From an SEO perspective, website migrations can be tricky. Having a clear migration strategy in place is key to minimising the impact on traffic and rankings, so that once search engines have picked up on the changes, you’ll be ready to reap the rewards of your new build.
In this guide we’ll explain the difference between types of migration, and show how we approach them to safeguard your traffic and speed up recovery.
Types of migration
Some types of migration are more complex than others, but they all need treating with the same level of care. From easiest to most complex, we have:
HTTP to HTTPS
Making the move to a secure site doesn’t usually involve changing content at all, but in Google’s eyes, https://www.example.com and http://www.example.com are not the same thing — so it’s important you redirect your non-secure site to your secure site to prevent content duplication. You’ll also need to make sure all internal links have been updated — we can help you identify these with our site crawler, Screaming Frog.
If you’re keeping the same domain name but updating a lot of URLs, it’s really important that the old pages are redirected to their new equivalent. This might take time, but blanket-redirecting pages to the homepage, for example, loses you lots of link equity and is also terrible for user experience.
Moving your website to a new domain — or combining multiple domains — is the most complex type of migration, and requires the most planning. However, when handled correctly, recovery shouldn’t be an issue. For Hitachi, we moved over 20 separate European sites onto a single .eu domain, with redirects in place to ensure users and search engines could find their way to the new domain.
Even when a site migration is handled perfectly, we still expect to see some rankings disturbances in the months following the new site’s launch. This is because Google has to reassess your site and determine where it should rank. While a drop in organic traffic is to be expected, it shouldn’t last long if there’s a migration plan in place. Here’s what we include in our checklist:
When changing URLs or moving to a new domain, it’s crucial that old pages are directed to their new equivalent. We do this by crawling the old site, and mapping each page to its new URL in a spreadsheet.
URLs might change for a number of reasons. Sometimes it’s because a different platform has been used — so a URL that used to end in .html, for example, might just end with a simple trailing slash. Likewise, restructuring categories and subcategories can mean that example.com/category/subcategory/product might become example.com/category2/product.
Why it matters
If redirects aren’t mapped out and implemented, we face a number of issues that can completely tank search visibility and prevent customers from finding you easily. Your rankings can drop off a cliff and take many months to recover. Without redirects, the issues you could face include:
- All existing links to your site, such as those posted on social media, local directories and other websites, will lead to a 404 page
- Google won’t make the connection between an old version of a page and the new version, and so it won’t rank it as highly. You’ll effectively be trying to rank a brand new page for your keywords, and as 90% of pages in position 1-10 of Google are over a year old, this is an uphill struggle
- Incoming link equity — the value you get from backlinks — will be lost if the pages aren’t redirected
- Before Google has fully updated its index to include your new site, there’ll be days (if not weeks) where your old URLs are showing instead. If these haven’t been redirected, your users will be met with a 404 error
- The way users interact with your content has an impact on how highly Google ranks your website. So, if all your organic visitors reach you from (now outdated) search results and immediately bounce because they get an error message, Google won’t see this as a good sign
Mapping redirects is perhaps the most important thing you can do to safeguard traffic during a migration.
To gauge the impact of a migration, we need to set a benchmark. We do this by monitoring your average monthly traffic in the lead-up to a migration, taking into account seasonal fluctuations.
We’ll also set you up in Linkdex, our enterprise-level SEO tool, so we can see where you’re ranking for all traffic-driving keywords. We’ll monitor a number of metrics, including:
- Number of ranking keywords
- Keyword position and ranking URL
- Featured snippets
- Organic traffic, month on month and year on year
This allows us to update you on the progress of your recovery, identify any problems if they crop up, and let you know which areas are recovering most quickly. We can also bolster traffic where necessary — for example, if traffic is taking a while to increase organically, we can advise on running a short paid campaign to keep levels consistent and help you meet sales targets.
Why it matters
If you don’t know what your traffic levels and rankings were like pre-migration, it’s very difficult to determine the success of your new site. Benchmarking organic traffic and rankings allows us to report effectively on the progress of the migration, and the improvements brought about by your new build.
We like to complete an SEO audit of your old site, so we know which issues to correct during the build process. For example, if server issues are slowing your site down, this won’t be addressed by a new site on its own; likewise, if your old content is too thin and stuffed with keywords, we’ll want to make sure the new content is written from scratch.
We’ll also complete another quick audit once your new site is ready to launch, to make sure nothing has been missed. In this audit, we’re mostly checking for:
- Broken internal links (which can happen quite frequently if your blog archive has been imported, for example)
- Broken images
- Internal linking and page depth (to ensure nothing is buried in the site hierarchy)
For more information on what we cover in an SEO audit, see our full guide: What to Expect from an SEO Audit
Why it matters
Completing a technical audit at this stage means we can be sure your site is launching in the best health possible, which speeds up the potential recovery time of your rankings.
Search Console setup
Setting up Google Search Console makes it easy for us to see how Google is picking up your new site. At this stage, we will:
Update your sitemap
If you’ve moved from http to https, we’ll create a new property in Search Console
Check for errors
See how many pages Google has crawled and make sure it’s what we’d expect
Use the Data Highlighter tool to increase your chances of getting rich snippets in the search results
Why it matters
Search Console helps us to monitor your appearance in the search results and discover any issues Google might be having with indexing your site.
To prevent loss of link equity and to ensure that your customers can find you, it’s important to update all off-site assets to point to your new domain or new URLs. For example:
- Update social media listings (domain migration only)
- Update local directory profiles (domain migration only) — we can pull together a list of these if you’re not sure which you’re featured on
- Update email signature (domain migration only)
- Get backlinks updated if possible, otherwise make sure the pages linked to have been redirected
Using our link data tool Majestic, we’ll pull a list of your most valuable backlinks, and check which pages they point to on your site. Depending on the nature of the link, we may be able to get some of these updated by contacting the website owner. For others, we’ll need to make sure that the pages being linked to have been updated as part of the redirect plan.
Why it matters
Search engines view links as votes of confidence from one site to another. If a lot of websites are linking to yours, but you remove the pages they’ve linked to, you lose some of this link equity — and this can pull your rankings down, resulting in less organic traffic.
Google Analytics & goal tracking setup
Your current Google Analytics setup might need some tweaking post-launch. For example, if you have content groups set up, and have changed all your URLs, these might stop working.
We’ll make sure Google Analytics is implemented correctly, and set up goal tracking for things that matter — such as contact form submissions, signups, whitepaper downloads or conversions.
Why it matters
To prove Return on Investment for your new website, you’ll need to be able to see how well it’s working. The setup you had for your previous site may not be suitable with the new one, particularly when it comes to things like goal tracking and content groups.
Worried you might have mishandled a migration, or want assistance with an upcoming one? Take a look at our SEO services to see how we can help.