Make Your Site Migration Smooth Without Losing Any Traffic
A poorly executed site migration can wreak havoc on search rankings and traffic. Certainly, changing domain name, if necessary, or implementing HTTPS is a beneficial business move. However, businesses should know how search engines would react to site migration. If not handled properly, a business’s organic search ranking can take a hit.
Therefore, if you’re in the process of site migration and want to do it smartly without losing any traffic, then this blog is for you. Read till the end to avoid any problems while executing site migration and save on your quality traffic and leads.
Pointers To Keep In Mind While Implementing Site Migration
A professional SEO company can give suggestions to companies, or individuals for site migration that are also discussed below. If you’ve already opted for some SEO packages, or any other service, from an SEO agency and are in the middle of the SEO process and want a site migration, they can aid you, in that case, as well. However, if you want to get a site migration done on your own, there are a bunch of factors you should consider while executing site migration, some of which are discussed below:
1. Think If Migration Is The Right Choice
Keep in mind that site migration always leads to a temporary loss of traffic. It takes time for Google to process the change and update it accordingly. Mindfully executing site migration, can minimize traffic fluctuations. Eventually, Google will treat the new site as the original. However, this is the best-case scenario.
Keep in mind that site migration has few SEO benefits. They don’t eliminate search engine penalties. If you’re migrating your website because of making some SEO improvements, then it’s not worth it. However, there are some cases where site migration is considered beneficial:
- When site migration generates links and press.
- In case, the site needs to be transported to an HTTPS version. (Probably the only case where site migration should lead to some SEO benefit)
- For rebranding purposes.
2. Test Before Migrating
You should always test your migration on a test server before practically executing it. Ensure that redirects work and check any other parameters before the migration goes public. If you don’t test the migration well enough, it can set your website rankings back by weeks and you might have to double up on your recovery work.
3. Crawl The Website Before Migration
Crawling with the help of a crawler tool such as Screaming Frog and saving the crawl for later can ensure a smooth migration.
Ensure that you have a complete list of URLs on the old website so that nothing gets lost in translation. Any crawl errors and redirects can get identified with this opportunity. Ideally, remove or replace links that point to 404 pages during migration.(404 is displayed by the browser when the browser can’t locate or find the requested page on a website. Users see this error if the page is non-existent.)
Orphan pages(pages that don’t have any links), and external links should be updated if required. Your link game has to be top-notch for a smooth migration.
4. Only Migrate During Low Period
With a site migration, a dip is evident. Just make sure that it’s a temporary dip. There’s a high point and low point of the year for every business. You should try and perform a site migration during the low period of the year. The thing is to lose traffic when the business is anyways, low so that it doesn’t affect you that much.
5. Set A Bar For Analytics
Having a copy of your analytics before and after migration can help you measure and compare your traffic. With the help of a tool such as Google Analytics, you can easily identify which pages lost traffic during migration.
However, also pay attention to high links and high traffic pages. You don’t want to lose the traction of these pages as well. Losing traffic on these pages indicates that the authority hasn’t transferred properly after migration.
6. Get Your Links In Order
The URL architecture of the old and the new site should remain the same. If you change it, do it during migration, however, that may cause Google to think of your site as new. Also, don’t migrate or change URL architecture at the same time because if you experience loss in traffic, you can’t identify if it is because of site migration, or URL architecture. Keeping the URL architecture the same also makes redirects from old pages to new ones conveniently smooth.
Too many removals of pages and links can indicate to Google that the website isn’t the same after all. All the HTML links should point to the new site instead of the old one. Simply perform a search and replace operation to change your domain name without changing folder structure. This should easily transfer your links with no problem.
7. Solve Duplicate Content Issues
While migration, duplicate content issues can arise. Therefore, keep these pointers in mind:
- If both versions of the URL become live, this results in duplicate content. At all times only one version of the page should be accessible.
- IP addresses should redirect to URLs.
- Always ensure that the HTPP or HTTPS version of the website is available. Your website URL should have synchronization and should appear as such on the Search Engine Result Page(SERP).
- Any duplicate content should be removed by self-canonicalization. This refers to putting a canonical tag in place on the main page. The main page may have some duplicate content pages, however, with canonical tags, Google only refers to or displays the main page when a search query is conducted. This removes any canonicalization or duplication of content issues.
8. Do Keep A Thorough Check On Your Removed Pages
Never remove any pages during migration. If you do have to remove some pages for branding purposes, consider the following steps:
- Make a list of all the pages and do not redirect the old pages to the new site.
- Remove all links from pages.
- Then, remove the pages from the old site and redirect 404.
- If you do have a suitable replacement, set up a redirect and replace all the links to point to the new page. But only do this if the new page serves the same purpose as the old page in terms of message, or content.
- Never redirect the removed pages to the home page. If you don’t have a suitable replacement, simply setting a 404 redirect should be done. Always ensure a custom 404 is set up which makes it easy for users to navigate your website and instead allows them to find something useful if they land on a page that doesn’t exist.
9. Submit Your Sitemaps
Always store your old sitemap in Google Search Console, and add the new one as well. Request Google to crawl the old sitemap and when it redirects, it makes the complete process accelerate.
10. Don’t Give Up Control Over Old Domain
Never give up control over your old domain until you want to sell it. The old domain should redirect to the new one, page by page. If the redirects are gone, all inbound links earned by the old site will also be lost.
So, you should never give up control over your old domain even if Google stops indexing the website.
11. Keep A Check On Analytics After Migration
Always check your numbers for at least a few weeks after migration. Conduct thorough analysis for the traffic on your pages, your highlight pages, etc. If you suspect traffic loss on specific pages, conduct a crawl error or linking error analysis on those pages.
Change the links from the old to the new one. By external link count and authority, keep a check on your most linked pages. Authoritative pages bring a drastic change in rankings and traffic. Always keep a check on them. A tool like SEMrush can point to a noticeable change in traffic and it also checks your rankings for target keywords. It also explains how quickly is the new website getting indexed. Lastly, in Google Analytics mark critical dates during migration to check the cause for any issues you may come across.
12. Verify That Google Search Console Is Set Up
Since a new domain is a new property in Google Search Console, you’d have to set a new property for the new site. Ensure that it’s properly set up with HTTPS, instead of just www. Technically, you should submit the old and the new sitemaps to convincingly send a message that the old website has been redirected to the new one.
The next step is to submit the changing address in Google Search Console. Google, then crawls and indexes the new website. Lastly, ensure that your redirects, links, canonicalizations, are error-free before doing the submission.
13. Manage PPC And Update Other Platforms
You must update your PPC campaigns(if any), to the correct new website. Attribution loss might be encountered in Analytics because of the redirect if your PPC campaigns are still pointing to the old website.
Similarly, update all your social media profiles, bios, and more to spread the word for your new website. Update all old links and link them to your new website.
14. Redirect Your Top Performing Inbound Links
You need to contact the most authoritative websites that are linking to your website. It’s important to let them know about the migration and ask them to kindly update the link to point to the new website.
Certainly, not everyone will, but the ones that do, can accelerate the process of Google in recognizing your site migration.
You don’t have to do that for every link since that would be time-consuming. But from authoritative websites, you must reach out and ask them to redirect it, if possible.
Note: Google will most likely not index all the pages of the new website but after a month if your new website doesn’t have the same indexed pages as your old website, something is wrong.
15. Get A Final Check Done
Check the site to confirm that there are no 404s or 301s. 301 is simply a permanent redirect that passes full link authority to the redirected page. At this point, all the links should point directly to a functioning page. The internal links should link directly to the correct page instead of a redirect.
Crawl your old URLs and check the status. For this purpose, using a tool such as Screaming Frog would prove to be beneficial. All these links should link to the new website. If you do encounter a 404, ensure there are no links. If you find a link, set up a redirect immediately.
Finally, check if external URL redirects are functional or not. Ensure external URLs should never be 301 or 404.
Site Migration is a complex process that should be performed with a lot of caution. If done recklessly, you might experience a sharp, long-term drop in your traffic. However, if performed carefully, you will still experience a temporary traffic drop, however, long-term damage would be avoided and you’d get the benefits as expected. A little caution is what site migration usually demands.