The Complete Checklist for SEO-Successful Site Migration

The Complete Checklist for SEO-Successful Site Migration

Imagine this: You’ve just finished a major redesign of your website. It’s now easier to use and looks much better on mobile. But there’s something very, very wrong. Your new site’s a ghost town. The number of visitors has dropped off to zero. Zilch.

What went wrong? The site migration.

The process of site migration is complicated, but the purpose is simple: redirect visitors from your old web pages to your new ones. If you’re redesigning your website, merging an old site with a new one, switching from HTTP to HTTPS, or even just switching hosting or management providers, your site needs to be migrated with great attention to detail.

How Improper Migration Kills SEO Rankings and Site Tracking

Many things can go wrong during site migration. For example, if you’re switching your website hosting providers, your site will go dead if you don’t take all the right steps with both your old provider and your new one. Or for another example, let’s say you’ve decided to switch content management systems (like from WordPress to Duda). In that case, all the content on your site—text, images, links, etc.—needs to be backed up. Otherwise, an unforeseen migration error can cause the content to disappear and your site rankings to plummet. Yikes.

How This Checklist Helps

This checklist will walk you through all the key steps for pulling off a successful site migration that prioritizes SEO: from planning the move, to setting up your new site in a development space, to SEO testing your site after it’s migrated. Follow along with the infographic for a short and sweet guide through the process. Jump to a more in-depth walk-through here.

The Complete Checklist For SEO-Successful Site Migration

header computers

Planning The Migration

Plan Migration After A Busy Time In Your Business

Expect A Temporary Dip In Traffic & Rankings

computer folders

Before Migration

Set Backups & Benchmarks

  • Back up original site
  • Benchmark site analytics
    • Traffic & user engagement
    • Keyword rankings
    • Semrush (backlinks)

Crawl Old Site

  • Create crawl list of site
  • Export URLs from Google Analytics
  • Add URLs in Sitemap.xml
  • Add Semrush (backlinks)
  • Find and eliminate redirect chains
site crawler

Set Up New Site

site construction
  • Create your new site in a development space
  • Create and test “redirects” that send users to your new site
  • Check your internal links
  • Check canonical tags
  • Move analytics tracking codes

Test Crawl New Site

Ask Yourself:

  • Are there problems with page loading or navigation?
  • Is the site’s metadata and alt-text information correct and complete?
  • Are all of the pages actually there? Or can you find a “not found” 404 error?
404 computer
  • What about orphaned pages that aren’t linked to the other pages?
orphaned page

After The Migration

Look For Issues

  • Remove noindex and nofollow tags from your new pages at launch
  • Check for duplicate content issues
duplicate pages

Update Sitemap & Links

  • Create a sitemap. A sitemap is an XML file that lists all of a website’s URLs
  • Update social media and business listings
  • Ask other websites to update their links to your site

Crawl Your New Site & Monitor Analytics

  • Crawl your new site
  • Verify that search engines can access your site
  • Monitor analytics for changes
new crawler

Going Forward With SEO

Update Sitemap & Links

  • Once you survive a successful site migration, strengthen the presence of your site with an ongoing SEO strategy
  • car graph
  • Regularly update your site to reflect the constant changes made within the search engines
  • Consistent SEO following a site migration will help preserve and improve rankings and increase site traffic

Jump to…

Planning the Migration

Before Migration

  • Set backups and benchmarks
  • Crawl your old site
  • Set up your new site
  • Test-crawl your new site

After Migration

  • Look for issues
  • Update sitemap and links
  • Crawl your new site
  • Monitor analytics
  • Test on search engines

Going Forward With SEO

Planning the Migration:

The first step to a successful migration is choosing the right time and knowing what to expect.

  1. Don’t flip the switch just before or during a busy time for your business If unforeseen issues pop up during migration, they may take a while to resolve. So as much as you might like your new site up and running for your big sale next week, plan to migrate and launch the site during one of your slower times. This is especially important because even if your migration goes smoothly, it can still take about two months for search engines to properly index your new pages and remove the old ones. Therefore, it’s a good idea to budget at least a few months’ time for the migration process.
  2. Be ready for a temporary dip in traffic and rankings Even when everything goes according to plan, site migration almost always leads to a dip in traffic and rankings. Search engines take time to update their results pages (SERPs), and migrations won’t register immediately after launch. So it’s a good idea to give the migration time to fully take effect before you decide to do anything drastic to “fix” it.

Before Migration

Before your site’s migration, you’ll need to gather up all the data on your old site, back it up, and set up your new site in a development space. Before launching the migration, you’ll also want to check your new site for SEO issues.

Perform Backups and Set Benchmarks

Before working on your new site, back up your old one. You should also record your analytics data on your old site’s traffic and rankings.

  1. Backup your original site Give yourself a safety net by creating a complete backup of your site and databases. If you have old site redirects, include those in the backup too. Backup your original site
  2. Benchmark your site analytics Record your old site’s performance so you have a baseline against which to measure your new site’s performance. Here are some of the key performance indicators you’ll want to record before making the jump. Benchmark your site analytics
    1. Traffic and user engagement: You’ll want to know how many people are visiting your old site and their associated traffic source (i.e., how they got there), along with how they’re interacting with the content on it. Google Analytics will give you this information as well as a lot of other insight into your site’s users.
    2. Keyword rankings: It’s important to know how your old site ranks for each of the keywords associated with it. For example, if your site is associated with the keyword “hot air balloon rides near me,” you’ll want to know where the site appears in the search engine results page for that phrase. There are many online tools out there for determining your keyword rankings.
    3. Backlinks: Since your website’s ranking partly depends on how it links to other websites, you’ll want to take stock of those links. Backlinks, or links to your site posted on other websites, are especially important. Our team primarily relies on Semrush, but there are other tools available.

Crawl Your Old Site

In order to migrate your site successfully, the first step is to crawl the site and create a list of URLs the crawler found. Screaming Frog is a free resource for users looking to crawl their site, but there are other resources that can perform the same task. To make the migration process easier, take advantage of the site crawl as an opportunity to create an easy-to-use file of metadata that you can reference when needed.

The data that you’re crawling for are your site’s URLs. Without those URLs, it’s impossible to redirect traffic from your old pages to your new ones. In order to make sure that you’ve collected all URLs and checked for errors, follow this process:

  1. Compile the URLs identified by the crawler There are several resources users can leverage to execute this task. Our team uses Site Bulb, but tools like Semrush and others can work well too. The objective here is to create a list of URLs identified by the crawler.
  2. Export URLs From Analytics Sometimes analytics platforms will record live pages that crawling tools miss. By exporting all the URLs from Analytics and adding them to your URL list, you’ll create a more comprehensive record of your site.
  3. Add URLs in Sitemap.xml A sitemap is an XML file that lists all of a website’s URLs in its system. Typically, sitemaps are created by the site’s CMS. You’ll want to export these URLs into your URL list as well.
  4. Add Semrush (Backlinks) As already mentioned, Semrush tells you which of your pages are being linked to from other sites on the web. Since you want to preserve those links (and the rankings that go along with them), be sure to add all of your Semrush pages to your URL list.

Set Up Your New Site

  1. Create your new site in a development space. Since you’ll want to keep your old site up and running until your new one is ready for launch, build the new site in a development space and work out any issues that come up along the way. Make sure the development site is hidden from search engines with a “noindex” tag while you’re working out the kinks.
  2. Create and test “redirects” that send users to your new site. ”Redirects” send users and search engines looking for your old site to your new one. You should implement these redirects on your new site–while it’s still in the development space you’ve chosen–and test for errors. Those errors might be “not found” 404s or long chains of redirects that will slow your site down and harm its ranking.
  3. Check your internal links. Internal links are the links that connect your web pages together. Make sure that all your internal links are pointing to the correct place. Ideally, your links will go straight to the location on your new site rather than rely on redirects.
  4. Check canonical tags. Canonical tags tell search engines which version of a URL you’d like to show up in search results. You’ll need to update these tags on your website to make sure that search engines display the URLs of your new site. It’s a good idea to include canonical tags on all your pages in order to avoid certain duplication issues that sometimes come up during migration.
  5. Move analytics tracking codes. Don’t forget to move your tracking codes from your old site to your new one.

Test-Crawl Your New Site

Make a preliminary crawl of your new site in the development space. Crawl through your new site for any potential SEO issues beyond canonical tags and redirects. You’ll want to consider questions such as:

  • Are there problems with page loading or navigation?
  • Is the site’s metadata and alt-text information correct and complete?
  • Are all the pages actually there? Have any “not found” 404 errors turned up?
  • Can you find any duplicate content or pages?
  • What about orphaned pages that aren’t internally linked?

Resolving questions like these will help prevent your site from taking a serious SEO hit during migration. But the work doesn’t quite stop there. Once you’ve actually flipped the switch on migration, you’ll want to make sure that it all went according to plan.

After Migration

After your site’s migration, you’ll want to look specifically for a few major issues, update your sitemap.xml, and update all the important backlinks to it. Then you’ll need to make one final, more exhaustive search for issues before beginning to monitor the site’s SEO performance.

Look for Issues

There are a couple of major issues you’ll want to look for first: duplication errors and noindex/nofollow tags that cause search engines to ignore your pages.

  1. Remove noindex and nofollow tags from your new pages at launch. Noindex tags are one of the worst possible causes of SEO failure. A noindex tag tells search engines to completely ignore a webpage in the search results. So of course you’ll want to make sure that there aren’t any unwanted noindex tags on your newly launched site. To do that, you must find and cut this string from your web pages’ code:

    <meta name=“robots” content=“noindex”>

    In that file, you will then find and cut this string:

    User-agent: *
    Disallow: /

    In addition to noindex tags, you’ll also want to be on the lookout for unwanted nofollow tags. Nofollow tags are added to weblinks to prevent search engines from following links. While it’s typical to include nofollow tags on links to external sites (like Facebook or Twitter, for example), you don’t want to include nofollows on your own internal links. Otherwise, search engines’ web crawlers won’t be able to discover and index your pages. Make sure none of the code for your links contains the command:


    Carefully checking both your noindex and nofollow tags is one of the easiest, most effective ways to make your site migration an SEO success.

  2. Check for duplicate content issues. Be on the lookout for any duplication issues that arose during migration. These issues are usually the result of missing redirects and the creation of multiple versions of a URL (like an “https” and “http” version, paginated pages, or query string–based URLs).

Update Sitemap and Links

You’ll want to map out your new site and make sure that it’s properly linked to your social media accounts, business listings, and other websites.

  1. Create a sitemap. A sitemap is an XML file that lists all of a website’s URLs. A detailed sitemap (one that includes information about how important the URL is, how often it’s updated, etc.) will allow search engines to crawl your site more effectively.
  2. Update social media and business listings. Don’t forget to update all the links to your site that appear in your social media accounts and business listings.
  3. Ask other websites to update their links to your site. Reach out to the most authoritative sites that are linked to your old site and ask them to update their links.

Crawl Your New Site and Monitor Analytics

Make one final crawl of your site, verify that search engines can find it, and watch your analytics data to make sure your site’s traffic and rankings are in good shape.

  • Crawl your new site. If any of the issues discussed in this guide came up during your migration, you should be able to find them by crawling the site. In particular, be on the lookout for 404s and faulty redirects.
  • Verify that search engines can access your site. Google’s Search Console offers valuable tools for testing whether your site is accessible to its crawlers. The “Fetch as Google” tool allows you to test how Google crawls a URL on your site. For example, Fetch will tell you whether any of the site’s parts (like images or scripts) need to be unblocked.
  • Monitor Analytics for changes. It’s normal for traffic and rankings to dip temporarily, but if they’ve fallen dramatically and show no signs of improving for several days after migration, then there’s likely a migration issue that needs to be resolved.
Crawl Your New Site and Monitor Analytics

Carrying out a successful site migration that prioritizes SEO isn’t an easy task. Although this guide covered the most serious issues that tend to come up during this process, migration errors can be unpredictable. If you have questions about how to carry out a successful SEO migration, please contact our SEO team at Logical Position.

Going Forward With SEO

Many companies first realize the importance of SEO when they attempt to migrate their site. The worse their site’s rankings, and the more their traffic suffers during migration, the better they grasp the value of SEO.

Don’t think of SEO as something that just needs to be “maintained” during major changes to your website. Because search engines are constantly changing the rules they use to determine site rankings, SEO is something of a moving target. If a website isn’t regularly updated to reflect those changes, then its rankings and traffic can quickly slip. If you want to boost rankings and raise your site traffic, you’ll benefit from a longer-term SEO plan for your business. If you ever find yourself in that position, we’re here to help.

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