Website migration checklist

Start to finish, a checklist of everything you need to remember when migrating a website, whether your changing content, URLs or going for a full-blown redesign.
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📝 Planning

Questions to ask and things to consider when planning your URL migration.

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  • Define the scope of changes

    Establish what is changing, e.g. design, site architecture, internal linking, content, and URLs. twst
    Establishing what is changing ensures you’ll know everything you need to consider with the entire migration.
  • Identify concerns and issues

    Based on the previous, identify critical things that could go wrong and create plans to prevent or minimise the risk.
    Common complications here could be: the site moving to a JS frontend or URLs of high traffic pages needing to change.
  • Make sure everyone understands the potential downside of the risk.

    Migrations are inherently risky. Make sure everyone understands what the potential risk is.
    It’s critical to ensure that main stakeholders understand risks and know that drastic changes, especially to URLs, can have unpredictable results.
  • Define SEO requirements

    Define specific requirements for the site for critical elements that impact SEO elements, such as:
    • URL structure
    • Site architecture
    • Page content
    • Hreflang
    • Pagination
    • Faceted navigation
    • XML sitemaps
    • Structured data
    • Core web vitals
    • Robots.txt
  • Establish priority pages for monitoring

    These should be high traffic pages that are key to the business for revenue.
  • Schedule time for a developer to fix urgent SEO issues post-launch

    Ensure a developer has time to fix issues once the site has gone live. You should prepare developers that they may need to fix common issues like:
    • Incorrect robots.txt rules
    • Missing/incorrect redirects
    • Broken canonicalisation
    • Missing URLs within XML sitemaps
  • Create tasks

    Create a plan of all tasks to be completed to ensure a smooth migration. Make it clear who is responsible for each job.
  • Set timelines for when the project will be delivered

    Common stages in a redesign and migration project would include:
    • Wireframing/design
    • Development
    • SEO testing
    • Development issue fixing and amends
    • Going live
    • Performance monitoring
    Ensure enough time is reserved to allow SEOs and other stakeholders to test the site in the staging environment and enough time for developers to fix any issues that may arise.

👨‍💻 Pre-migration prep

What you will need to check and organise before publishing your site changes.

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  • Audit the development site

    Audit the site for all the standard SEO checks required, consider:
    • Canonicalisation
    • Indexing strategy
    • Title tags / meta descriptions / H1s
    • Content
    • Hreflang
    • XML sitemaps
    • Structured data
    • Core web vitals
    Read my complete guide on technical SEO for pointers.
    Tag recommendations based upon whether they need fixing before or after the launch of the new site. You can defer minor issues to ensure developers can launch the site on time.
  • Collect all URLs that need redirecting

    You need to set up 301 redirects for all important URLs, including HTML pages, PDFs, and imagery. Collect these from:
    • A desktop or web-based site crawler
    • Google Search Console Coverage/Performance reports
    • Google Analytics landing pages + all pages reports
    • Backlink reports from third-party tools like SEMrush or Ahrefs
    • Access log files
  • Create a 301 redirect plan

    In many cases, this requires URL to URL mapping of all old URLs to new URLs.
    If there are only minor URL changes, a single redirect rule using regex may be possible without doing URL to URL mapping. Typical situations where this is possible include a domain change where URL slugs remain the same, or you are simply adding a directory to a set of URLs.
  • Test redirects are working in staging

    Crawl old URLs and check they redirect to the mapped URLs using 301 redirects without redirect chains.
    Incorrectly mapped redirects are one of the most common reasons URL migrations go wrong. Ensure redirects go to the most relevant new URL without going through a redirect chain.
  • Implement a site monitoring system

    To ensure you are aware of any technical SEO issues when you migrate, you can either do a manual crawl using a site auditing tool or use a tool like ContentKing, which can automatically alert you of SEO issues.
  • Implement a performance monitoring system

    This will be required so you can monitor sessions, clicks, positions, CTR and impressions of URLs and keywords once you migrate. Analytics tools, rank trackers, and custom reporting dashboards like Data Studio will help here.
  • Make copies of XML sitemaps containing old URLs to leave uploaded

    Old XML sitemaps of indexable URLs can be left live temporarily to help with monitoring the index status for URL changes, and to help speed up crawling.
    The effect of doing this is likely to be minimal. Still, if you want to try and help Google crawl old URLs quicker, this is fine.
  • Find the best time to launch

    Ideally, you’ll want to launch the site on a day and time when you aren’t receiving large amounts of traffic. Use your web analytics tool to find the most suitable time to launch.
  • Update URLs in other places

    Popular places that reference your site URLs that you control are:
    • Facebook Ads
    • Google Ads
    • Display Ads
    • Feed updates
    • Newsletter templates
    • Transactional emails
    • Social media accounts
  • Prepare paid strategy to compensate a drop

    If you can’t miss revenue targets, prepare to compensate for a temporary drop in organic traffic with PPC activity.
  • Ensure all critical issues are corrected before launch

    At this point, feedback needs to be given on the risk of migration before it goes ahead. Showstopping issues need to be raised and the site needs a final check to ensure it matches all defined SEO requirements.
      As the SEO on the project, you need to clearly state your opinion on whether it’s risky to go ahead with the migration based upon your evaluation of the staging site.

📈 Going live / post-launch

What to do once you've migrated your site.

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  • Audit the live site

    Crawl and audit the site again, check what was found in the test environment matches live. Read my complete guide on technical SEO for pointers.
  • Check redirects are working correctly

    Check redirects are working as expected. For example, you are using 301 redirects, and they do not go through a chain.
    This is one of the most common areas migration go wrong. Spend additional time ensuring you’ve got this right.
  • Monitor site performance

    Keep a close eye on performance to ensure there are no unexpected drops in traffic or conversions. If your traffic does drop, read my guide on organic traffic drops for pointers.
  • Monitor technical SEO issues

    Continue to monitor the site with your auditing tool of choice. Keep a close eye on the coverage report and crawl stats report in Google Search Console for any potential causes of concern.   Read my guide on organic traffic drops for pointers if your traffic does drop.
  • Create an action plan for any issues

    If the site does have any issues post-launch, create a clear plan highlighting causes and explain what the problem is, why it’s a problem and how to fix it.