In order to keep one step ahead of the competition and meet the evolving needs of customers, most websites will need to undergo at least one site migration during their lifespan. If you’re reading this article, chances are this is something you’re already considering for your own site.
First thing to bear in mind is that no two migrations are the same. Depending on what you want to achieve, each type of migration comes with its own benefits, risks and challenges, with careful planning and execution required to ensure a smooth transition.
In this blog, we’ll guide you through the six different types of website migrations and the inherent risks of each one.
Table of contents
- 1. Location changes
- 2. Website merges
- 3. Platform changes
- 4. Content changes
- 5. Structural changes
- 6. Design/UX changes
What is a website migration?
A website migration can be classified as any change that a website goes through, whether that be its structure, design, platform or location. The primary goals of these changes are to achieve increased online visibility and overall better user experience (UX). There are many different types of website migrations, all of which can reap great rewards when done well – and suffer a nosedive in performance when done badly and without due care.
What are the types of website migrations?
Typically, there are six different types of site migrations, depending on the work that needs to be carried out and what you want to achieve.
It’s also possible that your site requires a hybrid migration, i.e. a combination of any of the above. It goes without saying that the more changes needed, the more complex and riskier the migration. Find out more about the factors impacting website migrations in our article How long does a website migration take?
Let’s take a closer look at each migration type in turn.
1. Location changes
Location changes (sometimes referred to as URL structure changes) are required if you are rebranding and need to change the domain name of your site (e.g. websitename.com to websitename.org). This type of migration is also required if you are moving international sites (for example, if your business is currently in the UK but you wish to move it to America, you would be switching from website.co.uk to website.com).
Location changes: risks involved
Even the smallest of changes to your URL can have devastating effects which is why great care needs to be taken to preserve your online visibility. Risks involved in a domain change include:
- The lack of brand citations from across the web and socials can cause a drop in visibility.
- A change in brand name/domain name may affect local SEO performance due to recognition.
- New location will be younger than original which could impact authority.
- A new location means redirects are needed, which can dilute link equity.
- Existing competitors already using your new name may take brand traffic.
2. Website merges
There are a few reasons why a business might want to consolidate two or more websites. One example might be when a company buys out another company and need a ‘one-stop shop’ for its customers, or when a brand has two or more sites and wishes to focus on becoming more competitive on their preferred domain. It could also, quite simply, be a cost-cutting exercise.
Website merges: risks involved
- Moving multiple domains to one domain is complex and high risk, requiring someone with website and SEO expertise.
- Significantly more planning will be involved to ensure there are no drops from missing pages.
- The work will be doubled/tripled initially to get brand pages created, location pages updated and socials to reflect the change.
3. Platform changes
You may decide that moving to a new CMS is a necessary step to help boost business growth. For instance, if you started up your online business a few years ago, a CMS which is lacked certain features (e.g. worldwide shipping options) might have been adequate at the time, but now your business has expanded, you need a CMS which will allow you to have better functionality and target a wider audience so that your brand can continue to grow and bring in more revenue.
Other reasons a site owner may wish to move to a different CMS include:
- The site is having site speed issues
- The current CMS often has down-time which is bad SEO and UX
- A lack of flexibility on eCommerce capabilities, such as product and shipping management or flexibility around payment gateways
- Poor customer support
Platform changes: risks involved
- More planning may be required when moving CMS – for example, different platforms handle URL generation differently. It is likely that there will be greater manual labour required on eCommerce migrations to ensure all new products are configured correctly and old URLs are redirected across.
- Increased chances of crawlability and indexing bugs
- Poor 301 redirects resulting in permanent traffic loss
4. Content changes
Businesses may need a content change migration to refresh and update their online presence in line with evolving industry trends and target audience preferences. They may also be keen to remove outdated blogs and content pages which are deemed no longer relevant, or perhaps they need to move existing content onto a different section of the site.
Content changes: risks involved
- Loss of organic traffic as a result of removing high-performance pages
- When not done properly, new content can be seen as a duplication of old content – this is known as cannibalisation which will hinder organic performance
5. Structural changes
A structural migration is usually required when changes need to be made to the main navigation or internal link hierarchy. It may also be needed when breadcrumb navigations are added or removed.
Structural changes: risks involved
- Changes to the main navigation or a bulk change to internal links can change how search engines interpret content hierarchy on a site. If Google sees that a section on the site is receiving fewer internal links, this can cause a drop in rankings and a decrease in organic traffic. This is because links from one URL pass value on to the page it links to (known as link equity).
6. Design/UX changes
You might wish to make some design changes to your site in order to improve your UX. This could be driven by some recent feedback and your goal is to not only make the site more visually appealing but also improve its performance. A UX expert can make valuable amends to your site to achieve your aim, but these changes should not be made without an SEO’s input as underlying code changes can sometimes have a big impact on crawlability and thus impact indexing and rankings.
Design/UX changes: risks involved
- Redesigning your site may involve changing code, copy and other forms of media and, as discussed, any changes can damage your visibility. That said, design changes are one of the least risky forms of site migrations if you’re keeping your URL and content the same.
Of course, your website migration could involve any number of these changes and risks will vary but essentially, site migrations can lead to the following if not carried out carefully:
- Decrease in search rankings
- Broken internal links
- Issues with indexation
- A worse UX both for users and Googlebot
You can learn more about pitfalls of site migrations on organic performance here.
Does a website migration affect SEO?
Yes, any of the above factors listed can have an impact on organic visibility. When done well, site migrations can be great for SEO. Here are some examples how:
- Domain change to a brand name which already has citations across the web will positively impact rankings.
- Site speed increases from a platform change will improve UX and potentially increase rankings and conversion rates.
- The removal of duplicate content from the site can reduce cannibalisation which can improve rankings as well as brining your brand more up to date with your target audience.
Unfortunately, we’ve seen many clients come to us in the past where migrations have not achieved the desired results and subsequently organic traffic has dropped by anything from 20-80% within six months. Our CEO, Andy Headington, looked at some of these horror stories in a presentation at Figaro Digital in 2023.
Examples of successful site migrations
Freedom Leisure is a not-for-profit charitable trust with over 100 leisure venues across the Midlands, Wales and Southern England. Their marketing team approached Adido to manage their website migration with a view to improving their online presence and UX by migrating their old website to a new platform and design. As part of that migration, we completed the following:
- Created a new site architecture and navigation that was user-friendly and SEO-optimised.
- Implemented a 301-redirect plan that preserved the existing site authority and rankings.
- Developed a responsive and fresh design that enhanced both functionality and aesthetic.
- Integrated a booking system that allowed users to easily book activities and purchase memberships online.
- Launched a content marketing strategy that showcased Freedom Leisure’s brand values and services.
The migration resulted in a 32% increase in goal conversion rate and a +62 position improvement, from 66 up to 4! You can read more about the Freedom Leisure site migration here.
Speak to us regarding your plans for a site migration
Whether you want to freshen up your website design to make it more appealing to your target audience or you’re looking to move to a new CMS, we’re here to help! With UX and SEO experts ready to make your business stand out from the crowd, we’ll work with you closely to ensure that migrating your website sees minimal visibility damage and will be able to help grow your business in future. Take a look at our web migration services today or pop us an email at email@example.com.