The website migration guide: how to avoid risk and ensure SEO success
Few things have as much potential to destroy a brand’s search performance than a poorly executed site migration. Moving to a new domain can often be a tumultuous process, and if you don’t get everything right, taking a hit to organic search traffic is an inevitable consequence.
Understandably, the thought of doing a site migration is the stuff of nightmares for SEOs. You only have to consider the widely-shared case of ASOS’s poorly executed site migration back in 2019, which led to an 87% plunge in profits.
There are many things to think about in the site migration process: doing a pre-migration crawl with your preferred web crawler, such as DeepCrawl; getting redirects inline; updating schema markup, and sitemaps; updating search console; the list continues…
Of course, almost all SEOs will encounter a site migration at some point in their career.
For those with a site migration looming on the horizon, or those who just want to plan ahead for what’s to come, we’ve put together some pointers on how to make sure your site migration doesn’t cause your search performance, and your business’ profits to plunge.
It’s just a site migration.
/Searches for a cave
— 🍌 John 🍌 (@JohnMu) February 28, 2019
7 things to check for old site/brand name when executing a site migration
When migrating to a completely new site (usually during a rebrand, where URL changes are unavoidable) you need to think about more than just the top-level domain.
URL structures across the new site are important, particularly if the new site is structured in a way that differs from the old. During the migration, you’ll also need to generate a new sitemap, and in most cases, update the robots.txt file.
Refactoring old content for a new website can be particularly time-consuming.
Many content management systems have the functionality to find and replace all instances of a particular phrase. However, these aren’t always perfect, so you’ll also need to run through the whole site manually.
So, what should you look out for? As well as the obvious checks that the on-page content is error-free, it’s also worth checking the accuracy of your header tags and meta descriptions across the site, as mistakes are often common.
Ensuring image naming conventions, including the alt text, image titles, and file names, are consistent will help to speed up the process during a site migration. The more logical the conventions, the easier it will be to spot mistakes.
4. Schema and structured data
Having a record of all the schema you implemented on your old site will be especially useful when undertaking a site migration. There are many classes such as organization, event, local business, and more that you will want to check.
When originally setting up databases for a site, people often choose naming conventions that are specific to that particular site.
This can prove to be a difficult task as you’ll need to verify that not only are you renaming but also updating all references to each database so everything continues to function as expected.
Luckily this isn’t client-facing, so it’s not entirely necessary, but it is another point to be aware of when changing names.
6. GMB, social media, and other review sites
If you’re going through a complete rebrand and moving to a new URL, you’ll need to update your brand’s social media and Google My Business profiles.
End-to-end, this can often take a couple of weeks. Once completed, you’ll also need to update the links on your website to match the new profiles.
Additionally, if you’re a local business, you’ll need to take a look at other local listing sites as well as places like Yelp, Tripadvisor, and the like.
7. Internal links
Update all internal links across your site. Also, consider high-value inbound backlinks. Where possible, reach out and ask for sites to update links to your new URL so that you’re not losing their value.
Redirects can make or break you, so tread carefully
Map redirects on a one-to-one basis
When mapping redirects there are a few things to be aware of. First, make sure you map redirects on a one-to-one basis. If you have a page about red long sleeve shirts on your old site, you need to make sure you redirect it to the red long sleeve shirts page on your new site.
Avoid excessive redirects
Avoid redirecting all pages to a single URL on the new site. A redirect is a signal to Google that the pages are similar and the new site should be the replacement. If you redirect all pages to a single location, it can confuse and diminish the value of them.
Correctly mapping redirects gives you the added bonus of keeping the value of inbound links to the old site by directing them to the appropriate page on the new site.
Preventing redirect chains
When undertaking a site migration, it’s a good time to ensure you don’t have a high volume of redirect chains.
Often when moving to a new URL, you will keep the same URLs as the previous site. This means your structure and paths will remain the same, just on the new domain. When you do this you will bring with it all the same issues such as redirect chains from the previous site.
Google has said that they will happily follow a number of redirects (up to about 5). So if you have existing long redirect chains, now is a good time to clean these up to help the long term health of your site.
Make sure you use HTTPS protocol
You may not even realize that there are still HTTP links or resources on your old site.
Find and remove them. Today, browsers continue to focus on creating a more secure web. Make sure you are using HTTPS protocol across the board to ensure that your site doesn’t get flagged as insecure.
Test, test, and test again
Developers shouldn’t be the only people testing the site before launch. Get as many different internal people as possible to test the site to ensure there are no potential errors.
Things to look out for:
- Does the new site function the same?
- Do paths to conversions work?
- Is the new site crawlable?
DeepCrawl can help during this process by ensuring your site is crawlable. Likewise, Automator can speed up testing by automating the SEO QA process — assessing whether your new site is SEO-friendly, and notifying developers and SEOs of potential problems before code goes live.
Setting up your new website in Search Console
New property set up
Make sure you claim your new property in Google Search Console before launching the new site to make sure you are getting data from day one.
Submit a change of address
In the search console property, there is an option to submit a change of address. Both the old and new properties need to be live for this option to work.
Transfer the disavow file
The disavow tool is something that, used incorrectly, can cause harm to your site. Make sure that all URLs previously disavowed are toxic links. If they are, go ahead and upload the same disavow file to your new property.
Submit both new sitemap and old sitemap in search console
“This helps our crawlers discover the redirects from the old URLs to the new URLs, and facilitates the site move.“ Google Webmaster Guidelines
Monitoring the impact of your site migration
It’s important that you monitor and benchmark rankings and site traffic before you move to your new domain so that you can see the impact of your site migration.
Some volatility is to be expected. But if results continue to slip, it’s worth conducting a crawl using DeepCrawl to help diagnose potential problems.
A final point
Site migrations can be daunting at the best of times.
There are innumerable moving parts and failing to take note of everything can often lead to some painful lessons.
But now you know a few of the things you need to be aware of, and have the start of a plan of attack, it should be easier to help mitigate risk and ensure your next site migration is a success.