Top Challenges and Tips for a Successful Large Site Migration

Key obstacles faced during site and app migrations and valuable tips to overcome them.

This article has been written with the help of Orchid Box, an SEO agency specialized in large app and site migrations, often involving several terabytes of data coming from different sources. The largest migration Orchid Box has worked on is for the London Stock Exchange, which took place in 2021 involving 5 different teams across 3 continents. The migration took place over 2 years and was disrupted by Covid-19.

When undertaking a large site migration for over 20+ SEO projects, numerous challenges can arise. In this article, we detail the key obstacles faced during these migrations and offer valuable tips to overcome them.

Challenge 1: Client Underestimation of Required Work

One of the primary challenges is the client’s underestimation of the amount of work needed during the migration process. Most of the time, we don’t have enough resources to implement our recommendations, as developers are often busy building the new platform, and the migration from the old platform gets deprioritized. Consequently, they end up playing catch-up towards the end, leading to a messy transition, especially before the go-live date.

Challenge 2: Platform Issues and Limitations

Another significant challenge is platform issues or limitations. With platforms like weblow, wix, softr and Shopify, where users have no access to server logs, it becomes difficult to understand how Google is crawling the site before and after the site migration. In one particular client case, we analyzed 3.5 TB of Google crawling data three days after the launch, and it proved extremely important to handle server logs, read them, understand Google’s crawling behavior, and react promptly.

Additionally, the inability to perform proper 301 redirects on certain platforms, such as Umbraco, where most of the server operations are managed by the cloud provider, can create complications, especially when migrating from HTTP to HTTPS or www to non-www.. This can lead to long redirect chains created by the platform itself, with developers having little input.

Challenge 3: Application-Level Redirects

The challenges of 301 redirects performed at the application level not at the operating system level are also significant. These redirects are usually slow, and in our experience, they go through a series of chains of redirects, simply because of how the application was initially built to meet client requirements rather than for efficient redirects. Addressing this issue post-launch is often challenging or expensive for the development team.

Now what can we do to rectify these issues:

Tip 1: Involve the Client Early and Get the New Sitemap

Involving the client early in the site migration process and obtaining the new sitemap is crucial for several reasons. First, it allows the client to understand the proposed structure and layout of the new website, which may differ significantly from the current live site. By having access to the new sitemap, the client can begin mapping the existing live pages to their corresponding new locations or equivalents.

This mapping process is essential because it helps identify which pages need to be redirected, consolidated, or potentially eliminated during the migration. It also ensures that the client’s business requirements and content priorities are accurately reflected in the new site architecture.

However, this mapping exercise is not a straightforward task. It requires extensive collaboration and back-and-forth between the team responsible for building the new website (typically developers and designers) and the client’s business team (content creators, subject matter experts, and stakeholders). The business team may have different perspectives on which pages are essential, how content should be organized, and which sections or features are priorities.

Tip 2: Aim for a Site Architecture Closest to the Live One

Try to agree on a site architecture that is as close as possible to the live one. This ensures that when Google crawls the site, it finds a structure similar to the old one, minimizing the need for extensive re-crawling and reducing wasted crawl time for the new site.

Tip 3: Follow Best Practices for Site Migrations

Following best practices and recommendations for site migrations is crucial to ensure a smooth transition and minimize any negative impact on search engine visibility, user experience, and overall website performance. Here are some examples of best practices to follow:

1. Redirects: Implement proper 301 redirects from old URLs to their corresponding new URLs. This helps preserve any existing link equity and signals to search engines that the content has moved permanently. Avoid redirect chains or temporary redirects, as they can negatively impact SEO.

Example: If an old page “” is being moved to a new URL ““, set up a 301 redirect from the old URL to the new one.

2. Maintain URL Structure: Where possible, try to maintain a similar URL structure on the new site. This makes it easier for search engines to understand the site architecture and can help retain rankings for well-established pages.

Example: If the old site had a structure like ““, aim to replicate a similar structure on the new site, e.g., ““.

4. Content Parity: Ensure that all relevant content from the old site is migrated to the new site. Search engines value high-quality, unique content, and significant content changes or removals can negatively impact rankings.

Example: If the old site had a comprehensive product description for a particular item, make sure that same content is carried over to the corresponding new product page.

4. Crawlability and Indexability: Optimize the new site for crawlability and indexability by following technical SEO best practices, such as creating an XML sitemap, ensuring a logical internal linking structure, and avoiding any potential crawl traps or blockers.

Example: Implement an XML sitemap on the new site and submit it to search engine webmaster tools to help search engines discover and crawl all the new pages efficiently.

6. Load Speed: Prioritize website speed and performance on the new site. Slow-loading pages can negatively impact user experience and search engine rankings.

Example: Optimize images, minimize redundant code, leverage caching, and implement other performance best practices to ensure the new site loads quickly for users.

6. Mobile-Friendliness: Ensure that the new site is fully responsive and optimized for mobile devices, as mobile traffic continues to grow and search engines prioritize mobile-friendly websites.

7. Seek Professional Assistance: Consider working with an experienced digital agency or consultancy that specializes in site migrations. They can provide valuable guidance, best practices, and hands-on support throughout the entire migration process.

By following these best practices and recommendations, you increase the chances of a successful site migration, minimizing any potential negative impact on search engine visibility, user experience, and overall website performance.

By addressing these challenges and following these tips, you can increase the chances of a successful large site migration, minimizing disruptions and ensuring a smooth transition for both users and search engines. However, it’s important to note that even experts like Orchid Box have seen traffic losses of up to 90% post-migration, and in some cases, they were unable to fully recover the lost organic traffic.

A poorly handled site migration can be a death sentence for organic traffic, as search engines may struggle to properly understand and index the new site structure, content, and URLs. This can result in a significant drop in rankings and visibility, potentially causing long-lasting damage to a business’s online presence and revenue streams.

While following best practices and seeking professional assistance can mitigate risks, site migrations inherently carry a degree of uncertainty. Search engines’ algorithms are constantly evolving, and even minor oversights or technical issues during the migration process can have severe consequences.

It’s crucial to approach site migrations with caution, meticulous planning, and a willingness to adapt and troubleshoot as needed. Continuously monitoring search engine performance, user behavior, and site health metrics is essential to identify and address any issues promptly.

Ultimately, a successful site migration requires a collaborative effort between the client, the development team, and any external agencies or consultants involved. Clear communication, realistic expectations, and a commitment to following industry best practices can significantly increase the chances of a smooth transition and minimize the potential for catastrophic traffic losses.

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