The term “website migration” is a phrase that can put many SEOs in a cold sweat. Keeping those well earnt positions in SERPs and organic search traffic is a priority and a website migration has the potential to rock the boat when moving to a new domain.

But, it doesn’t have to be this way.

Below we have outlined some tips on how to make a website migration as smooth as possible.

smooth

Fail to Prepare, Prepare to Fail

Preparation work is an absolute must and is the key to ensuring the website migration goes smoothly. This includes really basic stuff, like agreeing a migration date and ensuring that this isn’t on a Friday … unless you have nothing planned over your weekend! Secondly you need to ensure that you have the correct access to domain registrars, Plesk/cPanel if appropriate, FTP and other components. For this task we will need both the new domain and old domain verified within Google Search Console also.

Export Your Meta Data

To keep all those nicely optimised page titles and meta descriptions, you can do a simple export of both from the current website. Screaming Frog is a great tool for completing this task, simply crawl your current website, set the internal filter to HTML and then hit export. You’ll then get a CSV file filled with page URLs, status codes, page titles, meta descriptions, H1 tags and so on. You can then simply clear out the columns you don’t need and keep the current URL, page titles and meta descriptions column, then insert a new column for the new website URLs and start mapping your meta data to the correct new page.

Uploading Your Meta Data

Now that you have clearly mapped out which pages your page titles and meta descriptions need to be included on, you can start to upload your meta to the development site. Yoast SEO has a handy bulk meta tool which allows you to upload page titles and meta descriptions for posts and pages all at once instead of clicking in to each page or post manually. This can be found under the tools menu of the plugin, titled bulk editor. Simply copy and paste the page title and meta description in the new appropriate fields and hit save all.

Redirects

To keep those visitors coming and link juice flowing to the new domain, we need to ensure that the correct redirects are in place and this is dependent on what the new URL structure is. If the URL structure on the new domain is the same then using the below code will ensure that clicks to the old URL are then dynamically matched to the same URL on the new domain without having to manually map each one. Below are example redirect scenarios when using Apache.

 

RewriteEngine on

RewriteCond %{HTTP_HOST} !^www\.newdomain\.co.uk

RewriteRule (.*) http://www.newdomain.co.uk/$1 [R=301,L]

 

This code needs to be added to the htaccess file on the old domain once the new website is live.

If however the URL structure is different, you will need to manually map the redirects to each page from the old domain to the new one like the below example:

 

Redirect 301 /old-page/ https://shinynewdomain.com/subfolder/old-page/

Redirect 301 /another-old-page/ https://shinynewdomain.com/this-is-another-old-page/

 

Again these individual redirects must be placed in the htacess file on the old domain once the new website is live. By completing the above meta data mapping task, you can then easily assemble the redirects from the old URLs and new URLs from there.

Check and Check Again

Make sure you are happy with the new website from an SEO perspective, ensure that the page titles and meta descriptions are for the correct new pages, H1 tags are optimised and only 1 present per page, check that images aren’t too large and slow down page loading times. Check that contact forms are working as intended and recipients can receive the enquiries submitted through them. Check everything … and then check again.

Go Live

Buckle up, it’s time to migrate! It’s time to put the new website live and complete the following go live tasks.

Carole Go Live

1. Remove noindex tag from the new site

Allow your new site to be indexed by removing the noindex tag for the domain. If it’s a WordPress site this is as simple as logging in to your new website and unticking “discourage search engines from indexing this site”.

2. Upload .htaccess file with redirects to the old domain

Upload your .htaccess file to the old domain and test old URLs to ensure they redirect to your new website. Remember you must keep the old domain hosted.

3. Tell Google Your Domain has Changed

Using Google Search Console, you can inform Google that your domain name has changed. Simply go in to the property for the old domain name in Search Console, click settings and then click through to change of address.Then select the new domain from the list of verified search console properties and hit validate & update. This would also be the perfect time to upload your new sitemap to the new Search Console property.

4. Add Google Tag Manager, Analytics and other Tracking

Don’t forget to add Tag Manager back on to the website with the new domain updated in the container as well as amending the property of the website in Google Analytics. By using the same Google Analytics property you can keep and compare previous website data against your new one. It is also handy to add an annotation to Google Analytics of when the migration happened for future reference.

5. Setup and Test Conversion Tracking

To ensure that you can still efficiently track conversions, now is the perfect time to amend any conversion tracking you have in place to work with the new website. Also don’t forget to test and ensure that it is working correctly by using Google Analytics real-time functionality.

Now That Wasn’t so Hard Was it?

Congratulations, if you have followed the above correctly you have migrated your website to a new domain following best practices. Time to grab a beer or your beverage of choice. Keep an eye on your rankings, during this time they will fluctuate and then settle once the new website has been fully crawled. Again, that wasn’t so hard was it?

Mitchell Thomas

Mitchell is an SEO guru, always finding new and exciting ways to increase clients' search engine visibility and bring in quality leads for them through organic search. Having worked in SEO for nearly a decade, he's worked with clients from a whole host of markets, including fashion, finance and gardening, and loves to impart his wisdom on the team too. When he's not creating solid strategies, you'll find him out on the town with friends, or walking Fred - his French Bulldog.