Website Migration Checklist

Migration is a normal part of a website’s evolution. As a site or business grows and changes, it’s inevitable that you’ll undergo a hosting or domain migration. A website owner should work with a professional to reduce the risk of lost search engine traffic, rankings and revenue.

Our team at Mazeless always starts with a website migration checklist that covers everything, from content migration and duplicate content to URL changes and keyword rankings.

The key to a successful website migration is ticking every item off your list, even if it means checking to make sure a page has a redirect setup to maintain its backlink portfolio or spending time on Bing webmaster tools.

Today, we’re going to cover numerous items that need to be ticked off your website checklist as part of a successful migration.

Resources and Tools

Tools and resources are an integral part of checking off all items on a website migration checklist. The following are tools that we’ll mention extensively in this article:

  • Site Crawlers
  • Analytics
  • Keyword Tracking Tools

Master Migration Checklist

Pre-Migration Checklist

  • Review site prototypes / wireframes / templates
  • Setup hosting and logistics
  • Create SEO specifications
  • Run benchmarks for technical SEO
  • Identify key site pages
  • Review staging setup
  • Create an inventory of your content
  • Create a list of redirects
  • Review analytics configuration
  • Configure your CDN
  • Add site to Google Search Console 
  • Backup the site and database

Launch Checklist

  • Search engine crawling
    • Check internal links
    • Cloaking check
    • Compare old and new redirects
    • Create robots.txt
    • Redirect new URLs
    • Test for redirect chains
    • Server responses
    • Set canonical tags
    • Verify noindex / indexes
  • Setup Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools
    • Configure URL parameters
    • Request indexing
    • Submit and test sitemap XML files
  • Crawl the site
  • Check key pages
  • Compare old and new content inventory
  • Compare metadata
    • Page titles
    • Meta descriptions
    • Headings
    • Meta keywords
    • Etc.
  • Run manual usability tests
  • Update analytics

Post-Migration Checklist

  • Monitor index coverage report
  • Monitor XML sitemap indexation
  • Track and fix mobile usability issues
  • Track keywords daily
  • Run performance reports
    • Site speed
    • Bounce rate
    • Conversions
    • Traffic 
  • Update social links (if needed)
  • Change citations (if needed)
  • Update CMS
  • Update themes / extensions

Planning and Pre-Launch Preparation

Every site migration requires intense planning. You’ll want to sit down with all key stakeholders and determine the following:

  • What’s the goal of the migration?
  • Are there legacy issues that can be corrected during the migration?
  • Create a project plan that includes:
    • Consultants
    • Developers
    • Editors
    • Marketing teams
    • Delivery dates

It’s ideal to take care of existing website issues during the process that may be more difficult to fix when the site is live. This may include adding in caching systems that help a site load faster, correcting duplicate content issues, performing content migration and making any URL changes that you’ve been putting off.

The more people you can get involved in the process, the better. Everyone from the technical SEO professional working on your backlink portfolio to the person working on your dev site should be part of the planning and preparation phase. These team members can help go through the website migration checklist to ensure there’s as little downtime as possible. 

There’s no one-size-fits-all domain migration checklist that works for every site, but the lists below can certainly help.

Pre-Migration Checklist

Quick Checklist Points

  • Review Site Prototypes / Wireframes / Templates
  • Setup Hosting and Logistics
  • Create SEO Specifications
  • Run Benchmarks for Technical SEO
  • Identify Key Site Pages
  • Review Staging Setup
  • Create an Inventory of Your Content
  • Create a List of Redirects
  • Review Analytics Configuration
  • Configure Your CDN
  • Add Site to Google Search Console 
  • Backup the Site and Database

Review Site Prototypes / Wireframes / Templates

If the site has a new design or template, be sure to review them prior to executing your website migration plan. You can tick other items on your SEO audit checklist off while the prototype of the site is being updated, but be sure everything is approved and in place prior to the next phase in the process.

Prototypes and templates that can be tested on a dev site should be tested thoroughly. For example, if you’re moving to a WordPress website, be sure to run tests on the prototype and do a full install before the site goes into production.

It’s important to avoid testing on an existing website in an effort to maintain user experience.

Setup Hosting and Logistics

A lot of work is done behind the scenes, so you’ll want to make sure any lengthy processes are handled beforehand. There’s a lot of work to do, including:

  • Purchasing a new domain name (if necessary)
  • Purchasing an SSL certificate (if necessary)
  • Setting up your hosting
  • Adding DNS records for the domain name
  • Setting up new domain mail hosting

You want to be sure that your hosting environment is ready for the migration so that there’s no unnecessary downtime.

If you’re making a simple domain migration, you’ll have an easier time with the process than if you’re moving an old site to a new website on a different hosting platform.

Create SEO Specifications

No matter what you do, SEO migration is a part of your new site migration. URL structure might change, a new website may now exist and the goal should be to maintain your organic traffic in the process.

A few of the items that need to make it on this list, with the help of an SEO expert (we can assist you from start to finish) include:

  • 404 pages
  • Add / edit alt text
  • Add / update canonical tag
  • Copy & headings
  • Crawlability
  • Create/update robots.txt file
  • Custom URLs creation/editing
  • Hreflang
  • HTML/XML sitemap
  • Internal linking
  • Loading times
  • Meta data
  • Mobile setup
  • Navigation
  • Pagination
  • Redirects
  • Structured data
  • Update headers, page titles and meta descriptions
  • Update meta robots attributes to index/noindex/follow/nofollow
  • URL structure

Additional items will be required for the website migration project, and we’ll cover them more in the coming sections. Since these are all going to be integral to your SEO, it’s important to go into more detail on some of these points.

Teams should come up with a full specification that outlines the current state of the site along with the goals for each of the items on the list. For example, you may have guidelines for loading times to be under three seconds and for internal linking to be updated from the old domain to the new domain following the content migration.

Run Benchmarks for Technical SEO

How did your old website perform? You’ll only be able to verify if your website migration project is a success or not based on benchmarks. A few of the benchmarks that you should be running are:

  • Site speed
  • Keyword ranking
  • Page indexation
  • Crawl errors

You’ll need to know the benchmarks of your old site to find key issues that even an SEO expert might miss. Google analytic data can also help and can be referred to multiple times during the migration process.

Benchmarks are also nice to show a website owner so that they have a better understanding of how the changes have impacted their search engine rankings and site usability.

Identify Key Site Pages

Key pages on a site are important and easily overlooked by someone new to an SEO migration. You should identify pages that are most valuable so that they can be focused on to ensure that they’re optimized and running well even after URL structure or other key changes.

You can open Google Analytics data (or your equivalent) to identify these pages. A few pages that are key would be:

  • Landing pages
  • High traffic pages
  • Top conversion pages
  • Home / service pages
  • High backlink counts

An old sitemap can help here so that you can compare the old and new pages. The focus should be put on these pages to ensure they’re indexed and running sufficiently. Keyword rankings should also be monitored.

A successful migration requires all of these key pages to be back up and running as quickly as possible.

Review Staging Setup

If you plan on migrating your site, you may want to do it on a staging site to make sure that everything works well during the test. While a staging site may not be necessary for a small website, it allows for larger domains to have fewer issues when migrating.

Check to make sure that the staging environment mirrors that of the final environment and meets all of your site’s requirements.

When significant backend changes are made, you may also need a dev site for a successful migration. It’s important to pay special attention to the server that is used in the development and the final production setup.

It’s important for databases, settings and config files to be the same during the migration process.

Create an Inventory of Your Content

Create a list of all site content with the identification of pages that may be:

  • Rewritten
  • Pruned
  • Consolidated

If the content is not being updated, you’ll still want to create a list of the content URLs on your site. A program like Screaming Frog, especially the paid version, can help you create a list of content along with meta tags.

You’ll want to verify that all of these pages are functional when the migration is complete. 

Also, if you have a lot of duplicate content already, this needs to be cleaned up. You’ll want to determine if you’ll prune certain pages or redirect them to more relevant pages.

Create a List of Redirects

Site redirects can add up quickly, especially if you have redirects on the page- and server-levels. It’s possible that if you’re running a WordPress site that you’re also using a plugin to help control URL changes.

It’s important to create a complete list of redirects as part of your website migration plan.

You can monitor these redirects, comparing the old and new redirects, by running one of the following tools:

As an SEO expert, our team exports these lists and uses them extensively to reach our main goal: successful website migration.

Review Analytics Configuration

Setup your analytics for your new site if necessary. You’ll have to insert a piece of coding into your site’s template when the migration is complete. A few of the leading analytics programs available are:

You’ll be using your analytics extensively when your migration process is complete.

Configure Your CDN

You should be ready to change your CDN to your new domain. In many cases, you’ll be able to change your CDN URL and can point your assets to the domain name. Upload any important assets at this time, including template files, images, JS, CSS and other files.

Add Site to Google Search Console

If you’re changing your domain name rather than just your hosting provider, be sure to add your site to Google’s Search Console. You can either upload a file, add a meta tag or add a record to your DNS to verify your console.

When choosing DNS records for verification, you’ll also be verifying all subdomains. One drawback is that these changes can take time to propagate. Propagation can take several minutes, or it can take several hours or more. 

Access to the console allows you to work on the search engine optimization immediately as you work through your website migration checklist.

Backup the Site and Database

Errors can and do happen. Create a backup of the old site and its database right before starting the migration. If you have to revert the changes for any reason, you’ll find these backups invaluable. 

Launch Checklist

Quick Checklist Points

  • Search Engine Crawling
    • Check Internal Links
    • Cloaking Check
    • Compare Old and New Redirects
    • Create Robots.txt
    • Redirect New URLs
    • Test for Redirect Chains
    • Server Responses
    • Set Canonical Tags
    • Verify Noindex/Indexes
  • Setup Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools
    • Configure URL parameters
    • Request indexing
    • Submit and test sitemap XML files
  • Crawl the Site
  • Check Key Pages
  • Compare Old and New Content Inventory
  • Compare Meta Data
    • Page titles
    • Meta descriptions
    • Headings
    • Meta keywords
    • Etc.
  • Run Manual Usability Tests
  • Update Analytics

Search Engine Crawling

A lot of items may be included in an SEO audit checklist, but these are going to be the most important right now:

  • Check internal links
  • Cloaking check
  • Compare old and new redirects
  • Create robots.txt
  • Redirect new URLs
  • Test for redirect chains
  • Correct server response issues
  • Set canonical tags
  • Verify noindex / indexes

A site crawling tool can help with many of these steps, especially pesky redirect issues that can easily be overlooked. 

Setup Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools

Create or add your new domain to Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools. Be sure to:

 

  • Configure URL parameters
  • Request indexing
  • Submit and test sitemap XML files

You’ll also want to submit a Change of Address on your old Search Console. This process requires you to create a 301 redirect of your old domain to your new domain. Correct any issues that may arise during this step so that search engines can begin crawling your site.

If you’re not performing a domain migration, you can skip this step.

Crawl the Site

Using either Screaming Frog or one of the tools mentioned previously, you’ll want to crawl the entirety of your new site. When using Screaming Frog, you’ll be able to use this data for a lot of the metadata comparisons and to create an in-depth content inventory.

Check Key Pages

Refer back to the list you’ve previously created and be sure that the key pages have been migrated successfully to their new page. You should perform a manual check, making sure that the old pages redirect properly and are functioning as expected.

Compare Old and New Content Inventory

Using the old data you’ve collected, you’ll want to compare your new, existing website content inventory with the old inventory. You’ll be doing this more in-depth shortly, but you’ll want to be sure that all existing pages have been transferred properly.

An easy way to do this is to look at your page totals, minus any pages that you may have pruned as part of your website migration plan.

Compare Meta Data

Scan through your crawled URLs from Screaming Frog to ensure that your metadata has transferred over properly. You’ll want to check:

  • Page titles
  • Meta descriptions
  • Headings
  • Meta keywords

If your previous site name or URL was used in title tags or meta descriptions, be sure to update these to your new domain.

Run Manual Usability Tests

Usability tests are important because your user experience can suffer greatly if you’re not meticulous during your website migration project. You should check to make sure that the following works properly:

  • Menus
  • Links
  • Contact forms
  • Live chats
  • FAQs / knowledge bases
  • Old PDFs and manuals
  • Mailing list signups

The site should be tested on desktop and mobile devices. Use a website audit checklist to run these tests properly.

Update Analytics

In the post-migration steps, you should have determined what analytics program you’ll be using and created a basic setup. Add this coding into your template or theme if you haven’t already. If you’re running a WordPress site, themes normally have a section specifically for Google Analytics code or any other code you need to add.

Post-Migration Checklist

Quick Checklist Points

  • Monitor Index Coverage Report
  • Monitor XML Sitemap Indexation
  • Track and Fix Mobile Usability Issues
  • Track Keywords Daily
  • Run Performance Reports
    • Site speed
    • Bounce rate
    • Conversions
    • Traffic 
  • Update Social Links (if needed)
  • Change Citations (if needed)
  • Update CMS
  • Update Themes / Extensions

Monitor Index Coverage Report

Google’s Search Console provides an index coverage report that provides you with information on the URLs on your site that Google’s bots have tried visiting. You’ll be able to see URLs information, including:

  • Errors
  • Warnings
  • Valid

Specific information on the status for each URL is also provided. You should go through the report, fixing errors and issues created by your website migration starting with the red errors and moving to the yellow errors. 

Monitor XML Sitemap Indexation

Google’s Search Console also allows you to run a sitemap report. The report will show you your submission history as well as any errors Google found. It’s important to check and correct any issues that may arise.

Track and Fix Mobile Usability Issues

In the search console, you’ll want to navigate to enhancements and click on the “Mobile Usability” section. Correct all current issues present that are listed in the Details section.

Track Keywords Daily

Monitor your organic search traffic with your favorite keyword tracking tool. Look at your historical rankings versus your current rankings with a focus on pre and post-migration rankings.

When your migration is a success, you should have similar keyword rankings.

A few of the leading keyword tools used for tracking are:

Run Performance Reports

You should be running performance reports and checking these reports based on the previous reports that you ran prior to migrating your site. A few of the performance reports that you should run are:

Site speed

Run PageSpeed Insights on your site and monitor your results. You want to try your best to keep your site loading time as low as possible. You can start optimizing your site’s speed using the recommendations provided in the report.

You can also check mobile and desktop speeds.

Reduce page load times to 2 seconds to reduce bounce rates.

Bounce rate

Check your site’s bounce rate, using your preferred analytics program, to find pages with high bounce rates. These pages should be manually examined to find any issues that may lead to a higher bounce rate.

Reevaluate these pages, make changes, reduce load times and possibly update the page’s content to try and keep visitors on your site for longer.

Bounce rates rise from 9% for sites that load in two seconds to 38% for sites that load in five seconds. Reduce load times to lower bounce rates.

Conversions

You should check your conversion rates from before and after the migration to see if any issues may be impacting conversions. If certain landing pages are not performing well or your overall conversions are lower, it may be a performance or traffic issue.

If your performance and traffic remain at similar pre-migration levels or better, you may want to start A/B testing your pages. Review your website audit checklist to try and find any issues that may be impacting the new site.

Traffic 

Monitor your traffic for any abnormalities after your site migration. You’ll want to look for pages that have lost significant traffic to be sure that they’re in place, optimized and working properly.

Update Social Links (If Needed)

If you’re rebranding and need to update social media links, be sure to do this. A few of the profiles that you may need to update are:

  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
  • Twitter
  • Instagram
  • Pinterest

If you performed a simple HTTPS migration, you’ll still want to update links on your site. On the server level, you can create a redirect that automatically redirects the old URL to the new URL on a site-wide level.

Redirecting the insecure to secure site is good practice and will reduce any potential errors users may have when accessing the new website.

Change Citations

One of the first items on your local SEO checklist should be to update any citations that you have in place. Change your old URL to your new URL and make any name, address and phone number changes that may be necessary.

Update CMS

Content management systems should be updated regularly. Following your migration, update the CMS and database as necessary. If you’re running a WordPress website, you can set updates to be installed automatically.

Update Themes / Extensions

After upgrading the CMS, it’s time to upgrade third-party software, themes and extensions. Be sure that any software with licensing has been transferred and is running as expected. If any issues occurred that have made themes, extensions, plugins or other software not run properly, contact customer support for assistance.

Be sure to go over your website audit checklist point by point to verify that the migration was a success. Troubleshooting will be an ongoing process initially, but once you’ve corrected any serious issues, your site’s rankings and traffic should return.

 

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