What is Website Migration?
A website migration is any event where a website gets majorly revamped in areas that impact its indexability and visibility on search engines, such as a substantial URL, structural, content, design, or platform change. It could be a simple visual refresh, changing your domain name or URLs, moving from HTTP to HTTPS or relocating your website from one server to another. While a rebrand can be exciting, you have to think about the potential loss in traffic and rankings, or how your visitors will be able to find your website at a new address. Afterall, it takes tons of efforts and time to build up the domain authority of your old site and you don’t want your hard work to go down the drain during the migration.
This type of migration is when you switch the content management systems for your website, such as a shift from WordPress to Joomla or Magento. Sometimes, switching platforms also result in design and URL changes.
Sometimes, a rebrand can alter the web design and structure of your website, as well as causing significant media, code, and copy changes.
Any changes to the site’s taxonomy also changes the navigation, internal linking and user journeys.
Domain name change
Websites often move from one domain to another during a rebrand, for instance from www.example.com to www.newexample.com. Also, when you branch out internationally, you have to move from a ccTLD (country code top-level domain) to a gTLD (generic top-level domain), for instance shifting from .uk or .ca to .com or .org.
Implementing the HTTPS protocol on your website improves security as well as improve the user experience. However, keep in mind that Google treats this as a site move with a URL change, which can affect your traffic and ranking.
Creating new content and updating old one, as well as content consolidation or content pruning can affect your website’s organic search visibility, especially if you change the content that was performing well.
Switching web hosts
It is normal to change your web host to get better service. This move will permanently alter the IP address of your business.
Does migrating website Affect SEO?
Rebranding can be a lot of fun but if you fail to consider how search engines will react to this move, you are bound to watch your organic search traffic plummet. After all, it takes years of efforts to build the organic visibility for your website and rank for your desired keywords that your customers use to search your site, and appear at the top of SERPs. However, any change to the website URL, content, or even platform, changes the way search engines index your website and sub sequentially your search engine rankings, traffic and leads. An SEO-friendly website migration is the task of moving authority, search engine ranking, and indexing signals in line with the change in your site or site URL structure. The goal of any website migration is to do so minimum losses to traffic. Here’s how to develop an SEO migration game plan for your website to safeguard your website’s search engine rankings, conversions, and traffic loss.
How do you do SEO migration?
Decide if Migration is Necessary
A website migration isn’t a light decision, since it almost always results in a temporary loss of traffic, since it takes time for google to process the entire change and update the index. Even with the best laid-plans, complexities can arise or things can go south which can hamper website growth and presence. This is why it is prudent to revisit your decision to migrate and see if the issue can be solved without a migration. However, in some cases, migration becomes necessary, such as when a major rebranding is needed, or when moving to HTTPS, or if your current hosting provider isn’t meeting your expectations.
Conduct a Technical Audit
Before commencing the SEO website migration, it is advised to check the overall health and performance of your website thorough a technical audit. The purpose of a website audit is to identify in advance all the factors that can improve your site’s search visibility in search engines and aid in your SEO efforts post-migration. This analysis also serves as a baseline to compare your website’s crawlability, indexability, and visibility post-migration.
During a technical audit, make note of any duplicate content, missing or unoptimized Metadata, canonical tags, the speed (especially homepage and crucial landing pages), mobile-friendliness, navigation and security of your site, internal linking, and so forth. Last but not the least, it helps to monitor your keyword rankings and the current monthly average visitors of your website before the migration. This way, you will know for sure if there is a change in the position ranking or the website traffic post-migration.
Sometimes analytics data gets lost during a site migration, so this historical benchmark can be valuable post-migration when you need to take important decisions.
Backup your website
It’s better to be safe than sorry. Website migration is a risky business, which is why you would do well to take a backup of your website. This protects you against any mishaps, since you can always revert to the original website if things don’t go as planned. Also, be sure to make all changes on a staging website, and not on the live site. By doing so, you can review how the website looks and functions, as well as review all the URL 301 redirects before launch.
Create a URL Map
If you are making changes to your website URL, you need to redirect Google and your users from your old URLs to your new URLs, which is where a URL map comes in handy. A URL map is a two columned spreadsheet that lists old URLs and the new URLs they would redirect to after the migration. Ideally, you should strive to keep your URL architecture the same, unless it absolutely needs to be changed. In addition, you should use a tool like Ahrefs to identify and log all of the backlinks to your site and pages, especially the frequently linked pages.
Keep in mind that changing the URL structure makes Google view your site as a new one. Ideally, all the old pages should also be present on the new website during a site migration. You can retire these pages gradually over time if you wish to. Removing too many indexed pages lead to a drop in traffic and rankings, since it indicates to Google that the new website is not the same as the old one. However, if you are removing some page, make sure users are redirected to the page that has taken its place, instead of getting a 404-error code. In addition, make sure to remove all links from those pages.
You need to implement permanent (301) redirects from the old URLs to the new ones. Redirects are important for two reasons; firstly, they help both search engines and users find pages that have been removed, remained, or relocated. Secondly, they help search engines find and index all the new URLs after the website migration, as well as make sense of how old site’s pages are linked to the new site’s pages.
Once you have your URL map ready, you need to submit the map to Google Search Control (GSC) to help Google understand all the changes that have been made. Make sure to store both the old sitemap and the new sitemap. This helps Google make sense of which new pages need to be indexed and displayed in the search results. Not to mention, the search bots can crawl the old sitemap and find the redirects.
Update the Internal Links
All the links on your new site should point to the relevant pages on the new site as well. While this seems like a given, some people make the mistake of not updating the internal HTML links, since they are already redirecting to the new URL. While this seems like the easy and efficient way out, it increases the server load which can wreak havoc on your website speed, as well as lower your page ranking. Remember that all the links need to be updated in your database with the new domain name/brand name, without changing the site structure. The easiest way to rewrite all links is to perform a search and change operation on the database to update the name of the domain without altering the folder structure.
Choose the right Time and date for Migration
If migration is diligently timed, it shouldn’t hinder with business operations. However, since a dip in traffic is expected even with the most well-planned migrations, make sure to migrate during a slow period of a year, and not near an upcoming holiday or event. Also, migrate during the off-peak hours to further minimize the loss of traffic due to hiccups. Also, instead of migrating the site at once, experts recommend having a test sample after migration before you migrate the rest of the site incrementally.
Consider On-page SEO
If you want to protect the number of visitors you get each month, it is important to take care of on-page SEO.
During a website migration, make sure that all the pages on the new site should contain the same information as they did before. This includes the content as well as meta descriptions for each blog post, even if the look and feel of the new website is different. Even though you may want to update some titles or change some meta descriptions, just make sure that the data for each page is complete and optimized. Also, make sure that the title tag of each new web page accurately reflects the content of the page.
In addition, you need to set up an open graph image for each page, which lets you control which content is shown when the webpages are linked to a social media site. If you fail to do this step, there is a chance that an unrelated image or inaccurate description will pop up when your website is shared.
Also make sure that each page has only one H1 heading and it is optimized for your relevant keyword. Similarly, since incorporating internal links helps build website hierarchy and enhances the time that a visitor spends on your site, it is important to make sure that each page contains at least one internal link to some other webpage.
Next, you need to identify pages that either lack a canonical tag or have a canonical tag that is pointing to another URL. Ideally, all the canonical tags should return a 200-server response. If not, they will need to be refreshed to eliminate the possibility of getting 3xx, 4xx, or 5xx server responses.
Last but not the least, you need to make sure all your images are compressed, in order to reduce load times and enhance the quality of your content and hence the overall experience for your website visitors.
Once you are done with migration, there are still a few aspects that you need to keep an eye on. For instance, even though a slight dip in traffic is to be expected, you should closely monitor your analytics to make sure you haven’t missed anything that could lower performance. Also, run an online site auditor to uncover small errors that you might not have noticed on your own. Also, if you are running ads on other sites, make sure to remove the old URL and add fresh links.
Also, you need to update brand mentions on listing sites. There must be tons of other sites linking to yours, and hopefully post-migration, those links should now be lending authority to your new site. However, if you have updated your brand name and there are links leveraging your old name as the anchor text, you need to request the site owners to update the link. If you haven’t changed the brand name, and have permanent redirects in place, you don’t have to fret. All the linking sites will automatically pass authority to your new site without having to change a thing. Still, it is good SEO practice to use the freshest links.
Even though website migration can be a hassle-some venture, with some planning and foresight, you can ensure that your migration is friendly with your SEO efforts.