You made the decision. You need to migrate from your existing website to a new one.
Sounds easy, right? Just take all the content from one place and throw it to another. Sadly, it’s not so simple (although I hope it was).
Since your website has, in a way or another, been established you have to make sure that the migration will not hurt its value resulting to lower traffic and sales.
After a huge amount of website migrations for our clients (some epic fails came along the way), we came up with 10 tips that made our lives easier & kept our clients’ end happy.
Before the migration
The first thing you want to do before moving to a new site is to set a baseline for the performance of your existing one.
This is the only way to judge the performance of the new site and comes into conclusions.
Keep metrics like Unique Pageviews, Bounce Rate, Conversion Rate (whatever a conversion means to you) on a dedicated spreadsheet that you can use at any given time to compare with your new data.
Website migration can truly hurt your traffic or SEO Authority, so be cautious.
0. DO NOT perform many and big changes all at once.
If you do so and something goes wrong (in terms of search engine rankings or traffic), you won’t be able to recognize what might cause the issue.
The typical cases of big changes include and should be executed one by one, are (in no particular order):
Migrating your website to New Server.
Rebranding / Domain name change.
1. Always track when you made any changes.
Whatever you do keep a log of time/date of the change. Ideally, this should happen as an annotation on your analytics tool that you use to monitor your web traffic. It makes things easier to spot after which change the site started to lose (or gain) rankings/traffic.
Install the following marketing stack to start collecting data that will be used as a baseline:
Hotjar to capture user survey in terms of heatmaps, scrollmaps and form analytics. You NEED to know how your forms perform in your current site.
You can see how you rank for specific keywords by selecting your property in Webmaster Tools, then selecting ‘Search Analytics’ under ‘Search Traffic’ on the left sidebar. Make sure to set the date range you wish and have ‘Position’ selected.
Why this is needed:
These pages along with the new pages need to get ranked as well. Losing ranking is the next biggest issue. The first one is losing sales.
4. Keep track of conversion rates between funnel steps.
For your e-shop or web-app implement e-commerce extensions to follow your funnels and checkout process.
I.e. from the product’s page to cart page and then to the checkout page, etc. Do not move into a new site without this kind of information.
5. Don’t just scratch the surface of your data.
Keep in mind the important metrics of your site per:
Device i.e. desktop, mobile, tablet etc.
Browser i.e. Chrome, IE, Firefox
Performance of loading the pages
SEO Main on-site particles such as Headings, descriptions, sitemaps, OGs and other important elements that were building SEO juice in all previous years.
Why this is needed:
You need to know where your traffic comes from and the conversion rate per channel. A drop in Chrome, for example, could mean that there is a bug not allowing users to check out or to experience your e-shop.
6. Respect your existing users.
Take under consideration the user profiles and their credentials. They need to be able to login in the new system using the same credentials as they used to. For example, if you will migrate from a Shopify CMS to a custom one, this is not trivial.
Why this is needed:
Isn’t it obvious? 🙂
After the migration
Since you’ve set your baseline, gathered all data and have a clear view of how your website is supposed to perform, it’s time to move into the new website.
I will not get into any details concerning the migration itself, as it’s a subject that requires a standalone article.
So, let’s say you completed the migration. Now what?
There are some things that you should keep a close eye on.
7. Redirect all your pages.
Install a component in your CMS that will redirect all pages collected in step 4 and redirect them to the existing one. One typical component for that is called “redirect” (pretty obvious right ;-)).
If there is no CMS, you can use some scripts to do the same on the web server. Remember that the redirect needs to be a permanent one called: ‘Redirect 301’.
A 301 redirect is a permanent redirect which passes between 90-99% of link juice (ranking power) to the redirected page. 301 refers to the HTTP status code for this type of redirect. In most instances, the 301 redirect is the best method for implementing redirects on a website.
Bonus: Setup Monitoring for 404s pages, in order to ‘catch’ the pages that you’ve missed and redirect them manually.
8. Eliminate 404.
Check you Google search console to ensure that errors 404 are not reported from pages that do not exist anymore.
To do so, you need to go to your property in Webmaster Tools and then, on the left sidebar, select ‘Crawl Errors’ under the ‘Crawl’ menu item.
9. How’s your data now?
Check that you don’t see a drop in your core metrics as defined above. Remember that for the first period, you shouldn’t run ads different than the ones you were running before, as it may give you the misleading impression that everything works fine while it’s not.
It can take time for Google to understand what has changed after a migration, even if that migration was successful.
That means that a decrease in your organic traffic in inevitable.
10. Website speed can kill you.
Check the speed performance of the new site and compare it to the performance of the old one. Speed plays a significant role in search engine rankings and also in user experience.
According to Akamai and Gomez.com, nearly half of web users expect a site to load in 2 seconds or less, and they tend to abandon a site that isn’t loaded within 3 seconds.
Additionally, 79% of people buying online, say they wouldn’t return to the site to buy again if they faced website performance issues and about 44% of them would let a friend know about their bad experience.
Time is very critical on this topic. You shouldn’t check your site months later.
On a weekly basis ask your marketer to check all numbers and give you some conclusions on the performance of the new site compared to the old one.
He/she should check all the elements collected above and report their progress. Not checking the new site for months after going live is a huge mistake. It may be too late as changes sometimes take time to be implemented and tested.
Before you go
Website migration can result in a tragedy. While a lot of things can go wrong, on most occasions are avoidable, or at least you can resolve them in a quick manner.
Act smart, use teamwork and plan carefully so you can be sure that migrating your website will do more good than bad.
Theodore has a 15-year experience in running successful and profitable software products. During his free time, he coaches and consults startups. His career includes managerial posts for companies both in Greece and abroad and he has significant skills on intrapreneurship and entrepreneurship.