Moving house is generally regarded as one of the most stressful life experiences, up there with divorce and bereavement. For businesses, I’d hazard a guess that moving your website to a new developer or platform is as fraught a process as moving house. I’ve just moved one of my business websites (not this one) and thought I’d share the lessons I’ve learnt as they may be helpful to both small and larger organisations. Below are my top ten tips for migrating your business website while maintaining your sanity.
1. Back up your existing content
Make sure you have secure copies of the current navigational structure, URLs and all the content including all the images so if the worst happens, you can restore lost content
2. Choose a quiet time in your business cycle
Pick a relatively quiet time and don’t put yourself under pressure with deadlines for announcements. Web development notoriously runs late and you don’t want the extra stress of explaining problems to customers.
3. Refine your navigation but don’t change too much
Moving platform or web developer is an opportunity to fine tune your navigation but if you have an established site with many inbound links and a loyal visitor base then beware of too much change at once; it increases the risk of broken links, SEO issues and bemused visitors.
4. Extract old design elements
Negotiate with your current developer how to carry over the key design elements to the new platform; again this is an opportunity for a tidy up, but don’t lose the recognisability of your site.
5. Transfer the content
You may be able to transfer copy and images automatically from the old site, but if you have changed the navigation structure or your URL naming approach, then there may be no alternative to a manual page by page approach. Take care with how the new design treats content, images and headings, and watch out for subtle differences in URLs as you want old links eg in emails or third party sites to still find old articles. Worth running this on a beta site where design quirks can be ironed out – and you can get used to a new CMS.
6. Redirects to preserve inbound links
Use 301 redirects for key pages that you know have many inbound links: vital for both traffic and pagerank.
7. Check all internal links
Some developers can automatically detect broken internal links. Even the smallest difference in a URL, such as a different piece of punctuation, can result in a 404 error page. Again the only safe method may be to check each link on each page manually, obviously focussing on the most highly trafficked pages
8. Move the hosting
Choose a quiet week to move to your new host, and be prepared for a few glitches on internal links and images. Enlist “friends and family” to do some user testing.
9. Rewire analytics and email
If you use Google analytics you’ll need to ensure that your past history is carried over to the new version of the site, so you can monitor year on year changes. And remember that you have to switch company emails as well. Watch the analytics to check that you are still getting the right level of traffic from search engines and major referrers.
10. Keep a list and be nice to your dev team
If you wait till you are 100% happy with the new site it will never go live, so accept a few bugs, but keep a list and build a good working relationship with your dev team or agency so they are motivated to keep checking off the minor problems.
Phew, once your move is complete you need to do the equivalent of finding the kettle and inviting some friends over for a cup of tea. The site I’ve just moved is www.thespecialistmediashow.com. If you take a look and find a problem, be gentle with me and just drop me a line. Do also share your experiences and tips below.
About the author: Carolyn Morgan works with media organisations and small business owners on their digital strategy. If you’re contemplating a new website for your business I’d be happy to share some tips or even help you manage the process without losing your sanity. Just get in touch for an initial chat.