Mover’s Guide To Getting Ready For Website Migration

I’ve never met a person that loves moving. Sure, we like the end result and the enjoyment that comes with our new surroundings (most of the time), but everything leading up to that is about as enjoyable as the neighbor with the bad taste in music that you’re so desperate to move away from.

Website migration is no different. We relish the glory and satisfaction of the end result, but the process to reach that finish line is often fraught with challenges, a few hundred expletives and long nights troubleshooting what went wrong.

There’s a lot of moving parts and decisions that have to be made along the way. If you aren’t prepared for these obstacles, headaches are going to be an absolute guarantee of your website migration process.

This guide will help prepare website owners for the website migration process and how to develop an unbeatable plan that minimizes the number of complex issues that commonly occur during a big site update.

What Is Website Migration?

Website migration, as a term, is not limited to just describing when you move the location of your website.

It is really used to describe any serious change to how your website is setup, optimized or supported. These are not simple site updates but major overhauls. You may not be “moving” your site, but it will feel like a new place.

Is It Necessary To Migrate My Website?

Website migration is a big undertaking that shouldn’t be taken lightly or performed frivilessly. There’s plenty of horror stories about seemingly-simple migrations that ended up being anything but.

You should have a really good reason to begin this process and, if you don’t, then it is likely smarter to hold off until you have a real cause to do so. That said, planning and time are two very important factors to website migration. While you may not need to make a major update now, it could be a different story in a few months.

Let’s explore some of the common reasons that web owners migrate their sites. By recognizing these common sources of website migration, we can better plan on when our site will need to be migrated. This will give more time to plan and prepare.

New Site Structure/Design:

Web development is far from a stagnant industry. As time moves on, sites become outdated, in terms of their structure, design elements, etc. Older sites produce a poor customer experience and hurt conversions because people don’t want to interact with a site that feels clunky and dated.

Ever so often, it is necessary to give your site a facelift and counteract these negative influences. But, if you haven’t updated your site in awhile, and it is still performing to expectation, don’t use this as a justification to migrate your site. It may not be necessary yet!

Adopting A New Framework Or Content Management System:

In the same light as updating the appearance of your site, there will also come a time that updating an outdated platform or site technologies becomes vital. Otherwise, you could be producing a poor experience that is disruptive to your visitors.

Before you invest the time and money into a new technology platform for your site, first consider if there is any way that you can work with the current system and scale it to meet the latest needs of your site. If you can avoid having to move to a new framework, you’ll save yourself a lot of valuable resources.

Going Mobile:

Mobile has really turned web traffic on its head. Many sites feel the pressure from the mobile-first index change and the sheer volume of mobile searches. This is pushing some sites towards creating a mobile-specific version that provides an optimal experience to mobile users.

Mobile is unavoidably important. You need a site that works for mobile users. When it comes to website migration, however, there may be ways around making a major site change.

Look at your traffic and see how many people are connecting to your site from their mobile devices. And, explore the pages on a mobile device yourself. If it functions adequately already, you may not need an entirely mobile version.

Look at your traffic and see how many people are connecting to your site from their mobile devices. And, explore the pages on a mobile device yourself. If it functions adequately already, you may not need an entirely mobile version.

Moving Servers:

Server performance can certainly impact your website in big ways. Slow servers cause sluggish site pages that can cause audiences to click away from your website all together. Today’s Internet users simply aren’t interested in waiting for a page to load.

Alternatively, you may be changing servers because the relationship with your hosting service has deteriorated. If this is the case, be sure to shop around for the right host. You don’t want to end up with even worse conditions after the migration.

New Domain Name:

Perhaps your website has rebranded itself, or you’ve finally been able to get your hands on the domain name you wanted from the very beginning.

Changing your domain name, in any scenario, is a big step and can be very damaging, if the migration goes poorly. It should not be taken lightly.

I Need To Migrate My Website, What’s The First Step?

If you’ve reached the conclusion that a website migration is necessary, then you’re about to embark on a journey that will more than likely be tedious and stressful. No migration project is the same and issues are not a matter of if, but when.

Before you begin, there’s some immediate, first steps to take. Again, the more time and planning you can commit to the project, the safer and less tedious the process will inevitably be. Without planning, you won’t have contingencies in place for when things don’t go as you expected.

There are three parts to a successful website migration plan:

  1. Objectives: We’ve already touched on the reasons behind why website migration occurs. It is good to stick with a solitary goal. When sites undergo migrations for multiple reasons at once, (for example, you want to change domains, update your CMS and change the site design), the potential for problems grows exponentially. Pick one objective and focus your migration. After it is a success, then you can undergo the process again to complete the other objectives.
  2. Timeline: You should have a clear idea of how long the migration will take and when you’d like to complete each stage of the process. Naturally, you want this timeline to have some flexibility to it. Otherwise, one delay will ruin all of your planning. The solution is to give your teams ample time to complete each item on the checklist.
  3. Team: Your team should consist of multiple people: webmaster, engineers, SEO professionals, user experience people, content creators, analysts, the works. If certain departments have website assets specific to their part of the business, they also need to be a part of the migration. You may even need to hire some outside help!

Performing this initial planning will give you a much clearer idea of what to expect from the process. When complications arise, you’ll have a much clearer state of mind because you’ll have planned for these problems and have the solutions and team members in place to correct them promptly.

I’ve Created A Website Migration Plan, Now What?

With your plan laid out, you’re almost ready to begin packing up the boxes of your website and preparing for the “big move.” There’s a few final preparations you need to make before you’re loading that moving truck and setting off for your new, updated website.

Benchmark Your Current Site:

In order to measure the success of your new site, and ensure that there are no glaring drops in performance metrics, it’s a smart strategy to take a snapshot of your site’s current analytics. This snapshot will act as a benchmark reference.

You’ll want to audit your site, its content and check your search rankings for various keywords. This data will allow you to see where any dips in performance have occurred, which will then simplify the process to fix those issues.

Copy Your Existing Site:

You need a test site for your changes. This will allow you to compare your new site to the old and make additional adjustments as necessary. You can put the test site on a separate domain or a subdomain of your site.

Disallow Indexing To Your New Site:

Until your new site is ready, you don’t want it appearing in SERPs or being indexed. You’ll want to include directions in the robots.txt file of the new site that prevent Google from “seeing” the new site. Just remember to remove this from when you’re ready to launch the new pages.

In your robots.txt file, include the following script:

User-agent: Googlebot

Disallow: /


With these final preparations made, you’re ready for the big move. While problems are bound to occur, no matter what type of migration you’re undergoing, the steps included in this guide will soften their impact on the process. And, you’ll be more likely to come out the other side of the move with website performance, rankings and other key metrics intact.

Stay tuned for a future discussion where we’ll take a look at some of the post-migration woes that can occur and how to identify and resolve them.

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