The Ultimate SEO Guide to a Successful Website Migration
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A website’s search engine results, traffic, and overall online visibility can all be significantly impacted by website migration, which is a major undertaking. The user experience and search engine optimisation (SEO) can both be enhanced by a well-executed website migration, regardless of whether you’re switching to a new domain, making structural changes to your site, or upgrading to a new platform. But if done carelessly, it could cause drastic declines in traffic and rankings. This thorough guide will coach you through each step you need to take to ensure a smooth website migration that keeps your valuable SEO work intact.
Planning meticulously is the first step in a website move that is successful. Determine the causes of the migration, make specific objectives, and create a schedule. Consider the following aspects:
Explicitly state your motivation for moving the website. It might be for a platform upgrade, rebranding, redesign, or increased performance.
Establish measurable objectives for the migration, such as preserving or enhancing traffic, conversion rates, and ranking positions.
The preparation, implementation, and post-migration monitoring phases of the migration should all be included in a comprehensive timeline.
SEO Audit and Benchmarking
Before making any changes, carry out a thorough SEO assessment to create a baseline for the performance of your website. It’s crucial to understand what features of the site are guiding you to success or hindering progress. Whether this is through content or site architecture, it’s important to identify the current performance of your website. An SEO audit will enable you to determine which elements of the site are advantageous to keep or to migrate away from. This audit should consider:
- Identify the keywords your website currently ranks for and their respective positions.
Evaluate your site’s structure, including URL hierarchy, internal linking, and navigation. You need to question whether:
The current structure of your website is user-friendly
- If all your pages are easily discoverable
- If your website is easy to navigate and if not
- What needs to be improved
Analyse your backlink profile for quality and relevance. Make a list of authoritative backlinks to ensure they’re retained after migration, this is especially vital when changing the domain name or updating the URL string.
Take stock of your existing content to identify what should be migrated, consolidated, or updated. Think of this website as a fresh start, it’s always best to not carry any dead-weight content over to your new website.
Choosing the Right Migration Strategy
Depending on your objectives and situation, pick the migration plan that will work best for you, the following are the most common migrations you could come across:
Moving to a new domain requires careful planning to avoid loss of authority and rankings. For example: luxurybrand.co.uk to theluxurybrand.com
Altering the subdomain may impact the organisation of your content and SEO structure.For example: luxurybrand.com/blog to blog.luxurybrand.com
Switching while keeping the same domain to a different content management system or e-commerce platform. For example: WordPress To Shopify Plus
Expect fluctuations. Going through a migration comes with big changes which means that you’re going to go through a short period of performance fluctuations through traffic and your organic rankings. However, making sure you’re prepared for a site migration will help minimise downtime and disruptions to your website’s functionality and availability. Without proper planning, it’s possible to run into unforeseen problems that result in protracted periods of downtime, harming user experience and possibly costing more money. Make sure to consider the following pre-migration actions to minimise potential disruptions:
User experience testing is essential, get feedback from users or team members to identify any issues or improvements needed. Are your CTA’s in the most optimal position, are your users able to understand the page structure for different page templates of your site? A thorough review of the wireframes can reduce the chances of making UX changes once the new website goes live.
Backup Your Data
Make sure you have backups of all the components of your website, including the databases and files, so you can restore an earlier version if necessary. This reduces the risk of any loss of data in the migration process.
Create 301 redirects from the previous URLs to the new ones. This keeps link equity intact and aids in the new structure’s understanding by search engines. Remember, if you’re old URLs are still ranking on the SERPs during the migration process, you want to make sure you are taking your users to the new URL and therefore a permanent redirect is essential.
Update Internal Links
Adjust internal links to match the new URL structure, ensuring a seamless user experience.
Staging Site Checks
Before making any changes or updates to the live site, you can test them on the staging site, a copy of your website that is put up in a controlled environment. This is your final chance to identify and fix any problems before they affect the live site.
Make sure everyone involved is aware of the migration plan and their roles in the process. If you work with external agencies, whether they are your marketing or branding agency, they need to be aware so they can provide support and understand fluctuations in performance during the migration.
Communicate with users
If the migration might affect user experience, inform your audience well in advance about the upcoming changes and potential downtime. This will be appreciated and will most likely retain user trust.
Content migration is not just about moving text from one place to another; it’s about preserving the essence of your website, maintaining your digital presence, and ensuring a positive experience for both users and search engines. Proper content migration contributes to the success of your website migration process as a whole. When migrating content, ensure the following:
Migrate content accurately to the new platform, preserving formatting when it comes to page structure and metadata.
Implement canonical tags to prevent duplicate content issues, especially when consolidating or reorganising content. Duplicated content is deemed as poor SEO practices and therefore can harm performance.
Take the opportunity to optimise content for target keywords and user intent. You’ll be able to recognise if your content does not meet your user’s intent due to poor page ranking performance or low traffic and engagement.
Technical SEO Checks
Systematically checking each of these technical aspects, you can ensure that your website migration is successful and guarantee a smooth transition:
To find any crawl difficulties or broken links, this will simulate how search engine crawlers will interact with your new website. To do a crawl test, you would need to use specialised crawling software like Screaming Frog or Deepcrawl.
Submit An Updated XML Sitemap
Create and submit an updated XML sitemap to search engines, a sitemap is a file that provides information about the structure and organisation of a website’s content to search engines. It lists all the web pages on a site and helps search engine crawlers understand the relationships between different pages. Submit an updated sitemap to your Google Search Console platform to ensure that crawlers can view all your new pages.
Update your Robots.txt file
A robots.txt is an important file used on websites to communicate with web crawlers or “robots” that visit and index the content of a website. To make sure search engines can reach the crucial areas of your new site, review and update your robots.txt file.
Once the migration is complete, this will be an important time to continuously track and assess the new site’s performance, user experience, ranking visibility, and other key metrics of your website to ensure that the migration was successful and to identify any issues that might arise. The main factors to monitor are:
Ranking and Traffic:
Keep track of keyword rankings, organic traffic, and conversion rates. Expect some fluctuations initially but should subside after 3-4 weeks.
Monitor your site for 404 errors and address them promptly by setting up appropriate redirects. A broken page can lead to poor user experience.
Monitor the impact on your backlink profile and address any issues that arise.
Top tip: Put some reminders in your calendar to stay on top of your regular checks!
Indexing and Crawling
Ensure search engines can effectively crawl and index your new website, this will ensure that all your important pages can be seen on the search engine results pages:
Submit New Sitemap:
Submit the updated XML sitemap to Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools.
Fetch as Google:
Use Google Search Console’s “Fetch as Google” tool to prompt the search engine to crawl specific URLs. This will help you investigate which pages are featured on the SERP and if any pages need to be addressed.
User Experience and Testing
A seamless user experience is crucial, without it users and search engines will find it challenging to look for pages:
We live in a mobile-first world, so ensure your new site is fully responsive and optimised for mobile devices.
Test your site on different browsers to ensure consistent functionality and design. Here is a list of popular browsers:
- Google Chrome
- Microsoft Edge
Continuous Monitoring and Iteration
Website migration is an ongoing process:
Analytics Tracking: Confirm that your analytics tracking code is properly implemented and functioning on the new site.
Regular Audits: Schedule regular audits to identify and address any lingering issues that could impact SEO.
In conclusion, a successful website migration requires meticulous planning, attention to detail, and a thorough understanding of SEO principles. SEO can easily be forgotten or not considered at the beginning stages of a migration, but it will always be beneficial to any new website for SEO to be in mind from the get-go.
By following these steps and being prepared for potential challenges, you can navigate the migration process while safeguarding your website’s search engine rankings, traffic, and overall performance. Remember, patience and monitoring are key as the effects of migration settle over time.