5 Quick Tips: Website Migration Checklist

Website Migration Checklist

On the October 20th episode of Webcology my co-host Jim Hedger and I had the pleasure of interviewing David Vogelpohl – Founder and CEO of WPengine. While David is a wealth of information on a variety of subjects it was after attending a webinar with him and Raven’s John Henshaw that I knew I needed to invite him on the show. In the webinar he discussed his website migration checklist.  While there were 11 areas he covered there were 5 that really stood out as critical to me from an SEO standpoint.  So let’s get to our 5-point website migration checklist.

#1 – Hide Your Site Under Development

Hide website to stop bots.

Don’t just use noindex, nofollow.  Password protecting the site location not just stops the prying eyes of others who may stumble on it’s location but also ensures that Googlebot (and other bots for that matter) can’t get to it.  Remember, the noindex, nofollow are simply suggestions.  Blocking the bots from even arriving is the surest way to safeguard yourself from duplicate content and other related issues.  Just don’t forget to remove the password protection when you’re putting it live!

#2 – Keep Your Titles & Descriptions

I love that David included this in his list as I’ve had it as one of my strategies for years.  When you’re migrating to a new site there’s a LOT changing.  With all this change it can be very difficult to determine if something is going right or wrong and eliminating variables from the equation can be extremely helpful.  This isn’t to say that you won’t end up changing your titles and descriptions shortly after the migration but leaving them in place for a few weeks while the initial impact of the new site is felt will help you rule out possible areas of the ups-or-downs that the site may take in the rankings helping to address issues and understand what worked.

#3 – Keep Your URL Structure

Tip #3 in our website migration checklist it to keep your URL structure the same if at all possible.  Even when switching from one CMS to another it’s often possible to create a system to maintain your URL structure.  Doing so helps ensure that links don’t break and users end up where they need to be regardless of how they got there.  It also helps make sure that PageRank flowing to your site or around your site does not get interfered with.  While Google’s John Mueller announced that there’s no PageRank lost in a redirection there’s always room for change or error.  If the URL’s stay the same there is no such chance eliminating a variable from concern either now or in the future.

#4 – Setup Redirects For Pages That Change URLs …

And even those that don’t.  When going through the task of migrating to a new site it makes good sense to do a little housekeeping while you’re at it.  Virtually every site has broken links either internally or links pointing to it that are lading on 404 pages.  Take this opportunity to correct them.

To find your internal links I personally recommend Xenu Link Sleuth.  It’s free and easy to use and basically crawls your site looking for broken links and provides and easy-to-use report on where they are.  To find the links pointing to your site landing on 404 pages you simply need to visit your Search Console.  If you’re not confident the Search Console is catching them all you can use a tool like ahrefs or Majestic to find links pointing to your site that die on their way there.  Redirect those to your new site URLs while you’re handling the URLs you may need to redirect from the migration itself.

If you have a large site the idea of redirecting each page may seem onerous (and would be).  Assuming you can make single rules that apply to a whole section of content (for example – if you’re simply removing a .php extension on all pages and replacing it with a /) then you need to prioritize.  I tend to prioritize pages with links pointing to them as critical which you can get from the Search Console or tools noted above and I tend to look at any page that has traffic coming to it over a preset volume as important.  That is, if a page doesn’t have links but is a landing page for more than a threshold number of visitors per month I tend to setup redirect for it.  The difference between the two groupings is that pages with links need to be redirected indefinitely whereas pages with traffic that will likely disappear after the new URLs are indexed can be temporarily redirected with the redirections removed once the traffic starts flowing to the right location.  If you’re curious in tracking it you can add a simple bit of code at the end of the target URL.  Rather than redirecting simply to https://www.domain.com/newurl/ you’d send it to https://www.domain.com/newurl/?target=redirect (or something similar).  This will give you something to look for in the analytics to determine is traffic is still coming to the old URL.  When you stop seeing target=redirect in the content URLs you’ll know the redirect is no longer necessary.

#5 – Audit Your Site Pre-Launch

Audit website.

We talked about housekeeping earlier and now’s a good time to touch on it again.  Take this opportunity to fully audit your site (or hire someone not as close to it as you are to do it).  If you can’t afford all the great tools available on a regular basis now’s the time to sign up for all those 30-day trials and tear things apart, pull all the data you can and make sure that you’re dotting all your I’s and crossing all your T’s.  Sure it might take a bit longer to launch or maybe you’re impatient and you’re doing the full audit after it already has (sometimes even an imperfect new site is better than the old) but it’s best to get this job done before time passes and new problems are added or simply the luster is off and you’ve moved on to other tasks and leave the site to languish in imperfection where just another day-or-two of work could have made it what you really wanted.

In the webinar you’ll see linked below you’ll find these and a few more tips and tricks.  There’s also a great checklist over on the SEERinteractive website done by Lindsay Mineo with a downloadable and printable version to keep on your desk to reference through the process.  You’ll find it here.

And now, the webinar.  It begins with Jon Henshaw with some SEO tactics and the last half is David Vogelpohl’s checklist.  I recommend both. You’ll find it at http://hs.wpengine.com/on-page-seo-tips-tricks-webinar.