Best Practices for Your Next Site Migration

Written By Jim Kersey
Posted On August 5, 2019

Sometimes, a site migration is simply the only option. When it comes to improving your digital presence and the way your brand interacts with your target audience, moving from one CMS set up to another is what it takes to keep your business in the game.

However, most of you are well aware of the complexities that come with this process. If nothing else, your brand’s credibility and your precious SEO score are at risk if you get it wrong – and no one wants to take a hit as big as this if they’re in the middle of an expansion.

In this article, we’ve outlined the best practices to follow for those who still understand the great value that comes with moving their websites to a new CMS. If we have one piece of advice before we start though, it’s this: 

Site migration is well worth it if you’ve identified clear objectives and have the support of professional CMS experts. 

Are you ready to migrate?

“A site migration will result in a temporary loss of traffic; however, Google will update its index accordingly when your new site is live.”

Figuring out if you actually need to migrate your site and CMS is the first step in understanding how you should actually do it. By identifying the weaknesses of your current model, you will be able to compile a list of things that you would like to integrate into your new CMS.

If you discover that the process isn’t actually worth the effort, and you are risking too much for only a few small benefits, then realising this sooner rather than later is a good thing. It may be the case that you just need a few tweaks to your existing model to optimise your editorial, publishing or marketing processes. 

In our experience, however, a number of add-ons and tools can be integrated with standard CMS builds to offer additional functionality, but if you’re looking to really maximise the potential of your CMS, a larger migration to a whole new system is the most sustainable way to secure the success of your online presence. 

Here are some strong reasons that you might want to go ahead with your migration:

  1. You are suffering from slow load times
  2. You are going through a large rebrand
  3. The nature of your businesses and services is changing dramatically
  4. You are using new platforms and devices as part of your content strategy
  5. You need more engagement through your online content than you are currently getting

Tip: During your site migration is a great time to make other improvements to your online presence, such as your site structure, internal link networks and page content.  

What happens during a CMS Migration? 

“Changing up your CMS can also change up the way your business and marketing team operates – improving the various processes that are central to your brand’s online activity.”

To put it simply, a site migration, or a CMS migration, is the act of transferring a website from one CMS model to another. Each model is unique and can offer access to additional functionality.

One of the most common reasons for migration is expansion. Often, businesses will start out with a very basic model before realising the simplicity of their CMS build is limiting their potential. This could result in issues with the loading speed; clunky and ineffective dashboards; not enough flexibility when it comes to content distribution or the simple inability to deal with greater volumes of traffic.

Learn more about supporting your online presence with custom-built WordPress themes and bespoke CMS designs with Powered By Coffee.

1. Perform a site evaluation

First, make sure you crawl your site to take note of everything that’s there. Even if you’re planning a few changes, it’s important to have a full record of everything on your existing site by creating a full list of URLs.

You can do this with a tool like Screaming Frog, which also lets you identify any errors or mistakes on your old site. It’s natural to have several broken internal links or redundant redirects as your site evolves, so now is a great time to highlight these errors and make sure they don’t migrate to your new platform. 

2. Make a record of your current website’s analytics

You will almost certainly want a clear record of your Google Analytics data before you migrate. This will help you to compare the strengths and weaknesses of your new CMS after the migration process has been completed. 

If you have noticed any loss in traffic, then you can diagnose this situation better and find solutions more easily. It may just be that case that a few pages are underperforming, which will require some light maintenance to fix.

3. Identify top-performing pages 

Using the above method, identify which pages are fundamental to your overall SEO rank and track their performance post-migration very carefully. These crucial pieces of content will need to be in top shape when your new CMS is live in order to maintain the overall online presence of your site.

4. Don’t make too many changes

It might be tempting to completely alter your site structure, but this could result in a significant drop in traffic to your site. Obviously, this is not ideal when you’re trying to retain as many visitors as possible.

If you remove a page, you will subsequently remove its ability to gather traffic. There’s nothing wrong with dropping an odd page here and there – especially if it’s underperforming – but if you cull too many of your site’s core pages, you’ll lose significant traffic volume. 

In the worst cases, Google might think that your new site isn’t the same as the old, completely derailing your migration plans. 

5. Test before you do

Never perform a site migration without testing the process on a different server. Your CMS provider should be able to check that everything is in order in private mode before you press the button and actually go live with your new website. 

6. Backup your data

Simple really, but worth mentioning – make sure you have a backup of all your website data. Over the years, it’s easy to accumulate various files that exist solely on your CMS. Whether this is product images or page content, store this raw data in a safe location.

You might even want to use a spreadsheet to map out how your content relates to each other, based on different sections and subsections. Recording tags and categories can also help in case this information is not automatically transferred over to your new site for some reason.

Ultimately, this is a good reference point that will offer you peace of mind. And if nothing else, you will have a collection of assets that could be recycled for future content. 

7. Schedule your migration during a slow period

If possible, plan your CMS migration when you are not experiencing heavy traffic volumes. This could be a predicted seasonal drop in your sales activity that will allow you to perform your migration without a huge impact on your online conversions.

8. Redirect all changed links

Correctly redirecting your URLs is fundamental to a smooth site migration. They are required to help both users and search engines find pages that were on your old site and have moved to a new location.

In terms of SEO, the ability for search engines to discover and index a website’s new URLs, as well as the connection between your old and new site, is what will help you maintain your online presence and ranking. 

Poorly executed redirects will result in higher bounce rates and fewer conversions as users land on Not Found pages (404) rather than your all-important site pages. 

9. Identify and address any problems post-migration 

Making sure you’re prompt in your identification of any technical issues will help the transition massively. A few bugs here and there are normal, but the main thing is picking up on any issues that require immediate attention and addressing them as soon as possible.

You can do this by checking your search traffic data and bounce rates for instance. It may just be the case that a few crawl errors or linking issues need to be attended by your developer or CMS team, which can typically be fixed without too much hassle. 

Check-list for post-migration evaluation

  1. Update internal links
  2. Remove duplicate content
  3. Check for any missing pages
  4. Monitor traffic and SEO performance
  5. Make sure redirects are working
  6. Update external links to your site 
  7. Check for 404s and redirects
  8. Check all pages are indexed

10. Make it someone’s job to oversee this whole process

As you can see, there is a lot involved in a site migration. Having someone central to this process, who is also accountable for coordinating your businesses efforts when it comes to upgrading your CMS, is crucial to making sure the project goes smoothly from start to finish.

If you are not able to perform this task internally, make sure you hire a dedicated project manager or team of CMS experts who can facilitate the various actions that are necessary for a site migration. Getting this wrong can result in catastrophic consequences for your business. 

Find out how you can perform a smooth and successful site migration with a custom-built CMS and WordPress theme from Powered By Coffee.

Seek advice

Whether you’d like us to help you with your CMS migration itself, or simply offer you some words of advice when it comes to deciding if embarking on this mission is necessary in the first place, get in touch with Powered By Coffee

Helping businesses move to new and improved CMS platforms is what we do and what we love, so we’re more than happy to offer some guidance to those who need it.

Jim Kersey
Content Creator
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