Many owners of websites worry about the success of website migration because they expect that website migration will result in traffic drop and revenue loss.
Unfortunately, unsuccessful website migration is possible in some specific cases. In most cases, you will have success if you do many things in the proper way. We recommend choosing a web development agency, or you should at least carefully read this article.
What is website migration
Website migration is a process of moving your site to a different URL or different infrastructure.
Our web development team prefer to use Google’s documentation as a base of our approach. So, there are two main types of website migration: 1) without URL changes and 2) with URL changes.
The updating of a website and a redesign isn’t website migration. But you can merge a redesign and website migration into one process.
From the web development agency’s perspective website migration is a routine task, but enough of a complex process. Because there are so many possible pitfalls, even extensive experience can’t prevent mistakes.
On the other hand, we understand that moving your website may be a great opportunity for your business. Our common practice is to assess opportunities and risks of website migration for our clients before the process will be started. Such an assessment of website migration will help you to avoid a failure.
Website moving without URL changes
The migration to a different hosting provider is a typical case of website migration with no URL changes. Also, some moves to CMS or web platforms can occur without URL changes. But, we will focus on transferring a website to another hosting.
The reasons to change hosting providers are bad customer service, technical and security troubles, the need for more resources, and price.
Many hosting providers provide free and paid website migration services. You need to provide website details. It is your best decision to entrust migration to a hosting provider. But you or your developer can do it manually with FTP.
Generally, host migration process consists of four major tasks:
- Moving the website’s files.
- Moving the website’s database.
- Configuring your application to work at the new host.
- Pointing your domain’s DNS to the new host. This step will start the process of sending your traffic to the new infrastructure.
In reality, this process is more difficult.
You must choose a good hosting provider.
Choose the right time to move your website to a new host. The common practice is to move a website during traffic lulls. This lowers the impact of issues, and also dedicates more of your server’s power to helping Googlebot update the index of pages. But, don’t migrate your website on the weekend.
Make a full backup of a site on your own computer before you begin the process. You’ll also need to ensure any server-side scripts can be installed and will run on your new hosting platform. Contact the new hosting provider to ensure that scripts will work.
Some hosting providers use a development platform, so you can easily browse your site before entering a new environment and that will allow you to fix any off-stage issues.
After website migration, you can face some troubles. It can be assets such as inappropriate image files or specific files that may be left behind. If this happens, your visitors are likely to experience “404.” To fix these issues, you need to use redirects. Also, there can be database errors, email settings errors, etc.
If troubles occur, don’t panic. Error fixing will take some time. If you hire experienced web developers, they will solve problems for you.
The migration to a different hosting provider can’t affect your website SEO directly. But, if you choose a slow server with downtimes above 0.1%, you will lose traffic and sales.
Website moving with URLs changes
Website migrations with URL changes can affect your website SEO and sales.
There are these types of website migration:
- the protocol changes, move from http to https;
- the URL paths changes as result of website structure changes;
- the merging of two websites;
- move to another CMS that lead to URL changes (brand.com/page.php to brand.com/page);
- domain name change.
There might be a lot of technical issues and troubles. But, most website owners worry about traffic, ranking, and sales.
When you change a URL, even one symbol, you create a new web page for Google. So, you need to redirect visitors from “old URL” to “new URL.” For Google, you need to use 301 redirect. Redirects confuse many people. We hear many misconceptions about redirects. But it is a simple and good tool that was created especially for situations when the webmaster needs to change a URL without traffic loss.
Two main reasons for SEO failure are: 1) specifics of search engines and 2) mistakes. We focus on specifics of Google because it is the most popular search engine for our projects.
Specifics of Google mean that the system needs some time to re-crawl and re-index your website. That is why you may experience ranking fluctuations during 1-4 weeks after website migration. This period of fluctuation depends on the number of pages, server performance and internal factors of Google.
From our experience the most website migrations are successful. You need to avoid the second main reason of failure – mistakes.
To reduce the risks of website migrations with URL changes, you should follow our recommendations.
Recommendations that help you migrate your website, with URL changes, successfully
Note that these are general recommendations. Each case may contain some nuances. That is why it is better to consult with an experienced web developer who has done migrations like this.
Just do one thing
Many website owners and webmasters are going to make all of the changes in one hit. For example, to migrate to https and improve website structure that will enhance SEO.
This approach might be setting you up for a hard time finding a reason for any drops in traffic. Make changes in stages, then monitor the result before you go to the next stage.
You can make all of the changes in one hit if your website is very bad. In this case you have a chance to boost traffic.
Make a list of all pages of your website
You can use an actual sitemap. But it is better to use crawlers, like Screaming Frog. Crawlers, to help you gather meta tags such as title tag, descriptions, and heads (h1, h2, h3), to check status of your pages (200, 404, redirects) and to understand website structure.
To find pages that aren’t linked from other pages on your site, you may use a sitemap or Google Analytics data. If you find these pages, link them, and update your website before the migration process.
Make a copy of your Google Analytics and Google Search Console data
It is good if you use Google Analytics, Google Search Console, Bing Webmaster, or special analytics plugins for WordPress website or ecommerce website. This information will help you quickly identify if any traffic is lost after the migration. Pay special attention to the most-visited pages on a website and monitor them closely after website migration.
Check your Google Analytics code. Wrong data won’t help you. If you didn’t use Google Search Console, you must do it before website migration.
If you rely on 3d party “SEO tools” only, it will be a mistake.
Map all changed URLs from old to new
Ideally, all of the old pages exist on the new site. You just change URLs, for example, mybrand.com/category/T-shirts to mybrand.com/T-shirts. Map these URL changes in Google sheets, Excel or another spreadsheet alternative.
A 301 redirect can transfer 100% SEO from old URLs to new URLs, but on one condition: no changes (same content, links, etc.).
Dropping too many pages (with low traffic or “poor” content) during the migration is a bad idea because you may ruin internal linking. It may lead Google to conclude that the new pages aren’t the same as the old pages and your website will lose rankings.
In reality, changes are inevitable. So, you may lose some SEO. That is why you need to minimize changes. If some pages have little traffic or poor content, you need to improve them before website migration.
Avoid redirect chains (multiple redirects).
Use test server
Trying to do all things in one hit without testing is bound to lead to error. If the mistakes are bad enough, you will lose traffic and sales.
Check and test all things that will help you avoid mistakes, save time and money.
Use password protection to prevent new website indexation.
Create a plan of updating your external references to your website where possible, including your Google My Business listing, Linkedin, Facebook or Twitter accounts, forum profiles.
Check your backlinks to ensure that they will lead visitors on the exist pages.
Don’t forget about external links.
Check the success of website migration
Indicators of success can be organic traffic on some pages, average position of pages, conversions, etc.
Monitor your website for at least a month after the launch or until you feel comfortable that the organic search traffic is at a level similar (or better) than before the migration.
It is so difficult to tell about all the details of website migration in one blog post. Some cases need an individual approach.
However, our main recommendation is to remain calm. Even if you ensure your project an experienced team, mistakes are still possible. But the advantage of an experienced team is the very high possibility of fixing errors and leading you to success.