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First, what is a website migration?

A website migration is usually a term used by SEO professionals / agencies and web developers and describes a scenario in which there are going to be significant changes to a website, such as new URLs, removal of content and more that could have the potential to impact search engine visibility as well as performance.

A significant website update or launch of a new site would warrant a migration.

Google itself doesn’t hold a lot of content or documentation about migrations and the importance of getting together right and does downplay the fact that when migrations are incorrect, (they often are) they can have a huge detrimental impact on the site, resulting in huge and substantial traffic and revenues losses as well as position problems. If a migration isn’t done correctly, it could have the potential to cause chaos for weeks, maybe even months even if the issues are fixed relatively quickly.

Why might I need a website migration?

There are many different types of migration and depending on the changes that are being made on the site will depend on what migration strategy you (and agency) will need to apply.

  • Domain change / rebranding
  • Moving or merging parts of the site
  • HTTP moving to HTTPS / HTTP2
  • Moving to international sites
  • Changing mobile set up (AMP, PWA)
  • Moving to a new platform
  • Upgrading platform version
  • Introducing new platform features
  • Integrating different platforms
  • Adding or removing pages
  • Adding / removing / hiding content
  • Consolidating pages / content
  • Introducing new languages / locales
  • Site hierarchy changes
  • Navigation changes
  • Internal linking changes
  • User journey changes
  • UX-driven changes across devices
  • Look and feel changes
  • Media changes
  • Site performance changes

What do I need to consider?

When it comes to a website migration, there are generally several things that have the potential to cause problems, such as:

  • Poor strategy
  • Late involvement
  • Poor planning
  • Poor testing
  • Lack of SEO/UX consultation
  • Slow response to bug fixing
  • Lack of resources/budget
  • Under-estimating scale
Let’s look at this a little more in depth…

Poor Strategy

If you have a poor strategy in place from the beginning, sadly you are destined to fail. It is important that measurable objectives are considered so that a pre and post migration analysis can be compiled to see how things are looking after the migration has been implemented. It is also worth remembering that rarely do things run on time and there might be delays with design, the migration itself or many other factors – allow for a bit of flexibility within your plan and timescales.

Poor Planning

Consider your market, customer base and whether seasonal trends apply – it wouldn’t make much sense for a busy B2C website to relaunch a site just before Christmas. It would make far more sense to delay and launch in the New Year when there is usually a seasonal dip, or even the summer months.

Lack of Resources

Be mindful of the time and budget that will be required to successfully carry out a migration. If you do not feel like you have the budget for it, a migration is not something that can be cut from the spec list and therefore you would be better advised to consider whether you could wait.
Generally speaking, a buffer of an additional 20% in terms of resource is a good figure to account for. That way you’re prepared for little things that might crop up with no real implication to the project and if everything is delivered on time, you will have the surplus resource available for additional tweaks / edits afterwards.

To put it bluntly, if you start to cut corners for a cheaper alternative, or resources are just too tight it is highly likely that your migration and site will suffer.

Lack of SEO/UX Consultation

When changes are taking place on a website, no matter how big or small, it is imperative that each decision is weighted from a user and SEO point of view. If you were to remove large amount of content with the goal of making the site more user friendly without any thought towards SEO, not only will you be losing content and not handling it correctly, you will also be putting the site at risk for being able to target business critical keywords and phrases, the user journey as well as issues with search engine crawls and indexing. In severe cases, this can negatively impact the sites organic visibility. But it is a double edged sword as by having reams and reams of content could equally impact the user experience and increase the bounce rate – SEO and UX do go hand in hand.

Late involvement

Website migrations take time, and simply can not (and should not) be rushed! Consult with professional migration support, whether that be someone internally, an SEO agency / professional or someone else and have them involved from the beginning. Everyone needs to be onboard with the plan and vision as well as the end goal and involving the right people at the wrong time is a recipe for disaster.

Underestimating scale

Website owners simply do not expect a website build and then the migration itself to take so much time and resource. It’s also not completely uncommon for businesses to give a date and expect a site to be live ‘even if it is not 100% ready’ failing to see the implications of launching early or on time if the site or migration isn’t ready, or indeed the work that is needed to get to the stage of launch.

Organic search visibility can plummet dramatically – and sometimes completely off the radar – in hours or days in the event of a failed migration and can take weeks or months to build back up. It is always a sensible idea to delay for an extra day if needed, rather than launch – with consequences.

Lack of Testing

Time should be allowed for thorough testing of the site in its new form. It is recommended that a site launch is delayed if not enough time to test is available rather than go live with a poorly functioning site when it may be impossible to roll back. Again, SEO and UX agencies / professionals should ideally be involved at this stage to ensure that this stage is successfully carried out.

Slow response to bug fixing

Bugs happen! It’s just a fact! However, there does need to be some resource left over for bug fixing post launch as and when the bugs come in. Slow response to bugs and issues can be catastrophic depending on the severity of the bug/s.

Andy Hewlett

Thanks for reading my article!

I am a huge VW enthusiast, qualified Army Cadet and a true commander in the web development arena. My driving passion is to achieve excellence in anything digital….He who dares, WINS!

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