes a computer to propagate your new content. As you get close to launch, reduce the time to a few minutes, to avoid users ending up at the old site.

Update the meta elements, such at titles tags and meta descriptions so the match the new domain.

Post-Migration:

Check Google Search Console for crawl errors, and fix them ASAP. Plan on checking regularly (you should be doing this regularly) as errors might not show up right away.

Test, test, and then test again! Get staff, friends, family, and whoever else you can recruit to check the site and report any bad links or 404 Page Not Found errors.

Check all your 301 redirects to make sure they continue to work.

Use Google and search for your domain by adding the site search operator: site:yourdomain.com to check that the old domain is going down in the search results while checking to make sure the new one is increasing.

Compare your pre-migration analytics to your post-migration reports ensuring your reaching and eventually surpassing previous levels.

Additional Tips:

  • Avoid peak season traffic periods to do a migration
  • Schedule the actual transition during a slow time-of-day (like the wee hours of the morning).
  • Plan ahead and take your time to do it right – you will benefit greatly by planning ahead.

If you follow these guidelines for your site migration, it will help you to minimize any potential adverse effect on rankings, authority, and traffic to your new site.

Additional Resources:

http://www.icrossing.com/uk/ideas/essential-seo-priorities-website-relaunch