Redesigning your website or moving it to another domain can have severe repercussions to your rankings and organic traffic in Google. From having done SEO since 1998, I have seen websites losing a huge amount of SEO value during their migration. Here is one example of a company who did not implement this properly without consulting with an SEO expert beforehand. Prior to the migration they received over 20,000 organic visitors per day, which suddenly dropped to around 3,000 per day overnight.
Is there a way to ensure that you have all your ducks in a row beforehand in order to ensure a smooth transition?
The good news is that there is a way to go about this correctly, and in this guide, we will go through the entire SEO migration checklist one by one.
A Minefield Full of Pitfalls
When it comes to SEO website migration, it's realistically a minefield full of potential pitfalls. In order to survive the perils and get to the promise of having to migrate website without losing SEO, you need a checklist of things to do.
To be more specific, you must watch out for broken links, missing embedded pictures, decreased conversion rates, the wrong pages appearing when a link is clicked, and lost products in your inventory.
Any misstep can result in a migrated site that's overshadowed by its mistakes. You'll even have to spend extra money to fix and troubleshoot your site issues on top of paying for a full site migration.
Such things are solvable, though. Like when moving from one state to another or even one country to another, it's all about planning things beforehand.
Let's find out how to migrate an old site to a new domain while keeping safe your optimization, traffic rate, lead generation, and overall revenue produced by the site.
When is a Site Migration Worth It?
A site migration is most definitely worth it during these following circumstances:
Your brand needs a fresh new start or rebranding to boost the conversions.
The migration will give you a net positive on links, press, and publicity.
When your site requires to be moved to HTTPS, so this ensures one of the rare instances wherein the move alone will net you an SEO gain.
Your website has lots of technical SEO issues (eg: Google Core Web Vitals) which cannot be resolved in the current environment.
Learn How a Website Migration Affects SEO (to the Same or New Domain)
Theoretically, it should be possible to publish your site live in a new domain while keeping all your hard work and SEO intact. There should be some carryover since you've moved the site elsewhere and only changed the domain name, right?
It should be as simple as the days of Geocities and Angelfire, where at most you'll put in a notice on the old URL telling people to update their bookmarks.
A Completely New Domain: An old site migrating to a new domain is treated by Google as a brand-new site even though it has the same archived content, the same web design, and so forth.
Organic Traffic Decline: You're supposed to mitigate the organic traffic decline from moving your website from one domain or server to another. This happens because Google needs time to accordingly adapt to the changes and update its indexes.
Avoid Turning Your Site Invisible: If worse comes to worst, a site migration can render your website practically invisible and low rankings in searches.
A Checklist of Things to Do: You need a website migration SEO checklist in order to migrate website without losing SEO. That's the long and short of it. It's because there are things you can do to make Google acclimate to your migration changes faster.
Expediting Reevaluation: You can carefully plan and execute your website migration to mitigate optimization loss and broken links. Even if Google treats your migrated website as new, there are ways to shoot it up the rankings. The dip is temporary, but you can make that bounce-back much faster.
Complex Beasts: Site migrations are complex beasts. This means it takes more to navigate through issues that could extend that inevitable dip whenever you migrate. While the dip is happening, your revenue, rankings, and traffic will suffer. Any drastic change, the Google algorithm needs time to process.
Google Has to Track the Following: When Google bots crawl sites in order to index the millions of sites available on the public web, they have to take into account site location, design, content, structure, platform and UX (user experience). When they change, they affect the index and optimization of the site.
Organic Visibility: Your site can become practically SEO invisible due to incorrect protocols when migrating its content to a new server, to the point where it might as well be located in the Deep Web if it ends up in Page 2 or even Page 10 of the SERP.
Period of Drop Off: The drop in your standard SEO pre-migration can last from a few weeks to several months. It could take months if you have to start off optimizing your site for Google from scratch despite working with the same content.
The Time for Change is Now: Are you considering changing up your logo, marketing scheme, and corporate identity? You may as well do it along with your site migration since the algorithm will be considering your moved site a new site. This should also help establish your new SEO foundations.
Your Pre-Launch Website Migration Checklist
You need a bit of SEO auditing to do as part of your pre-launch website migration SEO checklist. In fact, it's the most important part of your website migration.
It's where you can organize a proper roadmap and gather all the possible scenarios for failure and put-up safety nets on every area. It's like baby-proofing a home by inspecting all the sockets or nooks and crannies that the baby could end up in.
It's all about preventive maintenance and figuring out from start to finish what could go wrong before Murphy's Law can kick in.
Remember that the changes that happen to a site when it moves from one domain or server to another, even if its content remains unchanged, is significant.
Like with electric sockets and pill bottles you want to baby-proof, check all possible broken links and embedding errors so that you'd have less damage control to do at launch. That's how you can migrate website without losing you SEO rankings in Google.
Preparing Your Roadmap and Project Plan
Website migration is a huge undertaking that can take months to do. You can start off by putting in the barebones or skeletal content of your website on the new domain as a framework then gradually put in archived content on this new framework.
The SEO website migration can also serve as the perfect time to overhaul your framework design to something more modern, dynamic, or Web 3.0 since you don't only want to retain your site SEO but improve upon it.
Regardless, you still need to do a project plan setup as part of your website migration SEO checklist. It involves:
Early on, gather all your stakeholders.
Outline in a clear manner every task you need to do, including dependencies.
In regard to dependencies, some tasks can only be completed with the assistance of others, like getting referral links from other websites updated.
Every task should have an owner assigned to it, so they're done simultaneously.
Map out deadlines for every task. Set a clear delivery date to ensure they're done.
Your roadmap's goal is to put your new site on the best possible position for optimization even if it means applying new SEO from the ground up.
You can push your webmasters, IT department, or outsourced IT consultancy to push through the SEO audit for your migration with a project management tool like Trello or a Gantt chart.
These charts and tools assist in the visualization of every migration stage along with their respective checklist of tasks.
That's your best bet initially to migrate website without losing SEO. It's the foundation that ensures website SEO excellence.
Murphy's Law is in effect when doing site migrations. In a perfect world, you can do it with the whole site intact and with the proper redirects from your old domain and URLs, such that it takes less than a few weeks for Google to put it on competitive SERPs.
With that said, it's prudent to be able to anticipate those bad things that could happen to fix them immediately and to have a concrete launch date in mind for your migration.
Complete the Migration: Even if you have to do damage control over glitches and broken links by being "forced" to "rush" towards a deadline, it's still best to have that deadline to ensure you're pushed towards completing the migration.
Don't Launch on a Friday: Nobody likes getting rushed towards an immovable goal. However, it's still prudent to launch your website during a weekday instead of near the weekend like on a Friday. It's because there's less technical support available on Saturday and Sunday if your website goes haywire.
Migrate During a Quiet Period: If you're faced with a major sales event or the holidays where you'll get peak traffic, it's best to delay the migration later. To minimize the impact of an SEO website migration, migrate during a quiet period instead. Migrating in the middle of a sales day will result in lost sales and irate customers.
Launch with Full Support and Leeway: Launch before a weekend and during seasonal lulls in order to give your IT team or tech support maximum time to address any unforeseen errors, broken links, glitches, and other issues during and after site migration.
Examples on When Best to Do Migration: For instance, if you're running a fitness company or a gym, launch the website during the last quarter of the year versus after New Year's Day or during the summertime, when people have time for gym membership signups.
Why Not During Peak Period? Even if you were to migrate your site perfectly, if you were to launch during peak period, you're bound to be practically invisible to Google as a brand-new site during those first few days or even weeks. It'll even consider the redirect page of your old website as a broken link.
Check the Historical Stats: To know where you are in terms of your optimization, make checking your website traffic trends and revenue over the past two years as part of your website migration SEO checklist. This will tell you how much you need to recover if the Google drop-off occurs from the migration.
Generate an XML Sitemap: The XML sitemap serves as Google's or Bing's roadmap for your site when it's crawling through it. It shows how well the site in question is structured, which in turn makes crawling and indexing your website more streamlined even after migration.
Manually Upload Sitemap: Ask us at Marketing Ignite or your web developers to make a new XML sitemap for your moved website. You can also use a generator tool in order to get a DIY type of XML map. After migration is done, you'll need to add it to places like the Google Search Console or Bing Webmaster Tools.
In order to migrate your website without losing organic traffic, you should realize you can get back the SEO you'll inevitably lose immediately after migration if you play your cards right.
Therefore, delay your migration instead of pushing an error-filled launch at the busiest seasons or peak traffic.
Crawl Through Your Current Site
Before sticking with that site migration deadline, tick off this item on your checklist—do a site crawl on your URLs, metadata, broken links, redirects, page titles, and content. If it's good for Google then it's good for you to.
Or rather, you should have a preview of your current site's issues and audit it before launch so that you'll only have to deal with migration-related issues instead of all of that on top of preexisting issues.
The crawlers you can use to simulate the crawlers used by Google include the following:
Botify: It's a cloud-based crawler you can use for your website pre-migration (the current website) and post-migration (the staging or sandbox website). It even generates a to-do list for you, which streamlines identifying the errors on your site before migration even happens!
Screaming Frog: This bombastic-sounding app is a simplified and user-friendly web crawler that ideally works best on medium-sized or smaller websites. You'll have to pay for enterprise-level crawler services for bigger sites doing migration work.
Deep Crawl: This is also a cloud-based crawler. This particular program utilizes features that allow you to not only crawl through an existing website and its staging environment—it's also specifically designed for migrations, thus allowing comparisons between the original site and the migrated site.
Here's a pro-tip. Before doing an SEO website migration, store your crawl log file for about a couple of months. You'll be using this information down the line if something happens after the website migration process.
It will serve as your other website migration SEO checklist for post-migration. It helps you identify the potential errors you might've forgotten to address in your pre-migration checklist. It's like migration insurance, in a sense.
Identification of Your Site’s Top Pages
You have to identify which of your pages are the top performers prior to the move. They'll serve as your indicators or red flags that you were able to migrate website without losing SEO or not.
If any of these pages end up affected by the migration, they'll impact your website rankings far more than all your other pages that get less traffic. What affected them might also affect the rest of your website systematically.
As part of your SEO checklist, review your crawl data in order to take note of the following:
Which web pages accrue the most organic or natural traffic.
Which web pages offer the highest conversion rate for your leads.
Which web pages generate the highest revenue for your company overall.
Which web pages come with the highest number of referrals or referring domains.
This will assist you in prioritizing which pages to keep in your migrated site and which ones to focus on fixing if they end up getting lower optimization down the line post-launch.
You can even use this opportunity to apply the newest algorithm-favorable search signals on these pages that you wouldn't otherwise have the opportunity to do, thanks to the start-from-scratch SERP ranking downtime induced by website migration.
Setting Up the Staging or Test Migration Site
Before migration is done, you'll first place and test your website content on what's known as a staging environment. This serves as your perfect chance to check and double-check your site SEO and architecture to ensure everything is in perfect working order.
Site Comparisons: It's also the best way to do comparisons from your old site to your new site. In essence, it's another layer of security to make sure that when all is said and done, your site migration is done without a hitch and with maximum SEO value preserved.
Avoid Google Indexing of the Staging Site: Make sure that Google doesn't end up indexing the staged website that tests your site content viability for a clean SEO website migration. Therefore, put in the requisite no robots text and whatnot to prevent robots from crawling all over this test site.
Use Robots.txt or Password Protection: You can also make your staged site password protected, which keeps Google from accessing anything from within. Either the robots.txt file or password protection will keep the Google algorithm from bothering to index your staging site.
Don’t Forget the 301 Redirects
You should put as part of your website migration SEO checklist those requisite redirects. We're long past the Geocities and Angelfire era of "Update your URLs" and "We've moved" pages.
It's even worse if you get a 404 "Not Found" error without any updates on an indexed URL. It's for this reason that if you wish to migrate website without losing SEO value, you should implement 301 redirects as part of your site migration process.
Even if you're merely moving from http:// to https://, 301 redirects remain important. This goes doubly so if you're moving to a top-level domain.
The redirects inform Google and other search engines where to find your moved web page in case it's migrated, moved, renamed, or deleted.
Map Out and Put in Your 301 Redirects
If the old URLs from your old website will stop existing post-migration and you have the wrong redirect chains or don't have redirects available then that will lose your website some search engine optimization value.
Not having redirects will massively kill your SEO visibility. Furthermore, clueless users and regular visitors landing on 404 pages will be discouraged to find your website.
Avoid this visibility killer from killing your website visibility by doing the following:
Put up 301 redirects onto your new domain name or new pages.
Map it all out by making a redirect spreadsheet with your old URLs and the new URLs they're supposed to move to.
Send the spreadsheet to your web development or IT team in order to set up the redirects after the site migration launch.
This should immensely assist you in making sure your website pages get indexed as fast as possible by Google. This also ensures the pages continue to deliver a solid user experience when all is said and done.
It's because one of the strongest search signals you can send Google is uninterrupted convenience on the part of your visitors even when a major migration has happened, thus even if they click on an old link they'll still end up with the newly migrated site.
Make a New 404 Page and Test It
In spite of your best intentions and effort to guarantee a smooth user experience for regular and new visitors to your migrated website, it's still quite common for users to encounter those 404 errors from dead or broken referral links.
They can also root from bookmarks that haven't been updated, forum posts referring to a sales page or webpage used as an example, and so forth.
You can make as many redirects that automatically move any link from your old domain to your new homepage as you want. 404 errors will still happen. Make a custom 404 page to direct your visitors back to the page they intend to go or at least to your main page.
It doesn't have to be anything fancy. In fact, the simpler the better when it comes to 404 error pages.
Do a Review of Your URL Viability
When doing a SEO website migration, you should also audit your URLs. Check and double-check your new URLs. Make sure they're structured in a correct fashion, such that they're in-line with the requirements of your search engine optimization.
During the pre-launch phase, you need to review two important URL components as part of your website migration SEO checklist.
First off, your website's absolute URLs should be scoped out. This URL type contains all the info required to locate your site resources. In contrast, you should also check the relative URL, which only uses part of the absolute URL.
For example, an absolute URL tends to appear as such.
As for relative URLs, they look like this instead.
<a href = "/example-page">
Make sure to migrate your website without losing SEO traffic by avoiding URL errors and typos that could lead to unnecessary 404 page redirects. Furthermore, absolute URL addresses are the preferred URLs for SEO from a technical point of view.
They assist in avoiding duplicate content that makes your website suffer in Google's eyes. You can also improve your internal links by going the absolute URL route because it helps you keep tabs on your content in a more precise manner.
Absolute URLs make web pages and their links much easier to track down and make unique. The shorter URLs of relative URLs can make it harder to keep track of your page addresses for your website migration SEO checklist.
Additionally, review the structure of your new URLs that stem from your SEO website migration. You'll have a new set of URLs you can fiddle with and optimize for search engines by doing the following:
Check to ensure your new URL structure is simple and clean.
Follow a uniform standard of URL structure throughout your whole website.
Use dashes instead of underscores for your URLs. It's easier to keep track of the number of dashes at a glance compared to underscores.
Remove any special characters in the URL. For example, if you have a URL composed of "www.marketingignite/com/web%page.html" then you should remove the percent sign.
Identify Potential Duplicate Content Issues
To migrate website without losing your SEO traffic, it's imperative to not accidentally duplicate the content of one page or more and place it all over your website.
It makes the site look "spammy" and your website authority will be lost which is a strong signal in Google. Duplicate web page content is an effective SERP ranking killer when doing website migrations, particularly when migrating to a new domain name.
Multiple Versions of the Same Page: Avoid ending up with multiple versions of the same webpage when conducting a website move. It's because Google won't know which of the set of similar pages to rank first. It's better to have unique content and set up a canonical (preferred URL) that you want Google to index.
Duplicate Content Compete with One Another: Your duplicate content pages will compete with one another for a good SERP ranking, thus having multiple clones of them will lead to them sinking your SEO like an anchor or a dead weight.
Clean Up Your Content: Do an SEO audit of your existing website prior to migration to clean up your content. Now's the perfect time to remove the duplicate content or pages altogether—while putting in 301 redirects at the correct URLs.
Tell Search Engines Which Page to Prioritize: If you can't help but have cloned pages in your new site then put in a rel="canonical" link or tag that informs Google which page you wish to prioritize for SEO.
Comb your site for these duplicates regardless. A site migration is the perfect time for you to sift through your old website content for forgotten page duplicates. You'll also need to fix errors with your canonical tags before making that migratory leap forward.
Check Your Website Loading Speed
How well your website ranks on Google is also determined by site speed or site loading times. This is part of the reason why the trend of loading long Flash-based web intros was done away with since the early 2000s.
A Tacky Trend: Not only was the web intro trend tacky—it was also terrible as far as UX is concerned (most opted to skip the intro anyway) and it messed with the perceived site speed of the webpage, leading to lower SERP rankings when push came to shove.
Penalized by Google: Many Marketing Ignite clients approach us after site launch, when they've already been penalized by Google. Loading speed is linked to the UX, and bad loading speed due to site migration issues can make your original website's SEO worse post-migration.
Run Them Against Each Other: Put as part of your website migration SEO checklist checking the speeds of your original and staged site using tools like the PageSpeed Insights of Google. It will show you how either stack up.
Zero-In on Speed Issues: Look at the pages where there's a bottleneck in speed and audit them. If you can improve upon loading times from the move by updating the architecture or coding of the website from underneath, then do so.
Address This Speed Issue Before Site Launch: The best-case scenario is to migrate website without losing speed. Every speed issue or loading errors should be resolved prior to migration on the staging level. It gets more difficult after launch, with Google penalties in place.
Keep in mind that in order to make sure your migration goes off without a hitch, you should test everything prior to migration on the staging website level to mitigate the hopefully brief period wherein Google has to process and re-index your moved site.
Optimize the On-Page SEO Elements
Technical SEO is important, but you should also pay attention to the also-important on-page SEO during your SEO website migration. Both SEO types equally impact your Google rankings in a significant way.
Use the staging or sandbox level of your site migration to also audit, review, and update your on-page SEO elements. This ensures you'll migrate website without losing SEO.
How well your website ranks on Google is also determined by site speed or site loading times. This is part of the reason why the trend of loading long Flash-based web intros was done away with since the early 2000s.
Your on-page website migration SEO checklist should include the following:
Metadata: Don't forget to look and see if all your pages have meta descriptions and meta titles that mostly only show up for search engines.
SSL: Install SSL to make sure your URL migration goes from http:// to https:// or from a less secure to more secure domain.
Keywords: Check how well you've incorporated important keywords to your text and copy in a natural and relevant manner to maximize the UX.
Editable Text: If you have text embedded into an image, inspect if you can convert this embedded text to actual text for additional image context.
Alt Tags: Scope out if you've added the alt tags to all your images prior to migration. These tags are important flags or search signals for Google's Image Search feature, after all.
Navigation: Test out your internal links. Make sure you can navigate through all your important pages from one link to another without anything being broken or leading to a 404 page.
Run Benchmarks on Your Website
Before site launch or migration happens, benchmark the performance of your old site. It should serve as your barometer for its performance down the line, even though you won't know the full impact of your move until a few weeks to a few months in with Analytics data.
How Analytics Help with Migration: Regardless, you still need that data to quickly zero-in and troubleshoot any issues rooting from the migration or any forgotten items you've neglected to include on your original website migration SEO checklist.
Stats Serve as a Point of Comparison: For instance, if your legacy website has a page with a position 3 SERP ranking and gets 1,000 clicks daily, then there must be something wrong with the same page getting 100 clicks daily on position 8 after the SEO website migration.
You'll Be Doing a Lot of SEO from Scratch: The reality is that there's a measure of loss to be had as Google recalibrates and re-indexes your "new" site. You might as well update your SEO tactics during this time.
Get the proper tools in order to benchmark your website properly. We at Marketing Ignite recommend you running three different benchmarks for the best results.
SEMRush: SEMRush offers the ability to benchmark your CTR, impressions, clicks and website rankings for future reference.
Ahrefs: As for Ahrefs, use it for benchmarking your number of keywords per page, the traffic to your top content, and which of your pages offer you the best results in the first place.
Google Analytics: This app has benchmark key performance metrics included in its package, which includes transactions, revenue, conversions, pages per session, bounce rate, users, and sessions.
Install the Analytics Tool on Your Moved Website
So you've audited your website, tested it on the staging site, and launched it to a new or same domain.
It's now time to use tools like Google Analytics and the like to check the results of your labor or at least do damage control over the inevitable traffic loss as part of your website migration SEO checklist.
Make sure your newly migrated website has analytics installed on it. This should help you keep tabs of traffic and current SEO viability after SEO website migration.
No Immediate Results: Be warned, though. This is a newly migrated site, so you won't see any results immediately after the move. Like with Google and Bing, it takes time for the analytics tool to gather enough data to give you info on the traffic you're getting.
An Inevitable Analytics Gap: It's difficult to track website traffic, conversions, and visibility during this gap, which is a headache for digital marketing teams like us here at Marketing Ignite.
A Few Weeks to a Month: It'll take a few weeks to months to judge the overall impact. This is why there's so much planning done in the pre-migration stage of the migration process. The aftermath is hard to gauge until it's literally too late.
Fix Everything as Much as Possible in the Staging Site: Use your sandbox site to audit all codes, tags, and scripts from your old site. They should all be fixed in the staging site level so that you won't belatedly have to do SEO damage control three weeks to a month later post-migration.
Work with a Specialist Analytics Team: Work with us at Marketing Ignite when doing an SEO checklist and audit of your migrating site. We'll help through our experience as a specialist analytics team.
We'll ensure all your goals and events are correctly set up during the staging website level. We'll even cover your e-commerce tracking if you have that installed as well. Our track record speaks for itself.
You should also be aware of the traffic your old site is getting or has gotten so that you have a goal to reach for your newly migrated site during that SEO downtime period.
To migrate your website without losing SEO rankings and traffic, it's imperative that you know how much SEO or traffic from search engines you're getting in the first place then you're losing after migration.
Conduct Technical Spot Checks
Once you've migrated your website, check if everything was migrated properly as simulated by your sandbox or staging site. You can never be too careful, even though at this point you're still going blind and won't see Analytics data much later.
Here's a quick checklist of things to check on launch day to do some extra ironing out that you might have neglected during the staging website stage of migration.
Metadata: Double-check the meta titles and descriptions then fill out any pages missing such meta.
301 Redirects: Check your 301 redirects after launch to ensure all existing and new landing pages redirect in the correct fashion.
Content: Have a checklist of all your content and pages handy to ensure that all your old content from your earlier site is moved to the new domain. Has any of it changed?
Tags: Check your tags when your site goes live to make sure they're updated to the new versions. If you've missed one or two, you need to update them accordingly.
Temporary Website Blocks: The temporary blocks from your robots.txt file you used for the staging sandbox should now be removed once the site goes live.
Duplicate Content: You never know what happens after migration. Maybe by accident, someone duplicated a page or two there. Comb over the site for any such mistake.
Broken Links: Run a broken internal and external links report. Some broken links will appear as a result of the migration or clerical errors even though you should've fixed them at the staging level.
You can depend on us at Marketing Ignite to also double-check and triple-check your newly launched site to ensure the success of your SEO website migration. You can never be too careful though.
This is why we also recommend enlisting as many team members of yours as possible during the launch to test everything, especially if you have a particularly large website. They'll assist in spotting formatting issues, typos, missing pages, broken images, and so forth.
Ensure Your Site Crawlability and Indexability
How "crawlable" or "indexable" is your website? Yes, those aren't real words recognized by Merriam-Webster, but they might as well be terms as far as SEO is concerned.
They're things you can't really check on the staging stage of website migration. You'll have to check how crawlable and indexable your site is to Google and Bing down the line, until Analytics gathers enough data to give you a solid idea of your new site's SEO status.
Regularly check your Google Search Console for more updates and always be on the lookout for the newest algorithm changes for Google Panda to keep your new website on the up-and-up even after migration.
Why Entrust Your Website Migration with Marketing Ignite?
If you go about SEO website migration without taking a website migration SEO checklist, it's tantamount to going to war without a gun or running through rain without a raincoat. It's a recipe for disaster in terms of losing Google traffic when push comes to shove.
We at Marketing Ignite have had clients approach us after a Google penalty, which is a dire SEO issue that renders your website lower ranked in searches. We'll make sure you can migrate website without losing your SEO rankings and traffic.
We will ensure that your website won't get demoted or penalized by the simple act of content migration to a new or existing domain!
Contact us today at Marketing Ignite to learn how we can help you seamlessly with your website migration.