outsourcing vs offshoring
Aleksander Furgal Published: 29 Jun 2023 16 min to read

SEO Migration Strategy: 5 Phases to Preserving Your Website’s SEO Juice

In tech, change is the only constant. Companies scale, technologies advance, and consumer preferences shift, and to keep pace, websites must evolve with them.

Website migrations, whether they’re due to a branding overhaul, a platform upgrade, or a shift in business strategy, are inevitable milestones in a successful website’s lifecycle. But they’re not without their complexities, particularly when it comes to preserving hard-won SEO gains.

Imagine a bustling e-commerce store that has built substantial organic traffic over the years, thanks to a meticulously executed SEO strategy. Now, they plan to switch platforms for better scalability and user experience.

Or, consider a popular blog that’s rebranding to align with a new business direction and needs to change its domain name without losing its loyal followership.

While migrations can unlock numerous benefits, they also carry an inherent risk. Without careful planning and execution, such transitions can disrupt SEO, leading to a sudden traffic drop, decreased online visibility, and a potential dip in revenue.

In this comprehensive guide, we delve deep into the process, breaking down the five critical phases of an SEO migration and the steps involved in each. Along the way, we explore why it’s essential to consider SEO during these transitions, and who is best suited to carry them out – whether it’s an in-house team or an external agency.

Ready to learn all there is to know about website migration? Let’s get started.

What is website migration?

Website migration refers to a set of actions that involve substantial changes to a website’s setup, structure, content, design, location, or platform technology.

These alterations significantly impact the website’s search engine visibility and user experience, prompting a thorough re-evaluation of its search engine optimization strategy.

In other words, website migration is like moving your online “house” to a new address, requiring diligent planning and execution to ensure nothing valuable is lost in transit.

# Types of website migration

Website migration can take several forms, each with its own complexities and potential impact on SEO. Understanding the type of migration you’re undertaking can help guide your strategy. Here are some common types of website migrations:

  • Platform migration involves moving your website from one content management system (CMS) or e-commerce platform to another – for instance, transitioning from WordPress to Drupal.
  • Domain migration occurs when you change your website’s domain name. For example, moving from “old-domain.com” to “new-domain.com.”
  • Subdomain migration happens when shifting part or all of your website to a new subdomain, such as moving your blog from “www.yoursite.com” to “blog.yoursite.com.”
  • Protocol migration refers to moving from HTTP to HTTPS, an essential step for enhancing website security.
  • Structural migration includes any substantial changes to your website’s structure, such as its URL structure, navigation, or information architecture.
  • Content migration encompasses significant changes to the website’s content, like a complete website redesign or restructuring of your product pages.
  • Server migration occurs when you switch your website hosting to another server or hosting provider.


# What is SEO Migration?

Website migration is a complex process that, when executed properly, can lead to immense benefits. However, without careful planning and execution, it can disrupt your site’s performance, particularly from an SEO perspective.

SEO migration focuses on preserving and improving a website’s organic search performance during and after the migration process.

During a website migration, SEO elements – like URLs, meta tags, content, and backlinks – are prone to change, and these changes can negatively affect your website’s visibility on search engines if not managed correctly. An SEO migration involves planning and executing strategies to minimize disruptions and maintain, or even enhance, your search engine rankings throughout the migration.

In essence, an SEO migration takes a proactive approach, employing meticulous planning, testing, and monitoring to navigate the potential pitfalls of website migration and ensure a positive outcome for your website’s SEO performance.


Why focus on SEO during website migration?

SEO plays a crucial role in driving organic traffic to your website. If you’re not careful during a website migration, you can unintentionally disrupt your SEO, causing significant drops in organic traffic, visibility, and ultimately, revenue. Here are some key reasons why considering SEO during website migration is essential:

  • Maintain search rankings: A significant part of SEO is about building credibility and authority with search engines over time. A poorly executed migration can lead to drops in rankings for your keywords, undoing years of SEO efforts.
  • Preserve link equity: Backlinks, links from other websites to your own, are like votes of confidence in the eyes of search engines. During migration, you need to ensure that these backlinks continue to point to the correct pages on your website to preserve your link equity.
  • Avoid traffic loss: A decrease in rankings or loss of link equity can lead to significant drops in organic traffic. Considering SEO during migration can help prevent this traffic loss.
  • Provide a positive User Experience: Many aspects of SEO, such as site structure and page load speed, also contribute to the user experience. A smooth migration process that considers SEO will also ensure a positive user experience, keeping your visitors happy and engaged.

During their website overhaul, our clients tend to underestimate the complexity of an SEO migration. A common misstep is neglecting to form a strategic plan that accounts for SEO from the start. My advice: Approach your website migration as a critical opportunity for SEO advancement rather than just a technical transfer; let every decision be data-informed, prioritize communication across all parties, and never lose sight of the end goal – to deliver an improved user experience while safeguarding the site’s visibility. Mike Jackowski COO, ASPER BROTHERS Let's Talk


SEO Migration Checklist: 5 phases to preserving your SEO juice

Our SEO Migration Checklist is intended as a step-by-step guide to ensuring that your SEO efforts remain intact while transitioning to a new site structure, design, or domain.

The checklist is comprehensive, as we made sure to address every aspect of your website from an SEO standpoint. We want to encourage a proactive approach to SEO migration, from auditing your existing site, through development, launch, and beyond.

The purpose of this checklist is to alleviate potential hiccups that could impact your search engine rankings, website traffic, or user experience during migration. Moreover, it should help you set the stage for future growth.

Phase 1: Pre-migration auditing and planning

Before embarking on any website migration, a detailed audit and a well-structured planning phase are vital.

In this phase, preparation is key. With a clear migration plan, an understanding of your current SEO performance, and the priority pages identified, you’re laying the groundwork for successful website migration.

Here, we are laying the foundation for the entire migration process. This phase comprises six primary steps.

#1 Planning

Start by defining the goals of the migration.

Are you switching to a more robust platform? Changing your domain name? Or are you simply redesigning your website? Clarifying these objectives will help you determine the complexity of the migration and the resources needed.

Tip: Employ project management tools to keep track of tasks and maintain regular communication with your team.

As part of the planning process, you also need to allocate roles and responsibilities to your team members and create a realistic timeline for the migration.


#2 Current traffic analysis and backlink audit

This process involves using tools like Google Analytics, SEMRush, or Ahrefs to gather data on your current website performance.

Fact: A study by Ahrefs showed that the top-ranking page gets the most search traffic only 49% of the time. This shows why identifying high-performing pages is not as straight-forward as you might think.

Metrics to assess include organic traffic trends, top-performing pages, keywords rankings, and the backlink profile.


#3 Crawling

Crawling your website with tools such as Screaming Frog or DeepCrawl provides a list of all your URLs and assets (like images, CSS files, etc.).

This snapshot will be essential when you’re setting up redirects and testing the new website.


#4 Prioritizing URLs

Not all URLs are created equal. Some pages drive more traffic, generate more revenue, or have more backlinks.

Example: A page that attracts 40% of your organic traffic and has 50 high-quality backlinks should be a high-priority URL.

Use your crawl data, along with Google Analytics and your backlink analysis, to identify these high-value URLs.


#5 Picking the right date

Timing is everything.

Avoid launching during peak traffic periods or crucial business dates (like Black Friday for e-commerce sites). Ideally, plan your go-live for a quieter time when there will be less impact if something goes wrong.

Tip: Check your website analytics for a low-traffic window for migration.


#6 Deciding on a phased migration

If you’re working with a large or complex website, migrating the entire site at once can be overwhelming.

Example: An e-commerce site might first migrate its blog section before moving onto product pages.

Instead, consider phased migration. This means moving parts of your site sequentially, starting with the less critical sections


Phase 2: Development and testing

Once the planning and auditing phase is complete, you can move forward into the exciting realm of development and testing.

By following these steps during the development and testing phase, you’re helping to ensure a seamless transition from your old site to the new one. You’re also setting up the framework for your site’s SEO success.

Here, you will create a mirror of your website in a safe and secure environment, allowing you to develop and adjust the new website without impacting your live site. This phase consists of nine key steps.

#1 Setting up a staging site

A staging site is a clone of your live website that serves as a testing ground.

It allows you to make changes, test new plugins or themes, and more without affecting your live site. Having a staging website is essential, as it gives you room to experiment without risking your SEO ranking or negatively impacting the user experience.

Example: If your site is built on WordPress, several plugins like WP Staging can facilitate the creation of staging sites.


#2 (When changing domains) Implementing 301 redirects

This is the process of sending users and search engines to a different URL than the one they originally requested, essentially telling them that the page has moved permanently. The “301” is the HTTP status code.

Fact: According to a study by Moz, 301 redirects pass 90-99% of link equity (ranking power) to the redirected page.

Tools like Screaming Frog can help you map old URLs to new ones.


#3 Updating internal links

While 301 redirects can handle old URLs, updating your internal links is still the recommended practice.

Doing so ensures the link value is directly passed to the new URLs, and helps keep site architecture intact. It’s also beneficial for site visitors, as it contributes to creating a seamless user experience.


#4 Updating the XML Sitemap

An XML sitemap of your website leads search engines to all your important pages.

Updating your XML sitemap is crucial in guiding search engines to the new structure and pages of your website.


#5 Ensuring mobile-friendliness

Today, mobile-friendliness is not just a nice-to-have feature – it’s a must. Google’s mobile-first indexing means the mobile version of your website is considered the primary version for ranking purposes.

Stat: As of 2023, 55% of all web traffic comes through mobile phones.

Make sure your new design is responsive, fast, and delivers an exceptional mobile user experience.


#6 Adding or migrating schema

Schema markup, or structured data, helps search engines better understand your website content.

If you already have schema on your old site, ensure it is correctly migrated. If you don’t, consider adding it – it can significantly help boost your SEO.


#7 Updating robots.txt

This file controls how search engine spiders crawl and index pages on your site.

Make sure it’s configured correctly on the new website to avoid blocking important pages.


#8 Building a custom 404 page

Despite your best efforts, some visitors may still land on a non-existing page.

A custom 404 page can guide them back to a working page, reducing bounce rates and improving user experience.

Tip: Make your 404 page useful and engaging. Include links to important pages, or use humor to lighten the situation.


#9 Pre-launch QA and SEO audit

Before going live, conduct a thorough QA (Quality Assurance) check and SEO audit. This helps identify and fix any issues before they impact your users or rankings.

Use an SEO tool like SEMrush, Moz, or Ahrefs to audit your site, and make sure you check everything from metadata to page loading speed.


Phase 3: Go-live and immediate post-launch

With the development and testing phase complete, it’s time to move into the exciting go-live phase.

This phase is characterized by the official release of your new website to the public and the immediate actions required to secure your SEO efforts.

This phase consists of five steps. Completing these steps during the go-live phase will help to ensure a smooth transition, minimize SEO disruptions, and keep your website’s performance on track.

#1 Backup

Prior to migration, ensure you have a full backup of your old site.

Doing so acts as a safety net, providing you with a fall-back option if anything goes awry during the migration.

Tip: Use a tool like UpdraftPlus for WordPress sites or your hosting provider’s backup service to create a full backup.


#2 (When changing domains) Updating Google My Business and Bing Places

If your migration involves a domain change, it’s important to update your new URL on Google My Business and Bing Places.

Stat: Google handles over 3.5 billion searches per day, and a significant portion of these have local intent.

These platforms direct a significant amount of local search traffic, so keeping them up-to-date is crucial.


#3 (When changing domains) Updating the Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools

Both these tools have a “Change of Address” feature. This informs these search engines about your new domain, helping to speed up the re-indexing process.


#4 (When changing domains) Updating backlinks

While 301 redirects will handle most link equity transfers, directly updating your most valuable backlinks can add an extra layer of security.

Reach out to the owners of the websites linking to your most important pages and ask them to update the URL.

Example: If you have a strong backlink from a high-authority website like Forbes or TechCrunch, directly contacting them to update the backlink could be worth the effort.


#5 Post-launch QA and SEO audit

Once your site is live, it’s essential to crawl the website again and compare it to the pre-launch state.

Fact: After the BBC accidentally de-indexed their website, they lost 84% of their organic traffic for several days.

Remember to check for any 404 errors, make sure all redirects are working correctly, and confirm that your new pages are indexable.


Phase 4: Post-launch monitoring and adjustments

After your new website goes live, the work isn’t over.

Post-launch monitoring and adjustments are an essential part of any SEO migration strategy. This phase is about maintaining vigilance, observing the new site’s performance, making necessary adjustments, and ensuring the migration’s goals are met.

Remember, migrating a website is akin to moving to a new house. Just like how you’d check the plumbing, the electricity, and the locks once you’ve moved in, the same care should be given to your website post-migration. Keep a close eye on its performance, and act quickly to address any issues.

This phase comprises three steps:

#1 Post-launch performance check

It’s crucial to monitor your website’s performance closely after the migration. Keep an eye on your Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools daily for any potential crawl errors or indexation issues.

Tip: Set up an SEO Dashboard in Google Analytics to track key metrics easily.

Track organic traffic, bounce rate, page loading times, and conversions using your analytics platform.


#2 (When changing domains) Maintaining the old domain

Don’t rush to discard your old domain. Keep it registered and under your control for at least six months to a year after migration.

Doing so gives users and search engines time to adjust to new URLs, and prevents others from potentially re-registering your old domain and capitalizing on your brand and SEO value.


#3 Tracking 404 errors in Google Analytics

Keeping track of any 404 errors post-migration helps you fix broken links or missing pages that may have slipped through the cracks.

A rise in 404 errors can also indicate a problem with your 301 redirects or a section of your site not being properly crawled and indexed.

Fact: 404 errors don’t directly hurt your SEO, but they can provide a poor user experience, which can indirectly impact your rankings.


Phase 5: Benchmarking and continuous improvement

After you’ve monitored and made necessary adjustments to your new site, it’s time to embark on the final phase of the SEO migration journey: Benchmarking and Continuous Improvement.

In this phase, you are expected to evaluate the new site’s performance against set benchmarks and continue optimizing. By doing so, you ensure that the efforts you put into your SEO migration continue to pay dividends. It’s not just about successfully making it through the migration – it’s about setting the stage for ongoing SEO success.

This phase involves two steps:

#1 Benchmarking the new website’s performance

During the initial audit and planning phase, you documented the performance of the old website. Now, you’ll compare the new website’s performance against these benchmarks.

Example: If your old site had an average page load time of 3 seconds, and the new site averages 2 seconds, that’s a successful outcome to report.

Metrics to consider include organic traffic, conversion rates, bounce rates, page load times, and rankings for your target keywords. The goal is to maintain or, preferably, improve upon these metrics post-migration.


#2 Continuous improvement

SEO is a continuous process; even after migration, regular audits and optimizations are crucial.

Continue to create and optimize content, build quality backlinks, improve website speed, and enhance user experience.

Tip: Schedule regular SEO audits, perhaps quarterly, to ensure that your website continues to be optimized and in line with SEO best practices.

Regularly check Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools for any crawl errors or manual actions, and stay on top of SEO news for any algorithm updates or new best practices.


Who should conduct the SEO Migration?

The responsibility of conducting an SEO migration can either be taken on by your in-house team or outsourced to an external agency. Both options have their merits and drawbacks.

Choosing between doing it yourself or hiring an external agency depends on your team’s skill level, the complexity of the migration, your budget, and your available resources. It’s essential to weigh the pros and cons carefully before making a decision.

The key is to ensure that whoever conducts the migration understands the importance of SEO and follows best practices to ensure a smooth transition.

# In-house team

Your in-house team is the personnel already employed by your organization. This could include web developers or any other team members familiar with SEO and user experience guidelines.


  • In-depth knowledge: In-house teams possess an intimate understanding of the company’s objectives, which can streamline the migration process. They have immediate access to crucial resources, data, and insights – an advantage that might take an external agency some time to build up.
  • Skill development: Undertaking the migration internally offers a valuable learning opportunity for the team, cultivating insights and skills that will be beneficial in upcoming projects.
  • Consistency: Given the in-house team’s continuous involvement in the website’s lifecycle, there’s a seamless flow of knowledge. This consistency can aid in the migration process.


  • Bias: The main drawback of utilizing an in-house team lies in the potential for bias. Being too close to the website and its history could result in overlooking issues or reluctance towards making substantial changes.
  • Time constraints: An SEO migration is a time-intensive process. It can divert your team’s focus from their standard responsibilities. This added task might impact their efficiency and the quality of the migration process.
  • Lack of required expertise: A successful migration requires a high level of expertise in SEO and website development. If your team lacks this knowledge, it can lead to mistakes that will harm your SEO.


# External agency

External agency refers to a third-party entity enlisted to conduct the migration. Such organizations typically maintain a dedicated roster of professionals specializing in SEO and other vital fields.


  • Expertise and experience: External agencies, thanks to their experience working with a variety of clients and sectors, bring a wealth of expertise and fresh perspectives to the audit. These factors can contribute to generating unique insights and innovative solutions and minimize the risk of errors.
  • Unbiased viewpoint: External agencies provide an impartial examination of your product. Their assessment of the situation is grounded purely in industry best practices and user data, free from the influence of internal politics or preconceptions.
  • Access to advanced tools and techniques: External agencies usually have access to the latest tools and techniques. This can lead to a more thorough and efficient migration process.


  • Time to onboard: External agencies require time to familiarize themselves with your website, target demographic, and business objectives. This adjustment period could push back the start of the actual migration process.
  • Limited control: When working with an external agency, your company may have less influence over the migration process. This could result in potential communication gaps or misunderstandings regarding business goals.
  • Stronger emphasis on communication: An external agency won’t be inherently aware of your organization’s subtle dynamics. Maintaining clear, consistent, and comprehensive communication is key to effective collaboration. Regularly scheduled calls can minimize potential misinterpretations and optimize the outcome of the migration process.


Essential tools for a smooth SEO migration process

Various tools can assist in collecting and analyzing data, making your SEO migration smoother and more efficient.

When used correctly, these tools can offer invaluable insights needed to plan your migration strategy, identify and fix potential issues, and monitor the impact of the migration on your site’s performance.

Here are five essential tools to help guide your SEO migration process:

#1 Google Search Console

This free tool from Google is indispensable for any SEO activity, including migrations. It helps monitor and troubleshoot your site’s presence in Google Search results. Google Search Console can alert you to any crawl errors, manual actions, or security issues. It also allows you to submit your XML sitemap and check the indexing status of your pages.

#2 Screaming Frog SEO Spider

Screaming Frog is a website crawler that collects crucial SEO data about your site, such as URLs, title tags, meta descriptions, heading tags, and more. During a migration, it can help you understand the current structure of your site, identify issues like broken links or duplicate content, and verify successful implementation of redirects post-migration.

#3 Moz Pro

Moz Pro is a complete SEO toolset that offers several features useful during a migration. Its Site Crawl tool can identify SEO issues on your site, while its Rank Tracker can monitor the rankings of your crucial keywords throughout the migration. Also, its Link Explorer is a robust backlink analysis tool, useful for maintaining your backlinks during a migration.

#4 Ahrefs

Ahrefs is another comprehensive SEO tool that provides valuable insights during a migration. Its Site Explorer feature provides an in-depth look at your backlink profile and organic search traffic, which can help benchmark your site’s performance pre-migration. Its Site Audit feature can also help identify SEO issues that need to be addressed.

#5 Google Analytics

Google Analytics is a free tool that provides detailed statistics about your website’s traffic and user behavior. It is crucial for benchmarking your site’s performance before the migration and tracking changes post-migration. Google Analytics can also help identify your most valuable pages in terms of traffic and conversions, which should be a priority during the migration process.



As we come to the end of this extensive guide, it’s time to look forward, not back.

Keep in mind that website migrations are a testament to your website’s growth and dynamism. It’s a complex process, yes, but with the right tools, a strategic plan, and the insights you’ve gleaned from this guide, you’re well-equipped to navigate the challenges and celebrate the successes that lie ahead.

Consider each step as a learning experience, an opportunity to delve deeper into the intricacies of SEO and understand your website better. And remember, in this rapidly changing digital landscape, the goalposts will continue to shift.


Call to action
Planning website migration and need expert SEO guidance? Reach out to us today and let’s ensure your digital transformation happens seamlessly, without compromising your SEO results. Successful migration is just a message away.

Aleksander Furgal

Content Specialist



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