What is a website migration?
A website migration is a broad term used to define major changes that take place for a website.
There are various types of site migrations: you have architectural changes, structural changes, design, hosting, domain, protocol, content changes, and many more.
A lot of the time, a site migration has more than one type of site change running concurrently.
So, for example, a site may have design changes, URL structure, and content changes, all taking place at the same time.
And of course, the more types of changes that take place, the more complex the migration.
This type of complexity is commonly seen when several TLDs are brought into one global domain.
Now, there are many reasons why a site migration may take place.
Ultimately, the goal is to better the website – for users.
One area that is often not considered, or at least, not considered well enough, is the organic performance of the website following a site migration.
Where does SEO sit within the site migration process?
SEO sits at the very beginning stage of a website migration – the briefing stage!
You want to have SEO in the room, as part of the discussion, before a single thing is changed.
You see, a major change to a site, such as a migration, has huge consequences to the site’s performance in organic search.
There are 3 types of events that can have an impact on a site’s organic performance.
An algorithm change is one. A competitor activity is another.
A website change is the third. A site migration falls within this type of an event.
If SEO is not considered at the start of the migration process, you’ll be headed for failure.
Even if the migration is completed on time, and on budget.
A site migration is not a success if SEO fails afterwards.
If SEO is not considered, and actually, forefront of the migration, you’ll be headed to a detrimental loss.
This is no exaggeration. A migration is too important of a project to have SEO as an afterthought.
Yet, unfortunately, for many businesses, it is.
When website migrations go wrong, it is typically because there is an unknown awareness of the risks involved.
By unknown awareness, I’m referring to SEO.
This channel is still just considered a checkbox, especially when it comes to a migration.
This needn’t be the case.
If you have SEO as part of the project from briefing, running all the way through, past the completion of the migration, you’ll be in a much better position to plan and communicate the way you intend on making the site migration a success – without jeopardising SEO performance.
So, with all website migrations, SEO requires an itemised process plan.
You can simply Google ‘SEO migration checklist’ to see an example of the items you want considered in the SEO plan.
Covering those here will be too detailed for this episode.
What I want to focus on for this episode is the reasoning, the Why of what we do, rather than the What and How.
I want to illustrate the Why so you do away with having SEO as just a checkbox and bring it to life as part of your migration process, without being overwhelmed by the channel.
The more familiar you are with SEO, the less daunting it seems.
You’ll have more confidence in wielding the channel to get you results.
So, incorporating SEO in your migration plan allows for the channel to fit its planning within the overall migration project.
Now, SEO plans for a site migration tends to come with itemised checklists that are broken down into 3 phases – pre-migration, during, and post-migration.
Phase 1: Pre-Migration
This will involve all the things that need to be considered from an SEO point of view, before the migration takes place.
Again, this needs to be listed items, ideally on a spreadsheet.
The items can be a mixture of the tasks SEO needs to take, either prior to, or during the migration.
It should also contain items that SEO require other departments to action.
This is when unknown unknowns tend to crop up, and can be addressed.
For example, if you’re carrying out a structural migration, there’ll be 301 redirects that take place.
A key SEO consideration will be to know if there are any CMS restrictions preventing 301 redirects from being implemented.
Or, another consideration (and one of my favourites), is to have confirmed that the CMS can execute server side redirects, rather than client side ones.
The implication of this may change the SEO plan, and roles and responsibilities of the plan.
This right here, just this single example alone, is why you want to include SEO throughout the migration process.
Simply having an SEO migration list, or recommendations from an agency, is not enough.
SEO needs to correspond with other departments to ensure the migration is a success.
Now, during the pre-migration process, it is not uncommon to find there are several complexities that need to be considered.
This is a very good thing. In fact, this is an excellent thing! This is optimisation at its core.
A simple operation can travel all the way to the business board for their input before a decision is made.
This is another reason why SEO should be involved as early as possible.
Doing so late can have major business implications, going far beyond keywords and rankings.
The pre-migration phase is ideally the time to discuss all considerations, and uncover any unknown ones.
Once the collaboration of SEO and other departments is known in this phase, it leads to a smoother relationship throughout the rest of the process.
We’re planning the success of the migration.
By the end of the pre-migration phase, all roles and responsibilities are known and agreed.
Channels that need to be informed are informed, and the plan for success is communicated across the entire business (ideally, in several ways – meetings, newsletters, company-wide emails, etc).
Most importantly, the migration team will be ready to perform during migration day.
Phase 2: During Migration
I love migration day!
The hustle and bustle of working to bring this thing to life, to make the plan a reality is why I frigging love marketing!
The joy of everyone successfully launching the migration IS the reward.
I’ve found that the key to having an enjoyable collaboration during migration day is to envision the actions of the day when planning it.
Saying that, let’s address timings.
When is the best day of the week to carry out a site migration?
Assuming, we’re looking at the conventional Monday to Friday as our work week, I’ve found the best day for a migration is a Tuesday.
On Mondays, the site performance over the weekend is reviewed by the Dev teams. Any issues are addressed during the day.
Using Monday as a ‘final checks’ day puts the migration team in good footing to begin actioning the migration on the Tuesday.
A Wednesday can be an alternative launch day.
Thursday AM can be reserved as the final day for the migration.
In most cases, a migration should never be carried out on a Friday.
You can argue that energy levels are lower on this day, therefore, not ideal. Perhaps, but let’s put that aside.
The point of never carrying out a migration on a Friday, is to mitigate the risk of something going wrong.
The post-migration phase is to tackle any post-implementation issues.
Having post-migration a day before the weekend, where the team, presumable won’t be working, is not a good idea.
By carrying out the migration on a Tuesday, we have the breadth of the week to carry out post-migration checks and reviews.
OK, so we have a day!
What time is best to carry out a site migration?
10am is a good time to begin a site migration.
A site migration can be completed in 2-4 hours.
By starting as early as possible, the long stretch of the day can be used for close monitoring of the site after the migration.
If the migration team is willing to get in earlier, the migration can be executed at 9am, or even 8am. This is, of course, all dependent on the website traffic numbers during these times.
Now, never, EVER, push a migration live before the go-ahead from SEO. Let me explain…
SEO will need to carry out the same tasks in the pre, during and post-migration phase.
In the during phase, ideally the migration team will work off a staging environment, concurrently.
Everything is prepared in staging, ready to be moved into the live environment, which is considered the migration launch. For simplicity, let’s regard this as a switch of a button.
Now, in the staging environment, once all teams are completed with their tasks, there needs to be a final SEO check.
Before the switch of a button, SEO requires a final run-thru, and to give the green light to the Dev team to go-ahead and switch the button.
The button must not be switched without the final SEO checks during this phase.
The purpose of a staging environment, is to prepare the site (the new site) before launch.
If there is something wrong with the new site, you want to identify it in this environment so it can be fixed before launch.
If you were to launch with things that are broken, it is too late and you risk jeopardizing SEO performance, if not other channels as well.
Don’t rush the during phase. This is where the new site can be built and optimised so it performs better than the current one upon launch.
Now, before we move into post-migration, let me say one more thing about the during phase.
As a contingency, and only a contingency, you want to ensure the Dev team have a plan to roll-back the website in case things go wrong.
This is unlikely to happen. However, having a website roll-back contingency is good practice for website migrations.
Once the site migration takes place, if there are any unknown issues that crop up, which cannot be fixed, or fixed in a timely manner, the website roll-back can be activated.
This is yet another reason why a site migration requires careful planning prior to execution.
Phase 3: Post-Migration
As mentioned earlier, a site migration is not a success if SEO fails.
During the post-migration phase, SEO carries out further checks on the site.
Most of the tasks carried out during the migration is repeated in the post-migration phase.
Additionally, SEO monitors the site performance from an organic search POV.
This is where data metrics become focused on and can provide great insight into the traffic numbers.
For example, noticing a rise in 404s is a red flag!
Checking these, and other metrics, which should be tracked and reported on, is necessary in the post-migration phase.
How long should you track performance metrics after a site migration?
A month is a typical period to track data performance.
In the first week, you’ll want to monitor the performance, that is, check the details of it.
Assuming there are no issues, this can then be scaled back.
You’ll still need to monitor daily over the course of the month.
However, this monitoring can be just an overview every morning.
The migration can officially be considered a success at the end of the month, if there are no performance blockers identified with the metrics being tracked.
After this month, you can return to your regular SEO reporting.
This is a glimpse of what you need to consider from an SEO POV when planning a site migration.
All of this needs to be considered at the pre-migration phase, which is again, why SEO must be considered, in detail, from the very beginning.
If you’re planning for your migration to be a success, you need to have SEO planned in, forefront of the migration.