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An SEO Friendly Website Migration Guide: How To Keep Your Organic Traffic & Revenue

From a search engine optimization (SEO) perspective, nothing can negatively impact performance quite like a website migration, especially if not performed properly. Without SEO considerations and careful strategic planning, the devastating effects of a migration can last several months or longer.

What is a website migration?

To understand the pitfalls and issue to avoid – it is important to first understand what a website migration is, and what it entails.

A website migration encompasses any instance where a website undertakes a significant update or change to structure, navigation, content, or URL changes. All areas included in a website migration impact overall search engine visibility and search engine optimization (SEO) performance.

What are the most common types of website migrations?

There are numerous types of website migrations, though most can be categorized into three main website update categories:

  • Site Location: Typically a domain name change, a platform change, merging sites, or upgrading to a secure protocol (HTTPS)
  • Site Structure: Website heirarchy or top menu changes, navigation updates, or changes to internal linking structure
  • Site Content: The removal or redireting of legacy content to new pages, merging content into single pages, or adding new language versions of site content

How do website migrations impact SEO?

Site changes, from an end-user website perspective, may look and function great. However, it is important that Google and other search engines are able to comprehend the changes you are making to your site, or your Organic performance will suffer.

From a Search Engine like Google’s point-of-view, crawlability and indexability are a few important factors being considered. This refers to the technical components the Googlebot (Google’s web crawler) takes into account when trying to understand your website code and structure.

When undertaking a website migration, it is critical that Google is able to fully understand the changes you are making, and the relationship between legacy and new content, pages, and site structure. If Google cannot understand the changes (due to lack of directive, or poor execution and planning), you can expect previous traffic totals from organic search engines to plummet.

What are common website migration SEO mistakes?

The most common website migration mistake, put simply, is a lack of planning. Without an SEO being involved in a website migration, it often leads to many critical elements being missed or overlooked. These missed elements often include a proper redirect map (which forwards traffic from legacy pages to new versions of pages), forgotten website pages, proper URL structure and hierarchy updates, and more.

Remember, if any critical elements are overlooked during a migration – even if fixed post-migration, the SEO effect could be devastating.

What does a successful website migration look like? And how do you implement an SEO Friendly Migration?

A successful migration can be broken down into six phases: Planning, Preparation, Testing, Launch, Review, and Measurement. An outline, or checklist, that will provide a framework for critical steps during an SEO friendly website migration is outlined below:

Phase 1: Scope & Planning

  • Define Site Migration Type
    • Define the site migration type, for example a full site revamp, or an HTTP to HTTPS migration, and the outcome desired for the migration
  • Define your project scope
    • Identify the objectives and expectations you aim to gain considering SEO and potential traffic losses
  • Prepare the project plan
    • Understand the expected delivery date, and prepare a plan including scope and deliverables

Phase 2: Pre-Launch Preparation

  • Review wireframes & match pages
    • Review the website wireframes before development to identify any SEO or UX issues, and map legacy URL’s to new URL’s should they be changed
    • Important: URL redirects need to be done at a page-level, not a site-level. This means every legacy page needs to be mapped to a new corresponding page
  • Review the SEO specifications & redirect strategy
    • Go over all technical areas related to SEO to understand specifications of the changes, prepare for URL redirection to maximize organic traffic retention (301 permanent redirects recommended)

Phase 3: Pre-Launch Testing

  • Check that search engines cannot access test site
    • Before making the new site public in the staging environment, or testing platform platform, ensure it is not available to be found by search engines
  • Review user journey
    • Review user journey by using the new platform to check overall user experience and navigation
  • Review technical checks
    • Run through link checks to ensure all areas of the migration are correct, and all links function properly
  • Ensure legacy URL redirection is in place
    • All legacy URL’s should be redirected to the most relevant and closely related new page

Phase 4: Launch

  • Run through final technical spot checks
    • Check all technical aspects on both mobile and desktop servers
  • Site Migration launch
    • Publish the new website changes to a live environment, which should match the final staging server website that has been reviewed and approved
  • Search Console actions
    • Review the Google’s Search Console to ensure no overall sitemap errors, and request indexing by Googlebot. This will manually ask Google to crawl your site updates, rather than having to wait for the Googlebot to come to your site

Phase 5: Post-Launch Review

  • Check crawl stats and review crawl errors
    • Ensure crawl stats are working for the new site’s pages & download and review the Crawl Errors report if issues are found
  • Measure site speed
    • Fast loading web pages are important for SEO. Check your site speed using Campaign Sherpa’s Website Performance Audit, or Google’s PageSpeed Insights
  • Live website testing
    • Perform a comprehensive review of the live website, checking all areas including usability and navigation

Phase 6: Performance Measurement

  • Compare pre and post-migration performance
    • After 1 month, review the changes in migration performance for KPI’s
  • Review SEO performance
    • Check key phrase ranking positions against pre-migration rankings, and review analytics data related to Organic traffic and conversions

A successful website migration can be achieved, but it is critical that proper planning and SEO considerations be put in place – before it is too late. Be sure to include an SEO experienced professional in the early stages of a website migration, or risk losing organic traffic, visibility, and website conversions.

Have website migration related SEO questions? To speak to a member of the Campaign Sherpa team about an upcoming website migration, contact us here.