April 13, 2023

Website migration: strategy, process and checklist

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Are you planning to update your website, improve its graphic design, or modify its structure? Keep in mind that even these actions can significantly impact keyword positions in search results, and as a result, your organic traffic.

To execute a website migration properly, it’s crucial to have clear responsibilities assigned and a comprehensive migration checklist in place. This ensures that no important steps are overlooked, as the migration process can vary depending on the type of migration. In addition to potentially affecting keyword positions, migration can also impact paid campaigns. Therefore, collaboration and prompt information sharing are essential.

What is website migration?

A website migration takes place when you change the hosting, CMS (Content Management System) or domain of a website. However, it is not always the case. Sometimes a website migration can also be referred to as a graphic design change. This can include changing the structure of the website, or changing the actual web links, headings and so on. 

If changes to the website’s structure are made without implementing proper redirects, the original address to which backlinks were bound will not transfer its value to the new landing page. Altering headings can also affect the keywords for which the web page appears in search results. For example, changing filtering and search may have an impact on dynamic paid campaigns. It’s important to keep in mind that everything is interrelated during a website migration. Therefore, a plan must be established in advance, specific to the type of migration.

What are the types of website migration?

In case of website migration, it can be any of the following types:

– change of hosting, 

– change of the content management system (CMS) of the website,

– change of the website domain (e.g. from .eu to .sk),

– change of HTTP protocol to HTTPS, 

– change of website version (URL with www to without www, etc.),

– modifying the structure of the website,

– graphic design of the website,

– combination of the above actions.

Migration according to the size of the site

Determining the migration of a website by type is particularly important in terms of defining responsibilities:

– Corporate site migration,

– migration of an e-shop with a large number of products,

– migration of a small website or e-shop,

– other types of websites.

Allocation of responsibilities for website migration

In each step of the migration checklist, it is important to identify the person who will be responsible for a particular point. In addition to responsibilities, it is recommended to determine a timeline of activities using a Gantt chart. 

The responsibilities in the migration checklist should be defined by the person who will review them once completed. The people who most often enter the website migration process are:

– Internal programmers, or external agencies and companies providing programming services,

– content specialists or website editors,

– product specialists,

– SEO specialists,

– PPC specialists,

– comparison specialists,

– analysts,

– other staff whose responsibilities need to be defined in the migration checklist.

The most common website migration mistakes

Following a proper sequence and division of responsibilities can help prevent chaos and loss of traffic during website migration. However, the following mistakes are most common:

Forgotten noindex on the live version

The new site is up and running, but organic traffic has dropped dramatically. The cause may be a forgotten noindex in robots.txt, in the code, or in the response header. The original pages have been redirected to pages that have been banned from indexing, and therefore gradually start to disappear in searches. 

We recommend checking the indexing of a live website multiple times to avoid long-term negative consequences. If a noindex directive is discovered, it’s best to remove it and reindex the page as soon as possible to minimize any long-term effects.

Incorrect redirects and redirect chains

Incorrectly created manual and automated redirects are a common mistake during website migration. Bulk redirects using a 302 status code instead of a 301 status code can be particularly harmful. While a 302 status code is appropriate for temporary redirects, it should not be used for permanent ones during migration. Redirecting to the wrong version of a web page can also cause issues.

For instance, if redirects are created to an old version and no rule is established (e.g., for www), visitors may encounter a 404 error page that doesn’t transfer the value of the backlinks.

If the version is redirected, a chain of redirects is created in which the 301 status code would go to the version with www, and the visitor would then be redirected a second time to the correct version of the web page. 

Example of a correct 301 to 200 redirect, source: https://httpstatus.io/

Design changes

A beautiful website using a lot of javascript and minimal text. While simplicity is a desirable trait, it can negatively affect keyword positions in search results. Large amounts of JavaScript, particularly from an external source, can slow down a website’s loading speed.

In addition to the impact on user experience, website speed also has an impact on keyword positions. Less text means less information for the visitor, and therefore fewer keywords that we can naturally use in the text. When designing a website, we need to take into account the extent to which it is possible to make the page clear, but also fast and informative.

FIltering causing duplicate URLs

Changes to filtering are often dealt with, for example, when making graphical changes to a web page. Multiple filtering with automated headings can generate several hundred thousand URLs, impacting your available crawl budget, unless they are properly handled. Therefore, it’s important to allow indexing filters only to the extent that it makes sense.

Content creation without keyword analysis

While any content specialist can edit your content, creating content without considering keyword analysis can result in poor search rankings. Conversely, you may rank for synonyms that are not frequently searched for. With any content change, it’s crucial to consider the potential impact on organic traffic and sales.

Invisible technical issues

New solutions, latest functionalities, and faster website speeds are some reasons why companies update their websites. However, each of these new functionalities and solutions may have hidden issues that can affect keyword positions. Therefore, it’s essential to conduct a technical audit every time a website is migrated. This audit can reveal any potential barriers and reduce the risk of losing positions.

SEO & PPC migration checklist and strategy

In summary, having a migration checklist with specific responsibilities is crucial for maintaining organic traffic to the website after migration. This checklist serves as an overall strategy and process for the migration. You can download the original checklist in English from the article published on the Basta digital website. Follow the link to access the full article and ensure a successful website migration.

For more in depth details, checklist and to the point hints, please check out Basta Digital article.

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