Change is exciting, but if you’re migrating a website or performing significant overhauls, be careful. Improper migration can affect your SEO, leading to lost rankings, broken links, and more.
Migrate safely! This article will show you the critical website migration SEO considerations in a handy walkthrough, so you get the change you need while retaining all your hard work.
First, understand your risk. You'll be fine if you’re only changing a few bits and bobs on your website.
However, if you’re changing one (or multiple) of the following, you’ll need to prepare carefully:
- Switching to a new domain (sub-domain, top-level, or domain name)
- Switching from HTTP to HTTPS protocols
- Changing servers or CMS (content management systems)
- Significantly redesigning your website copy, visuals, navigation, or taxonomy
In these cases, the way new visitors access your website will differ from how they previously did it. With major overhauls, you might change link paths, upload or modify lots of existing content, etc.
This requires Google to take a fresh look at your website to assess its usefulness. For example, if you’re switching to a new domain, Google will need to re-index your website.
Before you start the migration process, create a backup of your existing website and document your website's current architecture, including URLs.
If you’re using a testing environment, make sure you use the noindex tags or block bots from crawling the new website before you’re ready in the robots.txt file.
I recommend using a staging website so you can prepare the entire framework for the new website before the migration.
When you migrate your website, the following key SEO factors will be affected:
- URLs (and URL paths)
First, crawl your website and check your sitemap to map all the URLs. Pay attention to URLs that attract the most traffic (e.g., landing pages), and highlight them in your map.
Then, map the rest of the URLs, paths, and content.
Keep an eye out for different status codes:
- Broken pages (404s)
- Redirects (3xx)
- Server errors (5xx)
- Problems with duplication, no-indexing or meta tags, etc.
- Problems with orphaned pages.
Your migration is a great time to fix them!
Julia Nesterets found quite a few orphaned pages while migrating an eCommerce client’s website.
By the end, you should have a comprehensive list of URLs with outlined priorities, so you can keep an eye on them as you test and migrate the website.
Note: Try to keep the existing link architecture. If you plan to change it (e.g., changing your category page system), be careful because it’s the #1 trigger that will make Google treat your new website as… well, new.
Take your URL list and map your old URLs to your new ones.
Then, identify any redirects you may need to change. If some pages have received significant traffic, consider using a permanent 301 redirect to your new URL variant.
Keep it in place even after Google indexes your new content.
If you plan to remove some of the pages that were on your old website, redirect them to new pages or variants. In eCommerce, you can point people to a category page or a similar product variant.
Finally, create a redirect map.
Then, crawl it (you can use a tool like SiteGuru) to verify that the redirects and links on your staging site work.
If you have images that have attracted organic traffic, don’t forget to redirect them too!
Great redirect map example from the Generic Marketing team!
You can use an SEO auditing tool like SiteGuru to check for any internal competition or duplicate content, or you can manually ensure that:
- Your canonical tags are clearly marking the new pages as canonicals with self-referencing canonical tags.
- The folders that usually lead to the same content don’t have any duplicates.
- You only use the HTTP or HTTPS version - same for www and non-www versions.
All your new internal links should point to new URLs. If you’ve removed some of the pages, update the internal links.
Yes, you can use redirects, but the more redirects Google has to crawl, the more it wastes your crawl budget. It’s much better to update your internal links to the new versions.
P.S. There’s nothing wrong with using CTRL + F or automation to help you.
Backlinks, social shares, and mentions are one of the key reasons why it’s sometimes better to put off website migration and change things on the existing website instead.
When migrating your website, ask your partners to update their backlinks. If you’ve set up the right 301 redirects, you’ll still preserve your link juice, but it’s better to avoid redirect chains.
Check other places where you’ve used the old website’s links and update them to the new ones. These may include:
- Social media
- Google My Business and directory profiles
Upload the refreshed sitemap to Google Search Console. If you’ve changed the domain name, use the Change of Address Tool.
In some cases, you may need to re-verify your ownership of the website by adding the proper tags.
At this point, I recommend keeping your old domain, just in case something goes sideways (especially if you’re using 301 redirects for a website with plenty of pages and incoming links).
If you’ve disavowed links in the past, resubmit them to GSC.
Ensure your old robots.txt directives are still valid and present in the new file.
Have you implemented the Schema structured data on the new website?
- Is your new website’s mobile version performing optimally?
- Do all your third-party app integrations work? (E.g., marketing tool integrations, ad tracking, etc.)
- International websites: are your hreflang tags working correctly?
- Double-check that you enabled indexing on the new website.
Once you’ve set everything up and migrated your website, it’s time to ensure everything goes according to plan. Check the indexation status of your new pages and any potential errors in Google Search Console’s “Page indexing” section.
If you use an SEO audit tool like SiteGuru, we’ll flag any errors for you so you can immediately tackle them.
(SiteGuru gives you a prioritized SEO to-do list, so you don’t have to triage issues manually. Instead, you know what you should focus on next - and in stressful cases like website migration, a little goes a long way.)
Run another PageSpeed Insights test to check your website’s performance.
Finally, keep an eye on:
If all of this sounds like quite a hassle, know that you shouldn’t migrate your website without a map and a clear plan.
If that’s not worth the trouble, consider your reasons for migration. Almost anything can be fixed without uprooting your SEO foundations.
But if you’re overdue for a change, bookmark this article and return to it when you’re ready to try something new!