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.

  • By Sam Underwood
    March 7, 2022
  • Sponsored by Ahrefs
  • 1. Planning

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

    Checklist

    0 out of 8

    Define the scope of changes

    Establish what is changing, e.g. design, site architecture, internal linking, content, URLs.

    Identify concerns and issues

    Based on the previous, identify critical things that could go wrong and create plans to prevent or minimise the risk.

    Make sure everyone understands the potential downside of the risk.

    Migrations are inherently risky. Make sure everyone understands what the potential risk is.

    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:

    1. Wireframing/design
    2. Development
    3. SEO testing
    4. Development issue fixing and amends
    5. Going live
    6. Performance monitoring

    Migration planning questions

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

    Can we keep URLs the same?

    Keeping URLs the same reduces the risk of a drop once the migration is live, as search engines do not need to migrate ranking signals to a new URL.

    Can we stagger the release of the redesign by page type?

    If technically viable, launching the blog, the home page, the store and other page types in a staggered release can result in less volatile organic traffic.

    Can changes to content and internal linking be minimised?

    Try to minimise the amount of changes you’re making in one go. For example, if URLs are changing, reduce changes in other areas like internal linking and content.

    By doing that, if something does go wrong, you can better isolate the cause.

    Can an SEO review wireframes and designs before coding starts?

    Allow an SEO to evaluate both wireframes and the design before coding happens. These changes impact the placement of links and content, so an SEO must have input.

    2. Pre-migration prep

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

    Checklist

    0 out of 11

    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.

    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.
    URL changes only

    Create a 301 redirect plan

    In many cases, this requires URL to URL mapping of all old URLs to new URLs.
    URL changes only

    Test redirects are working in staging

    Crawl old URLs and check they redirect to the mapped URLs using 301 redirects without redirect chains.
    URL changes only

    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.

    URL changes only

    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
    URL changes only

    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.

    Pre-migration tools

    Tools to help you audit your site before migrating.

    Pre-migration questions

    Questions to ask and answer when checking over a site before migrating.

    Can we test the redirects in staging?

    It’s common for developers not to add redirects to the server until they push the new site live. However, it’s essential you test redirects in the staging environment first due to how important they are for smooth URL migrations. 

    In addition, these step ensures minimal issues and amends once you’ve gone live with the changes.

    Do we need to redirect all URLs?

    If a URL isn’t important (doesn’t receive traffic, no external links) and you’ve decided not to migrate it, then it’s safe to leave these to 404.

    However, I would advise removing these URLs from the site before the migration to minimise the number of changes you’re making in one go.

    How much do we need to minimise changes?

    There are no hard rules here. Minimise changes enough so you can isolate them. 

    For example, I generally wouldn’t rewrite content for all categories on an ecommerce store at the same time as redesigning. Either make these changes before migrating and measure them or migrate, leave it a few weeks for things to settle, then make more changes.

    3. Going live / post-launch

    What to do once you've migrated your site. 

    Checklist

    0 out of 5

    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.

    URL changes only

    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.

    URL changes only

    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.

    Going live / post-launch tools

    Tools to help you audit your site after migrating, as well as monitor its performance.

    Special thanks to Ahrefs

    Big thanks to Ahrefs for sponsoring our migration checklist.

    Ahrefs is a leader in the all-in-one SEO tool space, becoming renowned by SEOs for providing intuitive software backed by big data.

    With Ahrefs Webmaster Tools, you can now get free data on your sites:

    • Technical SEO issues
    • Backlink data
    • Ranking keywords

    You can try Ahrefs Webmaster Tools for free — permanently — using the link below.

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