When you run a website, at one time or another it may become inevitable that you’ll have to migrate it. Now, unless you’re a serial migrator, you won’t need to perform one very often. But when you do, there are a few things you’ll need to consider if you want to give your website migration the best chance of success. Otherwise, your migration could end up taking your website backwards, not forwards.

But before we get into the details, let’s address the elephant in the room – what is a website migration and why are they important?

What is a website migration?

A website migration refers to the process of successfully moving your business website between hosting platforms, whether that’s moving to a new web hosting provider or upgrading from one server to another. The ultimate goal of a website migration is to move the digital location of your website while reducing the risks that come with such a big change.

Why migrate your website?

There are a variety of reasons why you may want to move your website to a different hosting platform. For example, it could be that your current hosting platform is using old hardware, which is leading to slow page load times. Alternatively, the number of visitors you get may have outgrown your allocated bandwidth, or maybe you want to move your site to a more secure and controlled environment. Other reasons for website migration include:

  • Adding a mobile version of your website
  • Changing your website’s structure
  • Moving from HTTP to HTTPS
  • Changing your domain name

Overall, issues with your web hosting’s performance, the level of support from your provider or even just a lack of desirable features can severely limit your website’s potential. If you want to give your website the best chance of success, it may be necessary to upgrade your web hosting (such as by moving from VPS hosting to dedicated hosting) or move to another provider that offers the features and support you’re looking for.

The dangers of a poorly executed website migration

Whatever your reason for your website migration, the same risks apply. Any migration or significant change to your website will impact SEO, as Google will have to re-index your site. However, if you’re switching to a better web hosting plan, for example, this hit to your rankings will eventually even out, and as your website speeds up, you’ll start to see an increase in your rankings instead.

In addition to these temporary setbacks that come with every website migration, there are also some common dangers that you can face as a result of a poorly managed move. Let’s look at the three main dangers you want to avoid when completing a website migration:

  1. Technical issues. Technical issues can wreak havoc on your new server if not resolved pre-migration. Be sure to test your site on the new server before making the final move and have a trusted developer on hand to deal with any technical issues that slip through the cracks.
  2. Downtime. As you might have guessed, downtime is a period where your website is unavailable to your visitors/customer base and should be avoided at all costs. This can happen if you haven’t correctly tested your site on the new platform before making it live, or have switched off your old hosting before your new platform has fully propagated.
  3. Incorrect settings. If you’ve moved platforms, you’ll need to make sure customers can still access your site. Check that your DNS settings are correct and your domain name points to your new server. If this isn’t done it’s another way your site could experience downtime.

It may sound all doom and gloom but it doesn't have to be. If you plan your migration correctly, all of the things above can be avoided.

Website migration checklist

If you want your migration to go off without a hitch there are a number of factors you’ll need to consider. This isn’t an exhaustive list, but asking yourself all of the following questions is a good place to start:

  • Have you planned your website migration?

    Before you even think about beginning your migration, you need to have a solid plan in place. This will help you better understand the scope of the project and the steps you’ll need to take to get everything moved over to the new site. Make sure you set out a timeline and key objectives to follow.

  • Have you backed up your old site?

    Disasters can happen, but they can also be avoided with a simple backup. Ensure that you have a recent backup of your website saved securely before you even think about migrating.

  • Have you tested your new site?

    It’s a good idea to test your changes before going straight ahead with the migration. To do this, you can create a copy of your website on a different domain or subdomain to act as a test site.

  • Have you blocked access to the new site before migration?

    Since you’ll be running both the old and new versions of your website before the migration is fully tested and complete, you need to make sure that Google isn’t indexing the new version of your site yet. This could mean that both versions compete against each other in search engine results. You can block Google bots from crawling your new site by setting authorisation rules or creating a robots.txt file.

  • Is all your content packaged neatly together?

    Your site files won’t necessarily end up in the same format post-migration – unless you package them up into a zip folder that is. This method comes with the added benefit of preserving folder structure and permissions while also avoiding any file corruption during the transfer.

  • Can your migration be timed for minimal disruption?

    It’s a good idea to migrate your website when it’s experiencing the least amount of traffic. For businesses that usually means starting the migration on a Friday, so that the majority of changes can take place over the weekend ready for the Monday morning rush.

  • Will your website work on the new server?

    An easy way to check this is by replicating your website on the new server while the old server is still up and running. This way, you can check whether the site works correctly without having to change the DNS.

  • Have you completed your pre-migration steps?

    Make sure that the correct MySQL/MariaDB and PHP versions are installed on the new server. By ‘correct’, we mean the same versions as your current server. Similarly, make sure any and all of the web server modules you need to run your site are installed and up to date ahead of schedule.

  • Is everything identical?

    Once you’re happy that your site on the new server is a mirror image of the site on your old server, you can change the DNS (Domain Name System) and move on to the final stages of the website migration. Whatever you do, just don’t cancel your existing web hosting plan before the migration is complete and your new site is running correctly.

  • Have you updated your links?

    After you complete your website migration, make sure you update all of your links as soon as possible. This will involve links in ad campaigns, blog posts, your social media profiles and more. You can reach out to sites that link to you to ask them to update their links, but if this doesn’t happen, you should at least set up 301 redirects.

DNS propagation – a crucial step

A website requires both a domain name and web hosting to function. There’s a lot more to a domain name of course, but it’s effectively the address of your website, enabling browsers to request information from the specific web servers where your site is hosted.

For that reason, updating your DNS is a crucial step of migrating your business site. And since your web hosting and domain name are separate entities, that means you’ll need to update your DNS separately.

The problem is that when you make any changes to your DNS it can take up to 72 hours for Internet Service Providers to record your changes and update their systems. This period of time is called propagation, during which there’s no way of controlling whether a visitor sees your old website or your new website. That's why it’s important that your old host and new host run your site side by side for this period.

It’s usually a good idea to activate a ‘maintenance mode’ or create a landing page during the propagation period, especially if you have an ecommerce site. This will help avoid potentially losing active visitors or missing orders from customers who are still viewing your site on the old host.

Still unsure about migrating your business website?

Not everyone has the technical expertise in-house to confidently perform a successful website migration. If that’s the case for you, then sourcing specialist support is a much safer, faster and cost-effective option than a haphazard DIY migration.

There are a host of specialists out there who can help take the burden of website migration off your hands. We have our very own experts who can help find the easiest way to migrate your site and make the move as stress-free as possible. Ready to move your website to a better place? Get in touch with our pros who are ready to help!