Are you considering migrating your ecommerce website to a new hosting platform or domain? Maybe you’re looking for improved site performance, security, scalability, integration, and cost savings. These are all valid reasons for relocating your site, and when done correctly, your customers should experience improvements rather than glitches or service disruptions caused by the migration. Here’s what you need to know about website migration and how to ensure a successful transition for your ecommerce platform.
What is website migration?
The term “website migration” can refer to many different processes, including (but not limited to):
- Changing hosts
- Changing domains
- Changing content management systems (CMSs)
- Changing website design or theme (in an all-in-one CMS like Shopify)
- Changing URL structure, e.g. changing from HTTP to HTTPS
All of these types of migration can have far-reaching implications for your site’s performance, and all can impact your site’s search engine rankings.
Given the complexity of the process, especially for large websites, migrations may require the expertise of a developer or web design professional. It’s essential to carefully plan and execute your migration to ensure your website isn’t disrupted or lost during the transition.
When and why should you migrate a site?
The decision to migrate a website relies on several factors, including the site’s current state, the business’s goals, and the resources available to execute the migration.
One of the most common reasons to migrate a website is a change in the business or organization’s goals. For example, a small cosmetics business might want to migrate its ecommerce website to a different platform for better mobile device optimization and to enhance its branding and image. In this case, a website migration reflects the business’s new focus and goals.
Another common reason for migrating a website is changes in technology that make it necessary to update a website to stay current and competitive. For example, a website built using an older version of a content management system (CMS) may need to be migrated to a newer version to take advantage of new features and functionality.
Website migration can also be necessary to improve security. An older website built using outdated technologies could be vulnerable to attacks. As you discover new security threats and vulnerabilities, you may need to update your site to protect yourself and your business against them.
Website migrations are sometimes planned, such as a redesign or brand launch. In other cases, they may be executed on short notice to address an emergent issue or opportunity, e.g., technological changes or cyber threats. Regardless, consider your goals, the resources available, and the potential impact on the business before deciding to migrate your entire site.
Types of site migration
- Domain migration
- Hybrid migration
The top three types of site migrations with implications for your site’s performance in organic search are domain migration, re-platforming, and hybrid migration. Here’s how they differ:
1. Domain migration
Domain migration involves moving a website from one domain name to another, or from one domain extension to another—perhaps from a .com to a .net domain. You might migrate your domain because you prefer another URL. Other reasons include technical issues, such as a protocol, subdomain, domain name, or site structure change that alters your site architecture.
Re-platforming involves moving a website from one hosting platform or CMS to another—for example, migrating from your previous provider to Shopify or simply upgrading to the latest platform version. You might be unsatisfied with your current provider or need to move to a more powerful host to accommodate the growth of your business.
In some cases, re-platforming requires design and URL changes because of technical limitations when changing platforms. This is why re-platforming rarely results in a website that looks and works exactly like the previous one.
3. Hybrid migration
Hybrid migration is the catch-all category for migrations that blur the line between domain migration and re-platforming. For example, you can consolidate multiple websites onto a single platform.
Although it can be more cost-effective to make numerous changes simultaneously, the more elements you alter at the same time, the more complex and risky the transition is. Ensure your hybrid migration is well-planned and executed.
How to migrate a website
The primary goal of website migration is to retain or increase traffic and revenue levels while updating or upgrading the website. The following steps help eliminate errors and streamline the process before, during, and after migration:
How to plan a website migration
Before migrating your website, define the scope and objectives of your transition to ensure the migration goes as smoothly as possible. Ensure all relevant team members are on the same page about the migration and that there’s a clear timeline for completing the process.
Three tasks are essential to complete before undertaking a migration:
- Creating a content inventory. A content inventory helps you quickly identify content lost during the migration process and rectify the issue.
- Assessing your backlink profile. An overview of your entire site’s backlink profile helps you redirect new links to working versions of your new pages.
- Doing a web accessibility check. A web accessibility check ensures that your new site is accessible to users with disabilities and compliant with other regulations.
To minimize disruption, schedule your migration during off-hours or a period of low traffic, and avoid publishing new content or launching new pages. A pre-migration promotional campaign can brace customers for the change.
- URL redirects. Set up redirects for pages that customers may have bookmarked to minimize the risk of losing customers who return to a page and find it unavailable after the migration. The process of setting up redirects is dependent on your platform and server. If you can’t find where to add URL redirects, search the help center of the origin platform.
- Blog posts and articles. You can use tools included in Shopify to migrate your blog posts and articles, but you must use a relative path to replace embedded images. Also, consider hosting media files externally or using an app from the Shopify App Store to help with the migration. Other platforms have their own extensible capabilities as well.
How to execute a website migration
Before pointing your domain to the new site or your site to a new domain, test your new site to ensure that it functions as well or better than the old one. In practical terms, you can compare URLs, metadata, and other relevant information from the old site against the new one. Make sure all your content displays correctly and that interactive elements like links and forms work properly.
There are various tools that can assist in the testing process, such as Google Search Console, which can identify broken links and other issues. You might also use a staging environment to identify and address any potential issues before going live with the new site.
If you’re migrating domains, the next step is to update the DNS settings for your domain to point to the new server. This makes the new site live for users to visit and search engines to crawl.
To ensure users and search engines can access your content after the migration, set up redirects from the old URLs to the new URLs on the new site. (Your hosting platform may or may not require this step.) You can do this using 301 redirects, which are permanent redirects that tell search engines to update their indexes with the new URLs. This is an especially important step for the SEO health of your site.
Finally, it’s a good idea to update any external links to your site—or at least the most important links—like those on social media profiles. Doing so ensures users and search engines end up on the correct URLs in your new location. Your hosting platform may or may not require this step.
What to do after you’ve migrated a website
After migrating your website, update your robots.txt file. Robots.txt files tell search engine crawlers which parts of your site you want to be accessible. Configure them appropriately; a site crawl helps identify broken links, error response codes, and other SEO errors. Check your analytics tags to see if your tool tracks page visits. Make sure to remove crawling/indexing restrictions (there might be basic authentication or noindex tags as well) when you move from staging to production.
Your site map is a list of all the pages on your site and helps search engines understand the structure of your site. Test and submit your XML site map—a top-level index of all available URLs on your site—to search engines like Google and Bing. Furthermore, make sure you set up a Google Search Console account for both domains and leverage the Change of Address tool.
Finally, report on your benchmark metrics, like site speed, and traffic stats, like page views and unique visitors. Comparing the new metrics to your benchmarks can help you identify any issues and track the positive effects of the site migration. Free tools like Google Analytics and Google Search Console can be your first line of defense.
Once everything is working correctly, launch your new site and update any remaining internal links.
4 common site migration mistakes to avoid
- Not correctly planning the migration
- Not testing the migrated website
- Not redirecting old URLs
- Not submitting your updated site map to search engines
Here are four common site migration mistakes to avoid.
1. Not correctly planning the migration
Failing to properly plan the migration process (or just planning it poorly) can lead to delays, disruptions, and data loss. It’s important to carefully map the migration process and create a timeline for each step, including identifying the migration goals, involving internal stakeholders, creating an overview of metrics and benchmarks, setting a migration deadline, and creating a content inventory.
2. Not testing the migrated website
Test the migrated website to ensure all content and functionality work correctly. This includes checking for broken links, missing images, and other issues that can have a negative impact on user experience and ultimately cost customers. Be sure to test on different browsers and devices.
3. Not redirecting or updating old URLs
If you're not changing domains, try not to change URLs. But if your website’s URL structure does change during migration, it’s crucial to set up 301 redirects from the old URLs to the new ones. This is especially important for pages that customers may have bookmarked, including links on the website and other websites that point to your site.
Failing to redirect or update old URLs can result in broken links and a decline in SEO. Users may become frustrated and leave if they encounter a broken link, resulting in lost traffic and revenue.
4. Not submitting your updated site map to search engines
Search engines rely on site maps to discover and crawl new and updated pages. Failing to give them an updated site map means search engines won’t be aware of changes to your site and will poorly index your new pages. Be sure to follow the steps above to submit updated site maps.
Site migration FAQ
Can you migrate a website to a new domain?
Yes, it’s possible to migrate a website to a new domain. This process involves transferring the website’s files, databases, and domain name to the new hosting platform or domain, and can be complex, especially for larger websites. As such, you may require the expertise of a developer or web design professional.
Is it better to transfer or connect a domain?
It depends on your situation. Transferring a domain involves moving the domain registration from one registrar to another. Connecting a domain means pointing the domain to a website hosted on a different hosting platform. Transferring a domain may be more suitable if you want to change registrars or have more control over the domain. Connecting a domain may be ideal if you want to keep the domain with its current registrar but use it with a different hosting platform.
How much does it cost to move a website?
The cost of moving a website varies depending on the complexity of the website, the hosting platform and domain, the amount of additional work required, and the specific needs and goals of the website owner. The cost can range from a few hundred dollars to thousands of dollars.
What is an SEO migration?
When moving a website to a new domain or hosting platform, preserving or improving its search engine visibility should be a top priority. An SEO migration involves various tasks to ensure that the website maintains or improves its search engine rankings. This may include redirecting old URLs, updating internal and external links, and updating site maps and search engines to reflect the new website. By focusing on the SEO implications of a site migration, you can avoid losing valuable search engine rankings and traffic. It's important to carefully plan and execute the migration process, taking into account any potential SEO risks or opportunities. With proper planning and execution, an SEO migration can result in a website that performs even better in search engine rankings and visibility than before the migration
Why is site migration important?
Website migration can improve website performance, security, and user experience. As a complex process, it involves changing aspects like the domain, structure, and content. It’s quite ordinary to experience a temporary drop in traffic during the migration process. Search engines need time to re-crawl and re-assess the changed and updated website, and that drop in traffic usually self-corrects over time. Overall, website migration helps ensure that a site is performing at its best while meeting the needs of its users and the business it represents.