Website Migration Guide: How to migrate without losing SEO traffic in 2019

Website Migration Guide: How to migrate without losing SEO traffic in 2019

What is Website Migration?

Website migration is a process to minimise any adverse effect on existing organic traffic when changing your website domain or content. One of the pervasive myths in the SEO world is that you’ll always see a significant drop in traffic when you do any migration. But if you follow the correct process, there will be some fluctuations at the beginning, but eventually traffic levels will be back to their previous levels, or will even have improved.

Just redirecting URLs won’t be enough

Many believe that SEO migration is just a matter of URL redirection. But there are more things you need to check to avoid a drop in organic traffic. It’s important to do this correctly, as without the correct approach it can result in significant traffic and revenue loss, from which it can take a few weeks or even several months to recover, if you recover at all.

Site Migration Guide

Select Best Site Migration Type Applicable To You

We have included the entire process of website migration here. Depend on your requirements, you can skip some of the steps that we’ll go over later. Choose the section here that applies to you in order to see what steps you’ll need to take for SEO migration.

Domain Remains Same, Site Design & URS Structure Is Changing

  • Domain Remains the Same; Site Design & URL Structure Changes
  • Website Domain Change Only; Site Design And URL Structure Remains the Same
  • Domain Name Change and New Design
  • Platform Change Or Upgrade In CMS Version
  • Content Changes / Adding or Removing Pages
  • URL Structure Changes Only
  • Design Changes Only
  • Migrating from HTTP to HTTPS

Domain Remains the Same; Site Design & URL Structure Changes

This is the most common type of site migration, applicable for website redesigns and structural changes. The entire process is applicable except the domain redirects and domain change update in your Google Search Console account.

Website Domain Change Only; Site Design and URL Structure Remains the Same

Most of the time this will be because of a change in the brand name resulting in the need for a domain name change. If you are not changing anything except the domain, you do not need to perform any content audits.

Domain Name Change and New Design

This situation is applicable when you’ve re-branded your business and also want to improve your website design and structure.  In this case, the whole process is applicable.

Platform Change or Upgrade in CMS version

Most of the time, this will happen when you want to upgrade to a new version of your CMS.

In some cases, a CMS upgrade can change your internal site architecture. You need to investigate how the CMS update will change the URL structure and performance metrics like loading speed. Depending on the results, you can skip certain parts of the guide, but we always recommend that you follow the full process.

Content Changes / Adding or Removing Pages

Every change in your content can have an effect on your organic traffic. It can increase traffic, but if you change existing content that was performing well, your traffic can drop. The best option is to check whether you are changing the best performing content on the site or not. Our recommendation is not to remove such content, and always try to improve on it. You’ll need to make sure to redirect URLs with the 301 redirect method.

URL Structure Changes Only

The perfect example of this type of change is category or product URLs in e-commerce sites. Most of the time we recommend that you don’t have a deep URL structure for e-commerce sites. With this situation, the entire process is applicable, as the risk of losing traffic is high even though it’s just a URL change. Just a URL redirection will not cover some scenarios you might not be prepared for if you didn’t follow the entire process.

Design Changes Only

This is applicable when you do conversion, optimisation, or you just need a better look and feel. There’s no change in the URL structure, but there can be a change in layout and text content. In this situation, you always need to compare previous content on the site to the new content. Gaps in content can result in a drop in traffic.

Migrating from HTTP to HTTPS

If you migrate your site from HTTP to HTTPS, Google treats this as a site move with a URL change. Your rankings and traffic can fluctuate. The best option is to use the 301 redirection method, redirect HTTP to HTTPS, and create a new profile in Google Search Console.

SEO Migration Process

1. Data Gathering

Before any website migration, you’ll need to gather as much important information as possible. You’ll need this to compare with the new website later part in the process. Below are the main steps and information you need to gather.

  1. Website Full Crawl
    Obtain information about all links on the site. We recommend you use tools like SEMRush, DeepCrawl or Screaming Frog for this purpose.
  2. Export top performing pages in Google Analytics
    Determine the top performing pages on the current site. By drilling down in the User Behaviour > All Content section of Google Analytics, you can see what pages have the highest traffic. If possible, you’ll want to keep or improve these pages’ URL structure and content as much as possible.
  3. Export Internal Linking Structure
    The best place to export the internal link structure is your Google Search Console. Go to  Internal Links in the Google Search Console and export all the links.
  4. SEO Benchmark keywords ranking report
    If you have a set of keywords you are optimising already, make sure you get the latest report before making any changes to the site.
  5. Loading Speed Report
    You can use tools like Google Speed Insights to know the current speed of the site. This will be helpful if you need to compare the new website’s loading performance against the old one.
  6. Copy XML Sitemap
    This will be really helpful for comparing the URLs with the new website sitemap. Copy or simply save the XML sitemap into Excel.
  7. Identify growth opportunities
    Most people ignore this but if you have identified the issues within the current website and bottlenecks affecting the SEO performance, a migration is the ideal time to address those issues. Fixing existing issues will help to boost your organic traffic.

2. Review, Comparison & Redirection Matrix

At this stage, we compare the design environment, staging site with the data we have already gathered before.

  1. Review new Design UX/ Mobile UX issues
    This is the opportunity look at any possible issues within the UX. Check whether its mobile friendly and meet mobile optimisation requirements.
  2. Review Staging Environment
    Make sure your new site block for Search Engines for crawling and indexing.
    But you may need to allow other crawlers you use to crawl the staging site.
  3. Runs a Crawler on staging site
    By running a full crawl on the staging site, you will understand the new site structure and possible identify the issue and fix before launching.
  4. Review SEO structure of new pages
    Review whether the structure of the page has a proper On-Page SEO structure such as H1 tag, subtopics and enough text content.
  5. Review new sitemap compare with old sitemap
    This is when you can compare with your old sitemap with new website sitemap. Sometimes this might be not in the development yet, but better ask the development team about this as early possible.
  6. Review Navigation, click depth and internal links structure
    Compared with old link structure, make sure new links click depth don’t go more than 3 clicks. If need to do any changes to the URL structure recommend those changes at this point.
  7. Compare with top performing pages
    Now check the structure of your existing top performing pages. Do you have at least the same copy on the new pages. Are there any changes to the text content on new pages? If you lost some content as part of the SEO migration process you will lose the content authority and results in a drop in ranks. This is one of the most neglected areas in SEO migration.
  8. URL Map & Redirection Matrix
    Then we come to the most common aspect of website migration. 301 URL redirection matrix. Need to identify the pages that no longer exists and any URLs change the URL structure etc and need to be redirected the appropriate new URL with 301 redirection methods.

Tip : Use this free URL Mapping tool to map URLs of two websites.

3.Launch Day Evaluations

  1. Domain Redirect/ Changes in domain address if applicable in GSC
    This is applicable if you are only changing to a new domain. Create a new profile in GSC or update the domain change.
  2. Remove “no index”, no follow codes
    Another most common point specially developers forget to update. Make sure you unblock Search Engines.
  3. Check robots.txt file
    Make sure search engines can access the site without an issue, also block sections that you don’t want to crawl by Google.
  4. Use fetch as Google to test crawling issues
    Just to double check, can use Fetch as Google option in Google Search Console account to check any issues in Google crawling.
  5. Submit a new sitemap
    Submit the new sitemap in Google Search Console.

4. Post-Evaluation

  1. New website full crawl
    After approximately 5-7 weeks, recommending running another full crawl audit on the site. Try to fix any issues identified within this crawl.
  2. Compare top performing pages with new pages
    Compare old top performing pages traffic performance with new top pages. If there is no significant drop in organic traffic, that means you have done your part correctly most of the time. However, note that at this time the ranks can fluctuate. If its not too significant give more time and compare again.
  3. Run SEO bench mark ranking report.
    Finally, run your organic keyword ranking report to check any improvements or drop in rankings. If there is more opportunity to improve continue to improve the site until you reach your goal.

Final recommendations when moving a site,

  1. If can split your site move into small sections at a time. In this way, you can reduce the risk of total change or drop in traffic.
  2. Do the migration within lower traffic periods. Most possible mid nights or during weekends.

If properly done, website migration actually can increase your organic website performance not the other way.

Read the guide from Google for more information

3 Comments

  • Posted April 7, 2019

    Mark

    Thanks for the comprehensive guide. Sometimes staging sites are blocked for crawl , in that case how to run a crawl.

    • Posted June 6, 2019

      Tharindu Gunawardana

      If you are using Screaming Frog, you can actually bypass any settings in the robots.txt file. Just go to Configurations> Robots.txt>Custom

  • Posted 60 days ago

    Darnell Hanes

    Really informative, thanks for sharing this!

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