Website migration works best for businesses that have a high search demand. They don’t face the drop in traffic that comes with a change in URLs and content on a new CMS. But for relatively new brands, the loss in revenue can be massive.
Thus, you need to create a migration strategy to safeguard your rank in the SERPs. In this article, we look at the planning phase, problems during transit, and best practices after migration. Leveraging this knowledge, you will be able to create a plan that ensures seamless transition, with little loss of traffic.
Let us begin by looking at a few pre-migration requisites.
1. Pre-migration Checklist
Migration to a new CMS inevitably changes the site structure. Each has its own URL conventions that heavily impact SEO. Platforms like SquareSpace and Wix prioritize simplicity at the expense of SEO benefits. But others such as WordPress take both into account. Hence, choose a CMS that aligns with your business goals.
Secondly, the reason most migrations fail is the mismatch between objectives and current assets. By defining the scope of the work at the outset, a checklist breaks down the process into simple tasks. The final result is clarity on the actions and tools needed to accomplish them.
For successful migration to a new CMS, take stock of the following:
- Content: Run website crawlers like Screaming Frog to identify assets like blog posts and multimedia that generate inbound traffic and sales. These are top-performing pages that need to be prioritized during migration. You don’t want to lose the hard-earned SEO progress you have made on through pages.
- Design: It has a serious bearing on the way a site is structured and its content organized. Task your SEO and design teams with creating a functional, SEO-friendly design that easily integrates with the new CMS.
- Data Architecture: Check whether the existing data is compatible with the new CMS. If the latter does not support it or allow customization, the website migration will fail. You should look out for broken links, missing image-ALT texts, and missing or duplicate H1 tags, meta descriptions, and page titles.
2. Challenges in Website Migration
The URL paths differ for every CMS. Shopify organizes them under ‘Collections,’ whereas WordPress uses ‘Categories.’ When you manually migrate to WordPress, the old URLs adjust to this taxonomy. This has a considerable impact on how Google crawls and indexes the new site.
Combine it with the other challenges that emerge during migration and it’s apparent that the whole process is a highly risky venture from an SEO perspective. Hence, it is a good idea to create a data backup beforehand. This will help you return the site to its original state in case anything goes wrong.
Watch out for the following risks:
1. Loss of Metadata
Title tags and meta descriptions may be lost due to a single column lost in database transfer. Run a ScreamingFrog scan to ensure that they are intact. If they are not, do a Google search using “site:URL.com” to find the metadata before migration.
Alternatively, you can rely upon the data backup to add the lost keyword-rich titles and descriptions. You can also import your old metadata to the new website with the help of an experienced database specialist or even do some digging of your own and get the job done yourself.
Image Source: RMSEA
2. Slow Page Loading
Loss in page speed is a major cause of worry during a website migration and every second counts. Perform page speed check after your site is live to identify pages that have low traffic. You should check the speed on both desktop and mobile devices. Once you have identified that, take these steps to speed them up:
- Verify that the Content Distribution Network (CDN) was part of the migration and working correctly. This will decrease the latency and enhance the load balancing, significantly speeding up the loading time.
- Check that the caching system is functioning properly. This will instruct the server to save files to disk or RAM as per the configuration. The result is a drastic reduction in the amount of work required by your website to generate a page view. The web pages can load exponentially faster, through an effective caching mechanism.
- Befriend the tools provided by Google itself to identify the improvements that increase the loading speed. Browse PageSpeed Insights to implement suggestions generated by Google. It is important to be consistent and stick to one speed-testing tool for necessary optimization.
3. Indexation Count Goes Down
It happens when Google thinks that the pages are either irrelevant or can’t be crawled. It affects your website on the SEO front as pages that aren’t indexed have no chance of ranking on the search engine. The change in URLs causes it to see the site differently, thus prompting the bots to index the content once again. Follow these best practices:
- Use HTTP Header Status Checking tools like Xenu, DeepCrawl, and Botify to verify the header status is 200. In case you encounter any 3xx, 4xx, or 5xx errors try to rectify them immediately as they aren’t good news for your indexation count.
- Set up redirects to divert the search bots from old URLs to the corresponding ones. This is aimed at fencing duplicate content issues. Certain alternatives to 301 redirects include disallowing robots.txt, executing canonical tags as well as noindex meta tags.
- Use Google Search Console’s fetch and render feature to ensure search bots are seeing the content as you intended. You can identify if there was any cloaking or if the content is in a form that Google doesn’t recognize. You can just request a reindexing if everything comes out fine after these tests and these issues do not prevail after the migration
4. Broken Redirects
Broken redirects crop up when a page from the old site does not exist on the new one. In such a case, it is better to set up a 301 redirect to the closest match on the new site. Tools like DeepCrawl and Google Search Console can help identify links that have redirect loops issues. Fix them by:
- Cleaning up redirect loops that may have occurred due to poor migration configuration.
- Following redirect chains to check the redirection path is correct to avoid lost link equity, delayed crawling, or increase in page load time.
- Updating links to old pages that use 301 redirects to send a clear signal to the search engine that the page has moved to another URL permanently.
Keep in mind that the end goal of these solutions is to ensure that the start URL and the destination URL are accurate. While at it, do not forget to verify the final status and final status code. Finish the process by updating the XML sitemap to help Google index the new web pages.
3. Post-migration Best Practices
A successful migration should not overshadow the work that comes after the transit. SEO is and will remain a continuous process. The real trial begins with regular monitoring of performance once the migration is complete. Undertake comprehensive reports to assess:
- SEO KPIs: Data on leads, conversion, and ROI will make it clear if search engines understand the changes in the content. Track your SEO performance with Google Analytics to tackle any issues as soon as they arise. Simply mark the migration date on the platform and gather intel on post-migration traffic.
GSC is another handy tool to monitor aspects like indexed pages.
If the number of indexed pages for the new website is less than the old one, it is a warning sign. Identify pages that are getting low traffic and optimize them for performance.
- 4xx Errors: HTTP issues like 404 errors negatively impact user experience. Check server logs and GSC for any pages that have not been redirected to new links. Fix this issue by updating the URLs that return 4xx errors.
Tracking codes, robots.txt files, and meta robots are other areas to focus on. Monitor them to see whether the new site allows crawling and indexing. The faster Google can access the new URLs, the sooner your website will rank on the SERPs.
When you are making the decision to migrate your website, you want to make sure you can trust your web host to help you throughout the process. When you are moving your site to a new host, it is essential that you are given assistance that is easy to follow in order to ensure that your site is up and running as fast as possible.
Website migration isn’t an easy process. It involves changing link structures, indexing the new site, new content, old content, redirects, etc. These can be tricky without a migration strategy in place. A sound approach factors in every challenge that may arise during the journey. Use this guide to develop a foolproof migration roadmap, thus keeping your rank intact in the SERPs.
Lucy is a creative content writer and strategist at Marketing Digest. She specializes in writing about digital marketing, technology, entrepreneurship, and education. When she is not writing or editing, she spends time reading books, cooking, and traveling.