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6 Steps to a Smooth Migration – Part 1

Some clients stick with an under performing website because the task of migrating seems overwhelming. Yes, it’s a significant undertaking. But approached the right way, whether you are moving platform entirely or making the switch from HTTP to HTTPS, there is no reason for it to become a long and arduous process.

A key part is for both client and agency to have a clear understanding of their role in the process. To help with this we have outlined and given a brief overview of the migration process in six steps, split over two parts. Today we will look at the first three steps which all deal with the pre-launch phase of a site migration. Next time, in our second part, we will look at the next three steps regarding the launch and post launch activities of a site migration.

1. Scope & Planning

Set your Goals from the start. When performing a site migration, it is important that everyone is clear on the objectives from the onset. Making the switch from HTTP to HTTPS is very different to a platform change and requires its own set of goals. Migrating to a different platform may be an opportunity for growth where as the main goal for switching HTTP to HTTPS might be more focused on SEO and retention of traffic levels.

How do you identify goals?
  • As a client you need to look at the reason you are migrating in the first place. There are several reasons to migrate such as an outdated website that doesn’t reflect your brand or you want to increase your traffic. Migration is also an opportunity to address any issues and make improvements on your site. You should involve as many stakeholders as possible at this stage and invite their feedback. This will help you gain a deeper understanding of the project scope.
  • As an agency your goal is to deliver to your client’s expectations, and so it is your job to manage those expectations by helping your client understand their goals and objectives. You need to have all your different teams communicate their tasks and interdependence on each other. This will let you scope out the project and understand the size and length of it. With this information you can explain to the client exactly the work that needs to be carried out.
Communication is key.
  • If you are an agency, you’ll know how important it is to explain this to the client so that they fully understand the scope of the project and remain confident in your abilities. If the client has a clear view of the work that needs to be done, they are less likely to throw in new ideas at the last minute.
  • If you are a client, you need to think about what you want out of the project. Make sure you clearly communicate your requests early on or ask for advice on exploring options. Throwing in surprise additions to the website at a later stage may become very costly for you. What may seem like a simple change is likely to be more time consuming than you’d think.

Extensive planning and preparation will help set and manage expectations and keep everyone on the same page. This has the potential to save you a lot of grief and costs as surprise changes become increasingly difficult to manage further down the line.

2. Pre-Launch & Preparation

When you receive the wireframes and prototypes, make sure you thoroughly review them prior to any further development. If they’re aren’t already part of your team, have SEO and UX (user experience) experts review them as well. It is worth investing both the time and cost to do this properly as it will help you find and fix any potential issues before they arise.

Benchmark and record everything! Before any changes are implemented, it is a good idea to benchmark your current traffic levels and keyword rankings. Record the current traffic for all your pages and links now so that you have a baseline to draw a comparison with. By doing this you will be able to more quickly spot any SEO related issues when the new site is live. If you don’t, you won’t be able to tell if the migration had any impact, regardless of whether it is negative or positive.

Scour the wireframes and prototypes. Once the wireframes and prototypes have been reviewed, a detailed SEO specification needs to be developed outlining all the essential SEO requirements that the developers need to be aware of. This will help developers work out the full scope and cost of the project and is often the final stage to budget being signed off. This also means that any SEO requirements that are not in the specification or thought of after may be impossible to include. If you do not have an in house SEO expert, many developers offer SEO services as well.

Identify the top performing pages. When a website migration is carried out it is not always necessary to bring over all the content from the old website. This is often an excellent opportunity to optimise and trim your web content.

  • If you are a client only bring over the content which is getting the most traffic. Pages that were posted five years ago that no one has visited for the last year may be worth omitting from the new website. Just check any valuable back-links though, you won’t want to lose those.
  • If you are an agency you need to help manage this process. If content is removed, it is important to implement 301 redirects on those pages. A 301 redirect is a permanent redirect which passes on 90 – 99% of the page traffic to the linked page. The redirect should lead to a page with similar content to the removed page or the new homepage. This is best practice to retain your web traffic as well as is possible.

3. Pre-launch testing

Test, test, test! The earlier you can start testing the better. Just like any project involving the creation or construction of something, testing is an important part of the process. Some of the most common are user journey reviews, site architecture reviews, meta data & copy reviews, internal linking reviews and general technical checks. Depending on your inhouse capabilities, this section applies to both clients and agencies.

User Journey Review
  • The user journey is the experiences people have when interacting with the different parts of your website. It can be difficult to review if there is a lack of user data and this is where an experienced UX professional can be helpful.
Site architecture review
  • The site architecture is the hierarchy and structure of the website. It needs to be optimised for SEO purposes as well as for users. Pages need to be easy to access without having to click through too many steps to get to the intended page.
Meta data & copy review
  • The meta descriptions, headings and copy all must be transferred and optimised for their new locations. Any new pages shouldn’t target keywords that have already been targeted by the transferred pages. Not doing this properly will have a negative impact on your keyword rankings and traffic.
Internal linking review
  • Internal linking binds your website together and allows users to move smoothly throughout. If it isn’t flawlessly implemented, your site will be negatively affected. Imagine clicking a link on a website only to find a 404-error page or being redirected back to the homepage. You probably wouldn’t think very highly of the website, nor try to get around the issue. Imagine how quickly your traffic could drop as a result.

You should now feel comfortable about your role in the pre-launch phases of a site migration. By having a clearer understanding of the process and what your role, as a client or agency, it should now be easier for you to collaborate. The more you understand about what you expect from each other the smoother the process will be. All together this gives you a higher chance of avoiding potential issues and reaching a successful launch of a migrated website. Remember to check back for part two, which will explain the launch and post launch phase of a site migration.