Moving your website can feel like packing up your entire house overnight.

But with the right planning and execution, a website migration can be more like a well-organised relocation – a chance to enhance user experience, improve SEO performance and ultimately boost your online success.

The aim of this guide is to equip you with the essential steps and a detailed checklist to navigate your website migration smoothly, all while preserving (or even strengthening) your search engine rankings.

Remember, preparation is key. By addressing potential pitfalls and proactively optimising your migration, you can ensure a seamless transition and maintain your hard-earned website SEO power.

Migration Planning

Pick Your Migration Date Wisely

Use tools such as Google Analytics to review traffic patterns and avoid high traffic periods (such as late at night) to minimise the number of visitors affected.

If done well, you shouldn’t experience significant downtime during a website migration (domain propagation).

Backup Your Website

Create a complete website backup and a separate database backup. Establish a regular backup routine for ongoing protection.

You can learn how to backup a WordPress site or backup a Shopify site on our blog.

Create A Staging Site

Set up a mirror image of your live website on a staging server.

Use a development environment if available for testing code changes and website testing tools to identify and fix bugs before launch.

Managed Website Hosting

Website Audit

Crawl Your Website

Use tools like Screaming Frog to crawl your current website to gather all URLs, content and metadata.

This will not only help you with the following steps but can also uncover previously unknown on-site SEO issues.

Prioritise Top Pages

After completing your website crawl, use tools such as Google Search Console or Google Analytics to identify and prioritise pages with the most organic traffic to ensure they maintain their ranking.

While it’s true that every page on your website should be reviewed and looked after, for obvious reasons it’s important to prioritise your top pages to ensure your main traffic sources and conversion pathways remain fully functional and ranking highly on search engines.

301 Redirect Roadmap

After completing your website crawl, you’ll want to extract a list that includes every page URL on your existing website that you can compare with your new website’s sitemap.

If there are any differences in website architecture or a simple URL change, you’ll want to create a 301 redirect document that includes two columns, “redirect from” and “redirect to”.

Simply include every URL from your current website that is not included in the new site and add one per row within the “redirect from” column.

Then, next to each URL add the corresponding URL from the new website that you’d like the old one to redirect to.

Do your best to select a new page that is as close as possible in topical relevance to the old one (i.e. if White Peak Digital removed it’s “Google Ads” web page we would likely redirect it to the parent “Digital Marketing” page instead of our home or web development page since digital marketing is more relevant).

If in doubt, redirect to a parent page or at worst the new home page if no other options are available.

Update Internal Links

Unless necessary, try not to change any internal URLs (i.e. changing /our-services/ to /services/).

These URL changes can be tempting but in practice have no real impact on user experience or SEO unless the existing URL is excessively long (over 75 characters including the website domain).

Therefore they can only cause issues to your SEO rankings by including more change then absolutely necessary for Google and other search engines to crawl and understand when migrating your website.

If the URL change is not critical but a “nice to have”, our team would recommend you leave these unchanged for the migration and after everything has settled (2-4 weeks later) change these URLs individually and add the new 301 redirects.

Content Mapping

Along with keeping your internal URLs consistent, it’s also recommended that you keep title tags, H1s and meta descriptions unchanged during a website migration to avoid unexpected fluctuations in your website rankings.

After your website crawl, extract page URLs, title tags, H1s and meta descriptions for comparison to your next website.

Just like the “nice to have” URL changes we discussed above, we’d highly recommend you keep your SEO metadata unchanged during the migration process as well.

After giving search engines a chance to crawl and understand your new website (2-4 weeks after the SEO website migration is complete), you can then start testing new SEO metadata.

Website SEO Analytics

Technical SEO Analysis

Robots.txt Review

Confirm that indexing instructions for search engines are correctly set up in your new websites robots.txt file.

This file is pivotal in directing search engine crawlers around your site, so it’s crucial to ensure it’s configured to highlight your most valuable content while excluding what should not be indexed.

Structured Data Review

Check the accurate implementation of schema markup for enhanced snippets and improved comprehension by search engines.

Rich snippets can significantly boost your visibility in search results, so it’s important that your structured data is correctly set up and free from errors.

Want to learn more about structured data? Find out how to add structured data to your website here.

Speed Test

Use tools like PageSpeed Insights to evaluate website speed and pinpoint areas for improvement. Every second counts, even slight delays can lead to lost visitors and reduced conversion rates.

Making sure your new website and hosting is up to scratch will ensure a smooth experience for your visitors after the migration.

Find out why Google’s Core Web Vitals and the PageSpeed Insight test matters here.

Mobile-Friendly Test

Try the mobile usability report in Google Search Console to ensure a great mobile experience. This test helps identify and fix issues that are causing issues with your site’s performance on mobile devices.

Over half of the world’s website traffic now comes from mobile devices so it’s a priority for Google and other search engines if you’re trying to rank at the top of organic search results.

Australian Mobile App User

Post-Migration Audit

Crawl Your Website Again

Verify the successful migration of all content and URLs by recrawling your website with tools like Screaming Frog that will review every page and file to ensure that your site’s structure is perfect.

Sitemap Scan

Ensure your sitemap accurately reflects your new site structure to avoid confusing search engines.

Your sitemap acts as a roadmap for search engines, it’s vital that it is kept current and error-free.

301 Redirect Retest

Double-check that all of the 301 redirects you implemented are working properly and pointing to the correct pages.

Redirects are crucial for preserving SEO power after a website migration, so it’s critical that they are correctly established and leading to the intended content.

Internal Link Inspection

Check that all internal links are functioning correctly and leading users to the intended pages.

Regular checks and fixes for broken internal links are essential for smooth user navigation and efficient site crawling.

404 Page Patrol

Identify and rectify any broken links or missing pages. Keep an eye on Google Analytics and Google Search Console for any new or increase in on-site error codes.

While custom 404 pages can help retain visitors who might otherwise leave, preventing 404 errors in the first place is preferable.

Title Tag, H1 and Meta Description Check

Verify that the migration of title tags, H1s and meta descriptions was successful and that nothing has changed from the old site unexpectedly.

These elements are crucial for both SEO and user experience. Verify that they have been correctly transferred and optimised post-migration.

Organic Traffic Analysis

Monitor for changes and potential fluctuations in rankings for top pages. Patience is key since it can take time for your changes to show any visible impact online.

Use tools like Google Search Console, Semrush or Ahrefs to keep an eye on your traffic and rankings.

Google Analytics Annotation

Mark the date of migration for future reference and analysis in Google Analytics and other analytics tools.

Annotations can help you track the impact of the migration over time, offering valuable insights into your site’s performance.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the impact of a website migration on SEO?

If a website migration is not properly managed it can temporarily affect your site’s SEO performance. Potential impacts include fluctuations in search rankings, changes in site traffic and issues with page indexing.

However, with careful planning and execution, these effects can be minimised and your site can recover and even improve its SEO standing over time.

How long does it take for a website to recover its SEO rankings after a migration?

The recovery time for SEO rankings after a website migration can vary widely depending on the size of the site, the extent of the changes and how well the migration is managed.

Typically, you can expect to see rankings start to stabilise within a few weeks. It’s important to closely monitor your site’s performance during this period and address any issues promptly.

Why are 301 redirects important in website migration?

301 redirects are crucial during an SEO website migration because they permanently redirect traffic from old URLs to new ones, ensuring that users and search engines are directed to the correct pages.

This helps maintain your site’s authority by passing on link power from old URLs to new ones, which is essential for preserving your search rankings.

What is domain propagation?

Propagation is the projected length of time it takes a domain’s DNS (Domain Name System) information to be updated across the entire web after a change is made. Unless your website hosting is remaining unchanged, domain propagation will affect your website migration.

By following these steps and utilising the provided checklist, you can navigate the website migration process with confidence.

To your success,
Jackson