How to Protect Your SEO During a Site Migration

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Arming yourself with the right tools to make sure a site migration goes smoothly is important. Find out how to protect your SEO during migration today.


If you’re looking to evolve your business this year and are planning a site migration, arming yourself with the right tools to ensure your migration moves smoothly is of the utmost importance.

From an organic point of view, protecting your SEO during migration is key. It needs to be considered early and frequently in migration planning – but often, it isn’t. Knowing how to identify and prioritise pages that present risks when you relaunch, understanding what happens if you don’t move certain pages over and successfully protecting backlinks are all integral things to consider, and so much more. Your search visibility and traffic moving with you is important too.

Equally as relevant to know are the key SEO metrics and tools that you can use to correctly assess the success of your migration. There are also other elements in play that need to be considered.

Why it’s Important to Consider SEO in a Site Migration

If you’re starting a new physical store, you want to make sure that there’s a lot of footfall while you’re undergoing the opening process. Being visible to your customers is vital – and it’s exactly the same with a website. When you launch a new website, you want to ensure that your customers or users can find you.

Organic is still widely considered one of the biggest sources of traffic to websites. It’s important to get this right, or you could risk leaving your website stranded on a search-less island where nobody can find you. This would create a huge, short-term issue in that you’re not generating leads or revenue, but a long-term one too in that it will take a long time to recover. All too often SEO is a ‘concern for later on’ and this causes the revisiting of old tasks, the duplication of work and ultimately means that it’s going to take up more time, resources and money in the long run.

Migrations are highly pressurised situations, and such a large project can be stressful. Considering SEO from the start helps to alleviate some of this stress and mitigate risk.

Small things with big impacts on organic visibility:

1. Robots.txt

Seemingly small issues can have a huge impact on the launch of a new site. The robots.txt file is one of them. A small line of code can prevent a search engine from crawling the entire website, and that can be detrimental to organic performance. It’s an easy thing to check for, but if left there for even just a day or two, it can have a major impact.

2. Canonical Links

Canonical links allow you to identify the preferred version of a web page – much like a soft 301 redirect. Canonical URLs are often pointed towards the new website, and upon launch the new website isn't accessible to Google. A small piece of code in the page’s source code can have a huge impact by telling the search engine that you prefer one page to another – but they can’t crawl it.

Our Site Migration SEO Checklist

There are plenty of horror stories of migrations going horribly wrong, and naturally we want to avoid that. No more frustration, no more pushing dates back, and no more eating up time and money. From planning all the way to post-launch, these are important things to consider when undergoing a site migration.

The Planning Stage

As we’ve already mentioned, including SEO in the planning stage is crucial. Creating a web development specification document as a guide for developers is SEO best practice, and provides the developers with things like URL formatting, how canonical links should be set up, pagination set-up, page tags, the site map and much more. In the long run, this makes the organic basis more efficient, allowing Google and other relevant crawlers to do their job as quickly as possible. Wondering how to create a specification document? Get in touch with us to look at one we’ve created.

This brings us onto website performance benchmarking. It’s key to know how the current website is performing and how successful a migration could be. Putting together a spreadsheet in the planning phase allows us to look at a range of performance metrics. These metrics can include sessions, conversions, revenue, organic rankings, performing pages, competitor performance and an idea of how the website is currently performing overall. It’s also useful to reflect on and see how successful things were post-migration.

Prioritising pages is also important at this stage. Pulling together another spreadsheet and looking at which pages would be a risk to remove is a good idea. Consider the pages with the highest performance the most important on a website, and then look at which pages provide little or no value. Old pages are most likely to be less critical on a new website – they're not ranking anymore; they won’t have backlinks and they will not be performing – so with less value, it’s prime time to get rid of them. You’re basically keeping pages that are driving organic performance for you and cutting less valuable ones.

Make sure you plan an audit for the current website too, so you can really iron out any issues that are present before you end up moving those in the migration.

The Developmental Stage

This is the nitty gritty part of a site migration. One of the first things to consider is URL mapping, as it’s one of the easiest things to get wrong. All of your old URLs need to point to the most relevant new URL on the new website – and that doesn’t necessarily mean the homepage. Bulk URL redirects to the homepage are seen as software overhauls more often than not, so it’s a risky thing to do. Moving the URL’s destination to the most relevant live event, other than the homepage, is key – and you can do this by collating a list of all current URLS and ensuring they’re mapped to a new one.

On top of this, working out which keywords your new URLs are targeting is vital during the development stage. Looking at your current website, knowing what keywords are valuable for your website and which of those are generating traffic is essential. It’s also beneficial to do extra keyword research on top of this to identify new, future opportunities.

It’s also super important to not forget about backlinks here. It’s best practice to ensure that you’re only being linked to by beneficial sites, and not websites considered as ‘broken’ or ‘spam’. This is a great time to audit these backlinks and use Google’s guidelines to classify bad or good links, to then produce a disavow file for the bad ones before uploading to the Google Search Console ahead of the launch.

The Testing Phase

The migration has been planned, the development has been started and the website has been built. Now we are onto the testing phase.

The first and most important part of the testing phase is the staging site technical audit. There are so many things from an SEO perspective to cover here, and at ClickThrough Marketing we cover upwards of 40 different elements in total. Here you will find any significant issues that need to be fixed prior to launch.

Structured data is also super important. Things like Article, Breadcrumb, Product FAQ and How To are all truly relevant in 2021. Implementing structured data gives you a better chance of appearing in universal results and get seen earlier and more often in a consumer’s search. It’s also a necessity to carry over any structured data from your current website to the new one. However, this is also a prime opportunity to implement any further types of structured data that will enhance your appearance in search results.

The Launch Phase

Launch can be quite a stressful time. From our perspective, launch day is always very important. It’s key to figure out if the website can be found and can be crawled, and that’s the first thing that should be checked. Following that, it’s checking the 301 redirects, allowing any issues to be rectified quickly.

Heading to Google Search Console, letting them know you’ve changed domains and submitting your XML sitemap to them speeds up the process of them crawling your website, and it offers them direct access to the most important pages.

Making things easier, more efficient and less impactful from an SEO perspective is key to performance.

The Post-Launch Phase

There are a few things to be considered post-launch to ensure that everything you’ve changed and implemented has worked:

  • Technical SEO Audit – Checking all of your changes have worked, and that there are no outstanding or new issues.
  • Full Sitemap Audit – Ensuring there are no duplicate URLs, checking all important pages are in the sitemap, fixing any issues and resubmitting to Google Search Console.
  • Backlink Audit – You'll have checked for negatively impacting backlinks, but you need to make sure they’re pointing to your new website.
  • Performance monitoring – Monitor performance closely following launch over the first three months, as this will flag things that are working or things that need to be fixed.


Perform an SEO-Friendly Site Migration

If you’re thinking of migrating your website and want to ensure that all SEO has been considered at every stage – and that the user experience and core web vitals are all up to scratch – then you’re in the right place.

Book in a call with one of our SEO experts to get your migration underway.

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