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Navigate the Complexities of International Website Migrations

Navigate the Complexities of International Website Migrations

Website migrations are among the most complex and challenging projects businesses can undertake, particularly for those operating internationally. Migrating a website involves significant changes that can impact a brand's visibility, online reputation, and revenue. This is especially true if the migration is not executed properly, as it can lead to a loss of rankings, traffic, and conversions.

For businesses with an international presence, website migrations become even more intricate and resource-intensive. The challenges associated with international migrations extend beyond the technical aspects of the project, encompassing issues related to localization, user experience, data security, and legal compliance. 

Even businesses that do not have dedicated international versions of their website but receive e-commerce orders or demo requests from global locations can be adversely affected by a poorly executed migration.

This comprehensive guide will explore the challenges during international website migrations and discuss proven strategies and solutions to overcome these obstacles. By understanding the potential pitfalls and adopting best practices, businesses can minimize the risks associated with migrations and ensure a smooth transition to their new website.

Assessing the Need for a Website Migration

Before embarking on a website migration project, it is crucial to determine whether a migration is truly necessary. Website migrations are inherently challenging and risky for two primary reasons:

  1. Rankings Loss: After completing the migration, a website cannot maintain its pre-migration rankings. The potential loss of rankings can significantly impact a business's online visibility and traffic.
  2. Resource-Intensive: Website migrations are time-consuming and require substantial resources from various business areas, making them complex.

While certain situations may warrant a website migration, each scenario presents its own set of unique challenges and considerations:

  • Upgrading from a clunky and outdated CMS (Content Management System)
  • Changing protocols or hosting providers
  • Switching domain names
  • Redesigning and relaunching the website
  • Merging websites due to a company takeover
  • improving website architecture and/or URL structure

For instance, updating a CMS may necessitate a re-platforming, which involves migrating to a new platform. This process requires extensive research, planning, and internal training to transition successfully.

Given the complexity and potential risks associated with website migrations, it is advisable to delay the project if the website does not require an immediate migration or the business lacks the necessary resources to execute the project effectively. Careful planning months in advance, assembling the right team, implementing the migration precisely, and monitoring the site for several months post-migration are all essential components of a successful migration.

Challenges of International Website Migrations

International businesses face additional layers of complexity when it comes to website migrations due to the specific requirements and considerations that must be taken into account. While comprehensive guides are available that outline the detailed steps and timelines for delivering a migration project, including auditing and planning months in advance, this article will focus on the unique challenges that arise in the context of international markets.

Impact on Organic Visibility

One of the most significant risks associated with website migrations is the potential loss of rankings on desktop and mobile devices. This loss of visibility can benefit competitors, and depending on various factors, such as brand strength and competitor activity in each market, the migrated website may take several months to recover.

In secondary target markets, recovery times can be exceptionally prolonged. It often takes at least four months for a website to regain its previous rankings. This is especially true when a company makes significant changes to its website or URL structure, as search engines may have difficulty understanding the new website and its associated entities.

Other variables that can impact organic visibility include algorithm updates, changes in customer behavior, and issues specific to the business or industry.


Careful planning from the project's outset is essential to mitigate the impact on organic visibility. This includes mapping URLs, developing tactics to address potential difficulties in each market, and having a contingency plan.

Benchmarking the web site's performance at least a month after the migration can provide valuable insights into the extent of the impact. Gather and compare keyword rankings, content formats, revenue, and demand generated across all target markets.

A phased migration approach may benefit large websites or those with multiple international top-level domains (TLDs), allowing the business more time to plan and adapt.

Clear communication with users about potential service disruptions or new functionalities can help manage expectations. An effective strategy can also involve users in identifying errors and offering incentives for their feedback.

International Strategy Alignment

Having clear objectives before initiating a website migration project is crucial. Traffic can drop rapidly, and it takes significant time to recover post-migration in markets that do not receive adequate attention from businesses. In some cases, companies may wonder why they are receiving fewer orders from specific markets, only to realize that only the English version of their website has been properly maintained.


A website migration presents an opportunity to review and refine the business's international strategy. If an international version of the website is not being actively managed, it may indicate that the business has chosen to prioritize other markets. In such cases, that website version should be handled differently, considering the revised international strategy.

User Experience, Localization, and Accessibility

SEO and user experience are closely intertwined. Following a migration, changes to the website's design and functionality can negatively impact user experience, accessibility, and conversions, particularly in the case of a re-platforming project.

Sometimes, a new website theme may be visually appealing but lacks user-friendliness and intuitiveness. Inconsistencies in the content copy, such as mismatched English language variations, can also arise when content is deployed hastily. These issues may result in only a marginal improvement over the previous clunky website and theme.

In an international context, anticipating the needs of global users becomes crucial for maintaining and enhancing a brand's online visibility in target markets. It is also essential to ensure users' time is not wasted on poorly organized or counterintuitive sites.

Accessibility is another critical factor to consider. Testing the website with accessibility tools like Wave can help identify issues that require attention.


Collaboration between specializations is key to addressing user experience, localization, and accessibility challenges. Considering resource constraints, carefully plan which URLs should be migrated, deleted, or created and any necessary changes to navigation, functionality, and content. Involve the appropriate departments from the beginning of the project to ensure a comprehensive approach.

Pay close attention to the target language to avoid misunderstandings stemming from poor localization. Ensure the local language is consistently used throughout the website, including all on-page SEO elements such as metadata.

Data Security and Legal Compliance

Personal data loss and cyber attacks are significant concerns during website migrations, particularly in specific regions. Websites are most vulnerable during migration, making them susceptible to security breaches. High-profile cases, such as the exposure of customer data at British Airways, LinkedIn, and Marriott International, highlight the importance of maintaining website security post-migration.

E-commerce and demand-generation businesses face additional challenges as they handle sensitive data subject to varying market regulations and laws. Laws such as the EU GDPR and national legislations like the French General Protection Act, the German BDSG, and the Spanish LOPD must be adhered to when handling personal data, regardless of the business's location.

Ensuring that the email/CRM provider can integrate with the current or new CMS is crucial to avoid data loss and ensure that data reaches the destination database once the site is live.


Conducting an initial website audit during the planning stage can help identify and address any security issues before the migration. Migrating or re-platforming alone will not fix many of a website's existing problems. Involve developers and security teams from the start of the project.

Engage legal teams during the planning stage to ensure compliance with market-specific privacy and data laws and minimize the risk of liabilities such as personal data loss.

Ensure a Successful Transition

International website migrations are complex endeavors that require meticulous planning, preparation, and collaboration across various business functions. By understanding the unique challenges associated with international migrations and implementing proven strategies, businesses can mitigate risks and successfully transition to their new website.

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