Smoving-websitesite migrations can be downright scary. There’s a variety of different things that can go horribly wrong and site downtime can cost a business a lot of money, if they aren’t careful.

Site migrations are necessary when you are trying to do at least one of the following:

New domain
Let’s say you started out as a local business called Philly Widget Company and now that you’ve expanded into a national company, you probably want a name that reflects your national presence. So you might consider changing your domain from to New domains are also sometimes used when an existing domain is so badly penalized by Google that associated URLs are essentially invisible to users in organic search.

New CMS/framework
Not every content management system (CMS) is created equal. Some CMS platforms are php-based, like Joomla, Drupal and perhaps the most popular, WordPress. While other platforms use an ASP.NET framework, like Umbraco and Orchard. Since each CMS has its own way of doing things, migrating from one CMS/framework to another can be a bit challenging to say the least.

Website termination
Although it may seem like a fairly straight-forward process, terminating a website comes with its own set of considerations. For instance, where will you send traffic once the site is shut down? Will they be redirected elsewhere? Will the content that currently resides on the site be re-located to a new domain?

As a consultant, I’ve had the opportunity to work with clients in each of these situations. If you’re considering a site migration, then the first thing you’re going to want to do is put together a website migration strategy. In this post I’ll provide some useful tips to help webmasters, SEOs and business owners streamline the process, minimize downtime and avoid a site migration disaster.

  1. If possible, buy a virgin domain. When you purchase an existing domain, you never know what kind of life that domain had before you acquired it. A common misconception is that when you buy an existing domain name, you will rank higher because of the age of the domain. In some cases this is true, but in the event that the domain had a shady past with Google, this strategy could potentially backfire.
  2. Opt for a top level domain (TLD) extension. Domain extensions are the suffix attached to the end of a domain name. For instance, if your website is – the .com is the extension. Although domain extensions don’t have a direct impact on search engine rankings, many marketing experts believe that customers give more credibility to TLD’s like .com, .net or .us, rather than .info, .biz, etc.
  3. Take inventory of all (if any) broken links and/or redirects on your legacy site. To do this you can use a url crawler (I’m partial to Screaming Frog and Xenu Link Sleuth). It’s also a good idea to use a tool like Open Site Explorer or Majestic SEO to compile a list of your top linked pages.
  4. Gather some baseline stats and data. Run some page load speed tests on your top landing pages, determine which images need to be compressed, consolidate JavaScript and CSS files whenever possible to reduce http requests. After establishing a solid baseline for your legacy site, you can then compare it to the new site to make sure that it’s performing at or above par.
  5. Test as much as possible. Especially if you’re changing the content itself or the format in which the content is displayed. There are several A/B and multivariate testing platforms available, such Optimizely and Visual Website Optimizer, but in order to reach statistical significance, your site will need a decent amount of regular traffic. If you own a smaller site, then you can monitor the impacts on rankings, traffic and conversions using Google Analytics and Google Webmaster Tools.
  6. If possible, try to maintain a consistent url structure. This makes it easier when redirecting urls to a different domain, because the only variable is the domain name, and the subfolder remains the same. Additionally, many webmasters use relative internal links – meaning that the url does not contain the domain name. For instance, if you link to your services page, you would might use “/services” as the url, instead of  A consistent url structure makes it so you don’t need to update these relative urls.
  7. When permanently redirecting pages, use individual 301 redirects. I strongly recommend that you do NOT use a blanket redirect for all pages to one single url. This not only passes zero link equity, but you also could get penalized by Google for having an unnatural proportion of links pointing to one single url, which could potentially translate to a whole lot of duplicate content.
  8. Segment your site traffic so that only a portion goes to the new site until all the initial kinks are worked out. I recommend starting small and gradually pushing more and more traffic to the new site, eventually phasing out the legacy site. I’d say keep the new site between 25 and 50 percent of overall traffic. But if you want to be a little bit more conservative or aggressive with the traffic allocation, by all means, go for it.
  9. Don’t be afraid of canonicalization. It’s actually a lot more simple than you might think, and it can really come in handy if you’re migrating your website. You can use canonical tags to consolidate link signals for duplicate or similar content. You can also use canonicalization to tell web browsers which url you want visible to your visitors. For instance, you may want your website to display as, but alternatively you may want it to display as In a nutshell, the canonical tag helps attribute content to a specific url and preserve link equity between pages.
  10. Keep track of orphaned pages. Orphaned pages are standalone pages that do not belong to any navigation menu or hierarchy. They typically slip through the cracks during site migrations since they are usually buried somewhere in the website, either intentionally or as the result of a poor site architecture. Although orphaned pages are split off from the main site, they still can pass plenty of link value to the root domain and should be included in your sitemap.

I’m sure I left out a ton of best practices, like submitting a sitemap or running a site backup, but these were the top 10 things that came to mind, based on my personal experience with website migrations.  If you have any other interesting tips or issues that you’ve encountered during or after a site migration, feel free to share your experiences in the comments section below.