<img height="1" width="1" style="display:none" src="https://www.facebook.com/tr?id=1335514809807467&amp;ev=PageView&amp;noscript=1">

The Complete Checklist for SEO-Successful Site Migration

By Peter Gillon | April 02, 2018

Imagine this. You’ve just finished a major redesign of your website. It’s now easier to use and looks much better on mobile. But there’s something very, very wrong. Your new site’s a ghost town. The number of visitors has dropped off to zero. Zilch.

What went wrong?

Site migration.

The process of site migration is complicated, but the purpose is simple: redirect visitors from your old web pages to your new ones. If you’re redesigning your website, merging an old site with a new one, switching from HTTP to HTTPS, or even just switching hosting or management providers, your site needs to be migrated. 

How improper migration kills SEO rankings and site tracking

Many things can go wrong during site migration. For example, if you’re switching your website hosting providers, your site will go dead if you don’t take all the right steps with both your old provider and your new one. Or for another example, let’s say you’ve decided to switch content management systems (like from WordPress to Duda). In that case, all the content on your site--text, images, links, etc.--needs to be backed up. Otherwise, an unforeseen migration error can cause the content to disappear and your site rankings to plummet. Yikes.

How this checklist helps

This checklist will walk you through all the key steps for pulling off an SEO successful migration: from planning the move, to setting up your new site in a development space, to SEO testing your site after it’s migrated. Follow along with the infographic for a short and sweet guide through the process. Jump to a more in-depth walk-through HERE.

The Complete Checklist for SEO-Successful Site Migration Infographic

 

Jump to...

Planning the Migration

Before Migration

-Set Backups and Benchmarks
-Crawl your Old Site
-Set up your New Site 
-Test-Crawl your New Site

After Migration 

-Look for Issues
-Update Sitemap and Links
-Crawl your New Site
-Monitor Analytics
-Test on Search Engines

Going Forward with SEO 


Planning the Migration: 

The first step to a successful migration is choosing the right time and knowing what to expect.

  1. Don’t flip the switch just before or during a busy a time for your business.
    If unforeseen issues pop up during migration, they may take awhile to resolve. So as much as you might like your new site up and running for your big sale next week, plan to migrate and launch the site during one of your slower times. This is especially important because even if your migration goes smoothly, it can still take about 2 months for search engines to properly index your new pages and remove the old ones. So it’s a good idea to budget at least a few months time for the migration process.
  2. Be ready for a temporary dip in traffic and rankings.
    Even when everything goes according to plan, site migration almost always leads to a dip in traffic and rankings. Search engines take time to update their results pages (SERPS), and migrations don’t register immediately after launch. So it’s a good idea to give the migration time to fully take effect before you decide to do anything drastic to “fix” it.

Back to top


 Before Migration

Before migration, you’ll need to gather up all the data on your old site, back it up, and set up your new site in a development space. Before launching the migration, you’ll also want to check your new site for SEO issues. 

Set Backups and Benchmarks

Before working on your new site, backup your old one. You should also record your analytics data on your old site’s traffic and rankings.

  1. Backup your original site. Give yourself a safety net by creating a complete backup of your site and databases. If you have old site redirects, include those in the backup too.
    image4
  2. Benchmark your site analytics. Record your old site’s performance so you have a baseline to measure your new site’s performance against. Here are some of the key performance indicators you’ll want to record before making the jump.

    image2

    1. Traffic and User Engagement: You’ll want to know how many people are visiting your old site, and how they’re interacting with the content on it. Google Analytics will give you this information as well as a lot of other insight into your site’s users.

    2. Keyword Rankings: It’s important to know how your old site ranks for each of the keywords that it’s associated with. For example, if your site’s associated with the keyword “hot air balloon rides near me,” you’ll want to know where the site appears in the search engine results page for that phrase. There are many online tools out there for determining your keyword rankings

    3. Ahrefs (Backlinks): Since your website’s ranking partly depends on how it links to other websites, you’ll want to take stock of those links. Backlinks, or links to your site posted on other websites, are especially important. You can analyze backlink data for your site using one of the many tools available online. 

Crawl your Old Site 

In order to migrate your site successfully, you’ll need to gather up data about all its live pages. This process of systematically finding and indexing your site’s redirects and other data is known as “crawling.” To make the migration process easier, take advantage of the site crawl as an opportunity to create an easy-to-use file of metadata that you can reference when needed.

The data that you’re crawling for are your page’s URLs. Without those URLs, it’s impossible to redirect traffic from your old pages to your new ones. In order to make sure that you’ve collected all URLs and checked for errors, follow this process:

  1. Create a crawl list of your site using one of the many online tools available.

  2. Export URLs from Analytics. Sometimes analytics platforms will record live pages that crawling tools miss. By exporting all the URLs from Analytics and adding them to your crawl list, you’ll create a more comprehensive record of your site.

  3. Add URLs in Sitemap.xml. A sitemap is an XML file that lists all of a website’s URLs in its system. Typically, sitemaps are created by the site’s CMS. You’ll want to export these URLs into your crawl list as well. 

  4. Add Ahrefs (backlinks). As already mentioned, Ahrefs tell you which of your pages are being linked to from other sites on the web. Since you want to preserve those links (and the rankings that go along with them), be sure to add all of your Ahrefs pages to your crawl list.

  5.  Find and Eliminate redirect chains. Redirect chains are series of redirects that bounce the user from one page to another….and another, and another. Long redirect chains are usually the result of many changes to a site over the years. Since search engines tend to ignore long redirect chains--and therefore the websites that they’re on--it’s important to eliminate them. 

Set up your New Site 

  1. Create your new site in a development space. Since you’ll want to keep your old site up-and-running until your new one is ready for launch, build the new site in a development space and work out any issues that come up along the way.

  2. Create and test “redirects” that send users to your new site. Redirects are what direct users and search engines looking for your old site to your new one. You should implement these redirects on your new site--while it’s still in whatever development space you’ve chosen--and test for errors. Those errors might be “not found” 404’s or long chains of redirects that will slow your site down and harm its ranking.

  3. Check your internal links. Internal links are the links that connect your web pages together. Make sure that all your internal links are pointing to the correct place. Ideally, your links will go straight to the location on your new site rather than rely on redirects.

  4. Check canonical tags. Canonicals tags tell search engines which version of a URL you’d like to show up in search results. You’ll need to update these tags on your website to make sure that search engines display the URLs of your new site. It’s a good idea to include canonical tags on all of your pages in order to avoid certain duplication issues that sometimes come up during migration.

  5. Move analytics tracking codes. Don’t forget to move your tracking codes from your old site to your new one.

Test-Crawl your New Site 

Make a preliminary crawl of your new site in the development space. Crawl through your new site for any potential SEO issues beyond canonical tags and redirects.  You’ll want to consider questions like:

  • Are there problems with page loading or navigation?
  • Is the site’s metadata and alt-text information correct and complete?
  • Are all of the pages actually there? Or can you find a “not found” 404 error?
  • Can you find any duplicate content or pages?
  • What about orphaned pages that aren’t linked to the others pages?

Resolving questions like these will help prevent your site from taking a serious SEO hit during migration. But the work doesn’t quite  stop there. Once you’ve actually flipped the switch on migration, you’ll want to make sure that it all went according to plan. 

Back to top


 After Migration

After migration, you’ll want to look specifically for a few major issues, update your sitemap.xml, and update all the important backlinks to it. Then you’ll need to make one final, more exhaustive search for issues before beginning to monitor the site’s SEO performance. 

Look for Issues

There are a couple major issues you’ll want to look for first: duplication errors, and noindex/nofollow tags that cause search engines to ignore your pages.

  1. Remove noindex and nofollow tags from your new pages at launch. Noindex tags are one of the worst possible causes of SEO failure. A noindex tag tells search engines to completely ignore a webpage in the search results. So of course, you’ll want to make sure that there aren’t any inappropriate noindex tags on your newly launched site. To do that, you’ll want to find and cut this string from your web pages’ code:

<meta name=”robots” content=”noindex”>

Noindex tags can also appear in your site’s robots.txt file. In that file, you’ll want to find and cut this string:

User-agent: *
Disallow: /

In addition to noindex tags, you’ll also want to be on the lookout for nofollow tags. Nofollow tags are added to weblinks to prevent search engines from following links when determining page rank. While it’s typical to include nofollow tags on links to external sites (like Facebook or Twitter, for examples), you don’t want to include nofollows on your own links to your own pages. Otherwise, search engines’ web crawlers won’t be able to discover and rank your pages. Make sure none of the code for your links contains the command:

rel=”nofollow”

 

 Carefully checking both your noindex and nofollow tags is one of the easiest, most effective ways to make your site migration an SEO success.

  1. Check for duplicate content issues.

Be on the lookout for any duplication issues that might have arisen during migration. These issues are usually the result of missing redirects, and the creation of multiple versions of a URL (like an “https” and “http” version, paginated pages, or query string based URLs). 

 Update Sitemap and Links 

You’ll want to map out your new site and make sure that it’s properly linked to your social media accounts, business listings, and other websites.

  1. Create a sitemap. A sitemap is an XML file that lists all of a website’s URLs. A detailed sitemap (that includes information about how important the URL is, how often it’s updated, etc.) will allow search engines to crawl your site more effectively.
  1. Update social media and business listings. Don’t forget to update all the links to your site that appear in your social media accounts and business listings.

  2. Ask other websites to update their links to your site. Reach out to the best sites that linked to your old site and ask them to update their links.

Crawl your New Site and Monitor Analytics 

Make one final crawl of your site, verify that search engines can find it, and watch your analytics data to make sure your site’s traffic and rankings are in good shape. 

  • Crawl your New Site. If any of the issues discussed in this guide came up during migration, you should be able to find them by crawling the site. In particular, be on the lookout for 404’s and faulty redirects. 

  • Verify that search engines can access your site. Google’s Search Console offers valuable tools for testing whether your site is accessible to its crawlers. The “Fetch as Google” tool allows you to test how Google crawls a URL on your site. For example, Fetch will tell you whether any of the site’s parts (like images or scripts) need to be unblocked.

  1. Monitor Analytics for Changes. It’s normal for traffic and rankings to dip temporarily, but if they’ve fallen dramatically and show no signs of improving for several days after migration, then there’s likely a migration issue that needs to be resolved. 

image3

Carrying out an SEO successful site migration isn’t an easy task. Although this guide covered the most serious issues that tend to come up during migration, migration errors can be unpredictable. If you have questions about how to carry out a successful SEO migration, you can contact our SEO team at Logical Position. 

Back to top


 Going Forward with SEO 

Many companies first realize the importance of SEO when they attempt to migrate their site. The worse their site’s rankings and traffic suffers during migration, the better they grasp the value of SEO.

It’s best to think of SEO not as something that just needs to be “maintained” during major changes to your website. Since search engines are constantly changing the rules they use to determine site rankings, SEO is something of a moving target. If a website isn’t regularly updated to reflect those changes, then its rankings and traffic can quickly slip. If you want to go forward in the rankings and raise your site traffic, you’ll eventually want a longer term SEO plan for your business. If you find ever find yourself in that position, we’re here to help.  

 Back to top

Get your free SEO consultation

Peter Gillon

Peter develops engaging marketing campaigns and content for Logical Position. He earned an MA in the Rhetoric of Science and Technology from the Pennsylvania State University.