Thinking of changing your domain name or merging multiple websites into one?
A well-executed site migration could lessen the impact of rankings, traffic and conversions fluctuations. A site migration is the process of moving a website from one domain to another with the goal to make search engines, like Google, treat the new site as if it were the original.
What is the best practice for content migration?
During website migration, it is recommended to change as little content as possible at the one time. Once the migration is complete, wait for traffic to stabilise before changing any on-page elements. This way, it is easier to pinpoint the reason for any drops in traffic.
Should you keep control of the old domain?
Yes. The old domain must redirect to the new one. This ensures the domain authority and link equity of the old website is passed on to the new website. Losing the links from the old domain may mean losing your website’s rankings once the migration is complete.
Migrating a website to a new domain often involves a few hiccups and may involve a little downtime, so to be on the safe side, plan your migration during a slow period.
You should also become the verified owner of Google Search Console for all versions (HTTP, HTTPS, www, non-www) of both old and new domains. This is an essential first step in a successful website migration.
Start by taking notes of your current traffic, conversions and rankings, and list the most visited pages (Google Analytics) and the top linked-to pages (Google Search Console or Ahrefs).
Taking note of your current rankings, map keywords and content to each page. Avoid changing content on high traffic pages, ranking pages and linked-to pages until after the migration has been completed and traffic and rankings have stabilised.
If it’s absolutely necessary to remove pages/content or rename URLs, map old URLs to new URLs in preparation for 301 redirects.
A well-thought-out site structure is at the core of SEO as it provides sitelinks and enables better crawling and indexing, which is vital for showing Google which pages are the most important. An easily navigable site also provides a great user experience and keeps visitors on your site longer, both of which are important for SEO. When planning out your new website structure, start by comparing the new site with the old website architecture. Then:
- Crawl the website and make sure you have a complete list of URLs. This ensures all pages are accounted for on the new site. Again, if you need to remove any pages, map old URLs to new URLs for redirection.
- Identify any broken links that need fixing.
- Identify redirecting links that need to be updated to avoid redirect chains.
- Compare new vs old navigation and user experience.
- Make sure all conversion elements are present on the new website. These are:
- Unique selling point (USP)
- Trust signals and social proof
- Calls to action
- Clickable phone numbers
- Images or videos
- Contact forms
- Name, address, telephone number and hours on the footer
Good website design is all about having a great website structure that puts all the pieces together in a logical way that’s appealing to both users and search engines.
Once you’ve migrated to the new site or domain, perform a thorough, in-depth post-migration check. You will need to:
- Make sure all redirects work (site-wide, individual 1:1 redirects, broken links redirects, updated 301 redirects).
- Self-canonicalise all new pages and verify that there are no canonicalisations to the old site.
- Address duplicate content issues that may pop up (i.e. multiple versions of URLs, HTTPS or HTTP, www or non-www, etc.).
- Check for no-index result pages (for sites with a search function).
- Update all internal links.
- QA the website to make sure there are no bugs and all buttons are working.
- Check page speed, mobile friendliness and mobile content visibility.
- Check Google Analytics, Google Search Console and Google Tag Manager access.
- Set up conversion tracking.
- Unblock robots crawling.
- Monitor traffic, conversions and rankings.
You will also need to check that your Google Search Console account is still verified, and:
- Request for ‘Change of Address’ (you must be the verified owner of both old and new domains).
- Submit .xml sitemap.
- Check for mobile usability, URL errors, penalty and indexation issues.
- Request Google to crawl and index the new website.
- Monitor indexed page count.
When migrating a website, following a clear plan is the best way to avoid a loss of rankings and traffic, with the pre-migration and post-migration phases just as important as the actual migration phase. To avoid Google penalties and a substantial loss of your hard-earned rankings and website traffic, consider how search engines will react to the migration and act accordingly.