Many believe that if you migrate your site, you’ll lose traffic and revenue no matter what approach you take. This idea isn’t accurate. It’s true for some situations but typically only when you haven’t properly planned.
When you’re finished migrating a website, you want to look for minimal visibility loss in short-term and long-term growth.
Types of Migrations
There are several types of migrations that site owners might need to do. Make sure that you set up everything correctly; otherwise, you might lose your search engine rankings.
HTTP to HTTPS Migration
On February 8, 2018, Google announced that it would mark websites that use HTTP as not secure and that it would include a warning page before users opened HTTP websites. That announcement prompted many websites to move to HTTPS, causing some websites to lose significant organic traffic.
Domain migration involves moving from one URL to another, including subdomains, domain names, and top-level domains.
Subdomain and Subfolders
Many websites layer their subdomains and subfolders when they want to have an international presence. For example, a website might use country-specific subdomains like uk.site.com (subdomain) and site.com/uk (subfolder).
Altering the subdomains and subfolders required well-executed plans and using the hreflang tag. This tag signals to search engines that a site is in a specific language for users of that language. If you do this process wrong, you might end up creating duplicate pages and content, and Google will penalise you.
Structure changes are standard on the Internet; they can impact your website’s SEO if you’re not careful. These changes involve the information architecture, navigation, and internal links.
For example, if you have a photography website organised by year and want to organise it by type (landscape, portrait) instead, you’ll need to change the URL. In this case, site.com/2019/ would become site.com/landscape. Now, search engines won’t find the original URL, so it loses all rankings it had previously.
Replatforming might happen when your website outgrows its current CMS or needs something that the existing CMS doesn’t provide. It’s common with eCommerce websites, but a lot of site owners replatform.
Sometimes, upgrading to a better platform or the latest version of the same platform can include many changes to the website’s basic functions, which will impact SEO.
Content migrations involve restructuring or moving content sections. They can negatively impact SEO and organic searches.
If you know that the changes will affect the site’s overall structure, then you need to consider where you’re moving the content and the linking structure of the content you’re moving.
UX and User Design
When you need to alter a website’s layout or design, you must consider how the changes will affect organic searches. If you don’t implement changes correctly, they can impact your SEO.
Ins and Outs of an SEO-Friendly Website Migration
The pre-migration phase is where you’ll plan. Consider what the goal of your migration is. Do you need to move to HTTPS? Do you want structural changes? Once you figure out the purpose of the migration, you’ll need to plan out tasks and weigh the risks and benefits of migrating.
You’ll need to do a complete website crawl to get a picture of your website and cross-check to make sure that you get the same results. Then, you’ll want to run a staging/target website crawl with the same user agents as the first crawl.
After that, run a batch test speed analysis. Fast speeds will boost your rankings with Google. You can run tests for individual pages to find out which ones make your site slow down.
Running a backlink crawl helps you keep your backlinks. Once you have a list of sites that link to you, you can change the URL to the target site, upload them, and rerun the crawl to see if there are any errors.
It’s important that you make a 301 redirect map. The map tells search engines that you have authority over both the new and the old site.
If you don’t already, make sure that you add a robot.txt file for the new site. The file tells search engines how you want them to crawl and index your website. Take time with this; an incomplete robot.txt file can tank your SEO rankings.
Track your keywords and make sure that you already have a good idea of your sites’ organic performance. Give your pages titles and meta descriptions, and make sure to carry them over to the new site.
Analytics is imperative for understanding your website’s performance, engagement, and revenue. To ensure that your tracking carries over, move tracking codes into your testing environment and check that they’re working as intended.
If you’re running an eCommerce site, do a test transaction to ensure that you’re tracking your sales. You’ll also need to make sure that you verify Google Search Console.
Going live with your website is the last step in migration. Ensure that you’ve completed all the steps required before making the new site live.
Once you set up the redirect and see that it’s working, make sure there aren’t any significant issues. Then, you can start the post-migration checks.
Most post-migration checks are simply testing to see if all of your pre-migration work carried over properly. Test your tracking, backlinks, redirects, and keywords again. Also, run another full website crawl and annotate Google Analytics to track when your migration occurred.
It’s always possible to lose visibility after you fully migrate a website. As long as you take the proper steps before, during, and after the migration, you should experience minimal losses. You might even see significant growth in the long term.