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20.10.2021

SEO

Follow our website migration checklist, 80+ checks to help you avoid an SEO nightmare!
  • / Introduction
  • / Download the checklist
  • / Phase 1: Pre-launch checks
  • / Phase 2: Launch day checks
  • / Phase 3: Post-launch checks
  • / Phase 4: Performance review
  • / Summary

Introduction

A bad website migration can see you lose traffic and revenue overnight. It needs to be thought of right from the beginning, with a detailed plan put in place and all key stakeholders involved.

To try and make your life a little bit easier, we created a website migration checklist in Google Sheets. Ensuring you don’t miss any key parts so your website can keep thriving!

Types of migrations:

There are many situations where you will need to carry out a site migration. E.g. moving from one Content Management System (CMS) to another, when you redesign a website, when your move domain… or, all of the above at once!

If you are doing a domain migration, so changing the URL your website sits on and all of the content and pages are staying the same, you can skip our checklist and you can just read this guide.

Our guide is for when you redesign your website, move CMS, or your URL structure and pages are changing. We provide a 88 point checklist to help you avoid a drop in ranking positions, website traffic, and revenue.

Not only this, in the spreadsheet, which you can download below, we have given in-depth instructions on what to do at each step.

So, if this is your first migration, you’ll be able to train up as you go along. And soon enough, the site will be migrated and you can kick back and relax!

Download the website migration checklist:

You can view the spreadsheet by clicking this link.

To make a copy for your own use: Click File > Make a Copy > do not click these itemsย > Rename > Select your folder of choice > Click OK

How to use this checklist:

On the Migration Checklist tab, we’ve outlined every Task and given a short Why do I check this? description about it in the spreadsheet. This gives you an overview on what needs to be done to migrate a website.

The How do I check this? or Training column is for your own use. When you’re about to show this checklist to your manager, boss, client, friend, anyone that will listen to you talk about your website migration, you can hide or delete this column.

We all know that tasks have more chance of being completed if they have a person who’s accountable. The Who’s doing? column allows you to assign a doer to carry out the task.

Completed it mate? Well, mark the task as Done in the Status column. You can also choose from: Assigned, Doing, Help!, In Review.

Notes are for any little tidbits or things you need to remember as you work through the document. Again, these can be for internal use, or hide/delete before showing others.

Want to change these drop-downs? Just go onto the [2] Settings tab and enter your team members or your own statuses. Remember to update the conditional formatting in the Migration Checklist tab if you want the colours to carry through. A quick guide on that here.

Now you know how to use it, click on this link and open the Google Sheets checklist. You can make a copy and work on your own file.

Or, if you want to learn more about the overall process, the different phases, or get in touch with us, keep scrolling! Before we begin, here are the four phases again:

  • Phase 1: Pre-launch checks and tests
  • Phase 2: Launch day, live site checks
  • Phase 3: Post-launch actions
  • Phase 4: Performance review

Phase 1: Pre-launch checks and tests

Before migrating, we need to take benchmarks to compare performance, map out any redirects, and ensure page templates are SEO-optimised. Checking all of these items before launching the website will you save time, stop your website from losing traffic and revenue, and help you sleep easier at night!

๐Ÿ”Ž Benchmarks and data:

By taking benchmarks, we can compare the performance of the new website once launched, against the old website. Without these, it’s hard to pinpoint problems with the new website once live. Not only this, it’s easier to identify and fix issues with the website before it goes live. Saving you a last-minute panic once the site is live.

1. Identify priority pages

Why do we check this?

These are the most valuable pages on your website that you can’t afford to lose visibility of. Think top traffic drivers, pages that convert well, and your pages with the most backlinks.

How do I check this? (training)

In our website migration spreadsheet, we have provided a detailed breakdown (as shown below) of how to check each and every one of these 88 checklist items. For the rest of this guide, we will only look at Why do we check this? forย each item, you’ll need to use the spreadsheet for the training.

2. Site speed: mobile and desktop

Create a benchmark for site speed across the key pages on your current website. You want to be able to pinpoint any changes in speed between the old site and the new site.

3. Track your ranking positions

We need to be tracking the best keywords the site ranks for so data can be compared before and after migration. Think of the keywords that drive the most traffic or generate the most leads/revenue.

This will let you see what keywords drop so you can fix the issue. Or, if it all goes well, shout about your success!

4. Crawl legacy website and store a backup of the crawl

Crawl your current website using a tool like ScreamingFrog or DeepCrawl and keep a copy of the crawl data safe for future reference.

Post-launch, if you want to double-check things on the old site, this saved crawl will let you see how it was structured, or help you remember the title tags on a certain page.

5. Ensure Analytics / Tracking is setup

Data, data, data! It helps so much to look at data (such as bounce rate, sessions, channel breakdowns etc.) from the old site to compare to your new website.

By having tracking (e.g. Google Analytics) setup, you get access to this data. Plus, we want to make sure it carries over to the new site.

๐Ÿ” ๐Ÿ—บ Redirection mapping

During a website redesign, itโ€™s common for your URLs to change. If a URL does change, search engines or users wonโ€™t be able to find that page unless thereโ€™s a redirect in place. These redirects from the old URL to the new URL will ensure you donโ€™t lose any Google ranking positions, organic traffic, or revenue. And customers wonโ€™t see a 404 error page!

6. Crawl legacy / current site

This will be used to compare to the development site.

7. Crawl development / staging site

This will be used to compare to the legacy / current site.

8. Compare the URL structure

If the URL structure on the website is changing, this can have big implications for your SEO efforts.

This is common if you’re moving from one platform/CMS to another (Magento to Shopify; Drupal to WordPress).

E.g. shopify forces you to have /products/ in the URL which could be a big change to what you have now, because WooCommerce uses /product/

Or, your /blog/ subfolder could be changing to /journal/, which means all of the URLs on the blog will be changing.

Even if you’re staying on the same platform/CMS, then you will want to review the structure of the URLs to see what is changing.

If your CMS has created new types of pages (e.g. tag pages), this may mean you need to review your canonical tags or robots.txt file.

9. Map out priority page redirects

Remember the top-priority pages from the benchmarks and the data section? Map these out first, you need to make sure your high priority pages still perform well post-migration.

10. Map out all other page redirects

Are there any bulk redirects we can do?

11. Add redirects to development / staging website

Once all redirects have been mapped out, these can be added to the staging website.

12. Test redirects: 301

Redirects are implemented as 301 (permanent redirects).

13. Test redirects: Chains

There aren’t any long redirect chains.

14. Test redirects: Internal links

There aren’t too many internal redirects.

15 . Test redirects: Redirection rules

There are certain redirects that all sites will have that need to be checked:

(1) www vs non-www URL requests;
(2) http vs https URL requests;
(3) lower case vs upper case URL requests.

๐Ÿ“„ Review staging page templates

You may have been working with your website designer for the last few weeks, or you might have only just received a staging link and this is the first time you’re seeing your website. Either way, you need to review the staging page templates to ensure they adhere to SEO best practices. Any of the points outlined below need to carry over from the old website, or if things are changing, someone on your team needs to be looking into the below.

16. Page titles

17. Meta descriptions

18. Heading tags

19. Image alt text

20. Image file names

All of these items (16. to 20.) will have an impact on your SEO if they are missing on the new website. For example, do you have well-optimised page titles and heading tags on your current website? If so, when you launch your new website, they are missing, you will see a drop in traffic!

21. Robots directives

Do you have pages on your current website that block sensitive information or stop search engine crawlers from accessing certain pages?

These noindex and nofollow tags must be carried over from the current site to the new site. Otherwise, Google will be able to access a lot of pages they didn’t before.

22. Canonical tags

The same as above, if the canonical tags don’t get carried over from the current website to the new website, then this can impact how Google crawls and indexes your website.

In addition to this, do you need to remove canonical tags or add them? If your CMS has added new page types or URLs that are very similar, are canonical tags in place?

23. hreflang tags

hreflang tags is a bit of code on for sites that have similar content in multiple languages.

Is the website targeting more than one international market or have multiple languages?

No? Skip this step…

Yes? These hreflang tags needs to carry over from your current site to the new site so Google knows what pages to serve to what countries.

24. Structured data / schema

If the current website has schema or structured data, you need to carry this over. If the current site doesn’t have this, there’s no time like the present to add this!

25. Mobile and desktop checks

With Google’s mobile-first index, they look at the mobile view of a website to determine ranking positions. So how does your site look on mobile? …you better hope it is in tip-top shape!

๐Ÿ”— Review staging site internal linking

When a site is redesigned, the way your pages link together will likely change. This internal linking is a very strong signal to Google about what pages are important on your website. If you don’t review the items below and make sure pages link together correctly, you might see a drop in ranking positions for some key pages, deeper down your site architecture.

26. Links in the main navigation, and

27. Links in the secondary navigation

The navigation/menu on a website plays an important role in SEO. These links will be in the nav and featured on every page of your website, so they should be your most important links.

28. Links out from the homepage

What sections of the website are you linking to from the homepage? The homepage is the most powerful page so adding too many links or removing any could see you lose ranking positions.

29. Horizontal linking

Horizontal links link together similar or related products or blog posts, they help users and Google crawlers to find pages that are similar.

30. Site depth: How many clicks to important pages?

If a user needs to click too many times to get to an important page or to perform an action, the user experience isn’t great.

Search engines see this in a similar way, the further a page is down your hierarchy, the less important it is to them.

31. Footer links

The links in your footer are important, they help users find important pages but they also help to reiterate to search engine crawlers what are your important pages.

32. Breadcrumbs

Not only were they useful for Hanzel and Gretal, but breadcrumbs are also useful for your users and for search engine crawlers.

They provide great internal links to connect up pages, and they help users who are say on a product page, get back to the category page.

33. Pagination links

On the blog and also your category pages (if you have lots of products or posts), pagination is very important. It helps users and search engines find your other pages and other posts/products.

34. Cross-domain links

Linking from one domain to another is a big signal to Google, so if you have links pointing to a website you or the client owns, you want to make sure they carry over to the new website.

๐Ÿ‘ฉโ€๐Ÿ’ป Technical SEO review on staging site

People often shy away from technical SEO, thinking it’s complicated. However, if you follow the items below, your site will be in good shape to be crawled and indexed by Google.

35. Identify crawl-time issues

Crawl the staging site and look for pages with a non-200 server response.

When crawling the site, you shouldn’t have any broken links (4xx codes) or redirects (3xx codes), Google prefers to crawl sites with 200 HTTP status codes.

36. Review JavaScript crawling

Test all page templates to check there are no JavaScript crawling issues resulting in missing copy or missing internal links.

If Screaming Frog is having issues processing JavaScript, it is likely Google will do too.

37. Do you have a custom 404 page?

Ensure the site has a custom 404 page that serves a 404 server response. The page should include the siteโ€™s header and footer, links to the most popular sections of the site.

38. Robots.txt file

A robots.txt file will help search engine crawlers crawl you site, you can block them from viewing pages on your website. This lets you direct them and stop them from crawling low-quality pages.

If you are changing CMS, or the structure of your website is changing, you will need to create a new robots.txt file.

39. XML sitemap: is it there?

An XML sitemap is a file that lists all of the important pages on your website.

The sitemap acts as a roadmap and helps Google to understand your site structure. It may help speed up page discovery.

40. XML sitemap: is it error-free?

Make sure non-indexable URLs such as 404s, redirects or canonicalised pages are excluded from the sitemap.

Phase 2: Launch day, live site checks

The big day is here! Having ticked off everything in Phase 1 of the checklist, you’re ready to launch your website. However, I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but your job isn’t finished just yet. There are still a number of checks you need to make once it’s live, to ensure your redirects are working and so Google can crawl and index your web pages.

๐Ÿ”„ Redirection checks on the new, live site

As we mentioned before, your redirects play a crucial part in the website migration process. Now the site is live, you need to test your redirects and ensure they are working as expected.

41. Crawl the old site’s URLs (and priority pages)

The redirects you created during the Redirect Mapping (Item 7 to 17), all need to be tested now the site has been launched.

We crawl the old site URLs, and the list of Priority Pages you found during Item 2, because we want to make sure the redirects we put in place work.

This will allow Google and users that land on the old URLs but find the new URLs.

42. 301 status code

The redirects need to be permanent – 301 (permanent redirects). Not temporary – 302 (temporary redirects).

43. No long chains

There aren’t any long redirect chains.

44. Internal links all 200

There aren’t too many internal redirects.

45. www. vs non-www.

www vs non-www URL requests – is this the same as the staging site?

46. HTTP vs HTTPS

Does the site redirect to HTTPS?

47. Lower vs upper

Lower case vs upper case URL requests

โœ‹ Search engine accessibility on the new, live site

If searches engines can’t find, crawl and index your website, then your site will drop down their rankings. Check the following items to ensure your site can be accessed by Google.

48. Robots.txt file

This is a common issue, the robots.txt file stops search engines from crawling the page – sometimes it’s forgotten about when the staging site goes live.

Is this the correct robots.txt file from the staging, and it behaving with search crawlers how you’d expect?

49. Server response codes

When crawling the site, you shouldn’t have any broken links (4xx codes) or redirects (3xx codes), Google prefers to crawl sites with 200 HTTP status codes.

50. Canonical tags

Are canonical tags correct and for the live domain, not linking to the staging site?

51. Noindex / nofollow tags

This is a common issue, the noindex and nofollow tags stop search engines from indexing the page – sometimes it’s forgotten about when the staging site goes live.

We need to check for unintentional or sitewide noindex or nofollow directives.

52. Cloaking

Cloaking is where you show different content or URLs to users and search engines. Google isn’t so keen on this because it’s a sign you’re trying to manipulate their algorithm!

โœ”๏ธ Google Search Console checks

53. “Fetch as Google” on each page template.

“Fetch as Google” lets you see how Google sees your page, which is important becase we want to make sure there are no rendering issues.

54. Test and submit sitemap

The new sitemap needs to be submitted to Google so they can understand the changes made to your website.

๐Ÿ“„ Review new, live page templates

We have already checked the items below on the staging URL, to see if your websites templates adhere to SEO best practices. It’s rare, but when your site goes live, these may not carry over. So doing a quick sweep of the below will ensure that your users and Google are reading the right content.

55. Page titles

56. Meta descriptions

57. Heading tags

58. Image alt text

59. Image file names

60. Robots directives

61. Canonical tags

62. Hreflang

63. Structured data / schema

64. Mobile and desktop checks

All of these items (55. to 64.) will have an impact on your SEO if they are missing on the new website. For example, are your well-optimised page titles and heading tags showing on your new website? If not, you need to add them in or you will see a drop in traffic!

65. Analytics / Tracking

Is the website tracking correctly now everything has been moved over?

66. Site speed: Mobile and desktop

Does the new, live site perform as well as the old one? You can compare the speed to the benchmarks of the old site we took before launch.

Are there any improvements we can make now the site is live?

Phase 3: Post-launch actions

Don your favourite Windows jumper and gather your friends, it’s time to do some post-launch checks! Even though the site is live, we still need to do regular checks. By keeping our finger on the pulse, we can see any abnormal decreases or increases in our data so we can implement fixes.

โœ”๏ธ Google Search Console (GSC) – regular checks:

67. GSC: Index report (errors)

68. GSC: Monitor sitemap indexation levels

69. GSC: Mobile usability

70. GSC: Review Enhancements

71. GSC: Structured data errors

In the coming weeks, we just want to make sure we keep an eye on the various data sets that Google Search Console (GSC) gives us.

You can check these items (67. to 71.) every day in GSC to see if the changes you have made are behaving as expected. Failing that, if things are going wrong, you will likely get a warning via email from Google after a migration. It is best to investigate these immediately.

(Please note: data for Google Search Console won’t appear immediately)

๐Ÿ“ˆ Google Analytics (GA) – regular checks:

72. GA: Organic sessions

73. GA: Bounce rate

74. GA: Revenue

75. GA: Conversion Rate

For 72. to 75. Google Analytics (GA) will let us see if traffic or revenue has drastically dropped so you can then investigate.You can look at other metrics, more than we put here, but if you’re short on time these are the essential ones.

๐Ÿ— Keyword ranking positions

76. Keywords in tracking tool

Check your target keywords or the priority keywords you uncovered before launch.

77. Ahrefs and SEMrush checks

When migrating a website, there is often a lot of changes to keyword ranking positions. As well as your target keywords, you want to keep an eye on the overall visibility of your webite.

Phase 4: Performance review

The data never lies! Now it’s time for an in-depth review of the migration two to three months after launch. If you have followed the checklist to a T, there should be no nasty surprises. You might even have some great results to shout about to your boss. Is that a promotion I hear? ๐Ÿ‘

๐Ÿ— Keyword Tracking

78. Priority pages

How have these performed when compared to pre-migration?

79. Desktop keywords

Check your target keywords or the priority keywords you uncovered before launch.

80. Mobile keywords

Check your target keywords or the priority keywords you uncovered before launch.

81. Ahrefs and SEMrush visibility checks

When migrating a website, there is often a lot of changes to keyword ranking positions. As well as your target keywords, you want to keep an eye on the overall visibility of your webite.

๐Ÿ“ˆ Analytics and data

82. GA: Organic sessions

83. GA: Bounce rate

84. GA: Revenue

85. GA: Conversion Rate

For points 82. to 85. Google Analytics (GA) will let us see if traffic or revenue has drastically dropped so you can then investigate. You can look at other metrics, more than we put here, but if you’re short on time these are the essential ones.

86. GSC: Index report (errors)

87. GSC: Submitted vs Indexed pages in XML sitemaps

For 86. and 87. Google Search Console (GSC) gives us a great amount of data in relation to our performance in Google Search. By checking this after the site has launched, you can see how well your site faired during the migration.

88. Site speed: Mobile and desktop

A month on from the launch, the site has bedded in, the client or your team have probably made some changes. Including images that are too large or not compressed. Now is the time to run another speed test to see if it’s still performing well.

Summary

Congratulations for making it this far, and remember, website migrations are not easy! There’s a lot on the line and it’s easy for your SEO efforts to disappear overnight. So take your time, refer back to this checklist and use the accompanying Google Sheet to tick off each item.

If you have any questions for us, any improvements to this checklist, or just want to say hello, you can use the form below.

Author
Stephen White