10 Step Website Migration Checklist

So, you have decided to migrate your website. Maybe you wanted to move to a platform with more customisability like Webflow from Squarespace. Maybe you want to move from a platform that is too complicated for your marketing team like Wordpress. Either way, we have got you.

Whether you're migrating from Squarespace, Wordpress or Webflow, here are the overarching concerns.

What is a website migration?

Website migration refers to the process of making significant changes to a website in areas such as its platform, structure, content, location, or design, with the aim of improving SEO, user experience, and site performance.

It often involves transferring the site's assets from one domain to another, or changing the content management system (CMS) on which the website is built. Careful planning and execution are crucial during this process to minimize the impact on search rankings and to ensure a seamless transition for users.

Most common mistakes when doing a website migration

1) Failing to Properly Redirect URLs

When the structure of a site changes, its URLs often change as well. Setting up 301 redirects from old URLs to new ones is crucial to avoid dead links, which can harm search engine rankings and user experience.

2) Not Transferring All Site Content

Failure to transfer all site content can lead to lost data or functionality, frustrating users and impacting SEO performance.

3) Overlooking Update of Internal Links

Neglecting to update internal links can result in broken connections within the site, hampering navigability and SEO.

4) Underestimating the Importance of Thorough Testing

Conducting a comprehensive testing phase before going live is vital. Undetected issues post-migration can cause problems for users and search engines.

1) Pre-Migration Planning

Understand the timeline and traffic expectations

The timeline for a website migration can vastly differ based on the size and complexity of the site, as well as the specific changes being made. Typically, a small to medium website migration might take anywhere from 3 to 6 months from conception to completion, while larger sites or more complex migrations could extend beyond 6 months (A small website typically consists of around 1-20 pages, while a large site can have 100+ pages). Setting clear expectations is crucial for every stakeholder involved.

A common observation during website migrations is an initial dip in site traffic. This is a normal part of the process due to search engines taking time to re-index the new site structure and content. Statistics indicate that it's not uncommon for websites to experience a 10-20% drop in traffic immediately following the migration. However, it's important to note that this is usually temporary. With properly executed SEO strategies and redirects, most sites recover within 3 to 6 months, often with better performance and higher traffic levels than before the migration.

Key Steps for Timeline and Expectations:

  • Month 1-2: Conduct thorough planning, including an SEO audit and creation of a migration strategy.
  • Month 3: Implement technical changes, establish 301 redirects, and update internal links.
  • Month 4: Perform comprehensive testing on a staging environment.
  • Month 5-6: Go live, closely monitor site performance, and adjust as necessary to ensure a smooth transition.
  • Post-Migration: Regularly review site analytics to monitor recovery and growth in traffic.

By understanding that a temporary drop in traffic is part of the process and by preparing accordingly, stakeholders can maintain a positive outlook through the transition period, leading to a more successful migration outcome.

Understand what external tools, plug ins etc are being used before migration

Before proceeding with the migration, it's crucial to take an inventory of all external tools, plugins, and integrations currently in use, such as Mailchimp for email marketing, Google Analytics for website traffic analysis, and any other third-party services that support your website's functionality. Understanding what each tool contributes to your site will help ensure that no critical functionality is lost during the migration. After the website is migrated, these tools will need to be reconnected or reconfigured to work with the new site structure or platform. This step is essential to maintaining the continuity of data tracking, marketing campaigns, and the overall user experience.

Assess your current website's structure, content, and design - find the sitemap and understand page URL structure

A thorough assessment of your website's existing structure, content, and design is key for a smooth migration. Begin by locating your website's sitemap, which is a blueprint of your website's content layout — including pages, videos, and other files. The sitemap not only makes your site more accessible to search engine crawlers but also provides a clear overview of its structure, which is vital for migration planning. To find your sitemap, check for the `/sitemap.xml` file by appending it to your website's base URL (e.g., `https://www.yourwebsite.com/sitemap.xml`). If not directly accessible, you may also find sitemap information through your website's Content Management System (CMS) settings or by using a sitemap generator tool. Understanding your site’s URL structure from the sitemap helps in mapping out how content is organized and identifies any currently existing issues with site architecture that could be addressed during the migration.

Plug in old URL to new URL to spreadsheet

Documenting the transition from old URLs to new ones is crucial for a seamless migration. Create a comprehensive spreadsheet to map out this change. In one column, list the current or 'old' URLs that you have identified through the sitemap analysis. In a corresponding column, specify the 'new' URLs these will be redirected to on the updated site. This step ensures that all existing traffic and search engine rankings are preserved. It also aids in identifying potential gaps in content or structure that need addressing. Utilize spreadsheet formulas or conditional formatting to highlight any discrepancies or missing redirects, facilitating an easier review and action process. This meticulous documentation becomes an indispensable tool for both the migration team and for SEO specialists to verify that no valuable page gets left behind or improperly redirected, thereby maintaining the integrity and performance of your site post-migration.

Benchmark your current site

run a site audit, setup position tracking to monitor current rankings, take note of current traffic

Before initiating the migration process, it is essential to establish a baseline of your website's current performance metrics.

Begin by conducting a comprehensive site audit to identify any potential issues such as broken links, page speed problems, or outdated content that could negatively impact the user experience or SEO rankings. Utilizing tools like SEMrush or Ahrefs can help automate and streamline the audit process.

In parallel, setting up position tracking for your current website’s rankings for targeted keywords will provide valuable insights into how your site is performing in search results.

Pay close attention to organic search traffic as well; Google Analytics is an indispensable tool for capturing this data. Monitoring these metrics pre-migration enables you to better gauge the migration’s impact and swiftly address any resultant dips in performance or rankings.

Make note of pages which have backlinks

Identifying pages on your website that have acquired backlinks is a critical step in the migration process. Backlinks, or links from other websites to yours, are a strong signal of the value and credibility of your content in the eyes of search engines.

They play a significant role in SEO and can greatly affect your website's search ranking. Prior to migrating, use tools like Majestic or Ahrefs to catalog all pages that have backlinks. This ensures you can maintain or even improve your SEO performance by either preserving these pages during the migration or setting up proper redirects. Neglecting this step could result in losing valuable backlinks, leading to a potential decrease in site authority, search visibility, and traffic flow.

See which pages are indexed by Google

Before initiating the migration process, it's essential to understand which of your current pages are indexed by Google as this impacts your site's visibility in search results. To do this, use the "site:" search query in Google.

By entering `site:yourdomain.com` into the Google search bar, you will be presented with a list of all pages that are currently indexed under your domain. This action provides a comprehensive snapshot of your website from Google's perspective, allowing you to identify any missing pages or ones that shouldn’t be indexed.

Knowing which pages are indexed is crucial because it helps ensure that important content remains visible to search engines post-migration. This step is instrumental in preserving your site's current search engine ranking and avoiding any unnecessary loss in organic search traffic.

Make note for which pages/URLs you are going to keep, delete or change

Deciding which pages or URLs to keep, delete, or change is a critical step in the website migration process. It's advisable to create a detailed spreadsheet in Google Sheets to organize this information effectively. For each page, categorize it under 'Keep', 'Delete', or 'Change'. If a URL is to be changed, note the current URL beside the new intended URL.

This meticulous approach not only aids in the planning phase but also serves as an invaluable reference for developers and SEO specialists during the migration process. Ensuring this step is thoroughly executed promises a smoother transition and minimizes the risk of negatively impacting your website's SEO performance.

  • Make note for which pages/URLs you are going to keep, delete or change
  • Identify which elements will be migrated to Webflow and any potential redesigns.
  • Set up a project timeline and milestones for the migration process

Content backup

Before initiating the migration process, manually back up all content from your website, including text, images, files, and videos. This step is paramount to ensure that no critical information or media is lost during the transition. Utilize tools or plugins that facilitate complete website backups, and consider storing this data on both cloud-based services and physical hard drives for added security.

By meticulously safeguarding every piece of content, you create a safety net that guarantees the integrity of your website's information, allowing for a seamless recovery if needed.

To streamline the content backup process, consider leveraging tools and extensions specifically designed for website data preservation. Many content management systems (CMS) offer plugins or built-in features that automate backups, reducing the risk of human error and saving considerable time. For WordPress users, plugins like UpdraftPlus or BackupBuddy offer robust solutions for both scheduled and on-demand backups. Similarly, for platforms like Drupal or Joomla, extensions such as Backup and Migrate or Akeeba Backup are highly recommended. Employing these tools not only simplifies the backup process but also ensures a more reliable and efficient way to safeguard your website's valuable content.

2) Organize and Centralize Content for Migration

Once you have backed up all the components of your website, the next crucial step is to organize and centralize this content. Creating a dedicated repository, such as a folder in Google Drive, is an effective way to manage and store the various files in a single location. This approach facilitates easy access and ensures that all team members involved in the migration process can find and utilize the necessary resources efficiently.

When organizing your content in Google Drive, consider categorizing files by type — for instance, separate folders for images, text documents, and videos. Additionally, employ clear and consistent naming conventions for each file and folder to further streamline the migration process. This structured arrangement of data not only aids in maintaining an overview of the available content but also simplifies the task of uploading it to the new platform during the migration phase.

3) Address On-Page SEO Errors Before Migration

Before proceeding with the migration, it's crucial to rectify any on-page SEO errors that could impact your website's search engine ranking. This includes reviewing and optimizing title tags and meta descriptions for relevance and keyword richness, ensuring URLs are concise and descriptive, and that heading tags are correctly used to structure content.

Additionally, verify that all images on your site have descriptive file names and alt text for better accessibility and SEO. Checking for broken internal and external links is also vital, as these can negatively affect user experience and SEO performance. If your site utilizes Open Graph tags, ensure these are correctly set up to control how your content appears when shared on social platforms. Fixing these elements before migration not only helps in maintaining your website's SEO performance post-migration but can also present an opportunity to improve it.

Things to fix:

  • Title tags: Titles that describe the content of a web page, usually displayed at the top of a browser window.
  • Metadescriptions: Brief summaries that appear below the title in search engine results, providing an overview of the page's content.
  • Open graph image: Image metadata used for sharing on social media platforms.
  • URLs: Web addresses that specify the location of a resource on the internet.
  • Heading tags: HTML elements used to define headings and subheadings on a webpage.
  • Internal & External links: Internal links direct users to other pages within the same website, while external links lead to pages on other websites.
  • Image file names: Descriptive names given to image files for better organization and SEO.
  • Alt text: Text descriptions added to images on web pages, providing information for users who cannot see the images and improving accessibility.

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4) Set 301 redirects

Link can change when migrating website - keep links the same

Preserving the integrity of your website's links during a migration is critical to maintaining its SEO performance and ensuring a seamless user experience.

Changing URLs without setting up proper 301 redirects can lead to broken links, which negatively impact your site’s ranking with search engines and frustrate users who encounter dead ends.

301 redirects signal to search engines and browsers that a page has moved permanently, allowing them to redirect the user to the new page without interruption.

This ensures that any link equity (the value passed from one site to another) is preserved, keeping your website's SEO strength intact. Furthermore, maintaining consistent URLs helps users who have bookmarked pages on your site, ensuring they can still access their favorite content without issues.

You need to set up a hosting plan on Webflow to do this as well as many other platforms

When you're in the process of migrating your site or restructuring URLs on Webflow, leveraging its hosting plans to set up 301 redirects is a straightforward way to ensure your site's links remain functional and SEO-friendly.

Webflow's hosting dashboard offers an intuitive interface where you can quickly map old URLs to their new locations. This is crucial for minimizing the impact of URL changes on your site's search engine rankings and user experience.

By setting up these redirects, you're not only preserving link equity but also ensuring that visitors and search engines are smoothly guided to the correct pages, thereby maintaining your site's credibility and reliability.

Make sure to review and implement these changes as part of your migration checklist to safeguard your site’s performance during and after the transition.

5) Run a site audit on subdomain

So, you're almost there. You've transferred everything, URLs match and you're gravy baby. Now, all you got to do is hit publis...NO...WAIT.

Before finalizing your website's transition and going live, conducting a comprehensive site audit on your subdomain is essential.

This step will help you identify and rectify any potential issues that may affect your site's performance or user experience.

Utilize tools like Google Search Console or SEMrush to scan for common problems such as broken links, missing metadata, or unoptimized images.

Pay particular attention to the responsiveness and loading speeds across different devices and browsers.

Rectifying these errors before publishing ensures that your site maintains its SEO rankings and provides a seamless experience for visitors. This proactive approach is critical in safeguarding your site's health and performance, paving the way for a successful website launch or migration.

6) Google Analytics to Webflow

Connect GA to Webflow once more

After ensuring that all on-page SEO errors are fixed and your site audit is complete, the next vital step is to reconnect Google Analytics (GA) to your new Webflow platform. Doing so is critical for continuing to monitor your website’s traffic, user behavior, and overall performance post-migration.

To re-connect your google analytics, follow these steps:

  1. Locate your GA tracking code in your GA account.
  2. Copy the Global Site Tag (gtag.js) provided.
  3. Go to your Webflow project settings.
  4. Paste the code into the Head Code section in your Webflow Site Settings.
  5. This integration provides continuous insight into your website's analytics.
  6. Use the data to optimize your site effectively.
  7. Monitoring your site's performance through analytics is an ongoing process that uncovers opportunities for growth and improvement.

7) Connect domain and launch site

Remove any temporary website blocks when making website live

Before making your website live, it is essential to remove any temporary blocks that were placed during development or migration.

These blocks might include `noindex` tags, which prevent search engines from indexing your site, or maintenance mode pages that restrict user access. Imagine doing all that work and realising your website is not indexed!

To ensure your site is accessible to your audience and search engines, carefully review your site's settings and code for any such blocks.

Removing them will enable your site to be crawled and indexed, thereby improving its visibility and traffic from the moment it goes live.

8) Submit sitemap to Google Search Console

After removing any temporary blocks and ensuring that your site is ready for public viewing, the next critical step is updating the Google Search Console to reindex your website.

This process informs Google that your site has undergone significant changes that need to be reflected in search results. To do this, simply:

  1. Log into your Google Search Console account.
  2. Select your website from the property menu.
  3. Click on 'Sitemaps' under the 'Index' section.
  4. Remove any old sitemaps if necessary, and then submit the new sitemap URL for your website.
  5. Finally, request indexing for your website by going to the 'URL Inspection' tool, entering your website URL, and clicking the 'Request Indexing' button.

By following these steps, you're signaling to Google that your site is ready for reevaluation, ensuring that the latest version of your website is promptly indexed and reflecting in search results. This action is pivotal for maintaining and improving your site's SEO health post-migration or significant updates.

9) Set up a custom report

Setting up a custom report in Google Analytics is a fundamental step in monitoring your website's performance and identifying any potential issues following updates or migrations. Creating such reports allows you to tailor the data that's most relevant to your site's health and operational status, providing insights into traffic patterns, bounce rates, and other critical metrics. This proactive approach ensures you can spot and address any discrepancies or drops in performance immediately.

To set up a custom report in Google Analytics, follow these steps:

  1. Sign in to your Google Analytics account.
  2. Navigate to the "Customization" menu and select "Custom Reports."
  3. Click on the "New Custom Report" button.
  4. Give your report a title and configure it to focus on the metrics that are most important to you, such as user engagement, traffic sources, or page views over time.
  5. Choose how you want the data to be displayed (e.g., in a table or pie chart format).
  6. Select the dimensions and metrics you wish to track.
  7. Apply any necessary filters to focus on specific segments of your data.
  8. Save the report.

By setting up a custom report specifically tailored to monitor key performance indicators, you ensure that you have immediate access to pertinent data post-update or migration. This level of monitoring enables swift adjustments and interventions, helping maintain your website's health and visibility in search engine results.

10) Test goals, emails and forms

After meticulously setting up your custom report in Google Analytics, proceed to the next crucial step of testing every element that was disconnected or adjusted during the initial phase of your migration or update. Specifically, focus on:

  • Email Sign-Ups: Verify that all email subscription forms are functioning correctly. Fill out the forms yourself to ensure they properly collect and store user data, and that automatic confirmation emails are sent out without any issues.
  • Forms: Rigorously test all other forms on your website, including contact forms, feedback submissions, and any custom forms unique to your site. Make sure that each form can be submitted smoothly and that the data is correctly captured and routed to the designated recipient or database.
  • Interactive Elements: Any element that requires user interaction, such as calculators, quizzes, or booking systems, should be thoroughly tested to confirm they operate as intended.

This comprehensive testing is vital to identify and rectify any issues that could disrupt user experience or data collection, ensuring your website functions seamlessly post-update.

Bonus: Review benchmark

Once you've completed the steps above, it's crucial to circle back to the benchmarks you established at the beginning of the migration or update process. Compare your current website's performance metrics against these benchmarks to gauge the success of your efforts. Success could manifest in various ways, depending on your initial goals. For example, improved page loading times, higher search engine rankings, or an increase in user engagement metrics such as time on site and conversion rates. Bear in mind that seeing tangible results, especially in search engine rankings and organic traffic, might take time—often several weeks to months after the updates have been implemented. Patience and continuous monitoring are key, as is being prepared to make further adjustments based on real-world performance and feedback.

Conclusion

In the digital age, where technological advancements and user expectations evolve rapidly, ensuring your website's resilience through meticulous testing and optimization is not just a task—it's a commitment to excellence.

The completion of a website migration or update is a significant milestone, but it also heralds the beginning of a new chapter in your digital story. It is an opportunity to recommit to your audience, offering them a seamless, engaging, and enriching online experience that not only meets but exceeds their expectations.

By rigorously applying the strategies outlined in this document, you are taking a decisive step towards cementing your website's position in the competitive digital landscape. Remember, the pursuit of perfection is a continuous journey. With each update, you are not just enhancing your website; you are reinforcing your brand's legacy and its promise to your users. As you move forward, armed with data, feedback, and insights, let this process remind you of the endless possibilities that thoughtful innovation and dedication can unlock. Navigate the future with confidence, knowing that with each challenge overcome, you are shaping a more engaging, dynamic, and resilient online presence.

Keen to have support implementing all this? Why not set up a free consultation call to get your website migrated to Webflow!

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