How To Handle A HTTP to HTTPS Site Migration

This shouldn’t be a daunting task, however the internet is plagued with terror stories, discussing how businesses have virtually lost all their traffic or have come out the other side in a weaker position.

Gary Illyes, the ‘chief of sunshine and happiness’ at Google, claimed that “if you’re an SEO recommending against a HTTPS migration then you should be ashamed”. Quite a strong quote, delivering the message that we should be pushing the client towards a migration rather than filling their minds with fear.

When looking into the things that have gone wrong in the past, they all seem to be due to a lack of preparation or research. So to appease your fears, we have broken down a complete checklist of everything you should go through in four different stages: Preparation, Before Launch, Launch and Post Analysis.

 

Preparation

 

 Link Analysis

This is a golden opportunity to create a backlink analysis and look for some of the old shady links. You’re technically moving over to a new domain, so you might not want to carry over some of the waste material.

 HTTP2 Alterations
When you switch over to HTTPS, you can benefit from a number of advances via HTTP2, such as multi plexing, which will help to speed up your site. 
 HTTP Migration On Test Server

You always test first, to look for any issues.

 Check CDN Support For HTTPS
This is where many fall apart, as some don’t offer support, which can mess everything up.
 Crawl With Screaming Frog
You want a complete snapshot of how your site is structured. Beyond this however, I’d also recommend recording all your rankings so you can diagnose where any issues have come from.
 Verify 3rd Party Hooks/Apps For HTTPS
As with CDN support, third party apps are in the same ball park. Make sure they are all set for HTTPS.

Before Launch

 

 Get Valid Security Certification
Decide what level you want, but don’t you dare get a self certificate!
 Update Dev Version To HTTPS
No explanation necessary, lots more testing
 Internal Link Breakdown
Put in a script for any internal link to change to https. Pull a report from Screaming frog to check through and analyse.
 List All Cross Content (img, css, js etc) & Require Changes
Probably the area that most have slipped up on, with images often still being set as http. Check through this a dozen times, you can’t be too thorough.
 Create Speed Benchmark
An argument a year ago against HTTPS was that your site would be slower. Now this simply isn’t the case, while there are also a number of advances that can actually help your site to speed up. Create a benchmark, utilising a few tools, such as Google Page Speed Insights, WebPageTest and GTMetrix. Then run them all 24 hours after you have completed the migration.
 Run Test(s) Of Current URL’s vs Snapshot From HTTP
Another that doesn’t need a long explanation
 Test Server-side / Front-end Caching
Yep, like it says on the tin.
 Enable HSTS And OCSP
The first one stands for HTTP strict transport security and will help protect your site against protocol downgrade attacks. The second abbreviation stands for online certificate status protocol, another way to maintain security of your server.

Launch

 Check All Externally Hosted Content
As we mentioned earlier, the img or js that is hosted externally could be the pitfall your site faces if it skips this by.
 All Redirects Changed To HTTPS Variant
All those 301 redirects you’ve put in over the years, to pass on link juice from old pages, well you don’t want to lose them all now! You also need to put in a 301 for all your existing URL’s through to HTTPS.
 Change Rel=canonical
Ensure every page that has a canonical is pointing to the HTTPS version.
 Set Robots.txt
Another that people often forget is to set one for the new domain. Remember if your robots.txt points through to a sitemap, to update that link to the correct address.
 Update Plugins Or Tools
Whatever you’re running, such as Hotjar or VWO, this is an easy one to forget.
 Change Default On Google Analytics
You don’t need to create a whole different property on Google Analytics, all you need to do is go into the settings and change the default protocol over. Simply a click of a button.
 Annotate
While you’re in Google Analytics, quickly annotate that you have made the change. You will then easily be able to look back over time and recognise what might have caused changes, whether positive or negative.
 Update All PPC Code To Support HTTPS
In adwords editor, you can very quickly change all final destinations on the ads to point through to the https version. Ensure the code is all on the HTTPS version and on the success page perfectly.
 Update Internal Site Search To Support HTTPS
If you’ve set this up for your site then you just need to ensure it is now set for the new protocol.
 Search Console Changes
It is so hard not to write Webmaster Tools! Firstly, add a new property for the HTTPS version. Next, add all the URL parameters that you had on the previous version. Connect it through to your Google Analytics profile. You do not need to do the ‘change of address’, despite what a number of misinformed people say online.
 Run A Screaming Frog Crawl
Once it is complete, press on the search button and type in ‘http://’. Any results that come up, these will be internal links that haven’t yet been changed. THIS IS CRITICAL. Even after all the thorough check we do beforehand, we always notice around 30 that slip through, from random pages we forgot existed, very old blog posts or however they slip through the net. Get these changed over and re-crawl. Only move one once it is completely clean.
 Submit HTTPS XML Sitemap
Crawl and create your new sitemap. Once you have added it, then go on Search Console to submit your new sitemap.
 Move Over Disavow
You were hit by a link based penalty back in the day, went through all the struggles of cleaning up your site, then re-gained your rankings and have cleaned up your act. Then you go through a site migration and forget to make an identical disavow for the new Search Console property for your HTTPS domain, BOOM! Penalty on your doorstep.

Post Analysis

 WMT Checks
Over the next two week ‘migration period’, you should be regularly checking Search Console and Google Analytics to look for any changes. From code errors to any anomalies, you need to keep your eyes peeled.
 Check HTTPS Version Stil Works On Mobile & Remains Responsive
Sounds bizarre but there are examples of where something has gone topsy-turvy and left the site non-mobile friendly.
 Contact Affiliates & 3rd Party Sites To Update Website URL
An easy change to point through to the correct domain URL.
 Check Speed Benchmark
As mentioned earlier, now is the time to ensure the site hasn’t slowed down at all
 Contact Top Linking Domains To Update Link
You worked so hard for those links, you might as well try and get some of those changed over. Google has stated 100% link juice is now passed via 3xx, however it can still be worth giving this one a go if you have a connection at the publication.
 Triple Check Old vs New URL’s
You can never be too thorough.
 Update Email Signature
If you’ve got them pointing through to the old site.
 Test Caching
Ensure everything is all working hunky-dory.

 

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