So you’ve just gone through a website migration and are excited for your target audience to interact with your new and improved platform. Unfortunately, you look at the stats and see that your new site is performing poorly.
This is actually a common issue with website migration, and it’s usually caused by not taking into account SEO before making changes.
If you’re planning to migrate your website soon, keep on reading this blog post to find out our top tips on how to protect your SEO efforts when migrating a website.
What Is Website Migration?
Website migration is a term used to describe a website that moves from one environment to another. For instance, let’s say you used to have a WordPress site, but now want to move it to Shopify to access more eCommerce-specific tools. Moving that site from WordPress to Shopify is called website migration.
Or, perhaps you want to change the name of your business during a rebrand, but still want to keep the old website. A site that changes its domain name is also considered a “website migration”.
Other examples of website migration can include:
- Changing your hosting
- Website redesign
- Changing the names of your pages, which automatically changes the URLs, etc.
What Is Website Migration from an SEO Perspective?
Search your business name on Google right now, and all the search results will have some common elements:
- Page title
- Meta description
This information has been previously indexed by Google’s web crawler. The problem is, whenever this information is changed, Google doesn’t know it, so it will not send back the crawler to re-index the page and update this information.
You may think this isn’t that big of a deal, but it can be.
For example, if Google indexed a specific URL for your service page, but you’ve changed the URL during your migration, you now have a broken link indexed. People who look for your business and click on this broken link get a 404 error, and your organic traffic and website ranking go down.
Is It Better to Avoid a Website Migration?
We’re not going to lie, website migration can come with some risks:
- Loss of SEO status – A poorly planned website migration can tank your organic traffic, search results ranking, and even conversion rate;
- Increased bounce rate – Some landing pages can lose relevancies, in which case you may experience higher bounce rates;
- Loss of revenue – Website migration can mean your site is down for a few hours (or more, depending on your planning), which could mean your business will lose conversions and revenue in the time frame;
- User experience issues – A poorly planned redesign that confuse your recurring customers, who may need some time to get used to the new site structure and layout;
- Tracking inconsistencies – After a website migration, the stats in your Google Analytics might not look right, as tracking codes can be changed or even removed by accident, leading to data loss;
- Broken links – When changing the URL structure, the old links essentially become broken links. It’s imperative to fix them as soon as possible.
These issues could happen when you don’t fully plan your website migration to include SEO measures.
Of course, when done right, migration can do a lot to improve a website’s rank and overall performance, since it gives you the opportunity to improve site navigation, which directly ties into the user experience.
In the following section, we will discuss a few precautions site owners need to take to prevent their migration from irreparably ruining all the previous SEO efforts.
AIAD’s Website Migration Checklist
Whenever we need to help a client migrate their website, we follow a comprehensive site migration checklist that allows us to safely transition to the new URL or site structure without creating any issues with the business’ SEO efforts.
If you’re about to migrate your site, be sure to check out our checklist below and follow these tips to prevent loss of organic traffic and other post-migration issues:
Choose Your Migration Date Carefully
We recommend migrating your site during those months when customer engagement is usually low. Even if you plan everything right, it’s best to create a safety net for your business just in case you experience some kinks along the way.
Usually, a website migration can take around 3 months or more, depending on how many pages your site has. You can begin the planning stage when it’s most convenient for you and your team, but make sure the actual migration date falls during a period when you normally experience lower traffic.
Create a Backup and Staging Site
Always give yourself the option to hit the “undo button” if your migration doesn’t go as planned. First, you need to create a backup for the old website, which your web developer can help you do.
Then, it’s also a good idea to talk with your marketing and web development staff about creating a “undo” plan in case something goes wrong during migration.
The staging site is an invisible duplicate of your new website, which you can use to test any changes before you implement them on the live site. This smooths out the process tremendously, and if you make any mistakes, you’ll make them on the version that users don’t get to see.
Create a Link Inventory and SEO Audit
Unless your site has 3 pages, it’s impossible to keep track of all the different links on it. Before you start your migration, you need to create a URL inventory so you have the full view of the links that you’ll need to redirect to your new pages, and even establish migration priorities.
Luckily, there are many great tools like Screaming Frog that will crawl your website and create this inventory in a matter of minutes, so you don’t have to start counting manually.
Moreover, we like to go even more in-depth and run a thorough SEO audit on the old website, which can help us see the starting point. These audits can be extremely useful in helping you properly plan your migration in such a way that it doesn’t affect post-migration SEO.
Set up 301 Redirects and Create a 404 Page
After you crawl your site and establish which pages take priority, you will need to set up 301 redirects to connect the old page to your new ones.
Through 301 redirects, even if a user clicks on an old indexed link, they are still taken to the correct page on your new website. Your web developer can help you create a 301 redirect map to make sure no links are left behind.
And naturally, some of the old links might not be necessary for your new website. To ensure you don’t tank user experience, we recommend creating a very engaging 404 page that lets the user know the page doesn’t exist anymore, but that they can still find what they’re looking for on the new site.
Usually, 404 pages link to the new site homepage, where the user can use the new site structure to further navigate the site.
Set up Canonical Tags
Canonical tags are HTML codes that tell a search engine which is the main version of a page that should be indexed, and which are the pages they should overlook.
When a site has similar content on two pages with different URLs, a canonical tag can help a crawler know which version is the main one, and therefore should be indexed. So when changing the URL structure, it’s essential to use these tags to further make sure your old URLs don’t get re-indexed by accident, and your new links take precedence.
Create or Update your XML Sitemap and Ask Google for a Re-crawl
The XML sitemap is a webpage or file that contains all of your website’s internal links in hierarchical order, starting from the homepage at the top, and going down each section and their corresponding pages.
Once you have the XML sitemap, you can head over to Google Search Console and submit it. This will help Google update the information it has about your website, and update how your business appears in the search results.
This is one of the most important steps in ensuring your website migration doesn’t slash your website SEO efforts. While Google does perform website crawls on its own, you really don’t want to wait around for them to do it after migration.
SEO Audit the New Site
We like to be thorough when migrating websites, so although the migration process begins with an audit of the old site, we run another SEO audit right after the process is complete.
This will help you confirm that the migration is successful, or underline a few issues that may need your attention. Auditing tools can reveal lots of issues, such as:
- Broken links
- Improper 301 redirects
- Duplicate content
- Improper canonical tags
- Issues with page metadata, etc.
Double-Check Finer Details and Monitor Performance
A website directly supports a business’s digital marketing efforts, so it likely has a lot of different tools integrated to help the company reach its bottom line.
At this point, we like to double-check that all of these tools are properly installed and that the new site is working, such as:
- Google Analytics is correctly installed and tracking data correctly
- Email, eCommerce, and other marketing integrations are fully functional
- The new site is fully mobile-friendly and working and fully responsive
- Social links have been updated (if necessary), etc.
These tests can further reveal any issues that need your attention, and allow you to quickly resolve them before Google or your target audience notices.
Once the new site is up, don’t forget to continue to monitor its performance. As you can see, website migration is quite a complex task, and even with proper planning and testing, some things can still slip through the cracks.
By continuous monitoring, you will get a better view of how well the new site lives up to your expectations. Some metrics to keep a close eye on can include:
- Organic traffic
- User sessions
- Bounce rates
- Keyword rankings
- Conversion rates
Improve Your SEO Results with Australian Internet Advertising
Get SEO results that actually help your business thrive with the AIAD SEO Sydney team’s help! We can help you access a thorough strategy tailored to the specific needs of your business, and drive high-quality organic traffic to your site, pre or post-migration!
To get started, schedule a free strategy session with AIAD today!