Published on 26th April 2022 by Sharon McClintic

Webinar On-Demand: Site Migration Best Practices to Protect Your Traffic & Search Rankings

The latest in Deepcrawl’s ongoing webinar series is a deep dive into how to succeed with website migrations—while minimizing the risk of traffic loss and search ranking loss. 

One of Deepcrawl’s Senior Technical SEOs, Anne Berlin, was joined by Benjamin Beckwith, Director of Organic Marketing at the award-winning digital agency, Semetrical. Beckwith draws on his extensive experience with site migrations of all sizes to illustrate common pitfalls encountered during migrations and the best practices that can help website teams avoid these common migration challenges.  As we learn from the webinar, migrating your website can be tricky but with sufficient planning, ongoing monitoring, and input from core site stakeholders, it is possible to migrate successfully and with minimal chance of things going wrong.

Watch the full webinar (including Q&A!) above, or read on for key takeaways.  


What are site migrations?

Site migrations can encompass a broad range of changes relating to a website’s setup. 

“It can range from URL changes to completely moving a website to a new location,’” Beckwith says. He lists the following as common types of site migrations:

Unsurprisingly, site migrations can be complex projects to undertake — particularly for large, enterprise-scale websites that house hundreds of thousands of pages (or more). Getting the site migration process right is crucial if you want to avoid losses in website traffic due to changes in your search engine results.

As Beckwith highlights, failing migrations are not a pretty sight:

Example of website traffic losses due to unsuccessful site migration
On the other hand, successfully executed site migrations can restabilize and start improving your online presence relatively quickly:

How to conduct a site migration successfully without losing traffic

“Always involve the SEO team from the beginning.”

Beckwith sees SEO experts as being massively important to the success of site migrations. SEOs should have a deep understanding of the inherent risks to traffic and rankings that come alongside migration projects. Good SEOs are likely to pick up on a vast array of migration issues that others commonly miss, including:


Forecast Scenarios to Boost Buy-In for Site Migrations

It’s also important to involve other key internal stakeholders in your site migration plans to ensure you have the buy-in, support, and resources required to successfully execute the migration. Some within the business will likely need convincing that a site migration is the best course of action. Beckwith suggests boosting internal buy-in with forecasting models that show different scenario outcomes, as well as using data to better educate stakeholders about the risks and opportunities involved—and to make a case for the resources you’ll need.

Beckwith also acknowledges that in some cases, the practicalities of a site migration will require you to mitigate the risks with whatever resources you have available—so project planning ahead of a site migration can be a key factor in success.  


Best Practices for Website Migrations

Beckwith splits out site migration best practices into five key stages:


1. Planning and scoping a site migration project

He suggests the following questions as a good starting point:

Beckwith also advises that website migrations should be scheduled to happen during a seasonal low in website traffic, and with a clear document of team accountabilities and timelines to know who needs to be doing what and when.

He provides this example project plan and team accountability document for site migrations:

Example project plan template and team task list for site migrations

He also highlights the importance of ensuring you have access to all the required data at the outset of your migration project. This data might include:

Data you should have access to before conducting a site migration


2. Pre-migration preparation

“Review [planned] changes as early on in the process as possible,” Beckwith advises, “as they could impact the success or affect your pre-migration plans.”

After this, it is also important to identify your priority URLs. This can be done by crawling your existing website, looking at data from your analytics platforms, examining your backlink data, website traffic data, and social share data, and discussing with stakeholders what their own priority links are.

The next phase of pre-migration prep, according to Beckwith, is mapping URLs — that is, identifying where URLs will be moving to and the potential new redirects that may be required. 

As an example, a map of URLs for a site migration project might look something like this:
An example of URL Mappings to create prior to migrating a website to a new domain

You’ll also need to get your benchmarking metrics in place ahead of time, says Beckwith. You may want to benchmark pre- and post-migration metrics such as:


[Note: Here is a useful Site Migration Benchmarking Template for you to use in your own site migration projects.]


3. Pre-migration testing

Beckwith suggests making sure your staging site is blocked from all search engines. “My preference would be an authentication layer,” he says. 

The next step is to audit the staging website before testing the redirections and updating the robots.txt rules.

Beckwith suggests the following checklist when auditing your migration staging site:
Site Migration Website Audit Checklist

4. On-the-day support

On the day your site migration goes live, you should also test to ensure everything has gone as expected. Redirection rules can be working fine in your staging environment, but it’s worth checking nothing has broken or ended up pointing to the wrong URL in the now-live site. “Never assume redirects are going to work,” warned Beckwith. 

Following testing your live redirects, he suggests crawling your priority URL list to check for technical issues, followed by running a full site crawl. It is also crucial to check tracking codes across external ad platforms and campaign URL updates in order to prevent loss of traffic.


5. Post-migration

After your migration, there are a number of ongoing monitoring and checks that website teams should ensure are in place. Beckwith also suggests that rankings and traffic should be regularly monitored for at least three months.

how to monitor your site and check for issues post-migration


Site Migration Pitfalls

Beckwith points to a number of pitfalls he has seen across his years of experience with website migrations. He suggests looking out for the following mistakes that can easily happen when working on a site migration project: 


Additional Tips for Site Migrations

Beckwith also provides some useful tips to make your migration that little bit easier:


11 key website migration takeaways


For more on site migrations, check out Deepcrawl’s SEO Office Hours Recaps on domain migrations, or download Benjamin Beckwith’s Website Migration Checklist for SEO.





Sharon McClintic
Sharon McClintic

Sharon is a resident wordsmith at Deepcrawl, where she serves as the team’s Content Marketing Lead. With a background that bridges both business strategy and creative writing, she’s enthusiastic about bringing an editorial mindset to B2B communications. When not writing about SEO and editing an excellent team of contributors, she’s often listening to (and making) podcasts, reading widely, or re-watching old episodes of Poirot.



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