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Must Do Tasks When Doing Site Migration

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Migrating a website is akin to moving to a new home—exciting but also fraught with the potential for mishaps if not done carefully. Both scenarios demand rigorous planning, precise execution, and keen attention to detail. A well-executed site migration can improve performance, enhance user experience, and improve search engine rankings. However, a poorly managed one can result in broken links, lost data, and a significant drop in traffic.

Therefore, the process of site migration should not be taken lightly. It involves a myriad of tasks, each with its own set of challenges and complexities. Whether moving to a different hosting provider, changing your site’s architecture, or shifting to a new content management system (CMS), certain “must-do” tasks can make a difference. This guide provides a comprehensive outline covering everything from the planning phase to post-migration checks, offering valuable insights for both novices and seasoned webmasters.

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Planning Phase

Identify Goals and Objectives

Understanding the reason behind the migration is a fundamental step that provides a foundation for all subsequent actions. Whether it’s to benefit from advanced features, improve website load time, or perhaps a complete overhaul for rebranding purposes, pinpointing the “why” helps set the direction for the migration project. This clarity is especially helpful when unexpected challenges arise, as it keeps the team focused on resolving issues directly impacting the core reason for migration.

Setting concrete objectives for the migration project serves as your yardstick for success. Objectives could range from achieving better search engine rankings to enhancing user experience through a more intuitive interface. By articulating what you aim to achieve, you offer your team a clear set of goals to aim for. This guides decision-making throughout the process, making prioritizing tasks and allocating resources easier.

Choose a Migration Team

Assembling a skilled migration team is akin to gathering a crew for a ship—you need the right people in the right roles to navigate through potentially turbulent waters. The team should comprise individuals with varying skill sets, including web developers, database administrators, and content specialists. Assigning roles and responsibilities from the outset ensures that each team member knows what’s expected of them, making for a more coordinated and efficient migration process.

Identifying decision-makers and stakeholders is another crucial aspect that shouldn’t be overlooked. Who will have the final say in case of disagreements or unforeseen complications? Is it the project manager, the CTO, or a steering committee? Knowing this upfront removes ambiguity during critical moments. Stakeholders aren’t just limited to those directly working on the project; they also include executives, marketing teams, and even customers whom the migration will impact. Keeping them in the loop can provide valuable perspectives that might otherwise be missed.

Audit Existing Website

Conducting an audit of your existing website serves as a comprehensive health check before the migration begins. Compiling an inventory of all assets, such as pages, images, videos, and other files, gives you a clear picture of the scale of your migration. It’s like taking stock before a big move; you wouldn’t want to lose or forget anything valuable. This inventory becomes a crucial reference point for ensuring everything makes it to the new platform unscathed.

Traffic analysis goes beyond counting visitor numbers; it’s about understanding user behavior on your site. Which pages get the most visits? Where do people typically drop off? Which content is most engaged with? Answers to these questions offer critical insights that can influence the migration strategy. For instance, high-traffic pages may require special attention to minimize downtime, and understanding user flow can help preserve or improve site structure post-migration. Armed with this data, you’re not just moving things blindly but optimizing as you go.

Technical Assessment

When considering the technical aspects of your migration, evaluating hosting solutions is a bit like choosing the right soil for a plant. You’ll need to ensure that the hosting environment meets the specific needs of your website, be it scalability, speed, or security features. This is a good time to compare different hosting providers, analyze costs, and assess the technical support offered. The goal is to find a hosting environment where your website can survive and thrive.

CMS or platform compatibility is another key concern. It’s akin to ensuring the furniture from your old home fits into your new one. Whether sticking with your current CMS or exploring a new platform, you must ensure compatibility with existing functionalities, plugins, and other integrations. Test out the new platform, ideally with a smaller sample of your content and features, to identify any potential roadblocks that might complicate the migration.

Finally, understanding server requirements is essential. Think of this as a new home’s plumbing and electrical setup; you must know what your website requires to run smoothly. This includes hardware capabilities, software versions, and configurations like load balancers and caching systems. By aligning server capabilities with your site’s needs, you can avert bottlenecks and performance issues down the line.

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Pre-Migration Preparations

Backup Current Site

Backing up your site before migration is the safety net you don’t want to skip. A full backup should include all website files, databases, and elements like custom scripts or special configurations. This ensures you have a complete snapshot of your site as it currently exists, allowing you to revert to it if anything goes awry during the migration.

Testing backup files is the logical next step after creating them. You should ideally restore the backup on a separate test environment to ensure that all elements are intact and functional. This gives you confidence that you have a reliable fallback option during the migration.

Notify Stakeholders

It’s similar to sending out a change of address notice when you move; it keeps everyone in the loop and sets expectations. Customers, staff, and other parties should know the planned migration, its purpose, and the expected timeline. This is especially true for those who rely heavily on your site’s functionality for their daily tasks. Advance notice helps them prepare for any potential downtime or temporary loss of features.

Placing a temporary banner or notice on your site is an ongoing reminder, like putting up a “We’re Moving” sign on a physical storefront. This informs casual visitors who may not be on your mailing list or following social media updates. It’s a way to manage expectations so people aren’t surprised or frustrated if they encounter issues while the migration is underway. The banner can also direct users to a FAQ or update page to learn more about what’s happening and what changes they can expect.

Choose a Low-Traffic Time Window

Selecting a low-traffic time window for the migration is akin to choosing off-peak hours for road construction; it minimizes inconvenience for the majority. To find this sweet spot, consult your website analytics to identify periods when user activity is at its lowest. Depending on your audience, this could be late at night or on the weekend. Conducting the migration during these times means fewer disruptions for your users, which can go a long way in maintaining a good customer experience.

Factoring in different time zones adds another layer of consideration. If your website serves an international audience, you must weigh the pros and cons of different time slots for various regions. It’s like coordinating a conference call across multiple time zones; you may not find a perfect time for everyone, but you aim to inconvenience as few people as possible. Tools that map out global website traffic can help make an informed decision.

Develop a Rollback Plan

Developing a rollback plan is the equivalent of having an emergency exit strategy; it’s a plan you hope you never have to use but is invaluable if needed. The plan should outline the steps to revert to the old website should the migration go south. This involves using the backups you’ve created and tested. Still, it should also detail the technical steps to restore services, such as reactivating plugins, re-establishing database connections, etc. It’s not just about having a copy of your old site; it’s about knowing how to put everything back the way it was quickly.

Assigning responsibilities for a rollback is as critical as defining roles in the main migration plan. Know who will be on point for each rollback task, from restoring files to communicating with stakeholders. Designate a decision-maker for invoking the rollback plan, usually someone with an overarching view of the migration process and can assess when reverting is the best course of action. Having designated roles ensures that if a rollback is needed, it can be executed swiftly and efficiently, minimizing any negative impact.

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During Migration

Update DNS Settings

Updating the DNS settings is a crucial part of the migration process. The change usually involves pointing your domain to the IP address of the hosting server. Each hosting solution and domain registrar might have specific steps for doing this, but the result is that your domain should now resolve to your new location.

Verifying domain settings is the quality check following the DNS update, akin to confirming that your mail arrives at your new address. This process ensures the changes have propagated across the internet and verifies that the website is accessible via its domain name. Tools exist to check DNS propagation, and some hosting services provide options to verify settings within their control panels. Successfully verifying the domain settings confirms that you’ve effectively rerouted web traffic to your new site, making this step an integral part of the migration checklist.

Deploy the New Site

Deploying the new site is the culmination of all the preparation and planning, akin to finally moving into a new home after weeks of packing and arrangements. Uploading all assets involves transferring the inventory of files, images, videos, and other elements you’ve catalogue. Ensure the new hosting environment is configured to support these assets and double-check permissions and file paths to avoid broken links or inaccessible resources.

Implementing the new database is like setting up the utilities in your new home; without it, the house is essentially uninhabitable. The database stores all your content, user data, and key configurations. Whether you’re transferring an existing database or setting up a new one, this is the point where it gets integrated with the rest of your site. It involves importing data, establishing connections to your website application, and possibly updating settings or scripts to ensure compatibility. This step is critical, as any errors or lapses can render the website non-functional, so double-checking connections and testing database-dependent features is highly advised.

Perform Immediate Checks

After deploying the new site, performing immediate checks is akin to a walk-through inspection when you move into a new home. You want to catch any glaring issues before you get comfortable. Validating code means checking HTML, CSS, and JavaScript to ensure they meet web standards and are error-free. Tools are available to automate this process, but the goal is to ensure that poor or broken code doesn’t impact user experience or search engine ranking.

Testing functionalities is like checking your new home’s appliances, switches, and faucets. Every feature your website offers, be it a shopping cart, login system, or comment section, must be tested for proper operation. If something worked on your old platform, it should also work on the new one. Beyond basic functionalities, consider checking SEO settings, mobile responsiveness, and page load times. A thorough test ensures that you not only moved all your belongings but that everything works in their new environment.

Monitor for Issues

Monitoring for issues post-migration is like installing security cameras in a new home; it gives you a real-time view of what’s happening and allows you to intervene if necessary. There are numerous site monitoring tools available that can track uptime, performance, and even user interactions. These tools can provide alerts for anything unusual, such as sudden drops in traffic, server errors, or security breaches. Proactively monitoring helps you catch potential issues before they escalate into larger problems that could negatively impact user experience.

Addressing issues as they arise is equivalent to fixing a leaking faucet as soon as you notice; timely action prevents small problems from becoming big headaches. Whether it’s a broken link, a missing image, or a page not loading correctly, immediate attention is warranted. Keep your migration team on standby during the initial days following the migration, as they’re already familiar with the intricacies of the project and can rapidly troubleshoot and implement fixes. Being vigilant and responsive in this phase is crucial for a successful transition and ensures a smoother user experience

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Post Migration

SEO Checks

SEO checks after site migration are comparable to hanging up your business sign after relocating a store; they help people find you and understand your offer. Verifying meta tags and descriptions ensures that each page on your new site is still optimized for search engines and users. These elements play a significant role in how your site appears in search results, affecting click-through rates and user engagement. A good practice is cross-referencing with your old site to ensure that all meta information has been accurately transferred and implemented.

Checking for 404 errors and implementing redirects is like ensuring that all roads leading to your new location are accessible and well-marked. A 404 error indicates a broken link or a page that couldn’t be found, which can frustrate users and tarnish the user experience. Setting up proper redirects from old URLs to new ones preserves the user journey and protects existing links’ SEO value. Tools and plugins can scan your site for 404 errors; server logs are another invaluable resource for identifying problematic links. Once detected, immediate action should be taken to implement redirects or fix broken links, maintaining usability and SEO ranking.

User Experience Testing

User Experience (UX) Testing after migration is akin to hosting a soft opening for a restaurant; it gives you a chance to gauge visitor experience and make necessary adjustments. One of the first things to check is page load speed. Slow loading times can frustrate users and increase bounce rates, negatively impacting your site’s SEO ranking. Various online tools can assess page load speed, offering insights into what might be causing delays, such as unoptimized images or script issues.

Mobile-friendliness is another key factor, comparable to having wheelchair access in a physical store. Most web traffic comes from mobile devices, and search engines prioritize mobile-friendly sites. Check that your site’s design is responsive. Also, test features like navigation menus, forms, and buttons to ensure they’re easy to use on desktop and mobile platforms. Ensuring mobile-friendliness not only provides a better user experience but also helps in maintaining a strong SEO presence.

Analytics

Installing tracking codes on your new site is similar to installing utility meters when you move into a new home. These codes, such as those for Google Analytics or other tracking services, are essential for gathering data on user behavior, traffic sources, and other metrics. Without them, you’re flying blind, unable to assess the success of your migration or make informed decisions for future improvements. Ensure all tracking codes from the old site are properly implemented in the new site, and test them to confirm they’re working as expected.

Comparing pre and post-migration metrics is like checking your utilities usage before and after the move to identify any unusual spikes. This comparison can help you understand the impact of the migration on user engagement, site traffic, search rankings, and more. For example, suppose you see a drop in user engagement but an increase in page load speed. In that case, it might indicate that while the site performs better technically, some design or content changes have negatively affected user interaction. A thorough analysis allows you to isolate variables affected by the migration and take corrective action if needed, ensuring that your new site continues to meet or exceed the performance of the old one.

Performance Tuning

Performance tuning after a site migration is akin to tuning a car after a long-distance move; it helps ensure everything runs as smoothly as possible. Optimizing databases is one such key tune-up. Like cleaning out and organizing your new home’s storage areas, database optimization involves removing unnecessary data, defragmenting tables, and optimizing queries. This can significantly speed up database operations, making your site more efficient and responsive. Specialized tools and plugins exist to help with database optimization, but expertise in SQL could also be invaluable here.

Cache settings are another focus area comparable to setting the thermostat in your new home for optimal energy efficiency. Caching involves storing copies of frequently accessed data points to serve them more quickly to the user. Properly configured cache settings can dramatically improve site speed by reducing server load and offering faster load times for the end-user. Various types of caching can be utilized, including page caching, object caching, and opcode caching. Each has advantages and best-use scenarios, so understanding your site’s needs is key to effective caching.

Notify Stakeholders of Completion

Notifying stakeholders of the migration’s completion is like sending out “We’ve Moved” announcements after settling into a new home. It’s the formal step to inform everyone that the transition is complete. This is where any temporary banners or notices placed on your old site to alert visitors can be removed. It signals the move is complete, like taking down a “For Sale” sign in front of your old house.

Communicating any changes or features is like giving a tour of your new home and pointing out renovations or new amenities. If your new site has additional functionalities or a new layout, this is the time to highlight them. Transparency about what has changed, what has improved, and even what minor issues might still be fixed.

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Review and Documentation

Conduct a Post-Mortem

Conducting a post-mortem after the site migration is similar to sitting down with your moving team. This evaluation helps identify successes and areas for improvement. Discussing what went well allows for a moment of celebration and helps understand effective strategies and methods. Knowing your strengths can be as instructive as recognizing weaknesses, whether excellent team communication, minimal downtime, or smooth data transfer.

These are opportunities for learning and growth. Was the rollback plan sufficient? Were stakeholders properly informed throughout the process? Were there unexpected issues that could have been anticipated? Honest critique can reveal gaps in planning, execution, or even post-launch monitoring that can be addressed. Engaging in this reflective process can build a roadmap for more effective and efficient future projects.

Document Lessons Learned

Documenting lessons learned after the migration is like creating a moving checklist based on your experience. Filing detailed documentation creates a valuable resource to inform future projects. This could include technical configurations that were particularly effective, common pitfalls, and stakeholder feedback. Think of it as a “do’s and don’ts” manual that you or other teams can refer to later.

You now know which walls could use more insulation or where extra electrical outlets would have been useful. Similarly, you can make data-driven updates after concluding the post-mortem and documenting lessons learned. These revisions optimize the playbook for future migrations. You will increase the likelihood of smoother, more efficient site migrations down the line.

Communication

Engage with the Community

Engaging with the community post-migration is similar to hosting a housewarming party. It’s an opportunity to interact with your neighbors, friends, and family and get their impressions of your new place. In the digital realm, this means actively responding to feedback from your users, whether positive or negative. User feedback can provide insights into aspects of the migration. Revealing potential areas for improvement or simply confirming that changes have been well-received.

Announcing the completion of the migration through social media and newsletters is like sending out housewarming invitations. It’s a formal way to let your broader network know you’ve moved. This public engagement serves multiple purposes. It’s a way to draw attention to your site’s new features or improvements and acknowledge and thank your community. Ultimately, engaging with the community isn’t just a concluding step.

Continue Monitoring and Optimization

Continuing to monitor and optimize your site post-migration is akin to regular home maintenance. You wouldn’t stop caring for your house just because you’ve moved in. Monitor analytics closely to monitor site performance, user behavior, and other key metrics. This ongoing surveillance can alert you to new issues before they become major problems. If you see an unexpected drop in traffic to a certain page, you can investigate and take corrective action quickly.

Making data-driven updates is like installing solar panels because you’ve noticed higher-than-expected electricity bills. Maybe a newly implemented feature isn’t getting the user engagement you expected have increased due to some newly added content. The point is to use real-world data to guide your ongoing optimization efforts. This helps maintain the quality of the user experience and ensures that your site remains agile.

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FAQ

What is a Site Migration?

Site migration refers to making substantial changes to a website, updating the CMS, or redesigning the site. The objective is often to improve site performance, user experience, or overall functionality.

How Long Does a Typical Site Migration Take?

The timeframe can vary depending on the site’s complexity and the migration’s scope. It could be as short as a few hours or extend to several weeks or months for more intricate projects.

Is Downtime Unavoidable During Migration?

While some downtime is often expected, careful planning and execution can minimize this. Choosing a low-traffic window and having a rollback plan are strategies to mitigate downtime.

How Will the Migration Affect My Site’s SEO?

If done correctly, a site migration should have minimal long-term negative impact on your SEO. However, you may see some fluctuations initially. Monitor for SEO issues like broken links and ensure that meta tags and descriptions are used.

Reference

Google Webmaster Guide

Moz Web Migration Guide

Website Planning Guide

Website Migration 

SHANE MCINTYRE

SHANE MCINTYRE

Founder & Executive with a Background in Marketing and Technology | Director of Growth Marketing.