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Website Migration Checklist: 3 Phase Approach

by: Hostwinds Team  /  January 11, 2024


Whether it's looking for a new hosting provider, or moving from a shared server to a more secure VPS, the motivations behind a website migration are generally rooted in one's desire to move to something better that will take their site to the next level.

Whatever the case may be, website migrations are a near inevitable endeavor every company and individual with a website will encounter.

However, many are not aware of what goes into a site migration and will often dive head first thinking it's just a simple matter of transferring some files to a new server - this gets them into a lot of trouble.

Without a proper website migration plan in place, you risk running into problems that could set your site back to zero.

To help avoid the headaches, we have laid out a 3 phase website migration plan that will set you up for success.

Phase 1: Pre-Migration

The most common reasons web migrations fall off the rails is lack of planning, not involving the right people, and underestimating the amount of work involved.

Laying out your objectives is the first and most important step in website migration.

Consider these questions to help define your objectives.

  • Why are you migrating your website? Knowing why you want to migrate will help you understand if it's really worth moving forward.
  • What is the scope of the migration? Define what elements of the website are to be migrated - content, databases, applications, etc.
  • What is the timeline? Establish a realistic timeline, considering factors such as downtime, testing, and troubleshooting.
  • What's the current state of the site?  Record important benchmark data to use as baseline metrics that can be compared to post migration data.
  • Who is going to be involved in the migration? Anyone that has a stake in the website's development should know what's going on.

Once your objectives have been laid out, you can start preparing your site for the actual migration.

Take Content Inventory

Record your current site's SEO structure, including URLs, Canonical tags, Robots.txt, internal links, sitemaps, etc. Using a crawling tool like Screaming Frog to take inventory of all your pages will offer a baseline reference to compare pages post-migration.

Setup 301 Redirect Map

If the URL structure of the new site differs from the original, you'll need to 301 redirect each URL of the original to its new counterpart. Doing so transfers the original URL's page authority to the new one, allowing the page and the website as a whole to maintain search rankings.

Backup Data

Site migrations have several moving parts that need to work in sequence - sometimes they don't. Create backups of all website files and databases. A simple data backup and recovery protocol is a nice insurance policy that can save a lot of potential headaches.

Set Up Test Environment

Create a staging site on the new server for pre-migration testing and thoroughly test all website functionalities, including links, forms, databases, and custom scripts. This will help identify any bugs prior to production site launch.

Document DNS Records

The Domain Name System (DNS) is responsible for directing traffic to the right server. If you're migrating to a new web server or hosting provider, gather all appropriate DNS record information, including domain registrar and DNS record types (A, CNAME, MX, TXT, NS).

Phase 2: Migration Time

Once preparations have been made, you can begin the actual process of migrating your website. While the idea is pretty straightforward - transfer files and databases to a new server - there are a few tasks worth considering.

Schedule Downtime

Migrating website files can take time and it's not always a seamless transition. When you're ready to execute the migration, make sure to do it during a time where your website traffic is at its lowest.

Review Files and Databases

Redundancy is key to a successful website migration. Review all site files, databases, SEO structure, and URL maps at least one more time to make sure everything is accounted for.

Update DNS Records

An extremely important task is making sure the Domain Name System (DNS) knows where to find your new web server. You do this by updating your DNS records to point to your new web server's IP address.

Monitor Migration Progress

Don't sit back and wait for the migration process to run its course. Keep an eye out for and immediately address any issues that may arise, including broken links, third-party integration breakage, mismatched content, DNS propagation delays, etc.

Phase 3: Post-Migration

After completing its migration, your website is still not out of the woods.

Run Usability Testing

Conduct thorough testing on the new server to ensure all functionalities work correctly, including forms, downloadable content, navigation, and ecommerce functions if applicable.

Monitor Performance

Review your previous site's SEO performance metrics and compare them with the new ones. Monitor historically high performing pages over a few week period to see if there are any fluctuations in traffic or conversions and assess the need for performance optimization.

Submit New Site to Search Engines

Submit an updated sitemap to search engines and inform them of the change in website

Location - Google Search Console has the "Change of Address" tool for such an occasion.

Review Internal Links and Redirects

Recrawl your site to check on URLs as well as the internal links within those pages to make sure they are all following the new structure.

Also test the old URLs to confirm they are not only redirecting to the new URLs but redirecting to the right ones.

Security Check

Review all security and user configurations to ensure your site is safe from cyber threats and internal teams have proper access to the system. This includes SSL certificates, directory and file permissions, security headers, firewall configurations, third-party application security, etc.

Monitor User Feedback

Even after several passes, there still may be post-migration issues you haven't caught. Lean on your audience by opening up a line for user feedback and address any reported issues.

Conclusion

Migrating your website can seem like an intimidating and daunting undertaking. But with the right plan in place and the right people to execute on it, the process can be smooth and the results can be well worth the time and effort.

Happy hosting!

Written by Hostwinds Team  /  January 11, 2024