In the past 12 months we have overseen a number of client website migrations. Whether this was a switch to https, a URL restructure or a rebrand, they all involved a great deal of planning and careful execution in order to avoid any potentially devastating SEO impacts.
A migration that is done incorrectly can result in the new website not ranking as well (or in the worst case, not at all) so we do advise a complete website analysis to avoid any unexpected pitfalls.
Jamieoliver.com received a steep drop in SEO visibility after a new URL structure was implemented:
A website migration can be a very nervy time for those involved, so in order to make the process a little less stressful, we have put together a 5 step guide to help you through the process.
Establishing business objectives, targets and timings
Preparation and planning is a key stage of the process because if unrealistic targets are set, problems can quickly arise in later stages which may need further resources to fix. A migration plan should be created with your developers and key stakeholders, with realistic timings set throughout. This is a chance to identify and include any new features the new site has and the technical specifications that are involved.
Getting an understanding of how the current site is performing and which are the top performing pages is crucial. Tools such as Screaming Frog, Deepcrawl and Search Console allow you to crawl, analyse and audit your site providing details on your key onsite elements such as the canonical tags. Link intelligence tools Ahrefs and Majestic will help you determine which pages are popular and receive the most inbound links.
The preparation stage is also a good time to identify new opportunities by revisiting or updating keyword research and get agreement on KPI reporting.
Technical and content review
The first task is to ensure the dev. site is not accessible to any search engine crawlers. Once this is complete a technical and content review can take place. You will need to review and understand:
Technical site attributes
- Website architecture
- Review how users are currently navigating around your site and how easily they are accessing content you want them to see
- Duplication/ Canonicalisation
- If panda/low quality issues have been a problem in the past, this is a good time to address them head on, sort out your canonical tagging and reduce page duplication
- Mobile friendly
- Google are continuing to make the web more mobile friendly and have recently announced that in May, they will start rolling out an update to their mobile search results, so now is the time to make sure your new site is as mobile friendly as possible.
- Internal linking structure, so that this can be preserved in the new site as far as possible
- URL formatting
- Ensure content is optimised and fulfils the needs of the consumer
- Google has released its search quality guidelines, a 160 page document into how they define low and high quality pages. Understanding the judgements Google makes will help you to get an understanding of the quality of content required for your website.
- Review any duplicate content issues
Optimise content and correct technical snags in your new site
This is the chance to correct any technical snags found in the audits and ensure the website is ready for the migration process. These steps will include:
- Page title and Meta description optimisations
- Generate your XML sitemap
- Prepare a Robots.txt file which ensures Google and other search engine bots cannot crawl any pages you do not want them to crawl and index
- Fix any broken links
URL redirect mapping will also be required during this phase. This will involve redirecting all pages from the old URL to the most relevant page on the new one. Common mistakes at this stage include:
- Redirecting all URLs to the homepage
- Using a 302 redirect (temporary) instead of a 301 redirect (permanent)
- Redirecting only a proportion of the URLs on site
- Redirection mapping can be time consuming, but is definitely worth the effort.
Testing, testing, 123
The new website should now be ready for migration, but it’s important to test everything to ensure all goes to plan. Crawling the dev. site again before launch will identify any last minute changes that need to be made, whilst getting several people to look over the site will reduce any human errors that can occur.
Ready to launch
Once the new site is live, Google may take some time to update the new pages in the search results, there are however important steps to take to monitor the migration.
- Configure the new domain in the search console (this includes if the migration is just to HTTPS)
- Fetch as Google - crawl the homepage and most strategic pages
- Submit XML sitemap in the search console
Manual checks should include:
- Check the site can be indexed
- Check the robot.txt file is correct (using the robot.txt tester in the search console), Meta robots noindex tags and Meta robots nofollow tags are a good place to start
- Check the search console reporting - Check crawl errors and indexation errors
- Crawl the new site to ensure URLs are configured correctly and no redirects need to be put into place
- Check the redirects have been set up correctly
- Monitor organic performance
- Search metrics and Google Analytics are two of the key places you can look for information on rankings and site traffic volumes
- Monitor rankings
- Against the benchmarks set out in the planning stage
And that is all there is to it!
A lot of mistakes can be made during a website migration, however with careful planning execution and monitoring, all of them can be avoided so that your new site leaves you in a better, rather than worse place, after migration.