What is website migration?
Website migration is a process that a website undergoes in order to change its setup or technology. Migration implies profound changes in regards to the website’s platform, structure, content, location, design, or UI/UX. Site migration may lead to significant revenue and traffic loss that may last from anywhere between a few weeks to several months. It also impacts search rankings signals. When companies take on website migration, they must prioritise a recovery plan to ensure that the business bounces back from the losses.
The most common reason for businesses to migrate their website are to:
- Rebrand their domain
- Switch their URL structure from HTTP to HTTPS
- Move to a new CMS or Web Builder
- Change web hosting services
- Migrate URLs to an international friendly page
- Adding a mobile version
What are the different types of website migration?
The most common categories of migration are:
- Site moves with a URL change- This is when a website moves to a different URL.
- Protocol change- This is when a website migrates from HTTP to HTTPS.
- Subdomain or subfolder change- This is when a business moves to one or more ccTLDs into subdomains or subfolders.
- Domain name change- This is when a business rebrands itself and requires moving from one domain to another.
- Top-level domain change- This is when a business launches an international website and needs to move from a ccTLD or gTLD or vice versa.
- Site structure changes- This is when the site architecture changes which usually impacts the site’s internal links and URL structure.
- Replatformating- This is when a website is moved from one platform to another.
- Content migration- This is when a website’s content changes like content rewrites, content consolidation, or content pruning.
- Mobile setup changes- This is when an existing mobile website is replaced by an AMP, PWA, or an app.
- Structural changes- This is when there are significant changes to the site’s taxonomy that impacts the site’s navigation, user journeys, and internal links.
- Site redesign- This includes changes to the website’s look and feel.
- Hybrid migration- This includes different combinations of site migration.
What are the considerations for a website migration?
A successful website migration requires planning and testing. A successful site migration shows at least one of the following characteristics- minimal visibility loss during the first few weeks (short-term goal) and/or visibility growth thereafter (long-term goal). Some careful considerations that should always be taken into account when planning to migrate a website:
- Firstly, inform the customers about the upcoming migration and the subsequent changes that will likely result from the migration.
- It’s always better to not migrate the entire website at once. Instead, it’s better to move the site piece by piece.
- Multiple types of migration must be avoided at the same time.
- It’s better to migrate the website when the traffic is at it’s lowest.
- Always draw up a migration plan to enable a seamless transition.
How to migrate a website?
Crawl your existing website
First, you must crawl your existing website to uncover all the URLs that are a part of the domain. This may lead to the discovery that a lot of pages on the website may be paginated and be unnecessary to carry over in the migration. Crawling the website is critical in deciding which content should be carried over and where it should be placed in the new host. Exported URLs from Google Analytics will be used to create a sitemap.
Map up all URLs for redirection
Next step is to evaluate which URLs are most important and you want to carry over, and which ones you want to delete or redirect. There are a variety of tools available online to map out redirects and organize all website files. Redirects are important for consolidating duplicate content and ensuring that search engine spiders don’t end up crawling and indexing old webpages. All 302 redirects carried over in the migration must be eventually moved to 301s or published live in the new site.
Create a staging environment
Once the plan for redirection is in action, create a staging environment where you can safely move over your URLs without making profound changes to your existing website. This will require access to the backend of the website to make changes to data, headers, and other critical elements. You can leverage the robots.txt file to ensure that the staging environment is not crawled by search engines during its development stage.
Set up self-referential canonical tags
Once URLs have been redirected, it’s essential to insert self-referential canonical tags on each web page to ensure that all previous incarnations/versions of the page are not indexed. While most CMS will give you a sitewide canonical tag, implementing individual tags will clearly communicate with search bots which is the master domain
Launch the new site
Once all the forwarding redirects have been set up and implemented, it’s time to push the website live. If the migration involved DNS changes, then the site may be down momentarily. If there was no switching servers or platforms, then migration will be instantaneous and seamless.
Set up analytics tracking
Once the website goes live, the next step is to verify the website properties in Google Analytics and Google Search Console. Additionally, you’ll have to install analytics tracking code on the new website to monitor performance post-launch to evaluate how profitable the migration really was as well as track performance benchmarks throughout.
Create and submit the sitemaps to search engine directories
Once a sitemap has been generated, you will have to log into Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools to submit the XML sitemap directly. Creating an XML sitemap for webpage content and images on the site will ensure that they are indexed faster and that search engines are made aware of your new site.
Test redirects and canonicals with a crawl of the new site
Once all the pieces are put in place, it’s time to crawl the new website. It’s important to run a crawl of the new site to ensure all canonical tags and 301 redirects are functional. Additionally, auditing the internal linking structure with a crawl will let you know if any pages on the website are linking to redirected or broken pages.
Update platforms to reflect your new domain
Finally, once your new website is live, it’s essential to update all of the URLs on social media and other platforms to reflect the new domain and generate awareness among your customers.
Website migration is a long process, however, a checklist of all necessary steps makes the process more seamless. At Alkye, we help clients with web development as well as app development to help them tap into more growth opportunities and improve their ROI.