Website migration

Written by David Somerville - 28 Sept 2020

People say that everything in digital moves at a rapid pace. As well as technology developing and improving, you also must deal with the rapidly changing needs of both customers and businesses. For many organisations, this results in you looking to update, redesign or even start again with the website. 

In this blog post, we look at what some of the most important considerations are when you are looking to migrate a website, as suggested by a range of senior marketers and other experts. You'll also find some 'top tips' on how to prevent your website migration from becoming a disaster. 

What do we mean by ‘website migration’?

Website migration is a broad term often used to describe any activities that can affect a website substantially and have impacts on important performance aspects, such as SEO (i.e. search visibility changing and affecting the volume of search traffic). 

Typical ‘website migration’ activities include: 

  • Rebuilding or redesigning a website  
  • Changing the domain name  
  • Merging multiple websites 
  • Moving to HTTPS.

What’s important to senior marketers

We recently spoke with several senior marketers from a range of businesses, including finance, retail and the charity sector. All had either completed a website migration in the past six months or were currently in the process of performing one.

To get an understanding of the process they followed and the experience they had, we asked them a series of questions, the summarised answers to which are below.

What were your initial reasons for wanting to make the change?

All the respondents cited that “the old platform no longer met our needs” as being the main reason to change. The website “needing a design refresh” or “the business was rebranding” were also popular reasons.

And other reasons included:

  • Needing the stability and ability to make website changes in-house
  • Aggregating all affiliates to be on the same platform
  • Upgrading to a responsive website.

What were the criteria that you used as part of your research and decision-making process?

Before deciding on what platform to change to, or how the new website should work, marketers go through a process of research to understand more about the area (including pros and cons of each web platform) and then go through one or more decision-making processes.

Criteria cited as being important as part of this process included:

  • Cost, including ongoing costs of future development changes, plus experience of a platform within the organisation
  • The need for several businesses to be brought together under a rebrand
  • Functionality, including design ability
  • How it can drive operational efficiencies and revenue
  • The ability to roll out a unified tech stack across different geographies and audience groups
  • The age of the existing platform, and its features (compared to other platforms).

Did you speak to anyone else as part of this process to help with the decision-making?

Some marketers, especially those in smaller or less digitally mature organisations are often left alone to do the bulk of the research and decision-making. When this happens, our group said that they would reach out to their peers to help them.

The majority would also look to involve other colleagues within the business, for example, from the IT department.

And several said they would look to engage their existing agencies, especially around some of the more technical aspects (for example, how robust is a platform for SEO).

Finally, there were some people, albeit the lowest number, who would seek help from the platform representatives themselves.

Where did you carry out your research?

In terms of where people looked for information as part of their research, it was marketing or technology and blogs that most respondents cited as being useful.

Next were review websites, followed by some forums or agency websites.

How did you create a checklist of requirements?

When it comes to creating a checklist to use when assessing a website platform (or a need to redesign/rebuild), marketers have a variety of approaches including:

  • Having internal conversations with key stakeholders and looping in partners (e.g. affiliates) where relevant
  • Previous brand research
  • Previous RFI/RFP documents
  • Results from an active 12 months CRO strategy
  • Customer journey mapping
  • Data insight and analysis.

Who else within your business was involved in the decision-making process (e.g. Technology/IT Director)?

It seems that, as you would expect, an important area such as a website rebuild would involve several different people, including:

  • Website Manager
  • Head of Comms
  • Director of Fundraising
  • Technical team (including IT)
  • Product team
  • Marketing and CRM team
  • C-suite - CIO, CEO, CMO.

How did you consider whether you had the right SEO capabilities in place for the migration?

The impacts of a poorly executed website migration can impact your performance in several ways, but one of the most affected can be your SEO or organic search performance.

It’s therefore important to have this as part of your decision-making – so how did our group do this?

Across the board, everyone we spoke to engage an external agency specialising in SEO top help them with this.

Even those with established SEO in-house teams were keen to get a second opinion, to ensure that their plans were correct.

What factors would you say helped you to make the final decision?

When it came to making a final decision on which website platform was right for them, the group stated that content management capabilities and integration options were their top factors, followed by SEO friendliness and Ecommerce capabilities.

The least important aspect for this group was marketing automation features.

How would you describe the overall migration process?

Website migrations can be hugely stressful, but also really rewarding. But how did our group find theirs?

“Longer and more difficult than expected, largely due to poor communication with our dev agency.”

“Not straightforward.”

“The migration itself was fine. The project was a challenge!”

“It was a great success - the CEO said it was the first project delivered on time and under budget!”

Are there any things you would do differently next time around?

And when it comes to doing this again – which is a reality if you consider the various factors that can trigger a migration – what are the learnings the group had?

“I would work with an agency who are more in tune with us and I would look to do a complete overhaul of the design and functionality of the website, rather than a straightforward platform change.”

“Review the SEO migration and hit the ground running post-migration.”

“Gain a deep understanding of the complete end-to-end process across all business functions.”

Longer and more difficult than expected, largely due to poor communication with our dev agency.”

“Not straightforward.”

“The migration itself was fine. The project was a challenge!”

“It was a great success - the CEO said it was the first project delivered on time and under budget!”


How to perform the perfect SEO friendly website migration

Read our FREE comprehensive guide, drawing on our years of experiencehelping clients navigate complex projects and difficult decisions. It reveals common SEO mistakes and how to avoid them, how to build a bullet-proof strategy, and how to perform the perfect migration while maintaining and improving your SEO performance.

More advice from senior marketers and website migration experts

In addition to our survey, we recently hosted an episode of our Fresh Thinking Live! Webinar, called “How to prevent a website migration disaster”. In this, panellists including Sarah Leach, Head of marketing and ecommerce at Marshalls and Robert Belgrave, CEO of Wirehive, talked about their advice around decision-making factors and other criteria.

Joining them were Lisa Rippon and Mark Chalcraft from Fresh Egg, both of whom have years of experience in helping businesses in various website migration projects.

The panel’s lively debate produced several excellent tips for marketers - here are nine of my favourite ones:

1. Take your time

It's vital to get buy-in and take the whole business on that journey, plus any additional investment is a risk, so don’t feel like you need to rush through things, as this could prove costly (in terms of time and money) at a later date.

2. Do your research

Make sure you carry out the appropriate research with stakeholders and users, plus look at technology etc BEFORE you start on the migration. Make sure you have the data to provide the evidence to help with decision making.

3. Put your customers first

Make sure that you consider their experience and needs within your migration. It’s all very well hitting your business requirements, but you don’t want to alienate your customers along the way. 

4. Understand your risks

This is particularly important with a complex migration, such as three websites into one. You need to assess what risks there are to changing customer journeys or the potential impacts you might have on your search visibility.

5. Use a comprehensive checklist of requirements

This will allow you to ensure that everything is considered, and you have made the best possible decision, not only up front, but as the project progresses. As part of this, outline your objectives so you can clearly measure the success (both as you progress and post-migration). 

6. Create a plan

Pull all of this into a plan so there is a clear roadmap of what needs to happen, when and by who. 

7. Carefully consider your technology options

Look at the benefits of using a large and recognised technology provider such as AWS or Microsoft Azure. Bespoke vendors can seem attractive, but often they do not have the back-up you require if things don’t work out how they thought you would. 

8. Involve someone with SEO knowledge and skills from the start

If you don’t do this, then the risks of the migration disaster are high. There are several technical requirements that are critical, for example re-mapping of your website pages (and URLs). You will also want to ensure you have SEO specialists on hand for the go-live stage, so they can check everything is in place and can fix things if they do go awry. 

9. Project management and communication is key

When the project is underway, make sure there is strong management throughout and that everyone is communicating regularly, especially if you are working with third parties. Some people look to create a specific ‘steering group’ for migration projects. 

Watch our webinar: How to avoid a website migration disaster

Hosted by Fresh Egg co-founder Lee Colbran, you'll learn about:

  • Typical reasons for migrating a website
  • Criteria for research and decision-making
  • Who should you speak to when making the decision?
  • Creating a checklist of requirements
  • How should project owners judge the SEO capabilities of the technology?
  • What factors influence the final migration decision?
  • What are the main things project owners need to consider that they don’t?

Get the right advice from the start

Find out more about how we can ensure that your website migration is disaster-free, and watch a testimonial from Helly Hansen about how we helped them with a complex and tricky migration project.

Also, you can re-watch our recent Fresh Thinking Live! Webinar, which saw a panel of experts discuss ‘How to prevent a website migration disaster’.