What You Should Know About Website Migration

Website migration encompasses significant alterations to a site’s structure that could impact SEO, such as modifications to domain name URLs, hosting platform, or design.

While there exist various types of migrations, the fundamental steps for planning and troubleshooting remain consistent. The process of migration can be highly complex, involving numerous individuals and moving parts. However, if things do not go as planned, you can address and resolve nearly every issue.

The preparation for a migration to a new website 

To ensure a smooth and successful transition, it’s vital to stay informed about ongoing changes and actively involve all relevant stakeholders throughout the process. Developing a comprehensive plan that outlines every aspect of the transition, including roles, deadlines, and tracking procedures, is essential. Utilizing a project manager or project management system can be highly beneficial in effectively managing these details. Relying solely on email and Slack communication may lead to confusion and inefficiencies. Therefore, incorporating a variety of communication channels and ensuring clear and frequent communication is key.

Additionally, it’s prudent to establish a rollback strategy as a precautionary measure in case of unforeseen catastrophes. Having a plan to revert to the original state, even in extreme circumstances, provides a safety net.

Understanding the potential impact of each move is paramount. Accessing tools like Google Search Console (GSC) and Analytics on both the old and new websites, possibly consolidating views if necessary, enables thorough monitoring. Some changes may result in significant fluctuations over weeks or even months, while others may have minimal impact. For instance, migrating a small-sized site to a new domain may entail weeks of noticeable changes, whereas merging into an existing website might not disrupt traffic at all.

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 can 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 

The specifics of a website migration depend on whether the URLs will remain the same or not. Below we’ll discuss both scenarios. 

 In case 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 from what you had. 
  • Meta descriptions 
  • Heading tags 
  • Hreflang 
  • Schema 
  • Meta robots. You want to make sure your pages aren’t indexed. 
  • Content. This is especially important for JavaScript systems. New systems may not have all of the content loaded into the DOM by default, so search engines may not see some of the content in some cases. 
  • Internal links. Things like breadcrumbs, related posts, footer links, or even the main navigation may have changed. 
  • Speed differences 

Other problems could cause greater issues. 

  • If you leave an obstruction in place search engines can’t crawl your website. 
  • Sometimes, older redirects aren’t transferred over to .htaccess files 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 this 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. 

In case URLs are not the same 

These types of migrations are usually more complicated. One exception is the transition from HTTP to 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 applies 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 are 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 valuable tip for users of Site Audit: By adjusting the search parameters within your project settings to target a different domain, you can locate it on the new domain. Consequently, this enables you to compare it with the crawl you conducted on the previous domain.

Replace internal links and hyperlinks in different tags such as canonicals, and Hreflang. It is possible to make use of a replacement and find a plugin to perform this task quickly to update internal links. 

  • Set up GSC. This involves transferring your disavow files and configuring geo-targeting parameters for URLs, as well as uploading sitemaps. It’s advisable to retain your sitemaps with older URLs for a brief period to monitor URL indexing on GSC.
  • Remove any crawling blocks that hinder web pages on both the old and new websites. It’s crucial to ensure that all pages are crawled to consolidate signals effectively and ensure proper site consolidation. Additionally, verify that all necessary pages are indexed and accessible to search engines. This will help maintain the integrity of your site’s SEO performance during the migration process.
  • Verify that the pages you want to index are not marked with a no-index directive. You can use Site Audit for this.
  • Implement page redirection. Ensure that old pages receive a 301 redirect to the latest versions of your site. Redirect PDFs and images as well, but don’t worry about files like JS, CSS, and Font file types. Focus on redirecting files searched for by search engines and disregarding other 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, 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 about the technical aspect of SEO. 

Testing and monitoring regularly 

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 various methods to detect changes. As previously mentioned, you can modify the nature of your crawl using the site audit and then generate a report to identify differences. It’s essential to watch out for changes in the:

  • Canonicals
  • Hreflang. A domain change can temporarily disrupt its function, as it may take time for pages to rebuild and connections to establish.
  • Schema
  • Meta Robots

Let’s revisit the list we compiled earlier of the top pages. These pages represent your top-performing content. It’s advisable to crawl this list using Site Audit to ensure that redirects are correctly set up and that there are no significant alterations. If you’ve previously configured an individual project for this list, you can conduct a comparison crawl to promptly monitor changes to the pages.

To track the traffic, keyword changes, and overall performance of these pages, you can use The Most Popular Pages and organic keywords reports within Site Explorer 2.0. While creating comparisons within the same domain is straightforward, if you’ve migrated domains, exporting the data to Excel and Google Sheets can provide a comprehensive view for different periods and help identify any losses.

Here’s the most efficient method:

  • Enter your domain into Site Explorer.
  • Navigate to the Best by Links report.
  • Apply a “404 not found” filter.
  • Sort using referrer domains.


Google Search Console offers a wealth of information to aid you throughout the migration process. For instance, you can check for canonicalization issues using this tool. By simply entering the URL, Google will display the canonical designation they have chosen.

Furthermore, you can export GSC data and create an aggregate overview of your traffic in Excel or Google Data Studio to monitor the migration process more effectively. You can also use a combined view of pages or keywords to identify any potential problems.

The Index Coverage report helps you understand how your web pages are indexed. If you have uploaded both old and new sitemaps, you can track indexing changes and identify any issues. With these sitemap files, you can obtain specific coverage reports only for the pages included in them.

For a comprehensive view of Google crawling activity and any identified issues, the best place to start is Google’s crawl stat report within Google Search Console. Various reports are available to help you detect changes in crawler behaviour and crawling issues, providing valuable insights into how Google crawls your site.


If you’re unable to get an overview of the site and need to compare the old and new versions, you can check archive.org for any available copies of pages. They usually archive robots.txt files, which can reveal deliberate blocks made during the process.

If accessing the Google Search Console is not possible, you can confirm canonicalization by entering the URL into Google. The first page displayed will be the official one.

In case GSC access is restricted, you can examine other crawling-related issues in those logs.

It’s worth noting that using a search engine can be confusing. When using this method, you’re essentially trying to understand what Google knows about a specific site. However, finding pages on the site doesn’t guarantee they’re being indexed or indicate any issues with the migration process. This confusion has led some to block the old website, attempting to prevent pages from being indexed, which can create further complications.

Keep Checking 

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 expired, 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 as we discussed earlier. 


In conclusion, website migration is a complex process that involves significant changes to a site’s structure, potentially impacting its SEO performance. Whether it’s modifications to domain names, hosting platforms, or design elements, thorough planning and meticulous execution are essential for a successful transition. By actively involving all stakeholders, developing comprehensive plans, and establishing rollback strategies, potential issues can be addressed and resolved effectively.

Preparation, including website crawling, creating backups, and limiting access to development environments, is crucial for mitigating risks during migration. Whether URLs remain the same or change, attention to detail is necessary to ensure that canonical tags, title tags, meta descriptions, and other essential elements are consistent.

Monitoring tools such as Google Search Console, Ahrefs, and archive.org play vital roles in tracking migration progress, identifying issues, and ensuring proper indexing and crawling. Regular testing and monitoring are imperative to catch any issues early and maintain SEO performance throughout the process.

In the dynamic landscape of website management, the thoroughness of migration preparation and execution can significantly impact a site’s visibility and performance. As such, adopting best practices and leveraging available tools are essential steps towards achieving a smooth and successful website migration. Additionally, partnering with experienced professionals like AVIANET can provide valuable expertise and support to ensure a seamless transition and optimize the site’s SEO potential.

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