Performing an SEO website migration: the 2023 guide

A SEO website migration is a drastic change with major implications for the search engine optimization (SEO) and performance of your website. It is therefore crucial to make the right preparations and take the necessary steps to ensure migration goes smoothly. This is how you keep the impact on SEO minimal.

In this guide, I cover various aspects of a website migration, including different types of migrations, risks and pitfalls. I also created a checklist for successful migration. In addition, I tell you what needs to be done before, during and after the migration to ensure that the website continues to perform optimally and maintains its SEO value.

A website migration is complex, which is why consulting an experienced SEO specialist may be advisable. That way, you can be sure that the migration will be done successfully. With proper planning, preparation and monitoring, a website migration can be an important step in the development of a successful and effective website.

What forms of SEO website migration are there?

There are different types of website migrations. Each is aimed at improving the search engine optimization (SEO) of a website. Here are some of the most common types:

Domain migration: in domain migration, you completely change the URL structure of a website. You do this, for example, when your company changes its name and therefore needs a new domain name. A domain migration can affect a website’s SEO because search engines have to index the new URLs, while the links and backlinks on the old website are no longer relevant.

Platform migration: a platform migration is the change of the Content Management System (CMS) on which a Web site is hosted. This happens, for example, when a company switches from WordPress to Shopify. A platform migration can affect a website’s SEO because the website’s structure and coding change.

URL change: a URL change involves changing the URLs of the pages on a website. For example, when you change the titles or content of your pages. A URL change can affect a website’s SEO. Indeed, search engines must learn to index the new URLs. Also, old links may no longer work(1).

Design and structure change: in a design and structure change, you change the look and feel of your website. You do this, for example, when your company introduces a new logo or restructures its website. A design and structure change also affects a website’s SEO, because search engines need to learn the new content and the website structure changes.

HTTPS migration: an HTTPS migration involves moving the website from HTTP to HTTPS. HTTPS is a secure version of HTTP and offers the user more security and privacy. This positively affects a website’s SEO because search engines rank secure websites higher than unsafe ones.

http-https

Any website migration can affect a website’s SEO. Therefore, it is important to plan and implement carefully to minimize the impact on website rankings. It is advisable to seek advice from an SEO professional before performing a website migration.

An SEO website migration in a nutshell

No time for a long article? No problem. Check out the bird’s eye view below for a summary of this article.

What is a domain migration?

A domain migration for SEO means changing a website’s domain name. In doing so, you move the content and structure of that website to a new domain. Because this changes the way search engines index and rank the website, it affects a website’s SEO.

When a Web site changes domains, all URLs from the old domain name must be redirected to the new domain name. This is necessary to maintain the old search engine rankings and links and to avoid so-called “404 errors. The new website should contain the same or similar content, structure, metadata and keywords as the old website. This is because it allows search engines to correctly index and rank the new website.

A well-planned and implemented domain migration can lead to improved SEO. For example, because it reduces technical problems, improves user experience and optimizes keywords. However, a domain migration not done correctly can lead to a temporary drop in search engine rankings. This results in loss of organic traffic. Therefore, it is important to consult an experienced SEO professional. This one knows the steps required to perform a successful domain migration.

What is platform migration for SEO?

Platform migration for SEO refers to the process of changing the Content Management System (CMS) or platform on which a Web site is hosted. In doing so, you move the content and structure of the website to a new platform. A platform migration can affect a website’s SEO because search engines will index and rank the website differently.

When a Web site changes platforms, several steps are required to ensure that search engines continue to index the site’s content correctly. One of those steps is to 301 redirect old URLs to new URLs. Ensuring proper metadata, checking page speed and checking for possible 404 errors are also examples. It is also important to ensure that the new website contains the same or similar content, structure and keywords as the old website. This way, a search engine can correctly index and rank the new website.

A well-planned and executed platform migration can improve your website’s SEO. It does this, for example, through better technical performance of the website, improved user experience and keyword optimization. However, if the platform migration is not done properly, search engine rankings may temporarily drop. That way, organic traffic is lost. Therefore, it is important to consult an experienced SEO expert who knows the right steps for a successful platform migration.

What types of redesigns are there (migration for SEO)?

There are different types of redesigns or design and structure changes aimed at improving a website’s search engine optimization (SEO). Below I have listed some of the most common types:

  • Cosmetic redesigns: with these redesigns, you improve the appearance of the website without making significant changes to its structure or content. You can think about changing the colors, fonts or adding new images. The impact of these types of redesigns on your website’s SEO is usually limited.
  • Functional redesigns: in a functional redesign, you change the structure and functionality of the website. Its purpose is to improve the user experience. Examples include adding a search bar, changing the navigation or improving the mobile responsiveness of the website. A functional redesign affects the SEO of a website because search engines will crawl and index the website differently.
  • Content redesigns: in a content redesign, you change the content of the website to improve the user experience. One way you do this is by rewriting the pages, adding new pages or removing outdated content. A content redesign may change keywords, metadata and internal links. As a result, this impacts your website’s SEO.
  • Structural redesigns: in a structural redesign, you change the structure of the website modified with the goal of improving the user experience. Actions you take in the process may include rearranging pages, adding new categories or changing the website’s hierarchy. A structural redesign results in search engines crawling your website differently. This can affect your website’s SEO.

To minimize the impact on your website’s SEO, you need to carefully plan and execute a redesign. An SEO professional can help identify potential pitfalls. He or she can also create a plan to improve SEO during and after the redesign process.

The biggest pitfalls of an SEO website migration

There are many pitfalls in an SEO website migration that can be avoided just by being aware that it exists. Awareness is particularly relevant among the organization’s developers and marketers.

PitfallExplanationPotential damage (1-100)
Forgot to testNot testing the new website before going live can lead to unexpected errors and problems that can negatively affect SEO performance.85
Loss of backlinksIf other sites link to pages on your old website that are not properly redirected, you may lose valuable backlinks.90
Failure to update XML sitemapsNot updating XML sitemaps can cause search engines to have trouble crawling and indexing your new website.75
Migration too fastMigrating too quickly without adequate preparation and consideration can lead to numerous problems, including many of the pitfalls mentioned above.80
Poor communication with stakeholdersPoor communication can lead to confusion and mistakes. For example, if the marketing department is not aware of the migration, they may continue to promote outdated URLs.70
Failure to track performance before and after migrationWithout this data, it will be difficult to determine whether the migration was successful and where any problems are occurring.80
Website migration pitfalls, explanations and potential damages.

As can be seen, much of this deals with technology and project management within website migration. Pay close attention to this during the migration phase.

Every migration has its own challenges

Every SEO website migration has its own challenges, below you will find the possible challenges associated with each type of migration. This is a general picture, every migration is unique and should (ideally) be guided by an SEO specialist.

Type of migrationChallenges
Domain changeChanging the domain of your website can lead to a temporary drop in traffic and ranking because search engines need time to process the change. It is crucial to set up 301 redirects from the old URLs to the new URLs to maintain link equity.
CMS ChangeA change of Content Management System (CMS) can lead to changes in URL structure, content and other SEO elements. It is important to ensure that all SEO elements are transferred correctly to the new CMS.
HTTPS MigrationSwitching from HTTP to HTTPS can present technical challenges, such as properly installing SSL certificates and redirecting all HTTP pages to HTTPS.
Site RestructuringThis may include changes in URL structure, site architecture or navigation. It is important to ensure that all pages are redirected correctly and that search engines can understand the new site structure.
Platform ChangeChanging e-commerce platform or other types of platforms can lead to changes in URL structure, functionality and other SEO elements. It is crucial to redirect all URLs correctly and to ensure that all functionalities work correctly on the new platform.
Mobile Website MigrationThis includes migrating from a separate mobile site to responsive design or dynamic serving. This requires careful planning and execution to ensure that the mobile experience is not compromised and that Google understands the change correctly.
Type of website migration + challenge.

What are the pitfalls of an HTTPS migration for SEO?

In most cases, an HTTPS migration results in improved SEO. In fact, search engines rate websites with HTTPS security higher than those that do not have it. However, there are some pitfalls of an HTTPS migration for SEO that you should keep in mind, such as:

  1. Invalid SSL certificates: does a website not have a valid SSL certificate? If so, this could mean a temporary drop in your position in organic search results. Therefore, always ensure that the SSL certificate is correctly applied and valid.
SSL certificates
  1. Changing URLs: in an HTTPS migration, website URLs may change from HTTP to HTTPS. It is essential that all HTTP URLs are correctly redirected to the new HTTPS URLs. This will prevent the creation of “404 errors” and allow you to keep the old search engine rankings and links.
  1. Content issues: certain website content may not load correctly on HTTPS. This could cause you problems with search engine indexing. Therefore, make sure that all content on the website loads correctly on HTTPS and that no mixed content is displayed.
  1. Page load time: an HTTPS migration can cause a delay in page load time of the website. This can have a negative effect on SEO and user experience. So always optimize page load times to minimize this effect.

It is important to plan and execute an HTTPS migration carefully. That way, the impact on your website’s SEO remains as small as possible. An experienced SEO expert identifies potential problems in this process and can create an improvement plan for your SEO during and after the migration process.

With an SEO website migration, there are several aspects to watch out for to ensure that the impact on the search engine optimization (SEO) of the website is minimized. Here are some important points to watch out for:

What should I pay attention to during an SEO website migration?

  1. Create a detailed migration plan: create a plan that includes all aspects of the migration. By this I also mean the technical aspects, such as URL redirects, metadata and 301 redirects. The plan should clearly describe the sequence of steps, as well as the components involved in the migration(2).
  1. Keep the site structure: keep the site structure, including URLs, categories and subdomains intact. This makes it easier for search engines to correctly index website content. It also allows you to better preserve old search engine rankings and links.
  1. Avoid duplicate content: migration can cause you to post duplicate content on your website. In fact, old and new URLs may arise for the same pages. Try to avoid this as much as possible and use a 301 redirect to prevent search engines from indexing the pages as duplicates.
  1. Monitor the migration: closely monitor the website and search engine rankings to detect and resolve any problems.
  1. Update the sitemap and robots.txt: Be sure to update the site’s sitemap and robots.txt This will help search engines index the new pages correctly and remove the old pages(3).
Update-the-sitemap-and-robots.txt
  1. Test the website: test the website thoroughly to make sure everything works correctly. This includes links, forms and page load time(4).
  1. Let search engines know that the website has moved: you inform search engines about this by submitting an updated sitemap. You also register the new website in Google Search Console.

Do you want to minimize the impact of migration on your website’s SEO? Then hire an experienced SEO expert to help you plan and execute the migration.

What are the risks of a website migration?

There are several risks associated with a website migration. These can affect the search engine optimization (SEO) of your website. Below I have listed some of the main risks:

  1. Loss of search engine rankings: during a migration, your website may temporarily disappear from search results. This means you lose organic traffic and your search engine rankings drop.
  1. Loss of internal links: internal links may be lost during a migration. This also results in a drop in the SEO value of your website. The loss of internal links also makes for a poorer user experience.
  1. Broken external links: when website URLs change, external links to the website may be broken. Like the loss of internal links, this can also reduce the SEO value of the website. As a result, your position in search engine results gets negatively affected.
  1. Duplicate content: if website content is not migrated correctly, duplicate content may result. This leads to lower SEO value and a degradation of the user experience.
  1. Technical errors: technical errors can occur during a migration. Examples include 404 errors, incorrect URL redirects and metadata issues. This, in turn, can also detract from the SEO value of your website.
Technical-Errors

To minimize the above risks, it is important to have a detailed migration plan and to carefully plan and execute the migration. An experienced SEO expert can identify the potential problems. Based on this, he or she draws up a plan of action to maintain or improve the SEO value of the website. This plan is implemented both during and after the migration process. Monitoring the website and search engine rankings is also important after the migration process to detect and fix any problems.

How long does the loss of organic positions last?

How long the loss of organic positions in a website migration lasts can vary. Several factors, such as the size of the website, the complexity of the migration and the amount of competition in the search results play a role in this. Typically, the loss of organic positions takes several days to weeks.

During the migration, your website may temporarily disappear from search results. This is because search engines still have the old URLs in their index and have yet to index the new URLs. This can lead to a temporary loss of organic positions and less traffic to your website.

The speed at which search engines index the new URLs depends on the size of the Web site and the amount of traffic it receives. Therefore, it is important to notify search engines of the migration and verify the new URLs in Google Search Console. This accelerates indexing.

To minimize the loss of organic positions and traffic, it is important to plan and execute the migration carefully. Also, be sure to thoroughly test your website before it goes live. That way, any problems that you had overlooked until then can still come to light. Likewise, it is important to monitor search engine rankings and organic traffic during and after migration. This allows you to quickly see if there are any problems and take appropriate action. It may take some time for the website to regain its former position, but with proper planning and execution, you can minimize this loss.

My website migration checklist

With a website migration, there are numerous points to consider. Can’t see the forest for the trees? Below is a 20-point checklist I prepared for a website migration:

  1. Create a detailed migration plan and establish a schedule for the migration.
  2. Before you begin the migration, back up your current website.
  3. Choose a convenient time for the migration. Preferably choose a period when there is little activity on your website.
My-website-migration-checklist
  1. Make a list of all the pages on the current website and make sure their content matches on the new website.
  2. Use a 301 redirect that directs all old URLs to the new URLs.
  3. Verify the new website in Google Search Console and also submit a new XML sitemap.
  4. Test the new website carefully before it goes live. This way, you ensure yourself that all functions work correctly.
  5. Make sure you update all old internal and external links correctly.
  6. Update the metadata on the new website. This includes titles and descriptions.
  7. Add canonical tags to all pages to avoid duplicate content. These tags tell a search engine what a page’s original URL is.
  8. Make sure all images and other media are correctly uploaded and visible.
  9. Verify that all forms and other interactive features are working correctly.
  10. Check that all pages display correctly on different devices and screen sizes.
  11. Make sure the website loads quickly. Understanding needed optimize load time.
  12. Make sure the website is secured with a valid SSL certificate. Also, make sure you correctly redirect all old HTTP pages to HTTPS.
  13. Create a 404 page with a message that informs visitors of the error and includes a link to the home page.
404 page
  1. Check that search engines are correctly indexing the website. Notice any problems? Then resolve them immediately.
  2. Verify that the website displays correctly in search engine results and fix any problems.
  3. Remove old pages and content that no longer have relevance.
  4. Monitor website and search engine rankings after migration to address any issues quickly.

A website migration is a complex process. This checklist can serve you as a guide so that you don’t overlook the most important aspects of a successful migration. Despite the completeness of this list, it is still advisable to consult an experienced SEO expert. This will ensure proper planning and execution of the migration so that the impact on your website’s SEO is minimal.

The work before the website migration

Optimal execution of website migration begins even before the actual migration. Below I will give you some tips that will help you minimize the impact on search engine optimization (SEO) during this phase:

  1. Establish a detailed migration plan and ensure a feasible timetable. Also, create a list of all the pages on the current website and make sure the content on the new website is the same.
  1. Back up the current website before starting the migration. In the unlikely event that something goes wrong during the migration process, you can quickly fix it.
backup
  1. Make sure you test the new website and that all features work correctly. Only then do you let it go live. After all, once your website is live, you don’t want to run into any more problems.
  1. Verify the new website in Google Search Console and submit a new XML sitemap. This helps search engines index the new website correctly.
  1. Make sure you update all old internal and external links correctly. This prevents broken links and helps you maintain the SEO value of the website.
  1. Update the metadata on the new website, including titles and descriptions. Search engines can thus index your new website more easily.
  1. Add canonical tags to all pages to avoid duplicate content. This prevents search engines from indexing the same content more than once.
  1. Make sure all images and other media are uploaded and displayed correctly. This way, in addition to improving the SEO of your website, you also improve the user experience.
  1. Check that all forms and other interactive features are working correctly. This reduces the risk that users will experience problems while visiting your website.
  1. Check that all pages display correctly on different devices and screen sizes. After all, as a website owner, you strive for the ultimate user experience across all devices.
different-devices
  1. Optimize page load time to improve user experience and SEO. You do this by using caching, image optimization and compression.
  1. Make sure the website is secured with a valid SSL certificate and that all old HTTP pages are properly redirected to HTTPS. In this way, you increase the security of your website, further enhancing its SEO value.

Want to minimize the impact on your website’s SEO? Then it is important to consult an experienced SEO professional who can help you plan and execute the migration. Monitoring the website and search engine rankings after migration is also essential to quickly resolve any issues.

The day of website migration

On the day of the website migration, there are several steps you can take to ensure a smooth process and quickly fix any problems. Here are some tips:

  1. Move the website to the new server or host. Make sure everything is transferred and configured correctly(5).
  1. Test the new website and all its features carefully before letting it go live.
  1. Perform a final check to verify that all URL redirects are set up correctly and that all old links are directed to the new site.
  1. Verify the new website in Google Search Console and also submit a new XML sitemap.
  1. Back up the new website before you let it go live.
  1. Shut down the old website before the new one goes live.
  1. Check the website thoroughly to make sure everything is working correctly. Don’t forget links, forms, images and other interactive features on the website.
  1. Monitor website and search engine rankings to resolve any problems quickly.
  1. Check the website for load time and speed and optimize immediately if it proves necessary.
  1. Make sure you have contact information handy in case something goes wrong.

Website migration is complex and a lot can happen on the day of migration. Good preparation is therefore essential. Therefore, a detailed migration plan and working with an experienced SEO expert are important for successful planning and execution.

After the website migration

After the website migration, there are several steps you can take to ensure that the website functions optimally and minimizes the impact on search engine optimization (SEO). Below I give you some tips:

  1. Verify the new website in Google Search Console and check that all pages are indexed correctly(6).
  1. Check search engine rankings and organic traffic. Monitor these for several weeks after migration as well. Notice a marked drop in your website traffic? Then check that the URL redirects are set correctly. If not, resolve this as soon as possible.
  1. Check the website thoroughly to make sure everything is working correctly. In this check, you also include links, forms, images and other interactive features on the website.
  1. Check that all metadata, including titles and descriptions, are set correctly.
  1. Check that all old internal and external links have been updated correctly. In addition, all broken links should be resolved.
  1. Check that all devices and screen sizes display your website correctly.
  1. Provide a website with an optimal load time.
  1. Use Google Analytics to monitor and analyze the performance of your website.
  1. Create a 404 page. This informs your visitors of the error and directs them to the home page.
  1. Adjust the XML sitemap and resubmit it to Google Search Console.
  1. Keep the website updated and add new content regularly. This improves both the user experience and the SEO value of the website.

It is important to monitor the website thoroughly after migration and resolve any problems quickly. An experienced SEO professional can help monitor the website and resolve any issues that may arise in the process.

Conclusion

A website migration can have a major impact on the search engine optimization (SEO) of the website. To ensure that the process goes smoothly and the impact on SEO is minimal, follow several steps before, during and after the migration.

The migration requires a detailed migration plan. You should also test all aspects of the website before it goes live. During the migration, it is important to monitor the website thoroughly and resolve any problems quickly. After migration, you continue to monitor search engine rankings and intervene immediately if there is a problem.

An experienced SEO professional can help plan, execute and monitor the website migration. This way, your website keeps its SEO value and continues to perform optimally. With careful planning and testing and the quick resolution of any problems, a website migration can be done successfully. Thus, your website may even start performing better than ever before.

Senior SEO-specialist

Ralf van Veen

Senior SEO-specialist
Five stars
My clients give me a 5.0 on Google out of 76 reviews

I have been working for 10 years as an independent SEO specialist for companies (in the Netherlands and abroad) that want to rank higher in Google in a sustainable manner. During this period I have consulted A-brands, set up large-scale international SEO campaigns and coached global development teams in the field of search engine optimization.

With this broad experience within SEO, I have developed the SEO course and helped hundreds of companies with improved findability in Google in a sustainable and transparent way. For this you can consult my portfolio, references and collaborations.

This article was originally published on 6 September 2023. The last update of this article was on 10 January 2024. The content of this page was written and approved by Ralf van Veen. Learn more about the creation of my articles in my editorial guidelines.