Website Migration - The Steps to Take

Website Migration - The Steps to Take

Posted On: Feb 16, 2022 By Tim

You know, getting a new website can be much like getting a new car, sure you’ve had your current one a while, you know all of its ins and outs and have become used to that squeaking sound it makes when turning the steering wheel, but in the long run, it is probably going to cost you more than it’s worth, and even though it may not be cheap get a newer car, it will benefit you in the long run.

When you have a website, at some point it's going to need to be updated. Designs, styles, content management systems, best practices, these all change and normally result in an upgrade to a website. This often results in a website needing to be migrated to a new system.

Changing your CMS or having a complete overhaul of your website, is a necessity sometimes for various reasons, and a new website will generally have lots of benefits, like new improved and new functionality, and it also allows you to do some necessary cleaning up and getting rid of some of the 'bloat'.

Once while migrating a website, while getting all the page URL's together for redirects, I found a lot of live pages that were old or duplicate and been lost somewhere in the background that didn't need to be live, and even found a second home page that must have been from when the website first launched, which was still live, with no way of navigating to it other than directly through the URL, you might be surprised, especially if you have a big website, the old pages you didn't know existed and are still live.

Now I am going to be upfront with you about this, it’s not all gains and improvements, there are also risks involved, I am telling you this not to put you off, but so you have an idea of what is likely to happen when you migrate your website and not to be alarmed about the changes you see, which are likely to be:

  1. A drop in traffic.
  2. A drop in rankings.
google analytics traffic drop

This is not to say you won’t recover from this, but so that you are aware some downfall might be unavoidable. There are precautions you can take to help minimise the effect, which we are going to talk about. There are going to be additional steps you can take that are not mentioned here, to help maintain your website and help speed up its recovery, but you should at the very least follow these steps to minimise the fallout.

Website Migration planning and preparation

Set down your objectives

You will need to plan out your objectives, you will need to talk to your website manager or agency and discuss:

  • Estimated completion time.
  • How you are going to measure success (e.g. minimal drop in traffic/revenue/rankings).
  • Most important factors to monitor (e.g. key pages maintain ranking as much as possible, monitoring lead generation to see the change).

Website architecture

This is the website's navigation structure and is where the pages are on the website and how they all connect to each other, like a hierarchy.

When you swap over you might decide you want to change your website architecture, this can be an ideal time to tidy up your website and take a fresh look at how to lay it out.

Draw out a plan of how you want your new website laid out, how pages will connect to each other and what will exist where. Any pages you know you do not want to keep, make a note of them as they will need to be redirected.

website architectury example

URL structure and redirects

I would generally advise to keep you URL’s the same, as it will help retain the page authority and it makes one of the later stages easier, however, if you have unfriendly (user and search engine) URL’s, this is the ideal time to change them e.g:

could change to

You will need to decide how you want your URL’s on the website to work, will they be static, or dynamic, weigh up the pros and cons and make a decision. For any changes, make a note of the page as you will need to create a 301 redirects, (never use 302, search engines do not like them, and they do not pass as much link authority as 301’s).

Estimated completion time

Once you have an idea of what needs to be done, you can estimate a completion time, and then look at a swap over date. The swap over date is something you might want to put some thought into, as you will want your business to be affected as little as possible, for instance, an eCommerce websites probably won't want swap on the lead up to Christmas as this could risk having less exposure and sales for one of the busiest periods of the year. In this situation, you would wait until the next year (probably after January sales if that is also a big time for you). Tale a look at your business and decide what period will least affect you by swapping over.


Secure your high-value pages

Look at the pages that have the most value to you, this could be because they pull in lots of traffic, have a high conversion rate, have valuable backlinks, or a combination. Whichever metrics you choose to value the most, make a list of these pages, these will be the ones that you need to take special care of and be the first priority to monitor when the new website is live.

Track website performance

Having something like Google analytics already in place is a good start, as it tracks your website’s performance and has historical data you can refer back to, this will be used to monitor the websites performance once it has gone live, and you will be more easily able to compare traffic and landing page changes and know where your efforts can be most effective.

google analytics logo

You will also want to do is track keyword performance, now I am not saying every possible keyword and phrase you rank for needs to be tracked, just the key ones, remember those key pages I told you to make a note of before? That is a good place to start.

You can track these manually, which is fine if you are a small website and there not many you need to track. Now if you are manually tracking rankings, you will want to see the changes over time, you can create a spreadsheet with all the keywords in 1 column, the dates checked in the following ones. I would advise checking weekly, just so it doesn't take up too much time, while also being frequent enough to pick up on issues.

However, if you have lots to track or find manual tracking a bit of a chore you should use automated tracking. You can use something like Moz pro analytics, where you feed in your keywords and it will automatically check rankings for you every week.

You will likely see small moves up and down, this is fairly normal, what you want to look out for are big declines, and then you will be able to look from there what the issue might be.

Starting Website Migration

So you now have a plan in place, you have got your developers working building your new website on a test server, just a few things to double-check, make sure search engines can't look through or read your website before it's ready. You can add the meta robots noindex,nofollow tag on all pages, or lock it so it can only be accessed by username and password.

Download new and old website page URL’s

Once your new website is up you will need to download all your website page URL’s, there are a couple of tools to do this, either Screaming Frog or Xenu Link Sleuth, you will use this tool to crawl both old and new websites and export all the URL’s into a spreadsheet.

Once you have your 2 lists of URL’s, you will start to line them up with each other. If you are keeping the same URL’s and structure, you can use excel’s VLOOKUP to match the 2 up and then remove any that are staying the same. If you are changing your URL structure, you are going to have to go through and match these up another way, the page title can be a possibility.

Once you have matched up your URL’s, any left over from your old website you will need to decide:

  1. If the page is worth keeping, then finding somewhere for it to live on the new site.
  2. If the page is not worth keeping, (because it is outdated, duplicate content, etc.) you will need to redirect it, match this up in your spreadsheet with the page you want it to redirect to.

This will go into your new website's httaccess file when you push the new website live.

Prepare your Sitemaps

You will need to get your new website’s XML Sitemap ready to submit to Google Webmaster when you go live. This helps Google know all the pages and understand the structure of the new website when replaces the old one.

You can also create an HTML sitemap, this is not as essential as the XML, but a good accompaniment, and can really help with crawling if you have a deep website.


Image source:

Ready to Go Live

The website is ready, the time is right and you have been given the go ahead, your online business is ready to start a new era! Just a few things you should look at.

Make sure this is the best time

Sometimes you might go over your deadline because something unexpected came up, or a task took longer than you originally thought then you should not push live if the time is not right. It is not worth risking it if it will end up hurting you more in the long run, sometimes it is best to leave it, and look at when the next opportune time. Just remember, you have to keep both websites at an ‘equal level’, make sure any content, updates and new pages, are mirrored on the new website.

Make sure you double check that:

Pre-Live Checks

So everything is done, you have double checked and it's the right time, just a quick checklist to reference:

  1. Website redirects are set up and working.
  2. XML sitemap ready and submitted (HTML as well preferably).
  3. All your web pages are accessible and can be navigated to.
  4. You have website analytics is in place on the new website.
  5. You are tracking rankings for important keywords.
  6. You have a list of high-value pages to monitor.
  7. Make sure you remove any blocks you have on the website, that would stop it from being crawled and indexed.
  8. Check that your website tracking code is working, (if you have Google analytics, once it's live, you should be able to activity on the website in the real-time tab).

Have Your Website Monitored

Have your new website monitored with something like Pingdom, they will notify you if your website goes down, so you can act quickly if there is a problem.

Going Live and Post-Live Checks

Now is the time to monitor and check how your new website is performing and monitor if there are any problems.

I use Open SEO Stats, to get a quick page overview, this can help you find problems like page load speed, seeing how many pages have been indexed.

Manually test some of your redirects, make sure they are working and going to the right pages.

If you see any unexpected traffic or ranking drops:

  1. Is it a redirected page? Is the redirect going to the right place, or is it bringing up a 404 page?
  2. See if something is blocking a page from being crawled and indexed.
  3. See what keywords the page is targeting and whether it is ranking, if it is, what position? If it is not could there be a different page be picking up the traffic?

Keep an eye on crawl errors, webmaster tools allows you to see if there are any crawl or index problems on pages, keep monitoring and checking, and if everything is Ok after a couple of weeks, you should be in the clear.

If you need help with website migration, or with any website design and marketing, why not contact us, or give us a call on 01952 897444.

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