As businesses grow, the internet evolves and technology improves, the need for upgrading, moving or overhauling your website is inevitable.
If you are about to face this tricky situation it is a good idea to brush up on some SEO basics and remember the following 7 factors to avoid a website migration disaster.
Firstly, what does a website migration mean?
The term website migration is used to describe when a website undergoes significant change that can affect search engine results and visibility. This could include changes to a website’s:
- Location, e.g. URL change due to new branding.
- Structure, e.g. Site hierarchy or navigation changes.
- Design, e.g. UX changes across desktop, tablet or mobile devices.
- Platform, e.g. Moving to a new platform.
A common migration example is when changing from an unsecure version of your website (HTTP) http://www.collabagency.com.au to a secure version (HTTPS) https://www.collabagency.com.au and ensuring SEO is not negatively affected.
7 ways to not lose existing SEO when migrating a website:
1. Establish clear objectives, and determine what style of migration is required.
If a complete overhaul is required then the objective might be to increase traffic, whereas a HTTP to HTTPS migration might be to simply retain traffic. Being crystal clear about the objectives will allow you plan more effectively, and assign correct resources in an achievable timeframe. SEO assistance and consultation are recommended for those who have not completed a site migration before.
- 2. Identify the areas of the website that are dominating your traffic results.
Ensuring you know the pages that are bringing in the most, and best quality traffic, is an important part of the migration process. By identifying priority pages and ensuring you focus on these throughout the migration process you can avoid traffic loss and potential disasters occurring. Performing a site crawl, and scanning through top performing crawlable pages you will be able to identify your websites priority pages.
- 3. Create a benchmarking report.
Gather the current rankings, traffic, and performance of your website. Once the migration has occurred, re-run this report and compare the results to identify any underperforming areas to address quickly. Once migrated, use tools like SEMrush, Search Console, Google Analytics, Page Speed analysers and Excel to collect and compare benchmarked results to deem if migration has been successful or not.
- 4. Redirect mapping.
Implementing redirects is a crucial activity and needs to be done correctly, if not, the ranking and visibility of a website will be negatively affected. Therefore, mapping URLS for pages that may no longer exist, be moved to a new location or renamed is incredibly important. Consider which redirect will be suitable for you. 301 redirects are the most popular if your site moves to a new domain or switching HTTP to HTTPS.
- 5. Restrict search engines access.
This tip is to ensure the testing or staging environment with the new website is not indexed before it is ready to be viewed by the public and search engines. This can simply be done in the Robots.txt by blocking the site, or by making the site password protected.
- 6. Review. Review. Review!
Before launching the new site there are certain elements that should be tested. This is to identify issues prior to launching the site and ensuring that once live you can focus your attention on increasing traffic instead of rebuilding traffic. The items to review include content, links, sitemap, canonical tags, redirects and overall user experience of the new site.
- 7. Set up a 503 webpage for launch day.
While you are migrating the website, there is a high chance that the website will be temporarily inaccessible. While this (hopefully short) downtime is occurring, visitors and crawlers should be taken to a URL request with a 503-server response. This notifies visitors that the site is down temporarily for maintenance, and to come back later and will ultimately not affect your search results.
Milestones of successful migration
When the new site goes live, a popular question is, how long until you know whether the site migration has been a successful one? The answer depends on factors such as if the change was significant - as users will take longer to adapt to new site – or the size and authority of the website itself - as the larger the website the longer it takes to tell. A good rule of thumb is to consider that the first few weeks can be very volatile. Small sites can take a 5 week period to be confident of success, whereas large sites may be closer to a 3 month period.
Web traffic to your site is hard earned, and while you focus on the new additions to your site, it’s important not to de-prioritise migration. Ensure your efforts are adding incrementally to your overall performance. So, even though there are more than 7 things to consider when migrating a website, if you can nail down these 7 items you will be well on your way to a successful migration. For more details into website migration download our guide.