SEO Checklist for Website Change Domain
If you think about site migration, use the following guide with practical instructions that will help you to make the process as easy as possible.
There are several factors that can negatively impact the performance of a brand even more than incorrect migration.
Changing a domain name or using HTTPS address can be useful for business, but if you ignore the specifics of the search algorithms, forget about further success. It can be a strong hit in search traffic indicators.
Site Migration SEO Checklist
Think, if you really need to migrate website SEO
In most cases, site transfer leads to traffic loss. The matter is, that changes updating is a time taking process. If you want to minimise traffic instability, it’s recommended to plan migration beforehand. In the best case, Google will indicate the new web resource as an original one.
But, this scenario will be only in the best case. In practice, site transfers themselves are not beneficial for SEO. This action doesn’t help to avoid the system penalties.
This is the reason, why SEOs implement site transfers for various improvements for SEO (such as site architecture streamlining, damaged links fixing, duplicate pages combining, content improving).
So, a site transfer is expedient in the following situations:
- for links and press generating;
- when it’s necessary to move a site to HTTPS (the case when the transfer is useful for SEO).
Be sure to use a sandbox
Before a site transfer, it’s strongly recommended to check everything in a test mode. It’s necessary to make sure that the redirects are functioning properly. Public access should be opened only before detailed testing. If you try to avoid this step, you may face various issues with site placement.
Compare your analytics
Create a backup copy of your analytics. This data will be required for quick identification of any kind of traffic loss after the transfer.
If traffic loss is indicated, you need to export the analytics from the new website and proceed with a parallel comparison of data from both sites. This will help to figure out the pages that lead to traffic loss. The outflow of traffic is often observed not on the entire site, but on its certain pages.
You can figure out and note your top pages with links with the Ahrefs tool. Those pages need attention and close checking after the transfer. If there is traffic outflow, it may indicate that some actions were incorrect during the migration. Moreover, such pages are the most influential among all the others. They are the key factor of your site’s performance.
Scan the site
To scan the site, you may use Screaming Frog or other alike tools. Don’t forget to save the result.
Ensure that the old site contains all the URL addresses. This is necessary for data loss prevention during the migration.
Don’t ignore the errors appearing while scanning. They may creep sometimes, that is normal. Almost every site contains damaged links.
If you find out any link pointing to 404, delete or replace it immediately. They don’t have to take part in the transfer process. Additionally, it’s strongly recommended to update all the redirection links. They should point to the last page. In another case, after the transfer, you’ll face an issue of redirect chains.
Notice, that scanning won’t help to check each page of your resource. If some pages don’t have links from alternative pages, they won’t appear while scanning. Try to turn to your data to find them. If it’s impossible, look through your Google Analytics.
If there are any lost pages, don’t forget to implement the updates. You need to link to them while transfer. Pages that don’t have links from the rest ones won’t collect traffic of search mechanisms.
Scan the URLs of the old site
To do this, you may use such tools as Screaming Frog. It’s important to scan all the addresses collected before the transfer and ensure that the list contains all the URLs that weren’t discovered while scanning.
It’s not recommended to make the direct scanning of the site. 301 will make the scan of the first page only.
Check if the existing addresses redirect to the initial site. You don’t have to see any 4040 errors if you didn’t delete the page while migration. If they still remain, ensure that they don’t have links. On this level, it’s necessary to configure the right redirect.
Verify all the external URLs to make sure that redirects are functioning. There shouldn’t be any 301 or 404. The first one points to a chain of redirect, and it negatively affects the performance of the site. 404 may cause SEO failures.
Internal links update
All HTMLs on the new site should lead to the new one. As you run the process, you’ll understand that leaving the links without changes can be rather tempting. Even if they are redirecting to the new addresses, it’s necessary to change them. Besides the load of servers that negatively impacts the site’s rates, redirects may low down the rank of the pages.
To change the links properly, you may run a search and replace operations on the database. The name of the domain should be changed but the folders should remain unchanged (unless you plan to change the site’s architecture).
Carefully note the operations – updates should touch only the text of the links. In most cases, users don’t need to change the brand’s name and URL using one and the same operation.
Update and compare all the URLs
Create a table with two columns: old and new URL addresses.
While transfer, all the old pages should appear on the new website. Page deleting disables its traffic attraction from the search systems. Consider, that removing many pages while transfer may influence Google’s reaction. It will indicate a new resource as a suspicious one. As a result, site ranking will become low.
It’s better to leave the URL structure without changes. You may correct it only if there are serious reasons for it. If you still plan to make changes, be ready that Google will see a completely different site. Doing both together disables the chance to determine the reason for traffic outflow. It may be a result of structural changes or site transfer.
One more reason for keeping the same architecture is the ability to use regex in .hts access files. It’s a benefit for easy pager redirecting. It will decrease server load and setting procedures will be easier.
Solve the issue of duplicate content
Different migration mistakes may lead to the issue of duplicate content. You should know of them in order to prevent:
- In the first and second URLs, it may cause the repeated content. Correct canonicalization should fix the issue, but it’s better to configure the rules of .ht access redirects in order to live only one version. Links should be consistent, otherwise, there will be internal redirects;
- IPs should lead to URLs;
- find the folders that create crossing content, pay attention to defaulted ones;
- HTTPS/HTTP only should be used. Only www (or non) site version should be available. Others redirect to the updated site;
- if there is a search option on your resource, figure out if the pages of search results don’t have indexes;
- manual canonicalization is an effective way to avoid crossing content.
Choose the right time for migration
A smartly planned and controlled transfer shouldn’t significantly stop your traffic, but it’s better to be ready to temporarily slowing down business. That’s why it’s better to choose a season of low sales for migration. It concerns those spheres which are seasonally dependant. This way you’ll keep your site’s performance.
It’s better not to take any actions before the holiday period. All the effort should be focused on traffic loss prevention.
Manual canonicalization of the new pages
Ensure that new site links are canonicalized according to the new site. If it’s canonicalized to an old one, it may cause disorder in indexation.
To avoid any mistakes, it’s recommended to do canonicalization manually. The exception is only pages canonicalized to a different page. This and redirects will inform Google that the new site is really an old one but with a changed location.
Anyway, manual canonicalization will be quite useful as URL indicators influence content duplication. Canonicalization should be done without pointing to the parameters.