What You Should Know About Website Migration
The term “website migration” is used to refer to any major changes to a site’s structure that could influence SEO, like modifications to the domain name URLs, URLs, hosting the platform or design.
There are numerous kinds of migrations, however the fundamental steps to plan and troubleshooting are the same. The process of moving can be extremely complicated since they usually involve numerous individuals and moving parts. Don’t worry if something doesn’t happen as planned. You can fix nearly every issue that occurs.
The preparation for a migration to a new website
You must know the changes taking place and who has to be involved to make it take place. Also, you’ll need a plan as well as an account of every moving part. You’ll need to understand all of the individuals involved in the project, their roles, deadlines and have a procedure that tracks all the details. A project manager or project management system can assist in this. The pressure of trying to manage everything via email and Slack could get chaotic quickly.
It is also important to prepare a rollback strategy, to be prepared in the event that there is a catastrophe. Always have a plan to get back to your original state even if you intend to use it in the most extreme of circumstances.
It is important to be aware of the effect of any move which is why you should be able to access GSC as well as Analytics on both of the new websites (make an amalgamated view, if you need to see both). Certain changes could require a few weeks, or perhaps months in which you might see a lot of change while others may have no changes in any way. For example, if you’re moving a small-sized site to a brand-new domain, I’d imagine some weeks of changes. However, if you’re merging into an existing website, it’s possible that you won’t experience any disruptions in traffic in any way.
Also, you should do some pre-work. Here are a few suggestions:
- Website crawling You’ll use this as a base to monitor for any changes in the future. Site audit is a good tool to do this.
- Creating a collection of HTML0 test web pages such as those found in the Top Pages report within the Site Explorer. Then, you can use them later to verify any mistakes. You might want to start by crawling them in an additional Site Audit project so you are able to easily examine them in the future.
- Limit access to your development or staging website (if there is one) to prevent it from being listed.
- Create a backup of your website in case you have to return to it.
Performing a website migration
Precisely what’s involved in a website migration depends on whether the URLs will remain the same or not. Below we’ll discuss both scenarios.
Incase URLs are the same
This is typically a more straightforward move—at least SEO-wise—since fewer things are changing. It still may be a complex move, but many of the tasks involved with these moves are typically more the work of infrastructure/DevOps or developers and not SEOs.
These migrations may include:
- Hosting: CDN, server
- Platform: CMS, language, JS framework
- Design: template, Internal link, tags
If you are using a staging or dev site, it’s best to get access to check for issues before you launch it live.
What to look for
For this, you’re essentially looking for any changes, including things like:
- Canonical tags. These should be the same.
- Title tags. Make sure these are the same or similar to what you have. New systems may have automated tag generation or some defaults that may be different than what you had.
- Meta descriptions
- Heading tags
- Meta robots. You want to make sure your pages aren’t no indexed.
- Internal links. Things like breadcrumbs, related posts, footer links, or even the main navigation may have changed.
- Speed differences
There are other problems that could cause greater issues.
- If you leave an obstruction in place and search engines don’t have the ability to crawl your website.
- Sometimes, older redirects aren’t transferred over to .htaccess file or server configuration files, which means you’ll lose a few hyperlinks that point to your website. This isn’t easy because it’s hard to detect and is often the case when you change hosts. Be aware of the Best by Links report on the site Explorer and filter it for URLs with 404s, to identify pages with links that have gone down.
Incase URLs are not same
These types of migrations are usually more complicated. One exception is the transition to HTTP into HTTPS –which can be quite simple these days.
The migrations could be:
- Domain Change of domain, merging with another site, or splitting an existing site
- Protocol: HTTP > HTTPS
- Path: subdomain/subfolder, changing site architecture
Specific to HTTP > HTTPS
- Use a Content Security Policy of upgrade-insecure-requests to fix all mixed content issues. It’s easy to implement and is applicable to all sources apart from things like internal links, which are something you must update.
- Install an encryption certificate
- redirect HTTP > HTTPS
- Include the HTS Header
I would not be concerned about issues like redirect chains that is on the root path, or the updating of links to the website. Resolving the chain or updating links will not bring any advantages since signals merge due to redirects.
Specific to domain change
- lower TTL temporarily (a couple of hours for the duration). This will allow you to refresh DNS caches more quickly and once you switch, the changes you make will be noticed by more users faster.
- Utilize GSC’s changing in address tools inside GSC.
- Go to the domain of the previous one in case there is any action manual that may be present in GSC
Here’s a hint to Site Audit users: if you alter the purpose of your search within your project’s settings, to be on a different domain it will be located on the new domain, and you’ll be capable of comparing it to the crawl you had on the previous domain.
Replace internal link and hyperlinks in different tags such as canonicals, Hreflang. It is possible to make use of a replace and find plugin to perform this task quickly to update internal links.
- Setup GSC. This could include the transfer of your disavow files and setting geo-targeting parameters for URLs, as well as uploading sitemaps. It is recommended to save your sitemaps with older URLs, for a brief time. This can help in monitoring the indexing of URLs on GSC.
- Eliminate any crawling blocks that block web pages on old sites and new websites. All pages must be crawled in order for signals to ensure that the site is properly consolidated.
- Make sure that the pages that you wish to index aren’t marked with no index. You can utilize Site Audit for this.
- Redirect pages. You should ensure that the old pages are directed with the 301 redirect to the latest versions of your site. It’s an excellent idea to redirect PDFs and images too but don’t fret about files like JS, CSS and Font file types. Concentrate on redirecting files which are searched for by search engines and do not worry about the different file types.
You should catch any changes as soon as you can. Therefore, if you own the possibility of a staging or dev site, you must go through it to ensure that everything is in order before transferring changes to live sites. Be aware that if an older site was running HTTPS when the certificate expired, robots can be not allowed to access the site, but users will be presented with an error message, and won’t be redirected. The multi-domain certifications cover several sites, which can aid in preventing this problem.
If you notice an increase, it’s probably due to redirects, something that isn’t capable of being crawled, or something that is not indexed or modified in the content or the removal of information, modifications to the internal link structure, or something else that changed in relation to the technical aspect of SEO.
Testing and monitoring on a regular basis
There are a variety of methods to monitor the development of the migration process and ensure that the process is going exactly as it should.
There are a variety of ways to find changes. Like I mentioned before you can alter the nature of your crawl with the site audit and then get a report to see what’s different. You’ll need to keep an eye out for any changes such as:
- Hreflang. It will stop working for a few minutes in the event of a domain change since it can take a long time for the pages to be rebuilt and connections to be created.
- Meta Robots
Remember when we came up with this list of the top pages before? These are your top pages. It’s a good idea to crawl the list using Site Audit to ensure things such as redirects are in place and that there aren’t any significant modifications. If you’ve set up an individual project for the list in advance it is possible to run a comparison crawl in order to observe changes to the pages in a short time.
It is possible to track pages’ traffic, keywords’ changes and traffic by using The Most Popular Pages as well as organic keywords reports within Site Explorer 2.0. It is easy to create comparisons with the same domain but if you’ve moved domains, it’s possible to export the data in Excel and Google Sheets to make a comprehensive view for various periods and to see where losses could have occurred.
You can also utilize our crawler to ensure your redirects are functioning well, and the links are properly redirected.
Here’s the most efficient method:
- Enter your domain into site explorer
- Go to the Best by Links report
- Include an “404 not found” filter
- Sort using referrer domains
Google Search Console has a wealth of information to assist you during the process of migration. For instance, you can examine for problems with canonicalization with this tool. Simply type in the URL and Google will show you the canonical designation they have chosen.
In addition, you can Export GSC data and create an aggregate overview of your traffic in Excel as well as Google Data Studio to watch the process of migration more clearly. It is also possible to utilize a combined view of pages or keywords to pinpoint any problems.
This Index Coverage report helps you understand how your web pages are being indexed. In the event that you’ve uploaded old and new sitemaps you can monitor the indexing change and verify any problems there. If you have these sitemaps files you will be able to obtain specific coverage reports only for the pages that are in these sitemaps.
If you’re looking for a complete picture of Google crawling activity, and any issues that have been identified the best spot to start is Google’s crawl stat report within Google Search Console. There are several reports available to help you spot the changes in the behavior of crawlers and issues with crawling and provide you with more information on the way Google crawls your site.
If you weren’t able to get an overview of the site and you need to determine if there are any differences between the old version and the new one, visit archive.org to determine whether they have a copy of any page. They will also typically contain copies of robots.txt files from websites that could be helpful to find out what went wrong and was deliberately blocked in the process.
If you aren’t able to connect to the Google Search Console in order to search for your site however, you can verify canonicalization by typing the URL into Google. The first page that is displayed would be the official.
If you aren’t able to access GSC various other problems related to crawling may be inspected within those logs.
It’s important to note that the use of the search engine often confuses users. If you’re using this site: you’re trying to find out what Google is aware of about a particular site. The fact that you find pages on the site doesn’t mean that they’re being indexed or that there’s an issue in the process of migration. I’ve witnessed this result in individuals blocking the old website to prevent the pages from being part of the index. This can cause problems.
Certain issues may surface in the months following migration.
- Be sure to monitor the old domain to ensure that it is renewed. Do the same thing for other domains you redirect to the website. If the domains are expired or expire, the signals transmitted by redirects to older sites could be lost.
- If you haven’t gotten rid of your old host and you’re still storing redirects there, keep in mind that they’ll be broken if the hosting is shut down, and you’ll lose certain hyperlinks. It’s possible to fix this issue by redirecting your DNS to the new site and storing the redirects to your new website.
- Be sure to keep your security certificates current or change to a multi-domain certificate like we discussed earlier.
The process of transferring websites isn’t a difficult task, so it’s time for celebration when everything goes smoothly. But since this will not become the only time, you’ve attempted the process of transferring your site, I’d recommend getting together with your team for a second time to review the good points and what didn’t go as planned and what you’d do differently in the event of having to do it all over again.