6 Website Migration Pitfalls

Aaron Farr
By Aaron Farr

A website migration, sometimes referred to as a site migration, is a massive undertaking that can have substantial payoffs for your brand if done efficiently. The term is broadly used by professionals in the search engine optimization (SEO) field to describe substantial changes to a website in areas that can significantly affect search engine visibility, such as the site’s location, platform, structure, content, design, or user experience. However, a site migration can have considerable negative impacts on your website engagement, including traffic and revenue loss, lasting several weeks or months if you do not properly migrate your website.

Fortunately, there are a number of pitfalls you can watch out for and mitigate during your migration, you need only to plan for them.

The 6 Website Migration Pitfalls You Need to Know 

Of course, there are many difficulties you can run into during your site migration, but in our experience at Power Digital, we have found that six of these dangers can be more hazardous than the rest. Should you neglect to address any of these things, you may see lasting negative impacts on your website.

1. Not Performing a Technical SEO Analysis 

As you prepare for a site migration, it is imperative to do a technical analysis of your current website and identify any potential roadblocks you could run into during the migration. This will help you to more effectively handle those situations as they arise so that your timeline is not delayed with any surprises. You may also want to prepare a detailed technical SEO specification document, the objective of which is vital to ensuring the developers on the project are aware of all the essential SEO requirements. This specification documents must be incredibly detailed while focusing on the actions that developers must take during the project. You don’t necessarily need them to understand why something needs to be done so much as how it must be implemented.

Some of the crucial items you will want to focus on in the document include:

  1. URL structure
  2. Metadata, including dynamically generated default values
  3. Canonicals & meta-robot directives
  4. Copy & headings
  5. Primary & secondary navigation
  6. Internal Linking
  7. Pagination
  8. XML setup
  9. Mobile setup, including applications and AMP or PWA sites
  10. Redirects

Post-migration you will also want to ensure the new site continues to send the right signals to search engines, performing the same if not better than your original website. You should carefully review each of these items for errors and complete multiple tests before pushing your new site live.

Related: SEO Content Strategy + Technical SEO and Web Design

2. Not Optimizing for Site Speed 

A site migration is a perfect time to asses certain aspects of your site that you may have neglected previously. Site speed has become an increasingly important ranking factor and should be evaluated and optimized during your migration. You can easily determine your current status by utilizing Google’s PageSpeed Insights tool. By simply typing in your URL, the tool will analyze the site’s performance and provide valuable feedback.

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First, you will see results for both your mobile and desktop site as two separate tabs that you can toggle between. On each tab, you will then see a score for page speed and optimization as well as the context of how you compare to other sites. The tool will then provide optimization suggestions with instructions on how to fix each.

Prior to your migration, test your current website and note the suggestions for optimizations. Be sure to work those fixes into your migration plan. Once completed, test your new site and compare the results with your original site. Hopefully, you will see significant improvements if you took the time to implement changes to the new site.

Related: Site Speed Tips & Tricks

3. Incorrect or Absence of Redirect Mapping 

Redirect implementation is one of the most crucial steps of a website migration. The absence of your old site’s URLs, or incorrectly redirecting them, will quickly impact your site’s rankings and visibility in a negative way. There are a number of strategies that can help you to accomplish your redirect mapping, but the process should only be handled by experienced SEO professionals as it requires extreme attention to detail. This process can become increasingly difficult if this is not your first site migration, as you will need to update old redirects in order to avoid redirect chains. In essence, all redirects should point to the canonical URL, or the URL you want search engines to treat as authoritative.

As you begin your redirect mapping, here are some tips to help you complete the task successfully:

  • Focus on increasing efficiencies
  • Finalize the URL structure before beginning the mapping process
  • Don’t forget to update legacy redirects, if applicable
  • Check your redirect mapping for redirect loops
  • Implement blanket redirect rules to avoid duplicate content
  • Avoid internal redirects
  • Don’t forget your image files
  • Use URL rewrites where possible to cut down on the number of individual redirects in a .htaccess file

4. Not Cleaning Up Post-Migration 404 Errors

Building a new website inherently means that changes will be made, that is the whole point of undertaking such a complex task. However, when these changes are made they can affect a number of pages and possibly even the structure of your site meaning that some pages may be moved or simply cease to exist causing 404 errors. This is a normal part of the migration process, but you will want to clean up 404 errors to keep your link authority by mapping all of your pages during the migration. This means you will need to set up a 404 error monitoring system or check Google Search Console daily for a few weeks prior to migration to catch any of these errors that were missed during the redirect mapping.

5. Failing to Critically Evaluate Your Robots.txt & XML Site Map 

Simply put, the XML sitemap provides information about the content on your site to search engines as well as where that content can be found. An important part of migrating your website is creating a new XML sitemap and submitting it in the Google Search Console. You will need to ensure that the XML sitemap for your new site is updated and error-free prior to submitting to aid search engines in finding and indexing your new site quickly. This will also help new URLs on the new site that did not exist prior to migration to be crawled and indexed faster.

Similarly, your robots.txt defines the rules you have set for search engines crawling your site. If you add specific disallow rules for administrative pages or other pages that do not need to be indexed by search engines, you will increase your crawl budget and avoid users landing on pages that are not intended for them. It is also important to link to your XML sitemap at the bottom of the robots.txt file.

Ultimately, skipping an evaluation of both your robots.txt and XML sitemap may result in previously blocked pages being indexed and shown to your site visitors. This not only creates a potential negative for your users but could also impact your rankings.

6. Failing to Update Internal Links

Migrating your content to a new website usually means that the URLs will change and therefore site links will need to be updated. If you do not update your internal site links to reflect the new site structure, you run the risk of internal 404 errors. This can happen even if you completed the redirect mapping process as it can create unnecessary internal link redirects. It is best practice to update the internal links on your new site from the old URLs to the new.

Related: The Ultimate Guide To Internal Link Building Strategy for SEO

Wrapping Up

If you are able to address these major concerns during your website migration, you will complete the process with a substantially better site than you started with. While these tasks will add time to your project and create some extra work along the way, you will be rewarded with a successful migration that provides a seamless user experience for your visitors and ensures stability in site revenue.

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Aaron Farr is a Sr. SEO Specialist at Power Digital with a passion for Technical SEO. He was born in Washington State and moved to San Diego to go to college for web design and video editing. Aaron has 6 years experience with Fortune 500 companies and loves the fast pace and ever changing environment that comes with it. He specializes in Schema Markup, Robots and XML Sitemaps. When not at work he loves playing video games, making candles, up-cycling beer bottles into glasses, and having fun with his two kids.