A site migration is the process of making substantial changes to a website in areas that can have a significant impact on search visibility. Examples of this would include a new domain, large content overhauls or a new site design. Google often underplays the impact a site migration can have on a website, and is the reason why so many large brands keep the same website for long periods of time – if it’s not broke, don’t fix it.
This guide will talk you through various aspects of site migration, the risks, pre-checks and posts checks as well as testing and monitoring. A site migration is no easy task and can have a seriously negative impact on your sites rankings and traffic.
Reasons, objectives & goals
It is very important to set out clear objectives and goals before migrating your site. As mentioned previously, site migration can have a serious impact on your search visibility and should not be taken lightly. Setting out what you would like to achieve beforehand will help you tremendously when launching your site, and you will be more thorough in your checks, post launch insights and monitoring.
There are many reasons why you might want to migrate you site, they include:
- You have rebranded your business and need your site to reflect the changes
- Your sites usability is poor or outdated
- You would like to merge two or more websites into one domain
- Your current cms (content management system) is outdated / no longer meets your needs
- Your moving from HTTP to HTTPS
Risks and considerations
Any large update to your website comes with risks and considerations. A full site migration (i.e changing domain) can take anywhere between 1-3 months for Google to fully crawl and re-index all of your new urls. If you are keeping your existing domain but changing its structure and/or content this time is considerably less but will still take some amount of time for Google to crawl and index all of your new pages.
Depending on how competitive your current keywords are, it’s important to note that you may see some fluctuation in your monitored keywords. It’s important to way up the pros and cons of a site migration, as you may find that not updating your site will yield better performance over the long run – site migration doesn’t come without its risks.
During this stage of the operation, it is important to thoroughly prepare everything you will need moving forward. This section should take the longest amount of time, and is also arguably the most important. What you do at this stage, and more importantly what you forget to do, will have the biggest impact on your site post launch.
Collate indexed pages
During the preparation phase, it’s important to identify your priorities. Lay out which aspects of your site migration will take the longest amount of time, and which aspects are the most important. Collecting an entire list of your sites indexed pages is a key aspect at this stage.
Once you have a list of all your current pages, you can start to decide which pages will be redirected to each area of your new site. Each page on your old site should have a counterpart on your new site, don’t simply redirect everything to the homepage of your new website.
Best performing pages
Once you have a list of your best performing pages, it’s now time to find out which of these pages are your best performing. Knowing which pages on your site perform the best is important as it means you can replicate this success on your new site. Your best performing pages will be the ones which drive the most traffic, generate the most revenue or both.
Benchmarks and performance
Measuring the performance of your old site will give you key benchmarks to look out for when comparing old vs new. Site speed is a key ranking factor in 2018 so it’s important your new website is as fast a possible. There are many page speed tools that are free and easy to use which will help you determine the speed of your site, but a good web development agency should have no issues increasing the speed of your site before launch.
At this stage you should note down your sites page loading times across both desktop and mobile, as well as taking a note of your current keyword rankings across desktop and mobile. This is done so you can compare performance once your new site is live. Keep a copy of all this data safe. If you don’t have this data post launch, it will be difficult to know whether or not the migration has been a success.
A staging environment is a server where your new website will sit before launch. Again, a good web development agency should be able to set this up for you. This will give you the opportunity to see your website live and fully operating, without being accessible to the public. You should get your staging server set up and ready early on, giving you plenty of time later down the line for testing.
Pre-launch checks (technical seo)
Internal link structure
Next, review your new site’s internal linking structure. It’s important to check your sites navigation both main and secondary, content links and also header/footer links. Internal linking is often overlooked but is in fact the backbone of a site’s link equity flow. Remember, each page should be easily accessible and should be easily found within 3-4 clicks from anywhere on the site.
Check mobile setup
In 2018 a good mobile experience is more important than ever before. Google also recently announced that many websites will now be ranked based on the performance of their mobile counterpart. If you are building a website in 2018 that has a poor mobile experience, start again. A good mobile experience in 2018 is key to your websites overall success.
Custom 404 page
404 errors should be avoided, but on the off chance that a page is missing, it’s best that you have a custom 404 page setup to deal with it. A custom 404 page designed properly will mean you customers won’t be completely left in the dark. Design your 404 page to make sure it includes various links to different aspects of your site. If you are running an ecommerce site, make sure your 404 page has product links on to encourage customers to continue to browse youre site.
The aspect of your site migration most likely to cause any kind of delays is the speed at which search engines can crawl and re-index your site. A sitemap helps search engines quickly and easily see each url on your site and helps them to index each new page. Make sure your site has a proper xml sitemap implemented.
HTTPS (Hyper Text Transfer Protocol Secure) means you site has been secured with an SSL certificate. This does not in fact protect your site from malicious attacks, but does however protect your site users’ personal data that’s entered into your site. This was originally used for ecommerce sites, however it is not recommended that all sites secure their users data with this protocol.
Installing an SLL certificate on your site however means your site will now essentially have two live versions (a HTTP version & HTTPS version). It’s important to make sure all traffic to the HTTP version is redirected to the HTTPS version – this can be done within your htaccess file.
Similarly to above, setting your sites canonical means choosing between having your site displayed as www. or without it. Not setting this will mean there is essentially two versions of your site live, which can cause a number of issues and can be detected as duplicate content.
The Robots.txt file is a very small but powerful file which can cause your website not to be indexed if not implemented correctly. Whilst your site is in staging, this file should act to make sure your staging site isn’t being indexed. At this stage your old site should still be the main site customers are finding you on, as you have not yet made the transition to the new site.
Content is a hugely important aspect of seo and should not be overlooked. It’s important to make sure you have good levels of content across your site. It is also imperative that your site doesn’t have any duplicate content as this will have a hugely negative impact on seo. Content across your site must be unique, relevant and written for the user not for search. At this stage it may be worth having someone read through your site to check for spelling mistakes and grammar.
Pre-launch checks (scripts & tagging)
Once you have carried out all of your technical checks and assessments, approved and uploaded your content, it’s now time to make sure all of your tracking scripts have been implemented correctly. Failure to do this will mean that when you site launches, you will lose valuable data and insights which will help you to measure your site’s success. There should be several different tracking scripts that you need to add to your site, such as Google Analytics and Google Ads.
Post-launch crawling issues & redirection checks
- Robots.txt checks for any major crawling issues
- Server responses across desktop and mobile
- Canonical tags for errors
- Cloaking issues
- Old url’s redirect correctly to the new site
- Redirects are implemented as permanent 301 redirects and not temporary 302 redirects
- Legacy redirects aren’t lost
- Redirection loops
If the prospect of tackling this great task on your own puts you off, why not the let the experts step in and do it for you? Our experienced digital marketing team here are Run2 has all the knowhow to make sure your website has a smooth and successful transition.