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Elena Terenteva

How to Survive a Website Migration? #semrushchat

Elena Terenteva
How to Survive a Website Migration? #semrushchat

A website migration is something that website owners don’t really like and usually put off for as long as possible. However, site migrations are important, and we can’t avoid them forever. If you’re a SEO specialist or a website owner, you will need to do this sooner or later. In order to preserve your SEO equity during the process, you should follow best practices and make sure you can undergo a migration with minimum losses.

We were very happy to have Barry Adams @badams, founder of Polemic Digital and editor of State of Digital, as a special guest for our new SEMrush Chat. He and our other Chat participants discussed how to survive a website migration and avoid common pitfalls.

We started with the basics and asked our guests what can actually compel us to initiate a website migration.

Site migration

It’s not a secret that search engines don’t provide us with any basic guidelines on how to switch from one web host to another. That’s why you should follow other people’s practices and experiences. Our Chat participants shared their own examples of why they needed to perform a site migration.

You may want to upgrade your website, create a new, amazing design, or improve your security, which is by far one of the most important reasons. Also, your existing website may be too slow and you may want to improve it.  Barry Adams @badams also shared his own experience: “In my experience, the most common reasons to migrate a site are hosting related, a site overhaul, or a domain name change.”

Sometimes website owners initiate a merging of two domains into one unified website to gain some benefits, for example, consolidated promotional efforts and brand consistency.

Once you realize that your website has outgrown your current web platform, you’ll want to migrate it to a new e-commerce one. In this case, don’t forget to keep your old website active for a while. This tactic is effective, because it gives you some time to check everything on it and make sure that you didn’t miss anything, for example, all crucially important files, scripts and other necessary elements.

Several of our guests also mentioned the cost factor, which can inspire you to change your web host. Summing up:

Why do you need site migration

As we can see, there are many viable reasons for launching a migration. Now, let’s discover the major hosting platforms that people use.

web hosting platforms

Your online performance greatly depends on the web hosting platform you utilize. There are different kinds of services that offer various types of hosting and a wide range of features, including email, data storage and data transfers. We asked our Chat participants to give their own examples of frequently used web platforms. Thanks to everyone, we ended up with a long list of hosting services!

main web hosting platforms

Pre-migration checklist

Before launching your website migration, you should create a thorough plan, which is a fundamental step. Before you begin the process, you have plenty of time to think everything through, establish your main objectives and prepare a plan B, in case something goes wrong.

Indeed, it is much easier for website owners when they understand what their end goals are. So what are the other essential phases that come before an actual migration?

Start with creating a list of all URLs on your website and redirect all web pages whose URL will be changed. As Barry Adams @badams continues: “Then you'll want to map these pages to the new site, and implement 301 redirects as appropriate.” He also made a good point, suggesting that even though all your actions depend on the type of migration, it’s better to be ready for the worst-case scenario. Hope for the best and prepare for the worst!

Obviously, you don’t want to damage your site’s visibility in Google and other search engines. You should identify your top-performing webpages and prevent them from losing individual page rankings.

Paul Shapiro @fighto advises checking internal links on your old website: “Get a grasp on the legacy sites’ internal linking. Calculate internal PageRank prior to migration.” Inspect your website and make sure you don’t have any broken legacy links.

As we’ve already mentioned, preserving your SEO efforts is the one of the major goals during a site migration. You should take all possible measures to avoid potential issues that can seriously damage or even destroy them.

I couldn’t agree more. Make sure you don’t migrate a website with any errors. It’s worth doing both automated and manual checking, no matter how good the test server is.

Finally, you should always remember the primary goal of a site migration: “The core goal of a SEO site migration is to preserve your old site's SEO value as much as possible,” according to Barry Adams @badams.

Website pre migration checklist

Even though these preliminaries may be time-consuming and exhausting, they are crucially important. If you decide to skip them, the process of repairing any damage will be much more serious and difficult.

Site migration toolkit

We also asked our guests to name some helpful tools that can make the migration process smooth and easy. They most commonly talked about Screaming Frog, a website crawler. But we also received answers with many other interesting examples of tools that website owners should pay attention to.

Continuing on the topic, Barry Adams @badams advises using some of the services Google provides: “Google Analytics for benchmarking; Google Search Console for monitoring the new site's indexing and crawl errors.”

Use different tools for different purposes:

As for Google Search Console, a free service, it helps you monitor your website’s presence in Google search pages: ”Search Console for monitoring, along with your CMS if it can give you visibility before Google,” remarks Stephen Kenwright @stekenwright. You can either sign up for Search Console or don’t, but doing so will help you discover how a search engine views your site.

Debi Norton @BRAVOMedia1 named a free service that another web search engines offer:

Bing Webmaster Tools provide multiple features, including some that can help you troubleshoot the crawling and indexing of your website, manage it on Bing, and access data.

Several of our Chat participants also suggested paying attention to DeepCrawl, which provides a basic guide to the migration process:

Also, Ahrefs helps you track backlinks, and identify and fix your SEO issues to name a few. Lee Germeroth @leegermeroth suggested using the UpdraftPlus plugin, if you’re migrating your website to a WordPress platform.

UpdraftPlus is a backup plugin on Wordpress.org with several features, including scheduling, remote storage options, monitoring, and reporting.

Website migration toolkit

Now, you have a complete website migration toolkit, thanks to our guests! Plus, I almost forget to mention Excel spreadsheets. It’s simple, helpful, easy-to-use and great for multiple tasks!

prepare site for search engine crawlers

When launching a new website, site owners want web crawlers to check their site as soon as possible, so people can find it. The question is, how can you ensure your site will be crawled soon after its launch. We asked our guests to share their tips for preparing a site for crawlers. You can use the following checklist, which is based on our experts’ best practices, to make the Googlebot discover your new site without delay.

open site for search engine crawlers

most common site migration issues

Every website owner understands that the site migration process can have a negative impact on a site, including the deterioration of its digital footprints, traffic loss, and even a decline in sales. We wanted to figure out what specifically can cause these issues.

To begin with, our Chat participants suggested paying careful attention to redirects, if you want to maintain your website’s SEO value, as well as using redirection best practices.

Barry Adams @badams also mentioned the importance of correct and complete implementation of 301 redirects:

Even if this may seem like an obvious suggestion, some site owners and SEOs forget about it. In most cases, a 301 redirect is the most efficient and search-engine-friendly option for implementing redirects to your website, if done correctly. Moz provides excellent guidance on redirecting one URL to another.

Meta description tags provide viable metadata for a webpage. This data is viable, because the tags describe your webpages’ content and provide search engines with important information about your site.

As we said at the very beginning, planning is an inevitable part of the site migration process. Take into consideration your goals, your efforts, potential negative impacts, and possible solutions to problems, in case something goes wrong.

Some Chat participants shared their own list of the most common issues faced during a site migration:

Make sure that you do your best and create a flawless website, as Jesse Teske @JesseTeske pointed out: “Websites shouldn’t rush to launch a new site when it is not ready for primetime. First impressions matter.”

Most common site migration

If you know the reason for a problem, it will be much easier to solve it. We hope this list of the most common issues website owners face during a site migration will help you avoid some very serious perils.

measure the success of a website migration

Once the new site is finally launched, you will obviously want to measure your success, as well as the impact that the migration has had on your SEO efforts. We received plenty of answers to our final question. Thanks to our guests for their helpful tips!

Actually traffic loss is a normal occurrence. Don’t panic if you notice that your online performance isn’t as good as it used to be. However, if you don’t see any negative consequences, you can be proud of yourself. Barry Adams @badams also suggested paying attention to several important aspects: “Keep an eye on the right metrics - rankings, traffic, pages indexed, crawl errors.” Nevertheless, you have to be patient -- monitor your web presence on a regular basis, but don’t be intimidated by possible low rankings. A deep crawl of your site can take a while, so don’t jump to quick conclusions. For example, Michael Hall @allmikehall recommended checking the aforementioned metrics a month after a site migration:

And here’re some other important aspects that are worth paying attention to:

By using different services, you can easily measure your success. Compare your new website’s performance with your old one’s.

In conclusion, one major criterion of your success is how critically your metrics change: “Site migrations are one of those instances where the less change you see, the better,” according to Barry Adams @badams.

measure the success of a website migration

We were very glad to have Barry Adams @badams as our SEMrush Chat special guest. Thanks to everyone for the interesting answers, amazing tips, and expertise!

You can use these best practices for your next website migration to achieve success. It would be great if you would share your own recommendations in the comment section!

And don’t forget to join us next Wednesday!

Elena Terenteva, Product Marketing Manager at SEMrush.

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