I was once in charge of managing a site migration for a client from an SEO perspective. I was working with the managing director and developers within a web design agency, who were carrying out a website redesign for the client. The website was going to stay on the same domain, but it was moving to a new platform with a new format for URLs and additional content which included new product description formats (this was an Ecommerce store).
The business owner was naturally concerned about the potential traffic and sales implications, and obviously there were a number of SEO considerations which required attention prior to, during, and in the post-migration period.
Here are my top 5 considerations for site migrations from an SEO and broader digital marketing perspective. Note that this is by no means an exhaustive list, but it will give you a good framework from which to work from.
#1. Formulating a Plan
First things first – it’s essential that a plan is in place from the start. A site migration of any type is no trivial matter, and so it is critical that all stakeholders are on board from the outset and understand what their role involves. For example, you could have the following stakeholders:
-Project manager (manages developers, designers, marketing people, content writers, QA, etc).
-Developers and designers
-QA / Testing
-Site managers or clients
Once all stakeholders have been identified, it is up to the project manager to formulate a plan for the migration, ensuring that everyone is on the same page and that all activities and requirements have been scheduled in prior to any changes to the website.
In terms of SEO, a critical part of the migration process is monitoring rankings and traffic prior to, during and after the migration. However, all parties – in particular the project manager and site manager – should have some insight into this element, since it is a reflection of how well the migration process is going overall.
#2. URL Redirects
One of the most important elements in moving a site from one domain to another – or just redeveloping / redesigning a site on the same domain – is ensuring that all URLs on the old site are redirected to the most appropriate URLs on the new site or platform. In the case of the website referenced in the introduction, while the domain would remain the same, the URL structure was going to change quite significantly. As such, we had to carry out the following activities:
-Download all URLs on the old site
-Decide and agree on the most appropriate URL to map to on the new site
-Implement 301 redirects from the old URLs to the new URLs
Since the site in question received a reasonable amount of traffic and delivered online sales each week, these activities were very important in the context of preserving traffic, rankings and ultimately sales.
Tip: Ensure that you understand what is happening with each individual URL on the site, and decide on the most appropriate course of action for each one. Use Screaming Frog to identify each URL on your site (you can import all data into Excel and build a tracking report from there).
#3. Managing Content
Since content is so crucial in terms of SEO, it is essential that it is given as much priority as managing URLs. Imagine if certain pages on your site were drawing lots of traffic from search engines, referral visits and other sources, and you simply forgot or neglected to bring the content onto the new site or new pages? It could result in a dramatic and perhaps sudden drop in your traffic, and a corresponding fall-off in traffic, rankings and sales which could take quite some time to recover.
Tip: Carry out an inventory of your content in the same way that you monitor your URL set, so that you understand where each page and piece of content is going. Also consider taking the opportunity to enhance your content or perhaps even drop some content that is not particularly adding to your site.
#4. Sitemaps, 404s and More
You will want to ensure that you have taken care of submitting an XML sitemap to Google and other search engines, checked that your robots.txt file is not blocking any URLs it shouldn’t, and that you have set up Webmaster Tools and analytics for any new domain. However, you should also take the opportunity to check for outdated pages, 404 pages, and broken links.
Tip: Think of the site migration period as the perfect ‘Spring cleaning time’ for your website.
#5. Tracking Key Metrics
How does the expression go? ‘If you’re not assessing, you’re guessing’. As with all aspects of digital marketing, measurement and tracking is critical. If you are not on top of your metrics in the normal course of events, then how will you know if your site migration is a success or not? If it is a success, you should see your metrics (specifically rankings and traffic) stay much the same, perhaps dip slightly for several weeks and then recover – or perhaps even improve!
Some of the key metrics you will need to track include website visitors, bounce rate, time on site, rankings and of course conversion and revenue-related metrics.
Do you have any tips to share on this topic? Have you migrated your own site, and how did it go?