How To Do Website Migrations Without Losing Traffic & SEO Value ?
Businesses need a fast-loading website with fresh & quality content to win potential customers from searches. This means websites need site-level, content-level updates at regular intervals. When these website changes happen without considering SEO, that can result in losing website visibility or organic performance on SERPs.
So to help businesses deal with site migrations effectively, I have kept together a list of SEO website migration strategies below. These can help businesses grow, reach every milestone, and win online.
Does Website Migration Affect SEO?
Done well site migrations can be a boon for a site’s performance. In the past, one of my e-commerce clients noticed 200x traffic growth after SEO-assisted re-platforming migration. On the other side If migration happens without baking in SEO best practices it will risk the website's visibility and ranking across channels. Let me explain this using an example to make it easier for you
You run a Web Development Agency. You decided to update the " Progressive Web Apps Development service page" to “Single Page Application Development Services” i.e. need a change to URL & content. These new changes will result in losing rankings for discontinued pages, along with traffic, and audience. Also, create a poor experience for users accessing these discontinued web page from various sources i.e. internal web pages are external link sources. All these results in diminishing SEO authority the landing page has been established to date. This may not happen if you have taken assistance from an SEO specialist. Why because he/she would have suggested you implement redirection from the old URL to the new URL, this could diminish the impact the change had resulted.
So I would always recommend business webmasters implement Site migrations assisted by SEO specialists.
Do You Think Website Migration is an Easy Task?
Website Migration is not as easy as we think, it needs a larger effort from multiple stack holders i.e. involvement of developers/programmers to write code, content/copywriters to draft fresh content or update retiring content, UX experts to refine the user experience, Designers for designing the right look and feel, CMS experts for supporting re-platforming and marketers for providing SEO website migration strategies to ensure success full relaunch of your website.
Which migrations can harm your SEO Performance?
Breakdown of all types of site migrations that can influence your SEO performance
Types Of Website Migration
SEO Performance Impact
Test or Validations
Redesigning/ Rebranding the Websites
Low SEO Risk
Check how webpages are presented when JS and CSS disabled via browsers
Moving from Apache to Nginx or IIS, and employing the rules that apply to redirects.
Low SEO Risk
Before proceeding Set up a staging site on the new server, and compare with your existing site’s page. Also validate if existing Redirections are properly working
URL Changes for keyword optimizations, Architectural & Journey Changes
Change old URLs to new URLs in due to taxonomy/architecture changes or Optimizing for keywords
Medium to High SEO Risk
The new URLs are keyword rich, comply with new architectural changes & URL best practices. Also, the old URL is 301 redirected to new URL.
Replatforming/ CMS Migrations and Platform version Upgrades or multiple Platform integrations
Avoid moving to a platform that offers less control over SEO details
High SEO Risk
Vet the proposed new platform for SEO functionality, other business needs via stagging website
Refreshing your entire site can be a threat to damage SEO
High SEO Risk
Rationalize your existing site SEO Value
Moving to a new domain due to brand merging/rebranding, or move to a Top-level domain with design, content and structure changes
High SEO Risk
Check if Cross domain redirects are perfectly implemented to benefit SEO value
HTTP to HTTPs/ HTTP2 Migration
Change to protocols is purely for SEO ranking reasons
Medium SEO Risk
Validate if every HTTP URL is redirected to HTTPs Version URL without chains & mixed content issues
Merging Websites/ Subdomains
Consolidate duplicate content to single page, or moving Subdomains as folders/ directory
High SEO Risk
Validate the redirection from old URLs to new URLs, Cross domain redirects from subdomains to relevant URLs
Mobile site is being replaced by an app, AMP, or PWA.
Ensure Mobile pages are canonicalized to relevant landing pages
How SEO Lead Website Migration Work and Help your Brands?
An SEO lead website migration will help bake your new website following SEO principles and best practices through the development process and let every user searching for old website content navigate to a relevant new experience page to provide a better solution for their problems than that of earlier experience. Also, SEO specialist help site owners restore old website site authority, web site analytics data through which they can make all necessary upgrades for placing your brand where your audience is when they require assistance and drive in traffic & digital conversions.
SEO Website Migration Strategies Webmasters Need to Consider When Refreshing their Websites?
Why consider SEO in website migration?
SEO Led Migration Can help Businesses roll out website changes without losing hard-earned SEO value & traffic.
Know when & how to start implementing website migration?
Website migrations happen when businesses decide to make either of these following changes i.e.,
Upgrading HTTP to HTTPS protocol
Merging multiple domains into one
Targeting an international audience or introducing a new language to locals
Replatforming or moving to new CMS
Consolidating page content i.e. merging multiple pages
Changing subdomain to the directory or changing URL structure or hierarchy changes or navigation changes
Due to any of the above reasons, if when site owners decided to go for migration, they needed to create an Inventory of all indexable webpages, top-performing pages using XML sitemap, crawled data, and Analytics landing page data (consider 12-month traffic, performance data) as sources. Also, build a baseline report with keywords rankings, and SEO KPIs metrics to compare the performance of the website Pre & Post-launch.
Finalize the New Website Webpage URLs & Build Redirection Map
After implementing all the recommendations on the new website provided by all stack holders, considering business requirements, and fulfilling the goal of Website migration, it's time to finalize URLs, navigation path, and hierarchy or taxonomy. Firstly, get all the required inputs i.e. target keywords for each webpage, confirmed URL best practices, etc. Then map each webpage with its target keyword following confirmed URL best practices to create a unique URL. Finally, we have all the final URLs of the new website which are approved by the site owner. Ensure none of the final URLs are non-indexable, blocked by robots.txt file, redirecting, broken, and canonicalized URLs.
After finalizing everything properly map each old URL to its relevant final new URL. If no relevant URL is found then redirect to its relevant parent category. Implement rule-based redirections for URLs
without “/” to with “/” i.e. www.example.com/category to www.example.com/category/
without “www” to with “www” i.e. https://example.com/ to https://www.example.com/
HTTP version to HTTPS version i.e. http://www.example.com/ to https://www.example.com
uppercase version URLs to its relevant lowercase version URLs i.e. www.example.com/Category/ to www.example.com/category/
Finally, the low-quality or retired pages, orphan pages, and outdated content pages with less or 0 traffic are forced to write 404 error codes at the server level to slowly remove these legacy URLs from the search index. Along with indexable URLs, we also have existing redirect URLs. To amend the impact of legacy URL redirections replace destination URLs, with relevant new website URLs.
Configure Webmaster Tools, Analytics to Report New Website Changes and Retained the Old Web Analytics Data
After implementing keyword mapping, and redirection mapping, we need to let monitoring tools know our website's changes, so as to update website search data as required based on trends, insights, customer behavior, etc. We can either use Google Tag Manager/ Telium Tagging to update triggers or independently configure GSC, GA/GA4, Bing webmaster, Facebook pixel, Adobe Analytics, and other search monitoring tools using the best implementation methods.
Finally, Map your Analytics to Properly Track User Engagements on your Website.
Properly implement web analytics mapping by implementing tracking configuration which provides critical information about how your visitors interact with you, contact you, and make purchases on your websites. For this reason, you must implement GA4 to map out all tracking codes, events, goal objectives, and reports—and make sure they’re all updated to align with the new site.
What successful site migration?
The motto of website migrations is the retention of the site’s current traffic and revenue levels. Those site migrations result in minimal visibility loss during the first few weeks and visibility growth thereafter are the successful migrations.
Website Migration Best Practices To Avoid Disasters
Create a baseline report of current website traffic( All channels, Natural traffic, Brand vs nonbrand traffic), site health, keywords & rankings. This should help as the benchmark for tracking the performance of a new website.
Create current websites inventory of URLs, redirect mapping file, Keywords (Brand & Non-Branded keywords), Top linked pages, URL & Keywords mapping reports, no-indexed pages, canonicalized pages, robots.txt, Assets (PDFs, Images, CSS, JS, Videos, Forms), Defined Goals & Events, Application Journeys, website out links, Site loading speed, core web vitals & site performance scores, Mobile usability score, structured data records, Hreflang data, Links to your site, etc.,
Assess your competitors against content gaps, customer journeys, Landing page templates, etc.,
Get collective feedback on migration SOP, and templates(wireframes) from UX, SEO, Analytics & Content Teams.
Ensure the CMS/Platform allows the content author/ SEO to edit URLs, metadata, canonical tag, meta robots tags, og tags, image titles & alt tags, PDF titles and descriptions and Update the robots.txt file to override default ones, adds SEO value for websites
Go for Multi environment testing i.e. staging environment, live preview environment before pushing it to the production
Plan website launch during nonseasonal peaks
Preferred one-to-one redirects over rule-based redirections
Block staging/test site from crawling and indexing
Review user journey, faceted Navigation, internal link, site architecture, h1 headings, metadata post-launch, canonical tag, hreflang tags, meta robot tags, 404 error pages, website responsiveness, mixed content issues, analytics tracking, and robots.txt file,
Park 20% additional resources for the project in advance to support the launch
Update the XML sitemap on Google Search Console or setup GSC for the new website using the Change of Address tool on the launch day
Use the “Fetch as Google” feature for each template to validate if the pages are rendered properly for google bots
After launch, regularly monitor the new website for crawling errors, site health errors, page speed scores, mobile responsive errors, structured data errors, clicks/traffic, ranking, technical SEO issues, indexed pages, etc.,
Tools For Website Migrations
Crawlers: Screaming frog, Lumar/deep crawl (Crawl both Live & Stagging website),
Find here the most used Chrome Add-ons for SEO
Site performance Tools: Google Page speed insights, Lighthouse, webpagetest.org or gtmetrix
Backlinks: Ahref, SEMrush
Mobile-friendly testing: https://search.google.com/test/mobile-friendly
Structured data testing: https://webmaster.yandex.com/tools/microtest/, https://search.google.com/test/rich-results, https://www.bing.com/toolbox/markup-validator, https://search.google.com/structured-data/testing-tool,
Site Health: Google Search Console
SEO Reporting: GA4, Looker Data Studio, Looker BI tool, Adobe Analytics, Google Analytics
Know The Do's and Don’ts of Website Migration
Implementation of effective website migration can be a big problem for any site owner since the process requires handling multiple tasks and the involvement of multiple stack holders. Often webmasters/site owners ignore or push back SEO optimization tasks during website development due to limitation of skills, or resources or not knowing its importance. This puts brands at risk of losing established site authority, traffic, and rankings.
So to mitigate the risk or consequences, involve an SEO expert either from the internal team or hire an SEO Consultant with experience in identifying and rectifying critical SEO issues during a website migration. This includes assessing the current state of the website to document the SEO information of each page, leverage it to draft a perfect SEO website migration strategy, ensuring no value information is lost or no traffic drop.