How to Implement a Successful SEO Site Migration
Migrating your site can seem like a daunting task, especially in regards to the established SEO efforts in place. Fears include a loss in traffic and conversions, internal/backend issues that are hard to identify, loss in SEO ranking, and much more. It is, indeed, a big deal and a big risk, but there have been many successful site migrations in the history of the internet and with the help of this guide and professional consultation, there will continue to be.
Site migration is a change to the site’s location, platform, structure, content, design, or UX (user experience). When done correctly, traffic, visibility, and SEO won’t be compromised—and in some cases will even see improvements. Often site migration can result in significant traffic and revenue loss, which depends on a variety of factors, can last from a few weeks to several months.
To mitigate migration migraines, there are a series of tried-and-true steps you can follow that will ensure a seamless and relatively painless transfer. This will still require manpower, time, a solid strategy, a clear budget, clear internal communication, and professional consulting.
It is 100% possible to come out of a site migration without suffering significant losses to traffic and SEO, and this comprehensive checklist will be your guiding light. We still recommend consulting with or hiring an experienced SEO agency, like Pico Digital Marketing, before taking this on within your own team. There are many industry stands and secrets that can help you and your brand maintain momentum and stay away from the heat of complete and utter disaster—which, in terms of site migration, is incredibly difficult to bounce back from.
Additionally, this note of caution is not intended to instill fear, but to highlight the very real risk involved with an undertaking as large as site migration. While there are, of course, horror stories to be found on this topic, we’ve also seen a lot of victories come out of a site migration. There are many advantages to doing this, and doing it right, and releasing a revamped website to the world.
There are many reasons to migrate a site, but the most common include:
- M-Dot Roll-Up migration
- HTTP to HTTPS migration
- ccTLD to TLD migration
- Rebranding/ consolidating multiple domains migration
Like anything, a clear strategy forward is exactly what will make the migration successful. With this guide, you’ll discover the strategies and tasks needed to migrate a site, for any reason.
Before we dive into how to do it right, here’s the common mistakes made when performing a site migration, via Moz.com.
There is a lot to consider before truly committing to a site migration. And again, we highly recommend working with experienced professionals.
Step 1: Project Scope
Understanding the scope of a project before you dive in is essential to planning, budgeting, creating a timeline, and setting realistic expectations. Whether you’re going from http to https or a new site altogether, there are many moving parts and pieces that need to be considered. This is also a great opportunity to look at the current state of the site, everything from url structure to technology needs to be audited.
Identify any and all risks that could have a negative impact on migration. To obtain the clearest line of sight for this, involve as many stakeholders and departments as needed. The input of your off-site or contracted teams is also vital. This could include content, SEO, UX, and Analytics teams.
Forecast the scenarios alongside professional and experienced site migration consultants, and you’ll be left with an itemized list of deliverables to take conscious and concerted action. Additionally, you’ll also have realistic expectations and targets for the project and budget, what resources you’ll need, and who has what roles.
Within this first step of site migration, there are also many factors to consider and account for that can greatly impact organic traffic and SEO in the long term:
- URL structure
- Internal linking
- Page template layouts
- Site speed
- Backend technology and responsiveness
Some channels and technologies that may be running on their own to consider before performing a site migration include:
- Social media
- PPC (Pay-per-click)
- Offline recognition
- SEO (Search Engine Optimization)
- Canonical strategy
- CSS and external files
- Page titles and meta description
- Google Analytics
Step 2: Project Preparation
Within this step, things like the underlying technology of the site, URL structure, and site speed need to be addressed. This is a time where activities that can be addressed while the new site is in development.
Within the underlying technology of the site, this is an opportunity to make technical changes that would have been too hard to implement on the previous site. A migration allows for the newest, fastest technology to be implemented. While this can create added complexity, this is truly the best time to do it if you’re going to do it at all. An SEO audit must also be done with the new technology before anything goes live to insure everything is running smoothly and there are no SEO issues. In addition to SEO, you’ll want to ensure that the site is responsive to all devices in this process.
The URL structure in a site migration will likely change, which is a blessing and a potential curse. There is a lot of room for error with URL structure changes, even more so on a site with a large number of pages. This is an opportunity to implement the use of keywords and create a hierarchy in your URLs. With redirects, try to be as specific in the map as possible, rather than redirect to the homepage. That will increase the bounce rate, decrease the UX, and inhibit conversions.
Site speed is a huge consideration when working with a site conversion, and a huge opportunity to make improvements. Conversions are directly related to site speed. Not surprising, when someone can navigate through the site faster, they are more likely to successfully make it to the shopping cart. Google’s free Page Speed Insights tool is a wonderful way to bookmark site speed on all main pages. Optimizing in terms of content, compressing media, optimized code, caching, server response time, etc will drastically increase site speed.
Step 3: Internal Links & Website Architecture
Internal linking and the overall website architecture are big undertakings in a site migration. But when taken into deep consideration from the beginning, these can be solved in concise ways that won’t cause too much of a headache.
With any site migration, internal links are surely going to be affected. And if your website has a lot of pages, this can sound like an absolute nightmare to rectify. Luckily, it’s the end of 2019 and technology is in your favor. Digital agencies and developers are raving about Screamingfrog SEO Spider which will crawl up to 500 URLs for free, or a more robust site for a license fee. You’ll end up with a super detailed report that you can easily take action on without pulling your hair out.
Website architecture amy also change with a site migration and this is a great opportunity to implement a cleaner and more organized architecture. By creating a tree diagram with your site structure, starting with the homepage at the top, you’ll get a clear visual of how the site is built and what changes need to be made in the migration. There’s a science to this that Credo has detailed and defined that will help you establish a structure that will serve the customer’s need and the company’s needs best.
Step 4: Content and Ongoing SEO
As you’re getting into the backend functionality of the site, you have to look at the surface as well. The content is what people see first and is what search engines need for rankings.
Creating a content strategy with ongoing SEO in mind from the start of a site migration will create an environment that is serving both the customer/user and the search engines. Whether the site has a blog, needs a blog, or has other places to create content, this is the time to think about a cohesive and SEO keyword driven content strategy. It’s a common misconception that content needs to be updated consistently, however. This can put a lot of pressure on areas of the site that don’t need to be consistently updated and actually benefit from more static copy. The trick is not to update content on static pages like the homepage, but to add new and relevant content to the site that will serve different SEO needs, and the long-term strategy.
New content can include timely topics that have peaks in search rankings, like news or relevant topics in your industry, or content that is extremely optimized and relevant to the needs of the customer. By adding new pages to the site regularly, rather than updating existing pages, you are tapping in to new keyword potential and search engines will have more reasons to come back and crawl the site more often—increasing your traffic and exposure.
Creating an ongoing SEO strategy has incredible benefits that will serve for years to come. This translates to increased traffic and conversions, and long standing high rankings.
Step 5: Page Templates and Sitemap
Page templates are an easy way to create new pages with pre-set standards. While this is a good thing to have in place, it will need to be analyzed and updated in a site migration to insure that the H tags are updated, on page content is current, and internal links are reflective of the migration and URL structure. This is a good time to update the look and feel of the page templates as well.
Another way to use Screamingfrog is for page templates, and you’ll end up with a comprehensive report to act on. This audit will help you see what’s working, what’s not, and what needs to change in the migration so you can start with page templates that are current and optimized.
One of the last stages will be to update the sitemap of the site. There are two types of sitemaps:
- XML sitemaps: Submitted to search engine webmaster tools
- HTML sitemaps: These exist on the front end so users and search engines can find all the pages of the site
In a site migration, it is absolutely vital to update both. It is possible for search engines to stop trusting a site that has too many errors, which can completely destroy a company and is hard to diagnose.
Remember to update both types of sitemaps, generate new XML sitemaps and update to the robots.txt file, remove old site maps from all search engine webmaster tools, submit the new site maps, and generate a new link to the HTML sitemap based on the new URL structure.
Sitemaps are pretty simple to implement and are directly connected on long-term organic growth.
The Bottom Line
This site migration guide is but a part of what will need to take place in your own site migration, but it will surely enlighten you and your team to the caliber of what is required for a successful site migration. Every site will have unique needs which are best identified and detailed by experienced professionals.
When a lot of changes are implemented at the same time, like in a site migration, it can be extremely difficult to identify a problem specifically. This is why it’s best to work on sections at a time with the direction and supervision of an SEO agency who specializes in detailed projects like site migration.
With the basics outlined in this site migration guide, however, it can make a daunting and overwhelming project seem feasible. There is so much to a successful site migration, and at Pico Digital Marketing we are highly experienced in the meticulous details of SEO, PPC, and so much more that can boost the performance of the new site and help to make the necessary changes from the old site. Get in touch for professional consultation that will help you from the first step to launch.