Website Migration Guide
Who this guide is for?
This guide is for internal marketing stakeholders including marketing managers, digital marketing managers, marketing directors, and chief marketing officers.
What is a website migration?
A website migration refers to the process of replacing an existing website with another. Most often, the goal is to improve some element of the web experience, whether front or back end, but without negatively affecting business performance. The purpose of this guide is to offer guidance and support to individuals that are about to embark on a website migration project for the benefit of their business.
Who produced this guide?
This guide has been produced by the James Foote, Head of SEO and the technical team at POLARIS. The team has managed complex migration projects for clients in retail, ecommerce, technology and B2B. All projects have required advanced knowledge and expertise to ensure successful outcomes.
What can go wrong with a website launch?
- Website not found in Google
- Loss of rankings
- Suffer major traffic losses
- Sharp decline in leads and sales
- Lose your job
"On average, websites launched without a migration plan experience a 48% decline in traffic, leads and sales for up to 9 months (until fixed)”
James Foote, Head of SEO, POLARIS
Business reasons for a website migration
There are many business cases that warrant the migration of a website. In our experience, its not just about launching a new front end website to improve the user experience (although this is a very common reason). Other reasons include the following.
- Changing domain names
You may have been operating on a country specific TLD (top level domain) and decided to move it to a .com domain, either for strategic reasons or because you’ve finally managed to confirm the acquisition of it.
- Changing business names
Many companies go through rebrands as a way to further define themselves and remain targeted to their customer profile. A change in business name is a careful consideration as a business needs to consider the digital profile of the business as it historically exists.
- Switching from HTTP to HTTPS
A critical requirement for search engines but also for any business that’s serious about protecting their users data (ecommerce as a key example), the integration of HTTPS (Secure Hyper-Text-Transfer-Protocol) means that all user data submitted on your website is transmitted via a secure connection. A considerable and significant change that commonly drives business to carry out a website migration.
- Moving to a new front end platform
Content Management Systems (CMS) are a many and choosing the right CMS platform for your business depends on many factors.
- Upfront Costs
- Ongoing Costs
- Hosting Costs
Popular CMS systems include Wordpress, Drupal, Joomla, Magento, Sitecore and Umbraco. By moving to a new front end platform, the entire code base is being redeployed and therefore a careful and detailed site migration is required to ensure efficiency and success.
- Moving to a new backend platform
At the backend of your web stack you may want to move to a new database solution that integrates more effectively with other internal systems, or you could be adopting new technologies to replace outdated technologies that are no longer supported or considered legacy.
- Introducing local sites for other countries
If you are introducing another destination website into your digital experience, your existing website structure will need to be reconsidered to accommodate the new website. Whether your architecture is focused on a set of directory based websites or subdomain sites, your entire architecture will go through a change that will need to be managed.
- UX based changes across device types
On average, businesses update their website to improve their user experience every 2-5 years across varying sectors, and the goal of improving the user experience is one of the most common reasons for going through a website migration process.
Typically, where the goal is to improve the user experience, a business will carefully consider how data led decisions can be made using tools analytics tool such as Google Analytics, but also user experience tools such as Hotjar, Optimisely or Crazy egg.
Enhancements will be designed and planned across desktop, mobile and tablet devices, and also tested across all three device types too. Once these phases have been completed, a business may be ready to consider the website migration phase of the project.
- Mobile first approach to web experience
Google first announced that they were experimenting with Mobile first indexing back in September 2016 , with marketers since taking mobile much more seriously within their marketing strategies. As of Just 1st, 2019, any new website launched or indexed by Google is automatically indexed on a mobile-first basis, further cementing the authority and significance of mobile devices within a typical users journey. If you operate a B2C business whereby the majority of your website users visit your website through a mobile device, then you should be following a mobile first approach to your digital strategy and as a part of this launching a mobile first web experience would be a well justified reason to go through a website changeover.
- The lead up to migration
A website migration is usually a project within a larger project, such as any of the business cases highlighted in the previous section. Typically, a business does not exactly know when a migration will occur, and for how long it will go on for. A changeover in itself is a process which should be completed within hours, if not days, however being able to effectively plan for this period of changeover is the unknown that cannot be planned for months in advance due to the overall project and progress being made within it. Typically, the overall business project requiring a migration reaches a particular point at which 90% of the objectives have been achieved and then all stakeholders start discussing and preparing themselves for migration.
You should instruct a migration partner as soon as the decision is made to launch a new website and have a changeover.
What are the risks associated with a website migration?
Depending on the structure of your business and marketing function, there can be any number of people involved in the process of a website migration. Typically, anywhere from 2 individuals (marketing manager and a web developer) and above act as stakeholders during a website project. A web developer will take instruction and do as tasked, and the marketing manager business owner will be responsible for giving guidance from a commercial point of view. Typically, a web developer usually guides a website migration from a development point of view, and depending on their remit, they may or may not cover additional aspects of a website migration (such as tracking, error reporting, and performance reporting) process to ensure a fully successful migration.
The 7 most common mistakes businesses make without a migration partner
- No migration strategy and dedicated partner (usually led by the web developer and internal marketing)
- Doing everything “all at once” (i.e. rebrand > new domain > content updates)
- Re-branding with a domain change! – without an experienced migration partner
- Not researching and understanding website traffic performance
- Drastically changing layouts in design and content
- Not transferring across tracking codes and conversion pixels
- Incorrectly formed/Badly managed redirects (wildcards and page dumps)
The biggest threat to your project is communication and clearly identified remits that cover all critical areas such as SEO. Having a clear set of responsibilities for each party involved in a website project and well managed communication is critical in ensuring the success of your migration.
Risk Spectrum and the scale of impact on your business
A poorly handled migration can result in significant losses of traffic, sales and revenue for any period of time from weeks to months, if possible threats are not identified, managed and handled efficiently within a sufficient timeframe.
“FACT: A badly run migration project can cost you your job”
Roles and Functions within a migration
Typical job roles
Through all of the website migration projects we have completed, there have always been several stakeholders involved from various departments to ensure that the project goes to plan, from every business perspective.
Whilst in a small business the business owner and/or marketing manager may be the primary stakeholders, in a larger business many different department heads can also be involved. This may include any of the following:
- Front end Developers
- Back-end developers
- Project manager
- Legal – GDPR, new website policy
- Internal/external SEO manager or SEO agency
Ultimately, as a project owner you want to ensure that every stakeholder within the business that has a need for the website to function correctly is involved or at least kept up to date with the progress of the project.
Who owns a migration project?
Accountability for a website migration is as critical as any element of the website migration project itself. In 2016, POLARIS was contacted by the marketing manager of a successful high street chain that had just gone through a website migration and lost 65% of their organic traffic.
The marketing manager making the enquiry asked “who is responsible for this migration, ultimately”. During this particular migration, a development agency was involved, managed by the marketing manager. The area over who was ultimately responsible for the loss of SEO traffic was grey. It had not been considered explicitly enough to be defined. The marketing manager was sacked.
Whilst this is not a great experience to share, the point here is that it is absolutely critical that not only is someone identified as owning the project, but it must be abundantly clear what they are responsible for and also that they understand how to best manage this type of a project.
For this reason, it is critical to ensure an experienced party is involved during a website migration. If you are reading this and this is your first migration, it is safe to seek the guidance of an SEO agency. If you have handled multiple migration projects and you understand the process and potential risks, then this may not be necessary, but in most cases, we find it is necessary to have a third party SEO agency assist.
“80% of unmanaged site launches “roll-back” within the first 30 days”
For this reason, it is critical to ensure an experienced party is involved during a website migration. If you are reading this and this is your first migration, it is safe to seek the guidance of an SEO agency specialising in site migrations. If you have handled multiple migration projects and you understand the process and potential risks, then you will appreciate the need and importance a trusted partner can bring to the project.
The 3 stages of our migration process
The process of a website migration can be organised into three core areas.
Following steps through each phase will allow for a controlled website migration, directed with the intent of smoothly transitioning from one website to another with the core business goals in mind.
301 redirects alone will not ensure your SEO traffic is safe. 301 redirects give search engines an indication of a new destination replacing an old destination however this is only 1 out of 34 different factors that have an impact on your site migration. Within redirects, there are many considerations that only an expert should deal with. This includes:
- Redirect chains
- Redirect loops
- Wildcard redirects
- 301 and 302 redirects
- Redirects to non indexed pages
Signs that your migration process is not going to plan and you need help asap
- Your website is not working or hitting all 404 pages
- The website is showing as not being safe to visit
- The website is slow
- The rankings have dropped
- You're not getting the normal amount of leads or sales
Migrate your website with confidence by partnering with POLARIS
If you are about to embark on a website migration project, and would like to find out more about our website migration or SEO services please get in touch for a discussion about your project.
Tell us about your project: firstname.lastname@example.org