Your Complete Website Migration Checklist
It’s almost certain that at some point, every online business is going to go through a website migration project. Some common reasons include:
- Implementing a new content management system (CMS) platform
- Launching a new domain
- Moving to a new server
- Launching new URL structures
- Moving to a secure version (https) of a site (from http)
Regardless of the reason behind it, a website migration is a lot of work. However, it doesn’t need to be detrimental to your bottom line.
When planning a website migration, it’s important to consider the technical aspects of the site update before, during and after the migration to ensure the site is launched successfully and you retain as much site authority – and ultimately business revenue – as possible.
Feel free to use this checklist as you work through a Migration — you can even check and uncheck the boxes below!
Prior to a site migration, ensure each of these items have been completed, discussed, and understood so that you’re setting your migration up for success.
Crawl the site
Screaming Frog, or a similar tool, will help you understand the current state of the site, including the current site structure and content that exists.
Create a redirect map
If the domain and/or URL structure will change, map URLs to their new location. If a clear 1:1 redirect path doesn’t exist, there may need to be a new architecture to accommodate new content. Map out top pages using analytics data and determine where pages can be consolidated and where they may fall on the new navigation.
Identify pages to be eliminated
Any pages that you want to be eliminated should return a 404 Page Not Found error, but first check that you aren’t linking to the broken URL from elsewhere within the site. If you have URLs that you don’t want to keep but have link equity and historical authority, 301 redirect them to keep the link value directed to a new destination URL.
Identify pages to be created
Create a new page for any content that doesn’t have a corresponding URL.
Benchmark important metrics
Include measurements for rankings, indexed pages, traffic, conversions and revenue (especially from organic search), and any other important metrics on the site. An initial drop in rankings and organic search referral traffic after a migration is typical (which should recover), but it is a good idea to plan the migration during a seasonally slower period for the business.
Make a custom 404 error page
Some 404 errors during a migration are to be expected. It’s good to have a custom, easy-to-understand 404 error page that can guide users to other valuable content on your site if encountered.
Create new Google Search Console account
Add the new domain to the existing account that is currently accessed to report on the live site as it stands today. Include both www and non-www versions of the site, as well as both http:// and https:// versions of the site, if applicable.
Create new XML sitemap
Generate a new XML sitemap based on the new site’s URL structure. Include all important pages within the site so that when search engines crawl it, they recognize the new site URLs that should be indexed.
Create new robots.txt file
This robots.txt file should not allow crawling pre-migration. Once migrated, it should include the same directives (allowing or disallowing the same type of content) as the current robots.txt file on the live site. Make sure the robots.txt file has a link to the XML sitemap included within.
During the migration itself, it’s important for key website stakeholders or support partners to be on hand to evaluate the launch of the site in real time, and address any issues or errors that may come up.
Ensure analytics tracking is implemented in the proper place and working
Ensure all new URLs and redirected URLs have the existing analytics code in place and metrics are being tracked. In order to keep track of historical data and easily compare pre- and post-migration performance, it is recommended to use the existing analytics account for the new site experience.
Annotate the launch in analytics
This step simply provides context for the future with any questions related to benchmarking data.
Update internal links
Update all links pointing to pages that are being redirected. Update all internal linking with direct links to their new location, utilizing optimized anchor text where applicable.
Update XML sitemap
Submit an updated XML sitemap to Google Search Console. This will make Google aware of all new or outdated URLs. Other search engines will be aware of the updated XML sitemap based on its link in the updated robots.txt file.
Update every external provider
List out every external provider (i.e. Google Ads, social media, etc.) and ensure they have been properly configured and notified.
After the site is migrated, it’s important to also make sure the migration was successful by continually monitoring performance of the website experience.
Post-migration, it is recommended to run a full crawl on the site and also check for any additional site navigation errors that may have occurred. View page components such as meta data, H1 tags, appropriate usage of NOINDEX tags and NOFOLLOW tags, and check for site speed as well.
Monitor errors in Google Search Console and Analytics
Monitor any error reports in Google Search Console frequently. Look for any 404 errors or 500-level errors, sitemaps errors, crawl errors, duplicate content errors, etc. Monitor important metrics in Google Analytics and measure against benchmarks taken prior to migration.
Test URL redirects
Run a crawl to ensure URL redirects are implemented correctly and working.
Check the number of indexed pages
Monitor indexed pages in Google Search Console and via site lookup in Google search. If this number doesn’t increase in a timely fashion post-migration, this could indicate an issue with the redirects.
Update external links
Inform external blogs, news sources, etc. of the new link location and request for links to be updated. Also make sure owned channels such as social media profiles are updated with the new URL structure as well. Prioritize by focusing on top tier pages and working your way down to lower tier pages. This will help ensure that link equity gets passed along to the new site.
Monitor performance frequently
Keep an eye on Analytics, Google Search Console, Google rankings (both by searching in Google search and utilizing keyword ranking tools) on a regular basis (daily, then weekly) for a few weeks post-migration to understand how quickly site performance picks back up, and how the updated site is performing.