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Website Migration Brings Risk With Reward

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Website migration

Website migration from one host to another or one domain to another has rewards as well as risks.

The reward from moving from one hosting company to another usually is one of three reasons or some combination of them:

  1. The new host is less expensive.
  2. The new host offers better technical performance.
  3. The old host had lousy customer service.

Anyone who has worked in online publishing for long enough will likely run into all three reasons. These days, hosting is so price competitive that reason 1 is less common. Reasons 2 and 3 are more common, especially 3.

Good customer service is a big deal with website hosting because of response time. Literally, I have known a couple of major hosting companies to take up to two or three days to respond to a ticket that was important or urgent, even when a site is down. Even worse, some of the customer service people are poorly paid and poorly trained.

So a website publisher who moves a site for any of the above three reasons will often feel well justified in doing so. But a website migration also may come with a high level of risk.

Likewise, a site publisher may decide that a new domain name is better than the old one. Maybe it has better potential to rank with search engines. Maybe it does a better job of reflecting the brand.

But a new domain name also usually means at least a short-term loss in search rankings.

Why Website Migration is Risky

Website migrations have at least two short-term risks and a big long-term risk.

The short-term risk is the possibility that the site will go down for a while during during the migration, even if the migration takes place in the middle of the night. For example something may have gone wrong technically despite all best efforts.

Technical failures may last anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours or more depending on the severity of the problem.

Another short-term risk comes with the transfer of content, tools and other features or functions on the site. Certain items may go overlooked such as:

  • Site search
  • User interactivity such as polls, comments and forums
  • Ecommerce applications
  • User profiles
  • Advertising accounts if any
  • Forms such as email newsletter signups

It benefits a site publisher to create a thorough checklist like the one above and make sure every item is ready to go during a migration.

Biggest Risk of All

The biggest risk of all is architecture and navigation. Architecture in this context means the internal site structure with the folders or directories that contain the site content. Navigation means the external site structure that visitors use to find the folders or directories that contain the content.

Site publishers or editors may decide they want to change the architecture to reflect a change in content philosophy. For example, they may want to put articles published in certain months in dated folders when no dating existed before.

As a result, articles that move from one folder name in the old site to a new folder name in the new site will no longer appear in search indexes. Search engines won’t find them there anymore. They will lose the age factor that has some appeal to search engines.

The search engines will find the articles in the new folders eventually. But the article will lose its ranking and require time to get it back.

Sites that have made major changes to their architecture and navigation have been known to lose as much as 30 percent or more of their total site traffic. Publishers should make changes to architecture only for compelling reasons and keep risk well in mind.

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