In this post, I take a closer look at one of the most important disciplines in search engine optimization: migration.
But what is migration really? Why is successful migration crucial to your SEO? And how do you carry it out in practice?
Read on to find out.
When you build a new website or move an existing one to a new domain, SEO talks about migration. In short, migration is the art of ensuring that the SEO value of an existing website is carried over to a new one.
When it comes to SEO, migrating a website is not always easy. There are many things to consider before moving a domain. Thorough research, planning, execution and monitoring are required to ensure that visibility on Google is built and maintained.
Remember that SEO migration is there to prevent losses in website traffic, rankings and conversions. By implementing the right migration strategy, you will ensure that your website maintains - and even improves - its organic rankings and traffic.
Your website has likely spent a long time building its status and visibility on Google, which has resulted in you being found for just the right keywords and terms.
When you change your URLs, content or just give your website a total makeover, you're simultaneously changing the perception Google has of your website, which also affects the metrics associated with your rankings. The goal of any type of migration is to avoid as much traffic loss as possible.
In short, you risk losing search engine rankings - and traffic, enquiries and leads.
Below is an example of what can happen if you do not perform your SEO migration correctly. As the graph from Google Analytics shows, organic traffic has dropped dramatically in the period after the migration.
The migration was done in December and as you can see, traffic started to decrease from mid-December.
The reason for the drop was that no-index tags had been dropped on the blog pages, which resulted in Google not being able to read them. The error was quickly discovered and in January traffic started to increase again as Google was allowed to index the pages again.
It's a textbook example of what happens when you don't have your directives in order during a migration - more on that later in the post.
Now you know what migration is and why it's so important - so far so good. But how does it work in practice? I'll explain that below.
Think about which date suits you and the traffic for your website. Choose a date and time when traffic and engagement are typically low - and preferably a day when your web team and server managers are in the office.
Although it may be tempting, avoid scheduling it on a Sunday night - something might go wrong and you won't be able to communicate and coordinate with other departments.
Aim to migrate in the afternoon or early evening - that way you can work on troubleshooting in the morning when traffic is low, just in case.
Remember to make a backup of your current website!
Now, if something goes wrong, you can always revert to the old version of the site and hopefully you'll have some insight into what went wrong so you can fix it on the second try.
A local - or offline - version of your website is a duplicated version that users cannot access. This is where you can test out changes to your new site.
By making an offline version of your website, you give your web team plenty of time to see how the new content will look on the website, how it performs, and give time to implement 301 redirects before the real version goes live.
That way, you don't have to worry about broken links and sitemaps after the site goes live.
Use a SEO tool like Screaming Frog to crawl your website to get a full URL and content list. You can use this list to fix errors on your offline version, but also to keep track of old URLs that require redirects.
The best thing you can do to keep track of your redirects before and after migration is to make a redirect map. This should ensure that your old URLs have correct redirects to the new ones, and that internal links are also updated. Look over your redirect map before and after you deploy to make sure your redirects are playing!
Here is an example of what a redirect map might look like. Here it is a smaller website that needs to be migrated - therefore the list of redirects is also quite clear. For large websites and webshops that need to be migrated, the document will be much more extensive.
Basically, you need to make a column with the old URLs and a column with the new URLs. The filter type will depend on your CMS and developer's preference. Most often it will be a CSV. file that you need to upload.
If you are using WordPress as your CMS, you can use the "Source URL" and "Target URL" commands to name the columns of old and new URLs respectively. This way, you can upload the CSV file directly into WordPress' redirection tool - and avoid uploading your redirects manually.
If you run a Shopify webshop, you can do the same trick using the "Redirect from" and "Redirect to" commands.
It's possible that redirects will slip or links will break when the new site is launched. In this case, it would be a good idea to create a "catchy" 404 page that helps visitors find the front page instead. If there is no 404 page set up, the user will land on a blank page where they can't navigate to the front page - and then they will most likely leave your website = higher bounce rate.
Below is the 404 page on the website of logistics company JD Logistics. In addition to being creative, it also offers the option to navigate directly back to the front page.
If your entire domain needs to be updated and there may be some changes to your domain name, remember to update your Google My Business profile and other places where your website's URL might appear.
If you have multiple offices with multiple Google My Business profiles, remember to update them too - especially if each location has its own URL, for example: www.ditdomæne.dk/dinlokation or yourlocation.yourdomain.com.
Remember that Google My Business is a powerful local ranking factor!
Once you have all your new URLs in order, you can easily create a new - or update the old - sitemap, which can be attached to your website as follows. Your sitemap will usually reside at the URL www.ditdomæne.dk/sitemap.xml or www.ditdomæne.dk/sitemap_index.xml.
Then upload your new sitemap to Google Search Console to help the search engine understand the changes that have been made to your new website. This will in turn help Google index the new site faster.
READ: What is a sitemap?
Search Console has another smart feature: the Change of Address Feature, which tells Google that you've changed your domain and where the new domain can be found. You should do this as soon as you have changed your domain.
The robots file tells various search engine crawlers which pages or files on the website to crawl or not crawl - the file is typically located at the URL www.ditdomæne.dk/robots.txt(see for example Nike's robots file, which has a fun feature if you scroll down a bit).
Remember to update the document so Google knows which parts of the website to crawl. You also want to include the new sitemap here, so Google and other search engines can find it more easily.
If you change domains, keep the old domain so you can make sure all backlinks pointing to the domain are redirected properly! Letting go of the domain could mean that someone else takes it over, and therefore you could lose all your backlinks.
Both before and after the new site goes live, you should do a SEO audit to make sure all pages, content, links, tags and other content are in place.
Use Screaming Frog to make a crawl to check:
Check Google Analytics
Test the page on mobile
Check that integrations work
Is your SoMe up to date?
Want help with SEO and migration? To sum up, SEO migration is certainly not an easy task. It takes time, it requires detailed research and planning to succeed. It can be challenging to make sense of, which is why we're here to give you a helping hand.
Website migration may negatively affect your SEO . However, you can easily avoid losing your rankings if you take care of the SEO migration. Get help from a specialist if necessary.
If you're setting up a new website or moving an existing one to a new domain, you're migrating. A SEO migration is about performing the migration without losing valuable rankings on Google.
Yes, unfortunately you can. That's why it's a good idea to have a SEO agency on your side when you start your SEO migration.
Whether you're a generalist or a marketing specialist, our SEO specialists have put together some great advice for you on our blog.
Learn more about SEO in Webamp Academy.