April 25, 2024

12-Step Website Migration SEO Checklist

Site migrations are complicated as they involve multiple stakeholders and there are a lot of things that could go wrong. Don't worry though, our team has put together this guide based on our collective experience with different kinds of websites. By the end of this article, you'll be armed with the knowledge to make site migration as painless as possible. Let's go!

Define the reasons for site migration

Migration is a huge commitment that can adversely affect your website traffic if not done right. Before doing anything, ask yourself "Is site migration worth it?"

Moving from HTTP to HTTPS or adopting a new content management system are valid reasons that will benefit your website in the long run. But if you just want to change your domain or URLs just for aesthetics, then you're risking a lot for minimal gains.

Specify the roles of every stakeholder

Managing the site migration project via email and Slack is a recipe for disaster. You'll have to do lots of backreading to remember who said what and the points that were agreed upon.

It's best to create a roadmap with a clear scope of work, the role of everyone involved, and deadlines. Next, track the progress of each subtask using Jira, Trello, Asana, or other similar Kanban boards. Clear communication is key to a successful site migration; tools like these will keep everyone on the same page.

Prevent search engines from accessing the test or staging site

Next on the site migration checklist is blocking Googlebot and other bots from indexing your test site to prevent them from displaying your shiny new pages in search results. You don't want your audience to sneak a peek, do you?

Another reason for blocking bots is to comply with Google's best practices. The content in your staging environment is considered duplicate content, which is frowned upon by Google.

You can either password-protect your website, use a robots.txt file, or utilize the noindex attribute to block search engine bots from indexing your staging site.

Stop publishing content

Don't publish anything or revise old content before you start the site migration project. It reduces the risk of forgetting to transfer fresh content to the new website.

Map the URLs of existing pages

If URLs will be different on the new website, you must list the location of all existing pages before moving anything. This will help you redirect pages to their new URLs and update links on your website, social media, and email campaigns.

Make a backup

You'll need to restore your old website in case something goes wrong. Following this SEO migration checklist will reduce the chances of failing but it's still a good idea to back up your old site just to be safe.

Give your audience a heads-up

Announce on social media, email list, and your homepage that your website will undergo a dramatic change and its date to prepare your audience.

website migration announcement for site visitors

An uninformed user who lands on your new website might close the browser immediately, thinking they're being phished or clicked the wrong link. Broadcasting ahead of time will mitigate confusion, lessen the bounce rate, and ensure site migration success.

Add analytics to your new website

To continue tracking website performance, place your existing analytics tracking codes and Google Tag Manager snippet (if you use one) in your staging website before it goes into production. While you're at it, double-check your events and conversions tracking if they are correctly triggered on the new site.

set up traffic and conversions tracking

Conduct a pre-site migration SEO audit

Thoroughly test the new website in the staging environment to identify design flaws and technical issues that can ruin user experience or obstruct search engines from indexing the new website when it goes live. 

Use our SEO audit template to inspect core web vitals, site speed, content, UX, and other technical aspects of your new website. If the new pages aren't fully optimized, apply the tips mentioned in our guide about optimizing a landing page for SEO.

If the old URLs were retained, be sure to check if canonical tags, internal links, hreflang URLs, and site structure are the same as before. The default CMS settings could be different from your legacy website so double-check if title tags and meta descriptions are correct.

If URLs are different in the new site, update all the internal links (pages, hreflang, images, and PDFs) using the new URL format. You also need to permanently redirect (301) legacy pages to their corresponding new URLs. Forgetting to redirect URLs is a common mistake in website migrations but it has major repercussions such as tons of broken links, loss of organic traffic, and poor search engine rankings. Don't. Forget. To. Do. This.

Migrate your website

Once all the problems found in the pre-migration audit are fixed, commence the actual website migration process. It's best to start the process at a time when it's least busy or when there's low site traffic to minimize disruption.

Perform a post-migration SEO audit

After the successful website migration, use the SEO audit template again to catch any bugs or errors you may have missed.

For new domain migration, use the Change of Address tool in Google Search Console to tell Google that the old website was moved to another URL. This is also a good time to set up a new GSC property for your new domain and submit a new XML sitemap.

Change of Address tool in Google Search Console

Lastly, check the source code if the schema/structured data and analytics tracking codes are in place. You should also try page actions like file downloads, account registration, store purchase, or any applicable conversion actions to see if events and conversion signals are emitted to Google Analytics.

Unblock search engine bots

Allow search engine bots to access and index your new pages once all the problems have been sorted out. You can also nudge Googlebot to visit up to 12 pages instantly by filing an index request on Google Search Console.

And that concludes the website migration checklist and our tips. Be sure to follow them to the letter for a smooth site migration process. All that's left is for you to monitor the performance and keyword rankings of your migrated site.

Sergei Ivanov

Sergei Ivanov

Co-Founder and CEO of Serphead

Sergei has more than a decade of experience blending data-driven insights with SEO strategies to enhance online visibility and user engagement. He has been providing practical guidance for businesses and individuals navigating the digital landscape since 2012.