Website migration may be required for many reasons, from a change in domain name, hosting or IP address to the migration of multiple websites to one single domain name. Whether you are getting a new domain name or whether you are thinking about redesigning your website entirely, every migration is different and requires its own SEO migration strategy. It gets even more complicated when the site is in multiple languages with an international focus, has good search visibility, a steady stream of good traffic and is already ranking well for its core keywords and related keywords.
In this blog, we offer you a guide to preserving your SEO equity during website migration as we list below a few common types of site migration:
Common Types of Site Migration
- New domain name
- Changes in hosting/IP addresses
- Updating current website
- Re-launching a new website
- Moving from HTTP to HTTPS
- Migrating multiple websites to one single domain name
- Changing ccTLD to a generic URL
- Company split or segregation of services into new companies
Planning, Preparation and Communication
As with any other projects, planning, preparation and communication is the key. Communicating honestly and openly about the impact of site migration to your client is key to managing expectations. Equally important is communication with team members in-house (project managers, designers and developers) for the smooth delivery of a project. It also helps if you have a site-migration checklist you can tick off as you plan and monitor the migration. Needless to say, keeping a checklist will also keep things organised.
Benchmark Your Past Performance
First things first when it comes to migrating a website, it is always good practice to measure your past performance, whether it is website traffic, search visibility, website rankings, conversion rates or the keywords/keyphrase that attracts the most impressions and highest click-through rates. All this information is available on Google Search Console [previously known as Google Webmaster Tools]. Simple things such as creating a site-migration folder with pre-migration documents saved in one subfolder and post-migration documents saved in another will help to organise the site-migration efficiently. Take a copy of your backlink profile using Moz’s Open Site Explorer or Majestic’s Back Link Tracker so you can see where most of your links are coming from. If the structure of your website is changing then all these need a place to be forwarded to. Using the annotations in Google Analytics, mark out the date of the migration so account viewers can see any marked differences. Similarly, do the same in any other software that allows it so you can see any keyword movement after that date.
SEO Opportunities – Good Housekeeping
While a site migration could be long, tedious and an extremely time consuming task, from an SEO perspective, it also opens up lots of opportunities for good SEO housekeeping. Clear the cobwebs and you’ll find that basic things such as ensuring there is only one h2 tag on each page, media files are named correctly, duplicates are removed and meta tags are in place will make all the difference. If you have a blog, ensure all posts are categorised and tagged correctly, duplicate content is removed and 404s are fixed and removed.
Monitor, Review and Refine
Once your website is live, monitor your Google Webmaster Tools like a hawk for any crawl errors or drops in traffic. Follow the rule of thumb; monitor, review and refine. Submit your new sitemap to the Google Search Console and ensure it is referenced in your robots.txt file. Don’t jump to conclusions earlier than 3-4 weeks and be patient as deep crawls can take time depending on the site’s size, architecture and internal linking. Your website will experience slight fluctuations in rankings, so don’t panic.
There are so many things to keep an eye out for, which, if you do not have a SEO team, could easily be overlooked and consequently result in a loss of traffic, search rankings and most importantly, a loss in e-commerce revenue.
In conclusion, make sure you have backed up the legacy site, mapped out 301 redirects, benchmarked key rankings, traffic and other key performance indicators. Once the new website is live, annotate in Google Analytics and crawl the site using crawler applications such as Xenu Link Sleuth or Screaming Frog for broken links, crawl errors and header responses. Prepare a robots.txt file for the new site along with a new XML sitemap to submit to Google and don’t forget to run a page speed test using Google pagespeed insights for further optimisation opportunities.
As a key takeaway, here are some of the main things you need to consider:
Website Migration Checklist
- Crawl and save legacy site using crawler application [Useful tools: Xenu Link Sleuth or Screaming Frog]
- Export top pages with large numbers of inbound links [Useful tools: Open Site Explorer, Majestic SEO, Google Search Console, Google Analytics]
- Download and save a detailed rankings report to use as a benchmark for later comparisons.
- Identify and export 404 pages that may have quality links pointing to them.
- Measure website performance [Useful tool: Pingdom]
- Plan 301 redirection strategy
Once the website is live
- Generate new XML sitemap(s)
- Implement 301 redirection strategies
- Prepare and implement Robots.txt file for the new site
- Notify Google Search Console
- Run page speed test
- Monitor and resolve: Check new site for broken links, crawl errors and header responses
- Others: Update information on media channels channels and Update Number [NAP] on Google+