Join our Head of SEO, Rory Tarplee, and SEO Specialist, Joe Wheeler, as they tell you how to run an SEO site migration that keeps your traffic flowing and revenue safe!
When you start considering a site migration, you need to ensure you are in the right position from the beginning, to make sure your website isn’t left with your customers unable to find it. Site migrations may seem daunting but impactful planning is the key! SEO needs to be considered from the very start, or else you’ll find yourself revisiting old tasks and fixing errors, meaning your workload (and cost) could be doubled.
So why would you want to migrate your website? There are a few main reasons people choose to migrate. They may be wanting to:
- Change their domain name,
- Roll out a website redesign,
- Or change their CMS.
What are the stages of a site migration?
When running a site migration there are 5 phases you need to consider to ensure it goes smoothly:
Planning is the most important part of the whole migration process. At ClickThrough, we use an SEO specification document for web builds & migrations, that ensures everything in the migration plan is consistent - from metadata to URL formatting. You also need to plan where you want to be at the end of the migration, and how you will determine if the migration has been successful or not.
You’ll need to gather your current data to create a benchmark that’ll help with comparisons further down the line, when you hit that post-launch section. There may be more data you want to collect but a good list to start with is :
- Organic sessions
- Keyword rankings
- Top-performing pages
- Competitor performance
During this planning section, it’s also good to ask yourself about any issues that are present on your current site. You should also question whether you want to take over all your pages or are there some that no longer hold value that can be left behind (with their URLs redirecting to new content, of course!)
When you reach the development stage it is crucial to ensure your web development team have a strong relationship with your SEO team as everyone needs to be on the same page. One of the most important parts of the development stage is ensuring you map URLs correctly as every URL from your old website needs to have a new URL (yes, even those pages you’re not bringing with you). This may not be a direct replica of the current page – success here is all about making sure that every redirect you are putting on the new website is mapping the old URL to the most relevant URL and passing strength to the right page.
As well as mapping URLs, you should be mapping which URLs you want your keywords to target too. A migration is an opportunity to clarify the purpose of each page on the new website and ensure that you aren’t competing with yourself with multiple pages targeting the same terms.
How will you retain the authority you’ve already built up when you move to your new website? This is tackled by ensuring backlink strength is directed to the new site. Audit your backlinks, classifying ‘good’ links and ‘bad’ links, then create a disavow file for ‘bad’ links and use ‘good’ links for outreach to change the target to new URLs. There are also international targeting considerations you may need to action in the development phase if you’re targeting multiple countries – at this point ensure you are going to have to correct hreflang configurations to minimise duplicate content issues.
If there is one fundamental point to make in the testing phase, it’s to not launch with issues - you must be testing before your launch! You need to allow time for fixes and re-checks to ensure you are ready to set that site live. When issues have been found, prioritise which issues will hold you back. You can also use this stage to check structured data as getting this implemented ahead of the launch will help to enhance your organic performance and put you in the best position to perform as well as you can when the new site goes live.
It’s important to know exactly what you need to do on launch day, to ensure it goes smoothly. It is a great day but can be quite intense, so knowing what you will be doing will help make sure everything goes smoothly. We’d recommend 4 SEO actions on launch day:
- txt check – will a crawler know how to follow your robots.txt file?
- 301 redirects check – are your past URLs directing to the most relevant new pages?
- Google change of address notification – have you used Search Console to let Google know where to find you?
- Finally, submit your XML sitemap to GSC and wait patiently for your first crawl!
The most important thing in post-launch is to ensure you’ve not launched with issues!
- Check for broken links and whether your links to redirects work. If not - fix them.
- Have you launched with no metadata, or are key pages missing heading tags?
- Is your website loading correctly or is it slow?
- Ensure you aren’t missing any pages, and that everything from your planning stage is where it should be.
These issues could have severe consequences for performance, so early identification is critical to fixing them. The longer you leave any of these issues, the longer they will be present in Google’s crawl and, therefore, the longer they will impact your site’s performance.
The next thing is to look at your XML sitemap audit. You need to make sure your site is in the best possible position to properly guide crawlers. Ensure crawling is as easy as possible, otherwise Google (and other search engines) simply won’t know where to find your content.
Now is also the time to reclaim your authority! Use the backlinks identified from your backlink audit to outreach and ensure your ‘good’ links point to your new website.
How do you know if your migration was a success?
During your planning stage, you should’ve created a benchmark to help with comparisons at this point. New site indexation isn’t always immediate, but it’s important to monitor performance immediately after launch to note any impact and define actions for making improvements. Keep track of your key metrics and identify which keywords are bringing traffic to your new site. This also helps with bringing up issues quickly so they can be fixed before any problems escalate.
What else to consider in a site migration
To take your site migration further, ensure you’re thinking about user experience and maintain your conversion rate by preserving converting URLs, user testing throughout the design process, and keeping an eye on page experience metrics such as speed and core web vitals.
You may also want to consider letting your customers know you’ve moved by shouting about your fantastic new website, along with any launch offers, through channels including email and on your socials. Aligning with paid search throughout launch is key for the best results, allowing you to increase budget efficiency and ultimately waste less money on irrelevant targeting or branding. Using both paid and organic search means you have maximum keyword coverage - use paid search to fill in any gaps you’ve identified in your organic keyword performance.
If you want to discuss how we can support your organic growth and accelerate your performance – or ask about another aspect of your digital marketing plan – we are here to help.
In summary, to have a smooth site migration you must ensure that you are considering all 5 phases of migration and saying mindful of your organic search strategy from the very beginning. Otherwise, you heavily risk having to redo steps, therefore losing time and money. Each step is as important as the last - there is no room for shortcuts if you want your site migration to have the lasting impact that you need!
Want to chat to our experts about site migration, SEO, or anything digital marketing? Get in touch!
Photo by Domenico Loia on Unsplash