Migrating your website can be a great branding and business strategy, but if not planned and implemented correctly, it can be a complete disaster for your SEO performance. Without developing a full proof SEO migration strategy from start to finish, you can inadvertently destroy your website’s domain authority, rankings and traffic and spend weeks if not months trying to repair the damage, rather than sitting back to enjoy your new site’ success.
Luckily for you, you’re here reading this article, which means you’ve taken the first step in making sure that doesn’t happen. Keep reading to find out the key things you should consider when planning your site migration.
Why Should You Migrate Your Website?
Site migrations shouldn’t be taken lightly. To do it properly it can be quite a lengthy process and involve multiple different teams that you may need to involve internally or outsource, depending on the size of your business including, designers, developers and SEO specialists.
However, if your migration is necessary, the results can definitely be worth it. Some of the most common reasons you might need to consider a site migration are:
- Changing your domain name
- Changing the CMS platform your system operates on
- Consolidating multiple sites into 1 site
- Moving international sites
- Moving to a new server
- Moving from HTTP to HTTPs
- Updating your site architecture (this involves major changes, often for the benefit of SEO, not just aesthetics)
How Can Migration Affect Your Organic Performance
Site migrations have the potential to affect your SEO performance both positively and negatively. As Google needs to re-index your site, it’s normal to expect an initial slight dip in traffic. However, if you’ve planned your new site with SEO in mind and improved elements such as HTTP security, site speed, mobile friendliness, site architecture and user experience, you can expect to see an improvement in organic performance.
That being said, a site migration does not automatically equate to an improvement in traffic and conversions. Firstly, if you’ve not considered how you can improve your on-going SEO strategy then is not likely to have any impact. Worse, if you’ve not considered SEO as a part of your migration strategy your new site could result in status code errors, lost content and a host of other technical issues which could upset both Google and the user.
Your Site Migration Checklist
As long as you follow an SEO site migration strategy, you should be able to avoid any long-term negative effects and improve your overall SEO strategy in the meantime. To do this, some of the most important steps you should consider areDe:
- Determine your main objectives
- Involve all necessary teams
- Crawl your existing site
- Carry out keyword research
- Determine your site architecture
- Create your redirect list
- Retain or improve all your on-page and off-page SEO efforts
- Use a sandbox to carry out a pre-launch review
- Record your benchmarks
- Ensure Google Analytics, Search Console and/ or other search engine tools are set up
- Test your redirects
- Crawl your new site
- Submit your sitemap
- On-going monitoring and reporting
Determine your main objectives
The most important first step is to decide what your main objectives for your migration are. Why are you choosing to migrate; what do you want to improve; what are your goals and KPIs? Determine what your objectives are from the start and you’ll be able to develop a plan that meets them all.
Involve all necessary teams
Site migrations are a big project and will likely involve all members of your digital and marketing team, including external specialists if you don’t have a specialist team member on hand. Some of the most important people are:
- SEO specialists
- Web developers
- Web designers
- Content marketers and copywriters
- UX specialists
- CRO specialists
- Data analysts
Crawl your existing site
From an SEO perspective, one of the most important first steps is to crawl your existing site. If you don’t have an external SEO partner, you can do this using tools such as Screaming Frog. The crawl lets you gather all the information on your site and see it as Google does, plus it gives you the first step for creating your redirect list (more on that later).
Carry out keyword research
This step isn’t essential, but we would highly recommend that you take the opportunity to improve your SEO during your migration. This is not only your chance to optimise your site’s aesthetics and technical performance, but also to optimise your URLs, metadata, headings and all other on-page elements and keyword research will be your foundation that this work is based on.
Determine your site architecture
Once your keyword research is complete, you can use this to create your new site architecture. Analyse how your current content ranks, identify if there are any gaps and see which content should stay, go or be consolidated and what, if any, new content needs to be created.
Create your redirect list
Creating your redirect list is an essential step of any site migration. Go back to the crawl you ran of your website and then map out where each URL should go. Create a spreadsheet with one column for your old URL and one column for your new URL, this way you can ensure nothing falls through the cracks.
This is important so that you don’t create any 404 status error codes, this is bad not only for user experience, but it will also have a big impact on your SEO if there are lots of them. So, when creating your list, make sure you map your old URL to the new version of that same page, or the very closest equivalent – don’t just map any pages that aren’t being moved over to your home page for example.
Retain or improve all your on-page and off-page SEO efforts
As we mentioned earlier, if you carry out keyword research you can take this opportunity to review and improve your existing on-page efforts such as your headings and copy. However, there are also technical SEO elements that you should look to improve or add before your new site launch. Consider your HTML mark-up, page load speed, core web vitals, mobile friendliness, geotargeting, schema mark up and more.
Use a sandbox to carry out a pre-launch review
Before you launch, test your new site on a test server/ sandbox. This gives you the opportunity to carry out a pre-launch audit and test elements of your site’s performance such as the redirects to see that everything is running as planned.
Record your benchmarks
Before your new site goes live record your benchmarks. This helps to retain any previous data in case it gets erased during the migration. It also gives you the chance to review your data and see how your site is currently doing, so that you can then measure how your traffic and conversions improve post launch.
Ensure Google Analytics, Search Console and/ or other search engine tools are set up
To avoid any gaps in your data and reporting, set up your analytics tools as soon as possible. For most sites in the world this will include Google Analytics and Google Search Console, but if you like in a country that commonly uses another search engine you might want to set up their equivalents as well. For example, if your site is targeting America, you may also want to set up Bing Webmaster Tools.
The time has arrived, set up your forwarding redirects, unpublish your old site and launch your new one. If done correctly, this should happen pretty seamlessly.
Crawl your new site
Once you’ve checked your redirects, run a crawl of your site to review whether or not everything has gone as planned. Some of the most important things you’ll want to look for are indexability, crawlability, duplicate content, 404 status errors, broken links and redirect errors (more on that below).
Test your redirects
One of the first things you will want to do post launch is test your redirects. If you’ve already ran a pre-launch test, there hopefully won’t be any nasty surprises. However, if some have fell through the cracks, you want to catch them as early as possible.
Submit your sitemap
Once your site migration is live, you will want to submit your XML sitemap to Google Search Console. This will aid Google in crawling, indexing and ranking your new site sooner.
On-going monitoring and reporting
Now that all your hard work is hopefully done, sit back and monitor the results. As we mentioned, a slight dip in traffic is fairly normal, however, if you’ve followed all of the above steps and you’ve taken the migration as an opportunity to improve your SEO, you should see your traffic, leads, conversions and sales go up!
If you would like more help in developing a full proof SEO migration strategy, or yours hasn’t quite gone to plan, get in touch today and see how we can help you.
Photo credit: Markus Spiske