What is Website Migration?
Website migration is when you move your website from one host to another. While it might sound a little intimidating, a website migration can be straightforward with a bit of preparation.
If you're thinking about migrating your current site, here are some tips that will help you get started. It's best practice to migrate websites in two steps—moving from one platform (eg: WordPress) to another platform (eg: HubSpot) and then from one host to another host.
Of course, there are exceptions, but if you're new to the whole process, we recommend working on one piece at a time.
Types of Website Migrations
A website migration is a process where you move your website from one location (server, host, or platform) to another.
This is usually done for one of two reasons: changes with your current hosting provider or a site that’s no longer meeting your needs.
There are several different types of migrations and each of them has its pros and cons, as well as things you’ll need to know before moving forward.
There are a few different approaches to take when it comes to migrating your website, and it all depends on your specific needs. To help determine which approach is best for you, let’s take a look at each option:
Manual Migration: This type of website migration requires transferring data from one location (the old website) and loading it into another (the new one). It can be done through FTP (file transfer protocol), SFTP (secure file transfer protocol), or even through uploading files onto a remote server using FileZilla, among other programs.
The downside with manual migrations is that if something goes wrong during transfer, then there will be no backup or source of information available in case errors occur.
Semi-Automated Migration: Semi-automated migrations allow an IT team to get involved by having some content scraped, but it is limited to certain pages, posts, comments, etc.
Full Automation/CMS Integration: Full automation or full CMS integration means that every bit of content on your site—posts, pages comments—is transferred automatically between platforms.
There is no need for human input; everything happens automatically.
Each migration route has its benefits and drawbacks; you'll have to weigh them carefully before deciding which method works best for you.
Below we’ve outlined some of those differences so you can make sure your web migration is successful and leaves little room for error.
Don’t Forget SEO For all of these scenarios, it’s important to understand that your SEO isn’t automatic during any type of migration.
Any time there are URL changes on a given website, search engines have trouble finding/indexing old content. To fix this issue, be prepared to implement 301 redirects after each new phase in your migration is complete.
Getting started with Website Migration
1. Plan Ahead Planning is key! Make sure you have plenty of time before your next big launch or update so that everything runs smoothly without a hitch.
2. Take Inventory Before moving forward, take inventory of what platforms your content is hosted on now.
Make sure all content has been migrated over to your destination platform first before moving hosts because doing both simultaneously could break links or result in duplicate pages being indexed by search engines.
Important URLs will also need to change. The reason for taking inventory is so that you don't accidentally forget anything during your website migration, which can lead to costly mistakes.
3. Determine Your Schedule Consider scheduling any large website migrations during times where traffic levels are low i.e., seasonal slow periods--and do not schedule migrations around other major events like webinars or other releases. Double-check your current hosting setup before starting any migration project.
Do they support WebDAV? What kinds of databases does their software use? Are they running PHP 5+? These are just a few examples of questions you'll want to be answered before moving, but you'll likely have others depending on what CMSs or tools you’re using.
4. Work with an Expert If you haven't worked with hosting providers before, getting guidance for how to run a website migration efficiently is crucial. Doing things correctly upfront will save lots of headaches down the road - trust us!
5. Start Small Don't try to do too much in one go; start small and work your way up until you feel comfortable handling larger projects.
6. Do ample research before choosing a service provider
Before paying anyone any money make sure they offer exemplary service based on positive reviews found online—don't just assume they do because their price sounds good.
7. Start with Small Tests
If you're changing your website's structure, moving content around, adding new pages, or changing URLs, don't make all of those changes at once. Instead, break them up into several migrations.
Making several smaller changes is less risky than making one massive change—if something goes wrong with one migration (or if you need to adjust), it's easier to pinpoint where things went awry. It also gives you more chances to run tests before making permanent changes.
Plus, small migrations are less likely to be noticed by search engines and visitors alike—you're more likely to be able to migrate portions of your site without disrupting anyone.
8. Optimize the new website
Change your web pages so that Google can understand them. A successful website migration will ensure that your old site’s authority flows over to your new site, but you’ll need to take some extra steps if you want people to find you on your new domain.
Start by adding rel=canonical tags, which tell Google which versions of a page are duplicates and shouldn’t be counted as separate pages for ranking purposes. Add these canonical tags throughout both versions of your website.
Make sure to check that they're using secure servers, don't keep customers’ sensitive info on file once migrated (also known as logging), and also investigate whether these providers only work with reputable companies so as not to put your reputation at risk.
9. Keep user records up-to-date after migrating
If someone signs up for an account while visiting your site following a website migration always make sure that all their information updates successfully. A lot of bad can happen if people can't log into accounts after moving over - like losing existing or potential customers, etc.
10. Locate files on the current site
Once you’ve finalized a website migration, ensure that your team understands how important proper organization is when performing these kinds of tasks.
Using marketing tools like Screaming Frog, perform an audit of your existing site to find out where all your assets are currently located so that when it comes time to go live with your new site there won't be any surprises in terms of links not working anymore, images missing, etc.
11. Analyze how users will interact with keywords
You should make sure that the keywords on your new website are updated with keywords that fuel the search intent of your target audience.
Make sure that you, consider all technical aspects regarding SEO when mapping out how people will navigate through your website once migrated.
In addition, stay away from companies offering package deals as these often include hidden fees or extras so you could end up paying far more than expected.
12. Back up your content beforehand
You must have a secure backup of your original platform before moving to a new one so that if anything does go wrong then not only can you access that area again, but also restore it once issues are fixed.
13. Set Up Basic Metadata
Setting up your metadata (things like titles, meta descriptions, and more) is an important step in setting up your website for search engines. This will enable users to find you by searching for certain words on search engines.
Metadata allows you to control how relevant and prominent your site appears in search results. The more relevant and focused your metadata is, the better it will be received by visitors and search engines alike.
Always ensure that you’re updating relevant keywords as new content is created; do not go overboard with keywords, though—it may backfire if they are not related or are used incorrectly.
14. Set Up 301 Redirects
When you work on a website migration, it’s essential that you set up 301 redirects. These will make sure your old URLs point people (and search engines) towards your new location. It may seem like a hassle, but think of all of your visitors who will be coming to find your site with an old URL; do you want them getting lost in cyberspace? I didn’t think so.
Setting up 301 redirects takes only minutes and ensures that you don’t lose valuable traffic due to outdated links.
Just keep these things in mind: Create two separate .htaccess files – one for users and one for search engines — and place both on your root directory before you upload everything else.
There are easy-to-follow tutorials online to walk you through how to accomplish just that. You'll also want to let Google know about your migration, which we'll discuss below.
And lastly, if possible and if timing allows for it, make sure everyone knows what's going on before migrating; link back from other websites telling everyone about your move as well as mentioning it across social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter.
15. Update Your Robots.txt files and SitemapIt's important that you let Google know about the changes on your website. To do so, we advise you to update your sitemap with the new page URLs.
You should also update your robots.txt file in case you want the crawlers to block some URLs from crawling.
16. Copy Code from your Old Site if Needed
Just because you're building a new site or doing a website migration it doesn't mean that you can throw your old code into a folder and forget about it. If your old site has navigation that aligns with yours, copy all of those pages over so they don't get lost in time.
Even if there's no direct correlation between your current content and your old content, having extra pages around will help you start with more backlinks than most new sites have. Not only does starting with an index of linked-to content look good in Google's eyes, but it also makes it easier for readers to find their way around.
Once your SEO is solidified on your new site, then you can begin removing redundant pages. If they aren't helpful, let them go—with one exception: broken links. Don't leave behind dead ends in place of previously useful URLs; redirect them and give yourself a clear path forward.
Plus, when you remove pieces of old sites from your web presence, URL shorteners stop working—and we all know how great it feels to reuse existing links!
17. Copy Source Files
Whatever files got your site off its feet in its infancy should probably still be kicking somewhere online.
Particularly with major technological updates like CMS upgrades or image hosting changes (even when upgrades go well), there's usually some need for leftover source code.
18. Create Content on your new site
Creating content on your new site is important because it helps search engines learn about your new website. When migrating from an old site, it's common for many of those pages and posts to still be indexed.
Since these web pages won't be automatically transferred over, you'll want to make sure they're de-indexed (or dumped as we call it in SEO lingo). This will make sure that any non-canonical duplicate web pages aren't creating duplicate content issues on your new site.
To ensure that you don't break your SEO during the migration or create duplicate content, always check out Google Developer Tools. It's a valuable resource with lots of great information on how search engines like Google view and treat websites.
19. Quality Control and Performance Monitoring
First and foremost, it’s critical that your development team closely monitors server performance and ensures uptime. A new site might seem snappy during a soft launch but will often come to a grinding halt once traffic picks up.
Analytics tracking is also a key factor in optimizing your site for performance and SEO success. It’s critical that you set up analytics tracking from day one, so you can gain insight into how users interact with your site daily.
After migrating, keep an eye on metrics like time-on-site and conversion rates by channel or keyword, which will help you identify trouble spots in need of optimization. If you find certain types of pages aren’t converting properly, make changes before they start costing you big bucks.
20. Update your Local Business Listings After Website Migration
If you’re keeping your old site live after migrating, it’s important to update your local business listings immediately after the website migration.
Otherwise, Google could drop your rankings, since all of your local reviews and citations will be pointing back to an outdated website. The best practice is to let people know that you’ve moved locations by posting a message on Facebook, Twitter, and Google My Business—don’t forget about Yelp.
Then call all of your local listing providers right away so they can fix their listings too. If you already have online reviews associated with an old URL, make sure those are moved over as well.
21. Get Links from Relevant Sites
One of your biggest SEO advantages is that you’re relocating an established site to a new domain.
Make sure you let your readers know how big of a deal that is by highlighting your anchor text distribution, backlinks, and referring domains—all of which speak volumes about your credibility.
If there are no link-building opportunities in sight, there are plenty of free tools that allow you to pull up all sorts of data for comparisons. However, even if there are link-building opportunities, don’t rush things too much—you might be tempted to quickly build out links to get everything set up for SEO right away, but it doesn't work like that.
Studies have shown that spammy and low-quality tactics drive traffic down over time. Don’t sacrifice long-term gains for short-term results—especially when they could lead to penalties from search engines later on.
Instead, focus on creating relevant relationships with existing websites; do some guest blogging, comment on popular posts with relevant insight or provide valuable resources such as guides or templates related to your topic of expertise.
It's never a good idea to migrate your website without considering how it'll affect your search engine optimization.
Thankfully, there are many things you can do before and after a website migration that will help ensure your SEO success moving forward. Following these 22 tips will have you well on your way towards a smooth migration.