Buckle up, a website migration can be a bumpy ride. Whether you’re considering switching to a new CMS or you want to redesign your existing site, website migrations can lead to visibility growth over time, however, there are many risks involved which you may not be aware of.

Website migration is a term used to describe the act of making significant changes to a website that can have an impact on online visibility. These changes can be anything from altering a site’s design to changing its location.

If you’re looking to perform a website migration, it is strongly advised that you only allow professionals to carry out the work. SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) and UX (User Experience) experts are required to work together on any website changes so that potential risks can be avoided.

In order to fully understand what migrating a website means and the impact this can have on your business, we will be discussing the different types of website migrations along with the processes and risks involved.

Types of website migrations and why you might need them

Migrating a website might be a necessary action in order to allow your business to grow but major changes to your website should only be made if it will benefit your company as there are many risks involved.

There are different types of site migrations which are dependent on the type of work that needs to be carried out and each involves different levels of risks. Please see the figure below which displays the main types of site migrations and some of the changes that may be involved.

Now, let’s discuss this in more detail...

Location changes

There are many reasons why you might decide to change the location of your site, including if you’re changing the domain name of your site (perhaps you are rebranding) or 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 .co.uk to .com).

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. For example, if you’re changing your domain name, firstly consider the history of the domain name you hope to switch to. You should research whether this domain already exists to avoid duplicating content and to ensure it is not linked to spam/received penalties.

Platform changes

You may decide that moving to a new CMS is a necessary step to help account for any business growth. For instance, if you started up your online business a few years ago, you may have been fine with a CMS which lacked certain features such as worldwide shipping options. However, if your business has been flourishing online, you may seek a CMS which will allow you to target a wider audience so that your brand can continue to grow and bring in more revenue.

Risks involved

If you’re looking into a CMS migration you need to consider the fact that a new CMS is likely to feature different templates or have technical limitations which can impact your SEO. For example, replatforming can change the structure of your old URLs - if you’re switching to Magento 2, category paths are included in the product URL which means you’ll have to make adjustments or extensions to your old product URLs if they don’t already include these category paths.

Content changes

You may wish to make changes to your existing content such as rewriting copy or removing pages which no longer seem relevant. For example, there could be a bunch of blogs which you feel are outdated and you’re itching to rewrite or remove them - but no matter how you feel towards them, they could secretly be driving traffic to your site. This is precisely why you should consider working with an SEO professional who can identify the worth of your content and revive it rather than eliminate it so you don’t lose any content which helps to convert users.

Risks involved

Even changes made with the intention of improving your site can have a negative effect if not carried out correctly. The risks involved with content changes will vary depending on the scale of the alterations but changing content without knowing its worth can negatively impact your site’s navigation, internal links and taxonomy.

Structural changes

Structural changes often involve altering your website’s taxonomy which can affect the site’s navigation and internal links.

Risks involved

When navigation is negatively impacted, it can lead to poor UX and you may see an increase in your bounce rate as users cannot find the right product or page.

Design/UX changes

You might wish to make some design changes to your site in order to improve your UX, perhaps because you recently received some feedback and you’re looking to make the site both more appealing and perform better. A UX expert can make valuable amends to your site to achieve your vision but these changes should not be made without an SEO’s input.

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
  • Less traffic to your site
  • A poor UX

You can learn more about pitfalls of site migrations on organic performance here.

On the other hand, website migrations are necessary in some cases and can lead to better UX, more traffic and an increase in revenue over time when search engines such as Google realise that you are a valuable website with authority. Website migrations are not always quick fixes but they can certainly pay off in the long-term.

What is the process of a website migration?

Considering a website migration? Here’s what the process typically looks like:

There are many steps involved in the process of a site migration to ensure that the changes made are successful. As mentioned, website migrations involve a whole host of risks but the steps highlighted above ensure that the website performs well and suffers from minimal visibility damage.

Essentially, a website migration requires adequate planning, preparation, testing, monitoring and continued reviewing. Here’s why each step matters:

Planning

Effective planning allows a business to identify their objectives so that SEO and UX experts can work towards achieving these goals. Any potential risks and opportunities for business growth must be weighed up so that the best possible outcome is reached.

Preparation

A review of the new website’s wireframe and prototypes is necessary to identify any SEO or UX issues before launch. For example, an SEO expert may notice that content which helps to drive in lots of traffic is missing in the navigation bar and raise this as a potential issue for traffic loss. A technical SEO specification will then be created so that it is clear what actions need to be taken.

301 redirects are also extremely important to examine at this stage. SEO experts must ensure that a list of redirects are set up and checked before sending to the web development team to implement. These redirects will then need to be tested so that any issues can be identified - we all know how frustrating it is when we can’t access the webpage we want and this could be catastrophic for businesses if users can’t reach pages on their new site.

Testing

Testing the new site before launch is incredibly important as it allows you to identify any issues, whether that be user experience related, whether redirects are working or regarding content.

Site launch

Then comes launch day! Launching a new site can mean that the live site goes down temporarily which is why new sites are launched during a client’s quieter period (especially in case any issues do arise!) For example, launching a new site in the months just before Christmas won’t be a good idea for many e-commerce businesses. As soon as the new site launches, technical checks will be made to assess the impact.

Post-launch

Checks will continue to be made so that any issues can be dealt with quickly to avoid a negative impact on the website’s performance. These checks will be more accurate and detailed as there will now be more data available.

Review

At this point you have a clear idea of whether the site migration was successful and you can report on its performance in comparison to the previous site.

How long a website migration will take will depend on the size of your site and what changes need to be made. If you’re considering making changes to your website but want to discuss your options, why not get in touch with our team to see how we can bring your vision to life and help achieve your business goals.

Looking to make changes to your website?

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 services today or pop us an email at hello@adi.do.

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Meet the author ...

Olivia Gilchrist

SEO Executive

Liv works in the SEO team and loves blending creativity with technical strategies to help our clients' webpages reach the top of the rankings! Having recently graduated from ...