#SEO #Migration #Checklist

Published on: Dec30, 2018

Switching to a new website

For majority of businesses presented in the very evolving online environment, at some point of time it comes the moment when they need to start thinking about creating a new website.

Migration to a new technological platform of the existing site/system can be driven by various factors and needs from functionality, usability, performance and design perspectives, or can be even undertaken in response to legal requirements (GDPR compliance which have been making so much noise in Europe in 2018 is the great example here).

As new websites usually come with a new content, a new design and new features directly reflecting what a Company does and where it stands today, such projects gain a lot of excitement within an initiating Company. Key people/business stakeholders gladly get involved in those Projects actively providing requirements and participating in testing and in acceptance. Most of the time new sites/systems are thoroughly tested by competent Teams and resources until they pass all quality standard/acceptance criterions minimising any associated risks.

However, there is one particular risks which doesn’t always get enough attention because it occurs already during the post-migration period, and gets forgotten at times.

And that risk is the loss of the website positions in Search Engines after the migration completes.

There are several reasons why this risk doesn’t get included in the risk register including the lack of knowledge/experience, negligence or poor project management, but the fact is that it happens indeed. However, as the impact of this risk can be extremely high for some organizations (directly affecting the financial performance), it’s required to be properly assessed and minimised.

Impact analysis

We know that the probability of drops in Search Engines ranking does always exist. However, how would it affect us if it actually happens? How much do we have to lose?

That mainly depends on the existing SE traffic which should be reviewed in the first place prior to the actual migration. There are plenty of tools to do so, but the Google Analytics is one of the most popular tools in the world today.

In general, if your Company does not use any instruments to analyse your traffic, users and the site’s performance, then it’s a big red flag to review your online presence strategy to ensure you don’t miss out on fundamentals.

In simple terms, creating the traffic report over the course of a few latest months would give you the needed data to work of, i.e. if the portion of the organic Search Engines traffic is high and significant for your business in general, then the impact of losing the positions in Search Engines is high, and the risk should be properly mitigated.

Alternatively, if the portion of the Search Engines traffics isn’t significant, then we can conclude the impact is low and deffer the risk.

In case of doubts an additional data gathering and analysis should be used to analyse not only the trafficitself but also the positions of your site in the Search Engines by keywords related to your Company/business as well as actual conversions of this traffic into your website’s goals. However, in most cases producing a simple breakdown of the site’s traffic is sufficient for understanding the general picture and the potential impact.

So what should be done?

The risk mitigation can be achieved by following the common industry SEO practices. Here we captured what we think are the main action points and wrapped them into the checklist presented below.



1Pre-migrationBenchmarkingNote your current site’s page loading times and top keyword rankings across desktop and mobile for performance comparison after the actual migration. Tools:
Google Webmasters
PageSpeed Insights
Google Analytics
2Pre-migrationPre Production site isolationMake sure the new site isn’t accessible by Search Engines during the pre-migration period (when it’s already available for testing). That is to prevent marking the content of your site as “duplicate” by SE (otherwise, it will seriously impact your rankings in a negative way).
3Pre-migrationServer/hosting performance evaluationTest the new server/hosting performance (ping, content serving speed, network etc.) to ensure it’s not worse than the existing one. Seeing better figures for the new hardware/hosting would even be advisable.
4Pre-migrationServer/hosting performance locationPlace the new website on a server/hosting geographically located in the same area where your target customers are - Search Engines take this factor into account.
5Pre-migrationhttps enablingThe new site should be configured to serve the content via https, as it’s gradually turned into the industry's best practice.
6Pre-migration.htaccess redirects Review .htaccess redirects of the existing site and ensure all important redirects are transferred to the new site.

Specifically, pay attention at:
- www vs. non-www requests (use only one version of URLs which is already considered by SEs as your main site)
- trailing slashes (use only one version of URLs which is already considered by SEs as a main site)
- lowercase vs. uppercase URLs (all uppercase requests in the new site should be 301 redirected to their lowercase versions)
7Pre-migrationURLs structureThe URLS structure of the new site should completely (or as much as possible) repeat the structure of the current site.
8Pre-migrationGeneral contentThe public content (text/images) should as much as possible repeat the content of the current site.
9Pre-migrationImportant tags<title>,<meta> description,<h1>,<h2>,<h3> tags for all public pages to be kept as they are if possible.
10Pre-migration404 errors handlingThe new website should handle the 404 errors gracefully by serving a a custom 404 page.
11Pre-migrationXML sitemaps fileEnsure the new site’s has the XML sitemaps file and that it includes all indexable URLs.
12Pre-migrationhtml sitemap Ensure the new site has the HTML sitemap as well.
13Pre-migrationrobots.txt Ensure the new site has the robots.txt file.Could be copied from the current legacy site.
14Pre-migrationMobile siteEnsure that the new website has a mobile version.
15Post-migrationLegacy site take downShutdown the legacy site/content immediately once the new one gets online (they cannot be both available for public/Search Engines at the same time). Or block it out from access by SE crawlers. That is to prevent marking the content as “duplicate” by SE.
16Post-migrationNon-existing pages handlingAll URLs from the old site that are not created in the structure of the new site (for a valid reason) should be handled by creating 301 redirects to alternative pages.
17Post-migrationMonitoringMonitor the performance of the new site after the migration and address any issues detected via:
Google Webmasters
PageSpeed Insights
Google Analytics

If for any reason it’s difficult to execute the content related actions (step #8 and step #9) against the entire new site, then they at least should be conducted for the top 25 URLs generating most SE traffic with your legacy site (can be checked via Google Analytics).

Including the given items into your migration plan should help make the migration safer from the SEO point of view.



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