23-Step SEO Migration Checklist For A Seamless Website Migration

Website migration involves making significant changes to a website’s technology, structure, design or location, typically to enhance user experience and SEO performance.

Migration is a complex task that should be undertaken only for compelling reasons.

Some common reasons for migrating a website include:

  1. Adopting a new framework or platform: Transitioning from your current framework to a new one like WordPress or Wix to improve site performance, security or functionality.
  2. Reorganising website architecture: Implementing a more structured website layout to enhance user experience and SEO results.
  3. Switching from HTTP to HTTPS: Upgrading to HTTPS to secure the site by encrypting visitors’ information, a practice strongly recommended by Google.
  4. Changing servers: Moving to a new host to improve site speed, particularly important as your site grows, benefiting both visitors and search engines.
  5. Updating your domain name: Changing your domain name as part of a rebrand, which involves migrating existing content to the new site.

23-Step Website Migration Process

Website migration typically has a short-term negative impact on SEO but can lead to long-term benefits.

This occurs because search engines need time to understand the changes made to your site. However, they should eventually recognise improvements if the migration enhances your site.

To minimise the short-term negative impact on your SEO, it’s important to follow best practices for website migration.

1. Create Your SEO Migration Plan

Careful planning will reduce the risk of issues arising during and after the site migration process. Here are the initial steps to take:

  • Set objectives: Define clear goals to keep your planning focused.
  • Read this guide: Familiarise yourself with the entire website migration process before taking any action to minimise mistakes.
  • Collect benchmarks: Gather data from analytics tools like Semrush, Google Search Console (GSC) and Google Analytics 4 (GA4) for later comparison.
  • Assemble your team: Assign or hire all the necessary specialists for the project, including a developer and someone with technical SEO expertise.
  • Create a timeline: Use the advice in this guide to develop a realistic and strategic timeline for the project. Think in terms of months, not days or weeks.

2. Prepare For Your Migration Type

Before making any code changes, you need to prepare specific elements based on the type of migration you’re undertaking:

  • Domain change: Purchase the new domain and configure its DNS settings to ensure your site is accessible on the internet.
  • Hosting provider change: Select an appropriate hosting provider and set up your account.
  • HTTP to HTTPS: Obtain an SSL certificate from your hosting provider or a reputable third-party vendor to enable a secure (encrypted) connection on your site.
  • Platform change: Choose your new website platform and set up your account.

Regardless of the migration type, ask a developer to create a backup of your site. This precaution ensures that you can recover your site if anything goes wrong during the migration process.

It’s also advisable to run a technical SEO audit at this stage.

Using tools like Semrush’s Site Audit, Ahrefs Site Audit and Screaming Frog, you can quickly identify issues related to your site’s security, crawlability, internal linking, site speed and more. This information can help you make more strategic decisions about your SEO during the website migration.

3. Make A Copy Of Your Site

Create a copy of your site to serve as a safe testing environment (also known as a development or staging environment) where you can apply changes without affecting your live site.

You should seek help from a developer, but the process typically involves:

  • Copying your website’s files to a new subdomain (e.g., staging.example.com).
  • Duplicating your database and connecting this copy to the duplicated website files.
  • Updating the configuration of the copied site to ensure it points to the new database and adjusting any necessary settings (like URLs).

Tip: If you’re migrating to a new domain or website platform, set up the staging environment there. This will help you identify any issues related to the new setup early in the process.

If your live website uses a content delivery network (CDN) (a collection of servers around the world that delivers content to users based on their location), make sure to set it up on your staging site as well. This ensures it will function correctly with your new site.

4. Block Access To Your Staging Site

It’s important to block search engines from accessing your test site to prevent it from appearing in search results before it’s ready.

Here are the steps to secure your staging site:

  • Add password protection: Use your hosting provider’s control panel to add password protection, keeping both users and website crawlers out.
  • Add a noindex tag to every page: This meta robots tag tells crawlers not to include the page in search results. The tag looks like this: <meta name=”robots” content=”noindex”>

In a few steps, we’ll cover running a test to ensure search engines can properly crawl your staging site before it goes live. Having noindex tags in place will prevent your pages from appearing in search results while you’re still making changes.

You can enable SemrushBot to bypass these directives when you set up a technical audit later.

5. Prepare The New Site

Now it’s time to implement the changes that align with your website migration goals, such as adopting a new design layout or altering your site structure.

Important Considerations:

  • Avoid making numerous major changes simultaneously: For instance, do not change your domain and make significant structural changes in the same migration.
  • Opt for multiple, smaller migrations: This approach is more manageable and allows search engines and users to adjust to changes step by step. This strategy helps minimise traffic disruption and isolate any changes that cause issues.

6. Implement Google Analytics 4 On Your Test Site

Set up a new GA4 property or data stream specifically for your staging environment and install the tracking code. This setup ensures you can configure and track user interactions effectively, allowing you to capture all essential data once the site is live.

7. Conduct A Technical SEO Audit On Your Test Environment

Performing a technical SEO audit on your staging site allows you to identify and resolve potentially damaging errors before migrating to your live site.

Tools like Ahrefs Site Audit and Screaming Frog SEO Spider can help with this process.

Enter your staging domain into your chosen tool and start the audit to get started.

8. Grant Googlebot Temporary Access To Your Staging Environment

Once you’re satisfied with your staging site, allow Google’s website crawler (Googlebot) temporary access to ensure it can properly crawl and index your pages.

Here’s how to proceed:

  1. Remove password protection.
  2. Add and verify your site in Google Search Console (GSC): Navigate to “Indexing” > “Pages.”

After some time, check that all your pages are marked as “Not indexed,” indicating that Googlebot can crawl them and the noindex tags are functioning correctly.

If any pages are missing or there are indexing errors unrelated to the noindex tags, investigate and resolve these crawlability issues.

Once done, re-enable password protection and proceed to the next step.

9. Adjust Your DNS TTL Setting

When migrating to a new hosting provider, your website’s IP address will change.

To ensure that other computers quickly find your new location and direct visitors correctly, update your DNS TTL (Time to Live) value with your current provider.

The TTL value dictates how often computers check for updates to your DNS record. Lowering your TTL value allows your new IP address to propagate across the internet faster.

Ensure this change is temporary, as low TTL values can cause performance issues.

10. Compile Your Current URL List

If you plan on altering your domain or URL structure, it’s crucial to map the old URLs to the new ones. This ensures you can set up proper redirects and update all links accordingly.

Otherwise, proceed to step 14.

Start by inventorying all the content on your site.

To create a comprehensive list and avoid missing any important URLs, gather data from multiple sources, including:

  • Site Audit: Export URLs crawled by SemrushBot.
  • Google Search Console (GSC): Export URLs that Googlebot has crawled and indexed.
  • Google Analytics 4 (GA4): Export URLs that users have visited.
  • Backlink Analytics: Identify pages on your site with backlinks.
  • XML Sitemap: This file contains the URLs you want to be indexed.

Ensure you remove any duplicate URLs.

Alternatively, your content management system (CMS) might have a tool or plugin that can generate a list of your site’s URLs.

11. Determine Pages To Redirect Or Remove

Your team now needs to decide the fate of your old URLs.

For content moving to a new location, implement a server-side 301 redirect from the old URL to the new one.

(E.g., from http://www.example.com/ to https://www.example.com/.)

A 301 redirect ensures that visitors using the old URL are directed to the new location.

It also informs search engines that the resource has been permanently moved and that any existing SEO value should be transferred to the new URL.

This helps maintain your rankings and traffic.

A 301 redirect guides users from an “Old page” (which is not indexed) to a “New page” (which is indexed). Avoid redirecting content that lacks an equivalent URL on the new site.

For instance, if there are outdated blog posts you don’t want to carry over to your new site, redirecting these URLs to your new blog homepage might seem like a good idea. However, this can confuse users.

Search engines discourage this practice as it is detrimental to SEO.

Instead, configure these old URLs to return a 410 status code. This informs search engines (and users) that the resource has been permanently removed.

12. Refresh URLs On Your Staging Site

It’s time to update or remove old URLs on your staging site.

This step ensures that no links lead to deleted pages and that no unnecessary redirects slow down your site or negatively impact SEO.

Check and update URLs in the following areas:

  • Ahref links: Standard, clickable hyperlinks found in your main navigation, footer, body content, etc.
  • XML sitemap: The file listing all URLs you want search engines to index.
  • Robots.txt: The file that specifies URLs to block and should include the URL for your XML sitemap.
  • Canonical tags: Code that specifies the preferred version of a page. For pages without duplicates, the canonical should be self-referencing.
  • Hreflang tags: Code that specifies all translated versions of a page. These are unnecessary if your content is not served in multiple languages.

Ensure all other key locations on your website are also checked and updated.

13. Conduct Final Review Of Your Staging Site

Perform a thorough review of your staging site to ensure everything is in order before migration.

Here’s a quick checklist:

  • Rerun the Site Audit: Identify any significant issues.
  • Review Recommendations in GSC: Address any flagged recommendations.
  • Test Website Functionality: Ensure everything works correctly on both desktop and mobile devices.
  • Remove Placeholder Content: Check for and eliminate any placeholder text (e.g., lorem ipsum).
  • Verify GA4 Data Capture: Ensure data is being properly collected.
  • Confirm Legal Compliance: Verify that your site meets legal requirements (e.g., privacy policy).

14. Document Current Site Status And Backup Content

Now it’s time to transition from your old site to the new one.

This is your last opportunity to gather data from your current site for future comparison (e.g., Site Audit results, GA4 reports).

Also, ensure you backup all your content, including meta tags, meta titles and other critical data.

How you backup your site depends on your hosting setup. Your host’s control panel might offer backup options. For those using a CMS like WordPress, there are various plugins available for site backups.

Before proceeding with the migration, ensure that all stakeholders have approved and are ready for the next step. This helps prevent any unforeseen issues and ensures a smooth transition.

15. Assess Migration Complexity And Move In Phases

Migrating different sections of your website can present unique challenges due to their varying purposes and features.

The more pages you transfer at once, the higher the likelihood of encountering errors, making it difficult to pinpoint and resolve issues.

For large websites, it’s advisable to migrate content in phases, segmenting by content type or importance. Begin with the less critical or smaller sections and conduct thorough testing after each phase.

To minimise disruption, schedule your new website’s launch during periods of low traffic and conversions. This reduces the impact of any migration-related issues. Deploy early in the day and week so your team is available to address any problems promptly.

Taking these steps will help ensure a smoother and more controlled migration process.

16. Adjust DNS Settings

When transitioning to a new server, you need to update your DNS record to reflect the new IP address.

Contact your hosting provider to request this change.

Additionally, remember to reset your Time-to-Live (TTL) value back to its default setting after the DNS update. This ensures that changes propagate correctly and efficiently across the internet.

Ensuring these adjustments are done correctly is crucial for a seamless transition to your new server.

17. Eliminate Temporary Blocks On Your Website

Ensure your new website is accessible to both users and search engine crawlers by removing any temporary barriers.

This includes:

  • Password protection
  • Unnecessary noindex tags in your HTML

After these blocks are removed, re-run a site audit to identify and address any remaining issues.

Verifying accessibility and resolving potential problems ensures a smooth user experience and helps search engines properly index your new site, supporting better SEO performance.

18. Activate Redirects And Implement Removals

It’s now time to enable all your redirects and delete any pages that won’t be migrated by using 410 status codes.

To ensure everything functions correctly, perform another site audit.

This step verifies that your redirects are working properly and that removed pages are correctly handled, helping to maintain site integrity and SEO effectiveness during the transition.

19. Finalise SEO Tasks In Google Search Console

To complete your migration, there are essential SEO tasks to perform in Google Search Console.

  1. Verify Ownership:
    • Navigate to “Settings” > “Ownership verification” and ensure you’re a verified owner of your new site. If not, you may need to upload the provided HTML file to your new website.
  2. Submit Change of Address:
    • If you’ve moved to a new domain, go to “Settings” and select “Change of address.” Fill out the form to expedite the indexing of your new pages and minimise ranking losses.
  3. Submit Sitemaps:
    • Go to “Indexing” > “Sitemaps” and submit the XML sitemaps for both your old and new sites. This helps Google understand the redirects from old URLs to new ones and allows you to track the indexation and removal process.
  4. Resubmit Disavowed Links:
    • Resubmit any disavow files from your previous domain to prevent potentially harmful backlinks from affecting your new site’s rankings. This is crucial if your site previously had many low-quality backlinks and received a manual action penalty from Google.

Completing these steps ensures a smoother transition and helps maintain your SEO performance.

20. Update External Links Where Possible

Whenever feasible, update external links (links from other websites to yours) that point to your old URLs. It’s ideal to have these links direct to the new URLs rather than through a redirect or to a deleted page.

Outdated links might exist in properties you control, such as:

  • Social media profiles
  • Online business listings
  • Digital advertising campaigns

For links managed by other parties, reach out and request them to update the links. Keeping these links current helps maintain your site’s SEO strength and ensures a seamless user experience.

21. Check for Issues Using Site Audit, GA4 And GSC

After the migration, it’s crucial to perform thorough checks using your site audit tool, Google Analytics 4 (GA4) and Google Search Console (GSC). Run a comprehensive site audit to identify any technical issues, broken links or missing content.

Use GA4 to monitor your site’s performance and traffic patterns, paying close attention to any significant drops or anomalies that may indicate problems. In GSC, check for indexing issues, crawl errors and other warnings that could affect your site’s visibility.

Regularly reviewing these tools ensures that your new site is functioning correctly and maintaining its SEO health. By addressing any issues promptly, you can minimise potential disruptions and continue to optimise your site’s performance.

22. Track Your Keyword Rankings

To understand any fluctuations in search engine traffic, it’s essential to monitor your Google keyword rankings. Use SEO tools to track the performance of your primary keywords before and after the migration.

This helps you identify any drops or gains in rankings and allows you to take corrective actions if necessary. Regularly reviewing your keyword performance can provide insights into how well your new site is being indexed and ranked by search engines.

Tracking keywords can also help you spot trends and opportunities to optimise your content further. By keeping a close eye on your keyword rankings, you can ensure that your site continues to attract and retain organic traffic.

23. Terminate Your Old Hosting Service

After migrating to a new server or hosting provider, you can terminate your old hosting account once Google has indexed your new website.

Ensure all your 301 redirects are properly configured, directing traffic away from the discontinued server to your new one. Verify that users and search engines are seamlessly redirected to the updated URLs.

Double-check that no residual links point to the old hosting environment to prevent any potential disruptions.

Cancelling your old hosting only after these steps ensures a smooth transition and continuous access to your site. This final step helps in optimising costs and maintaining a clean, efficient web presence.

Conclusion About SEO Website Migration Checklist

Website migration can be a complex and challenging process, but with careful planning and execution, you can ensure a smooth transition that preserves your SEO performance and enhances your user experience. 

By following these steps, from creating a comprehensive URL list to updating DNS settings and tracking keyword rankings, you’ll be well-equipped to handle the intricacies of migrating your site. 

Regular audits and thorough testing are key to identifying and resolving issues quickly, helping to maintain your site’s visibility and traffic throughout the process.

If you need assistance with your website migration, consider reaching out to a professional digital marketing agency in Singapore

At Best Marketing Agency, we offer a free 30-minute strategy session to assess your business needs and provide expert guidance for a seamless migration. Contact us today to get started and ensure your website migration is a success.

Frequently Asked Questions About SEO Website Migration Checklist

How Long Does It Take For Search Engines To Re-Index My New Website After A Migration?

Search engines can take a few days to several weeks to fully re-index your new website after a migration. The time frame depends on factors such as the size of your website, the frequency of your updates and how quickly search engines crawl your new site.

Will My Website Experience A Drop In Traffic Immediately After Migration?

It’s common to see a temporary drop in traffic immediately after a website migration. This typically stabilises as search engines re-index your site and users become familiar with the new URLs. Monitoring and addressing any issues promptly can help mitigate this impact.

How Can I Ensure That My Internal Links Are Updated Correctly During Migration?

Use a site audit tool to identify all internal links and update them to reflect the new URL structure. Double-check these links manually in key areas like navigation menus, footers and content to ensure they point to the correct pages on your new site.

What Should I Do If My Website’s Rankings Don’t Recover After Migration?

If your website’s rankings don’t recover after a migration, conduct a comprehensive audit to identify potential issues. Check for technical SEO errors, content discrepancies or problems with redirects. Consulting with an SEO expert can provide additional insights and solutions to restore your rankings.

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