The Only WordPress Website Migration Checklist You’ll Need
Migrating a WordPress website to a new server or domain can be daunting, especially if you’re doing it for the first time. There is always a possibility of things going wrong when you migrate your website from one place to another.
But worry not, as in this article, I’ll outline the steps you can take before and after the website migration process to ensure that the transition to your website’s new home on the Web is as smooth as possible.
Whether you want to migrate your website via a plugin, your web host, or manually, use our Website migration checklist to guide yourself through the process. If you follow our comprehensive SEO migration checklist, the chances of something going wrong will reduce drastically.
The WordPress migration checklist will outline how you should prepare for the process and what you should do after the migration is complete to ensure everything works and you don’t lose SEO performance.
TL;DR: Migrate your site smoothly and with zero downtime with Migrate Guru. It’s easy to use, free of charge, and just works.
What exactly is website migration?
Migrating a website simply means moving it from one server or domain to another. Moving a site from your computer (a local environment) to a server on the Internet is also considered a migration.
There are different types of website migrations. Some of them are as follows:
- Moving your site from your computer (local environment) to an online server
- Moving the entire site from one web host to another (while keeping the same domain name)
- Switching to a different domain name
- Switching to a different domain name and web host
- Moving it from a subdomain to the primary domain
The following website migration checklist is meant to guide you at every step of the process from pre-migration planning to avoiding common pitfalls and failures.
Pre WordPress migration checklist
- Back up your entire website. As I mentioned before, there is a chance that things could go wrong when migrating your website. Having a backup means you can restore your website to its previous glory and start again in case of failure. If you don’t know how to back up your website, read our guide.
- Purchase and set up a new domain if needed. If you wish to switch to a different domain name for rebranding or other purposes, then, needless to say, you need to have another domain name. If you don’t already have one, purchase a new domain name.
- Install WordPress on your destination site. Most web hosts provide a one-click option to install WordPress on your site. Some will even do that for you automatically if you buy a domain name from them. If your web host doesn’t provide this option, then you can install WordPress from cPanel, a control panel for web hosting. If your web host doesn’t have cPanel or any other control panel software, or if you’re developing your site locally and want to host it on your own server, then you’ll need to install WordPress manually.
- Get FTP credentials for your destination site. You’ll need these to connect to the destination server, whether you’re using a plugin like our recommended Migrate Guru or doing it manually. These credentials are like the keys to your new home. You can’t move in if you don’t have them in the first place. The essential ones include the host/server address, FTP username, FTP password, and port number. Use SFTP (a secure version of FTP) if you have the option. See our article on FTP to find out how to obtain these credentials.
- Put your site in maintenance mode. It prevents other users from making changes to your site, which may interfere with the website migration process and cause issues. Migrate Guru does this automatically for you.
- Disable any caching, firewall, or redirect plugins. Such plugins can cause problems during migration. You can enable them on your site after the migration is complete.
- Ensure the PHP versions of both the source and destination WordPress installations are the same. If they’re not, an HTTP 500 Error may occur.
- Block access to your new URL to prevent Google from indexing it. Otherwise, it could end up in search results and compete with your existing site for traffic. Re-enable indexing once the migration is complete.
Post WordPress migration checklist
- Perform a search-and-replace operation on your database if you changed your domain name. When you switch to a new domain name manually, it’s not enough to just move the files and database over. After migrating, there will be references to your old domain name in the database, and that can cause issues with links or the theme. To fix this, what you essentially do is search for every instance of your old URL in the database and replace it with the new one. Doing it manually can be error-prone, especially concerning data serialization, so we suggest using a plugin like Better Search Replace. We cover this in detail in our article on moving a WordPress site to a new domain.
If you can’t access your WordPress admin panel for some reason, fear not. You can use WP-CLI’s search-replace command on your database. WP-CLI is a command-line tool that helps you manage your WordPress installation via Unix-style commands and scripts. You can get your web host to install WP-CLI for you or do it yourself.
Having said that, I recommend you avoid migrating your site manually. Use a plugin like Migrate Guru instead. It’s free, migrates without any hassles, and will even perform a search-and-replace operation on your database automatically after migration.
- Disable maintenance mode in the admin panel. You no longer need it.
- Clear all possible caches. This includes your browser’s cache, WordPress cache, plugin caches, and so on. Caches store copies of your site in addition to some information so that it can load faster. After making any major change on your site, you need to clear caches to ensure that the changes are visible to every visitor.
- Test every critical component of your site. Make sure it’s functioning properly. This includes pages, posts, hyperlinks, images, analytics code snippets, ads, and so on.
- Activate SSL on your new site if its URL doesn’t have HTTPS in it. When you migrate your site to a new domain or server, you need to reinstall SSL. SSL encrypts the data transferred between any two systems on the Web, like your browser and an eCommerce site, so that nobody can read or modify it. It assures your visitors that they’re visiting a safe, secure site. If you don’t enable HTTPS, Chrome will flag your site as Not Secure, which may impact traffic, and in turn, sales.
- Set up 301 redirects if you’ve switched to a new domain name. A 301 redirect is a permanent way to make your old URL redirect to the new one so that any visitors who aren’t aware of your domain change will automatically be redirected to your new site. It ensures you don’t lose traffic after the migration. Set up 301 redirects in such a way that all links end up at the final URL. You don’t want to have redirect chains, which can sour the visitor’s experience. A redirect chain, as the name suggests, is a series of redirects from the original URL requested by a visitor to the final URL they arrive at. For example, a visitor wants to visit URL A but gets redirected to URL B, which in turn redirects to URL C, which in turn redirects to the final destination of URL D. As you can imagine, URL D takes much longer to load than the case where there’s only one redirect. The browser has to send a new URL request whenever it lands on an intermediary URL in the chain, increasing the load time for the final page. We covered 301 redirects in our article on how to move a WordPress site to a new domain.
- Test any redirects you’ve set up on your old site. Do that on a test server first to verify that they don’t lead to 404 errors before making your website go live.
- Update nameserver information and DNS records if you are changing the domain. Find out how here.
- Set up Google Analytics and Google Search Console on the new domain.
- Crawl your site to find any issues like broken links (404 Errors), redirect chains, and so on (see the SEO section below for more information) and fix them. We recommend the Screaming Frog SEO Spider tool to do so. It’s a fantastic crawler that can crawl and audit your website for SEO issues. You can even bulk export any errors and source URLs, and then send them to a developer to fix.
- Self-canonicalize all of your pages on the new site to fix any duplicate content issues. Duplicate content can hurt your SEO performance.
- Email your subscribers or customers about the domain name change if you switched to a new domain. A domain name change can be jarring to visitors but if you inform them, it makes the transition a little smoother.
- Deactivate your account on your old web host. However, make sure you keep ownership of your old domain name. If you purchased your domain from your web host, then after cutting ties with them, they might get rid of it. This might hurt your visitor count if there are visitors who don’t know about the domain change.
How does migrating your site affect its SEO performance?
Migrating a site can lead to some complications that can negatively affect the SEO performance of your website. Some of the major ones are as follows:
Broken links are pretty common after a site migration. Search engines don’t like these since they’re devoid of content. As I mentioned earlier, you can use the Screaming Frog SEO Spider tool to crawl your website to find broken links.
Server errors like no responses or any 5XX errors mean Google won’t be able to crawl your site. Needless to say, this will hurt your SEO performance. The Screaming Frog SEO Spider tool can also detect server errors.
Before talking about why redirect chains are bad for SEO, note that every website has what’s called a crawl budget – the number of pages on the site that a search engine will crawl in a certain time period. Now onto the reasons:
- Slower page load times: I explained earlier how a redirect chain makes webpages load slower. But did you know that search engines are affected by them too? Whenever a crawler bot encounters a 3XX status code (301 in the case of redirects), it has to send an additional URL request, which increases crawl times and lowers your crawl budget. Any loss in crawl budget means the search engine can’t crawl your website effectively, which could hurt your SEO performance.
- Delayed crawling: Search engines typically only follow a handful of hops during a crawl (about five in the case of Google) to save resources and avoid dead ends. The more the hops, the more the chances of losing crawl budget and having indexing issues.
- Lost link equity: There is always some loss in page authority or link equity when a redirect takes place. The more redirects in your redirect chain, the more link equity you’ll lose.
Some mistakes during the migration process can lead to duplicate content like duplicated URLs, folders, page titles, descriptions, and headings. Search engines don’t like duplicate content and will penalize you for it. Some ways to fix duplicate content issues are as follows:
- Set up redirect rules in .htaccess so that only one version of each page is accessible to a visitor.
- Redirect any IP addresses to URLs.
- Either the www or non-www version of your site should be accessible. Redirect any other versions to the proper URL.
- If your site has search functionality, noindex all the search result pages.
- Self-canonicalize the appropriate pages on your new site to prevent duplicate content generated by URL query strings.
Again, the Screaming Frog SEO Spider tool can help find duplicate content.
An orphan page is a page that no other page links to. The primary way search engines find new pages on the Web is by following links from existing pages. Since orphan pages don’t have any links to them, search engines find it extremely hard to find them, and so they can’t index them, preventing orphan pages from appearing in search results. Read this article for information on how to find and fix issues with orphan pages.
Why WordPress migrations fail
Website migrations can fail for several reasons. I outline the most common reasons below:
- Failing to disable certain types of plugins like caching plugins, redirect plugins, etc.
- WordPress and PHP versions don’t match on the source and destination WordPress installations.
- Real-time changes were made to the database or critical files like the wp-config.php and .htaccess files during migration.
- Not doing the search-and-replace operation on your database properly.
These problems are likely to crop up if you’re migrating your site manually. That is why I recommend using a plugin. Dedicated migration plugins will do all the heavy lifting for you, so you sit back and relax while the migration is taking place. Moreover, these plugins have been battle-tested for years, with any possible problems or issues being fixed pronto by their team of developers and open source contributors. Our go-to migration plugin of choice is Migrate Guru. It has a great UI, is easy to use, is free, and works with all the popular web hosts out of the box.
Migrating your website to a new server or domain can be a pain. But it doesn’t have to be that way. If you follow our comprehensive website migration checklist, then you’ll be able to migrate your website without problems and without losing SEO performance.
We highly recommend using the Migrate Guru plugin for migrating your site. It’s fast, easy to use, and totally free. Moreover, it just works, whether your site is a simple blog with a few hundred monthly visitors or a gigantic multisite with various multimedia-rich subsites.
Q. Why is it important to follow a WordPress migration checklist when migrating your site?
A. A lot of things could go wrong when migrating a website. If you follow our website migration checklist, then rest assured that you’ll be migrating your site safely and efficiently.
Q. What is the easiest way to migrate a site?
A. The easiest way is to use a dedicated migration plugin. I highly recommend Migrate Guru since it’s easy to use, totally free of cost, and works with all the popular web hosts out of the box.
Q. Can migrating a site affect its SEO performance?
A. Yes, certain mishaps during the migration process can cause issues that can affect SEO. If you follow our comprehensive SEO migration checklist, then you can rest assured that your SEO performance won’t be impacted one bit.