Key considerations ahead of website migration

WebDev April 29, 2024
website migrations demands
On this page
  1. Get ready for the migration: retrieve all data
  2. Perform a website crawl
  3. Tips for transitioning to a new template
  4. Tips for transitioning to a new web host
  5. Managing legacy image URLs post-site migration
  6. Various methods for website migration
  7. FAQ

Conducting a site migration ranks among the most daunting SEO tasks due to the high stakes involved and the potential pitfalls lurking at every turn. Below are some invaluable tips to steer a site migration toward a successful conclusion.

Recognize the Diversity of Site Migrations

Site migrations encompass a spectrum of scenarios, each presenting unique challenges. While they share the common thread of inherent risk, their specifics vary widely. Examples include:

  • Transitioning to a new template
  • Relocating to a different web host
  • Integrating two disparate websites
  • Adopting a new domain name
  • Restructuring site architecture
  • Switching to a different content management system (CMS)
  • Embracing a new WordPress site builder

Given this diversity, it's crucial to appreciate the nuances of each migration type and anticipate potential complications accordingly.

Acknowledge the Potential for Setbacks

No site migration is immune to setbacks. Despite meticulous planning, unforeseen obstacles may arise, threatening the migration's success. By acknowledging the inherent unpredictability, one can better prepare to navigate challenges and mitigate their impact.

Embrace a Comprehensive Approach

Rather than viewing site migration as a simple checklist of tasks, adopt a holistic perspective. Consider the broader implications of each decision, ensuring alignment with overarching objectives and long-term strategic goals.

Prioritize Risk Management

Effective risk management lies at the heart of a successful site migration. Identify potential vulnerabilities and devise proactive measures to address them preemptively. By prioritizing risk mitigation, you can safeguard against adverse outcomes and enhance the migration's overall resilience.

Maintain Flexibility and Adaptability

In the dynamic landscape of site migration, flexibility is paramount. Be prepared to adjust strategies and pivot in response to evolving circumstances. By remaining adaptable, you can navigate unforeseen challenges with agility and resilience, ultimately steering the migration toward a favorable outcome.

The following does not constitute a site migration checklist; rather, it offers five suggestions to bear in mind.

Get ready for the migration: retrieve all data

The primary rule is to thoroughly prepare for the site migration process. One of my main concerns revolves around ensuring comprehensive documentation of the old version of the website.

Here are several methods for documenting a website effectively:

  • Save the database by downloading it and store it in at least two separate locations. Personally, I opt for a backup of the backup, ensuring redundancy by storing it on a secondary device.
  • Download all website files, preferably creating backups stored on a secondary device to ensure redundancy.
  • Conduct a site crawl, save the crawl data, and export it as a CSV or XML site map. I recommend maintaining redundant backups in case of unexpected issues.


It's crucial to note that when downloading files via FTP, there are two distinct formats to consider: ASCII and Binary.

  • Utilize ASCII for downloading files containing code, such as CSS, JS, PHP, and HTML.
  • Employ Binary for media files like images, videos, and zip files.

Thankfully, most modern FTP software features an automatic setting that distinguishes between these file types. However, a potential issue arises if image files are mistakenly downloaded in ASCII format, resulting in corrupted images.

Always verify that all files are correctly downloaded and free from corruption. If you've entrusted a third party or a client with the migration process, consider downloading a copy for yourself. This ensures that in the event of a failed download on their end, you have an intact backup available.

Remember: You can never have too many backups!

Perform a website crawl

Perform a thorough website crawl, ensuring comprehensive coverage of all pages. Once completed, make a backup of the crawl data. Additionally, create a duplicate backup and store it on a separate hard drive for added security.

Following the site migration, this crawl data proves invaluable for generating a new list to crawl the old URLs. This process helps identify any missing URLs (404 errors), URLs failing to redirect properly, or URLs redirecting to incorrect webpages. Screaming Frog offers a list mode feature, enabling the crawling of URLs saved in various formats, such as an XML sitemap, directly inputting them into a text field. This method allows for targeted crawling of specific batches of URLs, rather than navigating the site via links.

Tips for transitioning to a new template

Website redesigns can often become a significant source of frustration if things don't go as planned. On the surface, transitioning a site to a new template might seem like a straightforward one-to-one change with minimal complications. However, reality often diverges from this expectation. Firstly, no template can be applied straight out of the box; modifications are necessary to align it with specific requirements. This may entail the removal or alteration of code to achieve the desired outcome.

  • Ensure that all images maintain consistent URLs, alt text, and image titles, especially when incorporating new images.
  • Pay attention to templates which may have hard-coded heading elements, particularly in the footer and sidebars. These elements should be styled using CSS instead of H tags to prevent layout inconsistencies.
  • Double-check the uniformity of all URLs throughout the migration process to avoid indexing issues. Additionally, if content changes are planned, ensure that the staging environment is appropriately noindexed before going live and remove the noindex robots meta tag post-launch.
  • Prepare for potential Google re-evaluation if significant content changes are made, as it may take weeks or even months for the site to see the full impact on search rankings.
  • Confirm that analytics and tracking codes are correctly integrated into the new site to maintain data tracking continuity.
  • Review all image sizes to prevent oversized images that can impact page load times and ensure proper heading tag usage. Utilize a post-migration Screaming Frog crawl to easily check these elements, as it is an essential tool for site migration.

Tips for transitioning to a new web host

Conduct a Thorough Site Crawl: Before migrating, thoroughly crawl your existing site to detect any indexing or technical SEO issues that need addressing.

Maintain URL Structure: Whenever possible, avoid changing URL structures, as doing so can confuse search engines and compromise link equity.

Implement 301 Redirects: Utilize 301 Redirects to inform search engines that your old content now resides at new addresses. This preserves link equity and prevents 404 errors for users and search engine crawlers alike.

Optimize Performance: Ensure your new host offers fast and reliable performance, as site speed significantly impacts user experience.

Perform a Final Walkthrough: Before the actual migration, visually review your new site, including the homepage, landing pages, and popular search hits. Check checkout/cart flows, comment/review sections, images, and outbound links.

Configure SSL Certificate: Don't overlook SSL certificate setup during hosting migrations. Ensure that your new host supports and correctly implements your existing SSL certificate or provides a new one without errors, as SSL/TLS not only secures your site but also affects SEO.

Benchmark Server Response Times: After migration, benchmark server response times regionally or globally, especially for international audiences. Discrepancies in performance across regions can impact page load times, influencing bounce rates and search rankings.

Managing legacy image URLs post-site migration

During a site migration, handling old image URLs is crucial to maintain the integrity of your website's content and ensure a smooth user experience. Here are some steps you can take with old image URLs:

  • Redirects: Set up 301 redirects from the old image URLs to their corresponding new URLs. This ensures that visitors who try to access the old images are automatically redirected to the new location without encountering errors.
  • Update Internal Links: Review your website's content and update any internal links that point to the old image URLs. Replace them with the new URLs to ensure that all references to images on your site are accurate.
  • Update Sitemaps: If you have XML sitemaps for your website, make sure to update them with the new image URLs. This helps search engines discover and index the new images correctly.
  • Update CDN or Caching: If you use a content delivery network (CDN) or caching mechanisms, ensure that they are updated to reflect the changes in image URLs. This helps in serving the latest images to users efficiently.
  • Monitor for Errors: Keep an eye on your website's analytics and error logs to identify any issues related to image URLs after the migration. Address any errors promptly to maintain the quality of your website.

Various methods for website migration

Website migrations can be challenging and require careful handling. I've experienced various types of migrations personally and have assisted clients with their own. Currently, I'm in the process of relocating thousands of webpages from a folder to the root, which is complicated by the need to reconfigure multiple redirects. While I'm not particularly looking forward to this task, migrations are sometimes inevitable, and it's essential to approach them with caution and careful consideration.


During which stage of a migration should you benchmark site performance metrics?

You should benchmark site performance metrics during the planning stage of a migration. This allows you to establish a baseline performance level for your current site, which can then be used to evaluate the performance of the new site after migration. By benchmarking performance metrics beforehand, you can identify any performance issues early on and make necessary adjustments to ensure optimal performance post-migration.

How to update page urls after site migration?

Updating page URLs after a site migration is crucial to maintain the SEO performance and user experience of your website. Here's a step-by-step guide on how to update page URLs:

Create a URL Mapping Document: Before making any changes, create a document that maps old URLs to their new equivalents. This document will serve as a reference during the updating process.

301 Redirects: Implement 301 redirects from the old URLs to the corresponding new URLs. This tells search engines and browsers that the page has permanently moved to a new location. You can set up redirects using server configuration files (e.g., .htaccess for Apache servers) or through your CMS (Content Management System) if it provides a redirection feature.

Update Internal Links: Review your website's content and update any internal links that point to the old URLs. Replace them with the new URLs to ensure that all references to pages on your site are accurate.

Update External Links: If your website has inbound links from external sources (other websites), reach out to the webmasters of those sites and request them to update the links to the new URLs. While you can't directly control external links, notifying other site owners can help maintain the integrity of your website's backlink profile.

Update XML Sitemaps: If you have XML sitemaps for your website, update them to include the new URLs. This helps search engines discover and index the updated pages correctly.

Update Social Media Links: If you've shared your website's URLs on social media platforms, update any posts or profiles with the new URLs to ensure consistency across all channels.

Monitor for Errors: After updating the URLs, monitor your website's analytics and error logs to identify any issues related to URL changes. Address any errors promptly to maintain the SEO performance and user experience of your website.

Does site migration affect SEO?

Yes, site migration can significantly affect SEO. When you migrate a website, several factors come into play that can impact search engine rankings and visibility. Changes in URL structure, potential loss of link equity, indexing issues, alterations in content, impacts on page load speed, and changes to structured data and markup are among the key areas affected. It's essential to carefully plan and execute a site migration while considering these factors to minimize negative impacts on SEO and maintain or improve your website's search engine rankings.