Site Migration Checklist

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Site Migration Checklist

Follow our checklist so you don't miss anything when redesigning or migrating your website. We show you how to:

Copy across all metadata

Implement 301 redirects

Ensure all tracking scripts are retained

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Site Migration Checklist - White Shadow

Site Migration To-Do List

Intro

This guide has been created for web developers when redesigning a clients website or migrating to a new CMS, it is imperative that you retain domain authority and existing online presence by following the steps in this to-do list. Otherwise, you risk losing all of the work you’ve done to date to strengthen your site’s search visibility and will most likely see traffic and enquiries/sales drop off a cliff. Equally though if you are a business owner reading this guide and require support with a website migration please contact support@seopremier.com and our team of experienced web developers will be happy to assist.

We’ve laid it all out here so you don’t leave anything to chance, and can launch your site confident that it will easily be found by your customers with a seamless transition that leaves no stone unturned. After all there is no use having a beautifully designed, website upgrade if then nobody can find it because you didn't properly migrate your existing SEO to the new website!

Titles and Meta Descriptions

Firstly, ensure all key onsite SEO criteria are copied across in their optimised state:

  • Page URL: Use hyphens (-) to separate words and keep URL string as short as possible.
  • Meta Title: Follow an optimised structure, under 60 characters long, which includes your target keywords and categories as well as your priority location if needed i.e. <primary keyword><location> | <secondary keyword> <location> | <brand name>
  • Meta Description: Include target keyword and clear CTA to encourage click through within a character count of 160 providing enough descriptive text to entice the searcher.
  • Meta Keywords: Top 5 Keywords seperated by commas (not essential as not a ranking factor for Google).
  • H1 Tag: Include primary keyword and page name if possible.
  • H2, H3, H4 Tags: Include secondary keywords if natural to do so.
  • Page Content: min word count of 350 words, include paragraph breaks to allow for header tags, 2% keyword density (primary and secondary keyword mentions), at least 1 internal link pointing to another internal page or homepage, mention brand name at least once. Try not to reduce the word count from the old website so if your old web page had 500 words, stick to at least 500.
 
SEO Premier Pointers - There are great (and free) plugins available for most CMS platforms that provide easy to follow fields for adding relevant meta tags to websites. For example, one of the most universally known plugins - Yoast - has fields for each of the above criteria, and gives recommended character limits for each as well.

301 Redirects

If it's not possible to retain the existing URL structure from your current site then 301 redirects are used to point the old URL, no longer in use, to the new version of the page which you have created. From a users perspective this is critical if you want to avoid sending people to pages with a 404 error (page not found), but more importantly from a search engines perspective if there are broken links on your website they will be removed from Google's index. This  means that any rankings your site currently holds will not be retained unless you perform the 301 redirect which will point Google bots to your new page and it will update it's index accordingly to display the new URL in the search results.

It's best practise to create a 301 mapping sheet which is a spreadsheet simply listing all of the old URL’s in column A and the pages these align with on the new site in column B. These can be uploaded into your website and implemented a number of ways depending on the CMS your site is built in. If you're not sure on how to check for all of the existing URL's in your website try looking at your Sitemap.xml file which should list all web pages for you at www.yourdomain.com/sitemap.xml

If you have a developer or agency carrying out the migration, make sure they are implementing the 301’s. If you are doing this yourself there are many handy guides online, just Google ‘how to implement 301 redirects for <your CMS here>’.

 
SEO Premier Pointers - To make sure all pages have been redirected properly after completing the migration, you can run a site audit which will pick up any pages with a 404 error (page not found). We recommended using the Site Audit tool within SEMRush, but there are also some free tools available for finding broken links including the Dead Link Checker.

Search Engine Indexing

So that developers can work on staging sites without test pages or unfinished pages being indexed by Google and appearing in the search results, most CMS’ give users the option to disable or discourage search engine indexing.

In WordPress, this checkbox can be found in Settings > Reading > Search Engine Visibility and looks like this:

Screen Shot 2020-05-26 at 12.07.59 pm

This essentially controls the Robots.txt file within your website which is used to notify Google and other search engines which pages you would like to be included in the search results. Generally you would allow all pages to be indexed within the search results to by checking this box it will block all pages from being included whilst you're working on the website.

When sending your website live, make sure this box is left UNCHECKED. If this box is checked, as stated your website won’t appear in any search engines, and it goes without saying that this is can have very negative consequences as you may not show on Google even for your brand name let alone the list of services or products which you offer. 

 
SEO Premier Pointers - If you have a WordPress site, it's essential that once your site is live you double check that this box has been left unchecked. This should also be the first place you look if you find your site has disappeared completely from the search results.

Technical SEO Elements

Each of the following factors help Google to make your site easier to find for your target audience:

  • Sitemap.xml File: A comprehensive sitemap.xml file list all of your page URL’s and auto updates to include any new pages added to your website. You can then use this file to submit to Google Search Console for quicker indexing rates.
  • Robots.txt File: Always allow full access (User-agent: * Disallow:). Only configure to disallow URL’s for a specific reason (such as a private login section) otherwise it’s best to allow the full website to be crawled.
  • HTML Sitemap: Ensure key pages are linked from the footer of the website, not just the main header menu, to ensure ease of navigation for Google’s spiders. Also a /sitemap page can list key pages if they don't all fit nicely in the website footer.
  • No-Follow Links: Ensure outbound hyperlinks to third party websites are labelled as <no-follow> to retain SEO authority within your own website and keep Google spiders on your own website domain.
  • Schema Tags: Any existing schema tags need to be migrated across to the new website so search engines can properly categorise your web pages with the correct markup.
 
SEO Premier Pointers - Google Search Console is a free tool which gives website owners more control over how and when Google indexes a website. Once your new site is live, you should use Google Search Console to manually index your sitemap, and also run a few checks using the Robots.txt Tester to make sure the right pages are (and aren't) appearing in Google's search results.

Scripts

One of the most overlooked steps when migrating sites is copying across all tracking scripts so that you can continue to get the most out of your marketing platforms and track website traffic. It's essential you have all data to hand when moving to a new website so that you can accurately compare the improvements or teething problems experienced during a website migration.

Some common tracking scripts include:

  • Google Analytics Tracking Code/ID
  • Google AdWords Remarketing Tag
  • Google Conversion Tracking Codes
  • Facebook Pixel
  • API Keys (e.g. Mailchimp)

To make sure these scripts are working correctly on your new site, there are two handy (and free!) Chrome extensions available for download - Tag Assistant by Google and Facebook Pixel Helper.

SEO Premier Pointers - There are several free extensions that can be added to your browser to verify that scripts have been added to your website and are working as intended. If you use Google Chrome, you can install Google Tag Assistant for any Google related scripts, as well as Facebook Pixel Helper for - you guessed it - checking your Facebook Pixel is active.

Bonus Tips

  • Use Google Tag Manager to consolidate all your tracking scripts.
Google-Tag-Manager-Post-Image
  • Use an SSL Certificate, as HTTPS sites are favoured by Google.
http
  • Use the Real Time Overview in Google Analytics to confirm it's working
Screen-Shot-2017-10-13-at-11.07.19
Summary

When migrating your website (or launching a new one) make sure the following is completed/copied across from your old website:

  • Onsite SEO Criteria (Page Titles and Meta Data)

  • 301 Redirects (Create 301 Mapping sheet)

  • Enable search engine indexing (if using WordPress)

  • Technical SEO elements (sitemap, robots, schema)

  • Tracking scripts (Google Analytics, Facebook Pixel, API Keys)

RETAIN YOUR RANKINGS

Completing this checklist gives you peace of mind that your site will continue to rank as before.

KEEP CLIENT DETAILS SECURE

Adding an SSL Certificate to your site will not only keep Google happy, but also encrypt your customers' data.

DEVELOPMENT EXPERTISE

If you want to leave it to the experts, our team of developers can carry out any website migration task - just ask!

FAQ's

Frequently Asked Questions about site migration

Will my website be down during the migration period?

If performed correctly, your website will not experience any downtime when migrating from one site to another. There will however, be a propagation period of 24-48 hours during which time either the old website or the new one will appear for visitors.

Should I inform my marketing agency before carrying out a site migration?

In our experience, involving your marketing agency (if you have one) in the early stages of a site migration is essential so that they can ensure your SEO efforts are not harmed as a result of not copying across all relevant information.

There might be something you see as not necessary on your website, that in fact could mean the difference between appearing on the first page and not appearing at all!

If things don't go to plan, can the migration be reversed?

We strongly recommend making a backup of your current site, which can be reverted back to should any issues occur during the migration.

If you have a development team looking after the migration, you should ask them what the backup plan is to prevent any site downtime.

Can my rankings be saved if they are lost due to a poorly planned site migration?

This really depends on how long it has been since the site was migrated. Typically if a site's organic presence has been lost, you have about 1-2 months to turn things around.

If you are in this position do not hesitate, contact us today so we can review the situation and attempt to recover your lost rankings.

Like what you've read? Take a copy with you!

Site Migration Checklist

Follow our checklist so you don't miss anything when redesigning or migrating your website. We show you how to:

Copy across all metadata

Implement 301 redirects

Ensure all tracking scripts are retained

Something went wrong. Please check your entries and try again.
Site Migration Checklist - White Shadow
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