Migrating Your Website? A Website Migration Checklist for You

Updated onDecember 13, 2019

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Approx. read time : 12 min

Welcome to the era of digitalization, where the focus seems to have shifted from self-promotion to value delivery. Those who aren’t keeping up with this might have a lot to lose. We all have infinite potential, but only a few of us take the advantage of what we have.

Either you have got two sites you want to combine or your brand purchases a new domain, acquired a competitor, or even thinks of merging two domains; the question is how to achieve the unattainable fruit? After all, migrating a website can be extremely daunting at times. With so much at stake, owners often find it easy to put things off.

However, it is very crucial to know that any migration has the highest possibility of experiencing a dip in rankings and traffic temporarily. But digging a little deeper, the benefits are more plentiful. Let’s look on the brighter side!

Imagine a situation where you get to merge two domains owned by the same brand; say, for example, migrating a blog on a subdomain to the main site. At the initial stage, you might encounter a long term increase in rankings and traffic, as people will be able to find the content they’re looking easily. And of course, you don’t have to worry about managing different domains anymore.

How Not To Ruin Your Brand’s Visibility in the Search Engines?

Simple, consider site migration! The following blog comprises of a checklist that needs to be created before conducting an ultimate website migration. But before we delve deep down, let’s take a bit of a detour and start off with:

  • What is site migration?
  • Types of site migration
  • How to conduct a successful site migration?
  • Examples of site migration
  • Challenges while conducting site migration

What is Site Migration?

Mainly used by SEO professionals, site migration is defined as an event whereby a website undergoes certain substantial changes in areas especially the ones that can significantly affect search engine visibility right from site’s location to platform, structure, content, design, or UX.

According to Google, site migration isn’t something that covers things in-depth and downplays the fact that so often, it might result in significant traffic and revenue loss and like it or not but this is something which could last from a few weeks to several months. Everything depends on how badly the search engine ranking signals have been affected. And also, how long it may take the affected business to rollout a successful recovery plan.

Types of Site Migration

You will come across a wide range of site migrations. Choosing the right one always depends on the nature of the changes that take place.

However, Google’s documentation mostly covers migrations with site location changes, the ones that can be categorized as follows:

  • Site moves with URL changes – These typically occur when a website moves to a different URL may be due to several changes such as:
  • Protocol change – When migrating from HTTP to HTTPS.
  • Subdomain or subfolder change – Where a business decides to move one or more ccTLDs into subdomains or subfolders. This is also said when a mobile site sits on a separate subdomain or subfolder becomes responsive, and both desktop and mobile URLs are uniformed.
  • Domain name change – Here’s when a business is rebranding and requires switching from one domain to another.
  • Top-level domain change – Again, launching an international website that needs to move from a ccTLD to a gTLD or vice versa. For instance, moving from .co.uk to .com, or moving from .com to .co.uk and so on.
  • Site structure changes – Changes done to the site architecture that usually impact the site’s internal linking and URL structure.
  • Replatforming – When a website is moved from one platform to another, let’s say upgrading to the latest platform version or even migrating from WordPress to Magento there are times when this can result in design and URL changes the significant ones because of technical limitations. And this is why re-platforming migrations comes to the rescue! It can rarely result in a website that looks exactly the same as the previous one.
  • Content migration – The majority of content changes such as content rewrites, content consolidation, or content pruning can have a significant impact on a site’s organic search visibility, depending on the scale. Like it or not, such changes made can also lead to the site’s taxonomy, navigation, and internal linking.
  • Mobile setup changes – With so many options around, you can enable app indexing, building an AMP site, or building a PWA website. These are considered as partial site migrations, especially when an existing mobile site is being replaced by an app, AMP, or PWA.
  • Structural changes – Mainly caused by significant changes to the site’s taxonomy that impact on the site navigation, internal linking, and user journeys.
  • Site redesigns – This point can vary from significant design changes in the look and feel to a complete website revamp that may also include significant media, code, and copy changes.
  • Hybrid migrations – It may quite interest you to know that several hybrid migration types can be combined in practically any way possible. As soon as you start introducing more changes, the complexity and the risk becomes higher. Also, making too many changes at the same time increases the risks of something going wrong, I mean think from the resources perspective- it might seem quite cost effective; when the migration is very well-planned and executed.

Related: WordPress Migration: Top Reasons to Migrate Magento to WordPress

How to Conduct a Successful Site Migration?

Before conducting site migration, let us understand why there is a need for site migration.

#1 More secure website set up
Changing from an “http” to “https” is one of the basic reasons to consider website migration. Besides, it indicates to your website visitors as well as Google that handling sensitive information such as credit card numbers and personal data is no big deal for your website. For non-techies, it is very crucial to know that Google itself prefers “https” websites; one single change positively impacts your website rankings to a great extent.

#2 Rebranding
Businesses tend to rebrand their websites at regular intervals. Their main objective to start from scratch with a new domain name. As soon as these things are done, they migrate all of their current website’s content to a new website with the new domain.

#3 Changing CMS platform
For many reasons, small businesses may conclude that using a different content management system such as WordPress or Magento can be a better fit. As a result, they end up building a website on a new CMS and migrate their content to the new platform.

Website Migration Process Explained

To migrate your site, one requires creating a plan, and performing an SEO audit on your old site. The next step is to redirect all old URLs to the new site’s content and replace internal URLs on your new website. Make sure you seek the help of Google when it comes to indexing your site and monitoring performance to ensure success. For proper guidance, here, I will be using WordPress as your CMS platform.

Step #1- Create a Migration Plan

Much like any other project, a plan is paramount to successful follow-through. So, first and foremost, you need to decide why you need to migrate your website and, most important of all, when will the migration occur. Also, get a clear idea upon who will complete requisite tasks such as:

  • The deadlines for those tasks.
  • The impact of missed deadlines.

And of course, who might take over if those people cannot perform their roles for any reason.

Jot Down Objectives

Get to know where you are migrating your website. For example, note whether you are migrating as a part of the rebranding. Or even if you are moving to another content management system, somewhat like upgrading to an “https” domain from an “http” domain, or if you are migrating for some other reason. So, make sure you determine your objective in prior. By doing this, you will be able to develop the following plan elements such as

  • Migration timing
  • The roles needed
  • Choosing the right experts to carry out those roles
  • Determine migration tasks in prior

Make a list of a certain bunch of tasks that are necessary to complete website migration. Let’s say, for example; you may need to set up Google Analytics for the new website, after that;

  • Do an SEO audit of the website right before your migration
  • Determine top performing pages
  • Define analytics performance on the old site
  • Set up a redirect map and redirect URLs from the old site to the new
  • Monitor new website performance
  • Assign roles to team members

So now that you have a list of tasks required to complete your website migration, time to assign the team members who will be responsible for each, including what is expected of them and the deadlines they must hit. Also, don’t forget to mention what could be the impact if these expectations aren’t met.

Step #2 Generate Site Link & Analytics Reports

To verify the links on your new site are correct, you need to generate a list of existing links and an updated analytics report. They can be used to confirm that your new site links are correctly mapped to your old site links. Also, don’t forget to export your old site’s analytics. All you have to do is:

  • Click the behavior tab.
  • Go to “Site Content” and “All Pages.”
  • Click the “Day,” “Week,” or “Month” buttons to get an overview of your website’s traffic during these time frames.
  • Click the “Export” button, then a format (PDF, Google Sheets, Excel, or CSV).

Step #3 Hide New Site from Google Search Engines

It’s very important to prevent your new site from being crawled by Google’s search bots prematurely. Imagine a situation when a user happens to stumble across an in-construction website; it could hurt your brand image. In case even if you have republished content on the new site, Google may rank it before it’s ready, potentially affecting your placement in search engine results. So make sure you are able to hide your site until it’s ready, access your CMS settings and choose the appropriate selection for hiding your site. Alternately, use a plugin.

Examples of Site Migration

Here you will find out how both successful and unsuccessful site migrations look. This section, in particular, will assure you to have site migration without suffering significant losses.

Debunking the Expected Traffic Drop Myth

Anyone who has been involved with site migration might have heard that it might result in de facto traffic and revenue loss. However, it is true for some very specific cases, such as moving from an established domain to a brand new one. Make sure it is not treated as gospel. After all, migrating without losing any traffic or revenue is possible; and the best part is one can enjoy significant growth right after launching a revamped website? However, you can achieve this only if every single step is well-planned and executed.

What makes unsuccessful site migrations? One of the typical examples of poor site migration is due to poor planning or implementation.

So, basically, what a successful migration should look like? However, this largely depends on the site migration type, the objectives, and KPIs.

But in most cases, successful site migration means either of these two:

  • Loss of minimal visibility during the first few weeks (short-term goal).
  • Visibility growth after that— based on the type of migration (long-term goal).

Challenges Occurred During Website Migration

Losing Files- There is nothing worse than losing all the crucial data, even some of your files in case if something goes wrong. This inevitably means you have to get back to the early version, which is both pricey and time-consuming at the same time. In order to avoid such mistakes, make a backup of your site right before you proceed to migrate. You can even use WordPress plugins such as Duplicator, UpdraftPlus, and WP-DB-Backup.

Related: 10 Significant Reasons to Perform a Website Backup

Downtime During Migration- The ugliest thing that might happen is facing a significant amount of downtime. Imagine a situation when your visitors aren’t able to find your site in a proper working condition, especially when they need the most. When you transfer files to a new web host, downtime is meant to happen. As a result, your visitors will get a 404 error. So, what needs to be done is go migrating and testing a website to ensure constant uptime by using an internal address that many hosts have.

PhpMyAdmin Timing Out- The odds are your database is not just a couple of files. In case if your website has been working for a while, it can be rather massive. And that’s the reason why phpMyAdmin can time out while trying to import or export it.

Using a WP import command in WP-CLI. It’s a free, open-source tool that is easy to install. In case, if you don’t want to waste any time in installing and learning WP-CLI, you can use SSH commands to export or import your database.

If that too doesn’t work, you can always escape and contact the support.

URLs in Posts Not Working- This is very common for URL’s leading to your previous domain to stop working if you migrate your WordPress website to another domain name.

Down below I would like to mention a couple of ways making all the URLs point to a new domain. All you have to do is:

  • UPDATE wp_options SET option_value = replace(option_value, ‘http://olddomain.com’, ‘http://newdomain.com’) WHERE option_name = ‘home’ OR option_name = ‘siteurl’;
  • UPDATE wp_posts SET guid = replace(guid, ‘http://olddomain.com’,’http://newdomain.com’);
  • UPDATE wp_posts SET post_content = replace(post_content, ‘http://olddomain.com’, ‘http://newdomain.com’);
  • UPDATE wp_postmeta SET meta_value = replace(meta_value, ‘http://olddomain.com’, ‘http://newdomain.com’);

500 Internal Server Error

The only problem with this error is that it doesn’t really tell you anything. Fortunately, there are a couple of ways to troubleshoot this problem that may solve it. Check your .htaccess file. Troubleshooting is rather easy here. Rename your .htaccess file and reload your website. If this doesn’t fix the problem, generate a new .htaccess file and reload the website again.

What needs to be done is delete the new .htaccess file and restore the old one. Now, you’ll have to go to your PHP settings and increase the memory limit. It can be set instead by default.


So, that’s all for now! Do follow the golden rule, keep it as simple as possible. Make sure you don’t make multiple changes at once, especially the URL’s. Do the analysis and put clear plans in place as, ultimately, failing to plan is planning to fail.

Kibo Hutchinson

Kibo Hutchinson is a Business Trend Analyst at Software Development Company, Tatvasoft UK. She has a keen interest in learning the latest practices of development so she is spending her most of the time on the Internet navigating the unique topics and technology trends.