When you first created your business website, it’s possible that you did some research on available platforms and chose one that best fit your needs. However, those needs evolve over time. This could be due to scaling and/or rebranding. Or maybe you just found out about another platform that’s more user-friendly or has more features.
Whatever the reason, you may start wondering how you’d be able to switch platforms without having to redo the entire website. This is where website migration comes in.
But what, exactly, does it entail? Do you get to keep all your content? Assets? And what about backlinks and all the SEO you’ve built over the years? Let’s take a closer look at this process and what you can expect from it.
The term website migration refers to when a website is moved from one domain to another. This transition can cause significant disruptions in search engine optimization (SEO) and come with other risk factors that may affect your site’s performance if the migration is not performed properly.
In other words, businesses should have a good reason to take on the challenging process of website migration. And if you’ve come to the conclusion that this is the best course of action, you should do so strategically.
There are several types of website migration. All of them are designed to address specific concerns. These include:
Making Structural Modifications
Maybe you want to do a full overhaul of your current website’s structure so that you can provide a better user experience (UX). Or maybe you want to redesign the site so that it’s more in tune with your brand voice.
Moving to a New Platform
This refers to when you want to switch your content management system (CMS). For example, maybe you’re using WordPress as a CMS, but are tired of paying for so many third-party plugins; so you migrate your WordPress website to HubSpot for their included features.
Changing Your Domain Name
Some businesses change their domain name to reflect their own (e.g., a law firm that brought on a new partner whose name is now part of the firm’s name).
Or maybe you got your original domain name thinking it would help you with your SEO back in 2011 but now realize that it’s not doing you any favors. Then there are those who change it to make their URL easier to remember.
There are many reasons why a business would want to migrate their website. These can range from being practical to making things easier and more organized for website visitors. For example:
You're Changing the Site’s Navigation, Design, or Structure.
A good reason to conduct a site migration is if you believe your conversions or sales aren’t good enough because of your website design or customer journey.
Before you jump into site migration for these reasons, consider proving it by making sure your conversions and sales problems aren't due to simple design or architecture-related causes that can be easily fixed.
You're Moving to a New Platform or CMS.
You can lose sales when you have an outdated CMS platform. You don’t want to stay on one that limits what you can do or that is disruptive and frustrating to your visitors.
Choosing a new CMS platform and migrating your content over to the new site is sometimes the most practical option to enhance your marketing and boost sales.
This is especially the case when you don’t have anyone in-house with coding experience, you need a CMS that integrates better with your tech stack, or want something that’s user-friendly so that you can update the site regularly without having to hire anyone to do so.
You Need Mobile Optimization.
If you created your website when smartphones weren’t as popular as they are today, it’s time to optimize it for mobile devices. Having a responsive design is now more important than ever, since most people conduct online searches from their phones and tablets.
And if your site isn’t loading fast enough or is difficult to navigate from a smaller screen, they’ll leave and look for one of your competitors instead.
You're Changing Your HTTP to HTTPS.
If your site isn’t equipped with HTTPs, most browsers will pop up a warning letting the user know the page they are visiting is unsecured. This may cause them to bounce from your site.
HTTPS protocol helps to protect user information, so making the switch is an excellent reason to migrate your business website.
You're Moving to a New Server.
Server performance is essential to the functionality of your website. For example, if your site crashes while someone is making a purchase, they’re likely not going to wait until your site is back up — at least not until you’re as big as Apple or Disney. For most businesses, this means losing out to a competitor. That's a lot of potential revenue being wasted.
Research hosts to see which one is best for you, and look up reviews to get an idea of how well their server performs.
While the purpose of migrating a website is to make the site work more efficiently, the process comes with several challenges:
Developing a Strategy
Reworking your entire site is not something you should decide to do without prior planning and in-depth consideration. Before getting started, you should establish SMART goals, so that everyone can focus their efforts in getting them accomplished. If you’re not sure how to do this, it behooves you to hire a web development agency to do this for you.
Having an Adequate Budget
Make sure to get a proper estimate of the time and effort required to successfully complete your website migration. If you have a limited budget, it can be detrimental to go ahead with a migration that has a high likelihood of failing to meet its set objectives.
This can even cause revenue loss. Companies that don’t plan to have 20 percent more resources than the project requires risk jeopardizing the success of the site migration.
Prior to migrating your website, you should make a comprehensive list of how these changes may impact your site’s search results. For example, if you have established yourself as an industry expert and other businesses often link back to your site as a source of information, you’ll want to redirect those links to your new site.
Your site should be visually appealing, intuitive, and easy to navigate. Every page should have consistent elements so that the site looks cohesive; and the layout for mobile devices should take into account that the user will likely use only one hand for most of their interactions with the site.
And this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to taking into account UX considerations.
If you don't plan well and complete website transfer tasks carefully, your website might get lost; so it's crucial that you know what you're doing before starting your next website migration. To do so successfully follow along these steps:
Identify risks associated with your website migrations. Some of these may include website downtime (and the related loss of revenue), the site not being indexed, a loss of website rankings and traffic, or poor website performance due to broken links.
Knowing your risks will help you better plan for them.
Backup Website Files.
Backup files before migrating website content to a new website hosting service. It's good practice to create website backups with website backup software before website transfer for disaster recovery.
Regular website backups are crucial to website management, because website owners can restore website data even if website migration fails.
Transfer the Domain Name.
Domain names are managed by a central authority called a registry. This entity is responsible for ensuring that all the DNS servers in the world update their information when a website owner transfers their website's domain name from one entity to another.
After you acquire a website domain name transfer code (also referred as EPP key), you’ll need to enter the website domain name transfer code into your site’s control panel. Such transfers usually take about five to 10 minutes.
Identify Priority Pages.
Identify key website pages by looking at which ones are performing the best. These would be content pages that are ranking highly in search engine results and driving website traffic and conversions.
Crawl the Old Website.
Crawling your old business website is important so that you have a full inventory of your content. This will lay the foundation to map out the new site, identify links that may have to be updated, and implement redirects.
Fix Issues in Old Website.
Fix website broken links, images, and other issues after website migration. If the website has many problems — such as accessibility issues, broken links, and so on — fixing all those issues during migration can be time-consuming and delay the website development process.
Prepare SEO Specifications.
As website location and website address can affect SERP rankings, you need to take into account many SEO specifications.
Your new website’s content should include descriptive titles, links, headings, be broken into paragraphs, be scannable, include images with alt text, image files with keywords, and follow all other current SEO best practices.
If website visitors try to access website pages through old links, but the website has changed its URL, search engines will not be able to find and index your website content — which might lead web visitors to pages that no longer exist.
Conduct Prelaunch Testing.
No matter your type of migration, it is crucial to test everything extensively before implementing changes. Test website URL redirects. Identify website errors during website migration. Check for website broken links, website design issues, and website functionality loss.
Make sure everything works (double check, actually) before launching your new site.
Conduct a Post-Migration Website Audit.
Once launched, audit your website by conducting a crawl and find crawling errors if any. Then check the site’s HTML source code and fix any coding errors, if any.
Also, check your content for the proper use of keywords, broken links, heading tags (<h1> , <h2> , etc.), alt website text attributes for images, page load speed, etc. Decide which of website copy and website code needs to be improved, rewritten, or updated after website migration.
Following a website checklist allows you to stay on track and finish your migration on time. Bookmark this checklist during your website migration to help you complete each task correctly the first time around.
- Make a plan.
- Block access to your new site until it is ready to launch.
- Crawl your former site and monitor files.
- Know which pages are your top performers.
- Conduct tests.
- Make sure each version of your site is registered in Google Search Console.
- Crawl your new site.
- Prepare your redirects, if needed.
- Compare server performance between your old site and your new site.
- Set up analytics.
- Prepare your campaign URLs.
- Set up your URL parameters.
- Remove site blocks.
- Enable and test redirects.
- Test your internal links.
- Kickstart your web analytics.
- Refresh your new site’s robot.txt setting.
- Submit your new sitemap to Google.
- Audit your new site.
- Validate your redirects.
- Check the site’s performance.
- Make sure your ads and third-party extensions are correct.
- Implement your updated campaigns.
- Monitor the ranking of your new URLs.
- Troubleshoot your site and fix bugs.
Site migrations are a big undertaking, but using these checklists should make the process run more smoothly and help to mitigate risks.
If you're looking to enlist the help of an experienced website design agency, you should know how to find the best services for your needs.
If you already know that conducting a website migration is the right step for your business, take into account the following considerations when shopping for migration services:
They Plan Out Your Website Migration in Detail.
Select a website migration service that helps you craft your plans and sees them all the way through to post-launch.
Once they have a clear understanding of your goals, they should be able to come up with a detailed timeline for each step of the migration process, and help you manage your expectations.
They Conduct a Pre-Launch Site Crawling.
A migration service shouldn’t merely assess your site without crawling the stage site and the live site. Crawls and site audits can help SEO migration pros to make the best recommendations that ensure the continuity of your organic presence.
They Conduct a Migration Analysis.
Good web migration services can help you predict and track the impact of the migration. This gives you greater insight into what to expect.
Inquire about how your website migration team collects data and see how they use it. If they're properly using analytics tools, they should be able to show you big wins following your migration.
They Communicate Well With Clients.
Seek to find a company that offers you personalized service and keeps you updated on what’s going on every step of the way. Do so by reading client reviews and testimonials from all possible sources — the vendor’s website, social media pages, Google reviews, Reddit, and industry-specific forums.
Although website migrations can be a pain, remember that when necessary, they can provide many benefits for organic search, user experience, and design — as long as they’re done correctly.