SEO Best Practices for a Successful Website Migration
Is your business planning on a website migration? If so, Evolve Digital Labs has compiled this easy-to-digest piece breaking down each part of the website transfer process so you don’t lose customers and profits due to a decline in search engine rankings.
The great innovator and founding father, Benjamin Franklin once said, “By failing to prepare, you’re preparing to fail.”
Even though the concept of the internet, let alone a website migration was hundreds of years away from existing, Mr. Franklin understood that strategic planning was essential to success. The same goes for the process of any website migration. Whether it’s moving one website to another or combining two sites into one, you’ll want to make sure your business is prepared with a proven migration checklist, so you don’t undergo the often-experienced loss in website traffic or decline in search engine rankings.
If there’s a mantra for a successful website transfer, it’s preparation is key.
Keep in mind, every website is a fragile chain. When any piece of code is altered or changed it affects the dominos down the line. However, these tips, along with our free download of the Website Migration Checklist For SEO Experts will help you and your team easily avoid a devastating move and have your company’s website up and running as efficiently as possible.
At Evolve Digital Labs, we have spearheaded countless successful website migrations for organizations large and small. The projects have spanned the spectrum from simple domain transfers to complete overhauls of server infrastructure, content management agendas, templates, and pages.
Regardless of the type of transfer your business is going through, a solid plan is your best bet at achieving a successful move. We invite you to follow the steps in this checklist so you can ensure your business undergoes an effective website migration that doesn’t lose traffic or search rankings.
First off, if you’re unfamiliar with this process you might be asking, what is a website migration and what makes it successful?
Say, for instance, you own a retail store and you want to move locations. You’d have to take everything from one location and move it to another. A website migration is the same process, but all digital code instead of physical items. When you take every piece of data, information, and content that’s on one website and move it to another website, you’re migrating.
The problem is, if done incorrectly your business could run the chance of losing that coveted spot on the first page of Google search results. It would be like moving your retail store across town, but not telling any of your customers where you’ve moved to. Your profits would decline massively.
Next, you might be wondering when and why would my business need a website migration?
Say, your business is booming, or overall traffic to your website is increasing at an incredible rate, this would give you a reason to switch from your original server to a more scalable cloud dedicated network. There’s a multitude of reasons behind why your business would need a website transfer, so we’ve compiled a checklist – just remember, no matter the reason for the migration, it should be outcome-driven and focused on improving the needs of your customers.
Migrations are complicated and if not done correctly they will result in a loss in traffic to your website. It can be regained, but it won’t happen overnight, so remember to prepare and be patient.
The top 7 reasons for when/why your business should perform a website migration:
1. Web Hosting Move:
a) Switching the hosting provider.
b) Changing, adding, or removing server locations.
c) Altering the specs of your server.
2. Software Driven Transfer:
a) Changing your CMS.
b) Removing or adding plugins or modules.
c) Developing new functionality or a platform merger.
3. Domain Change Migration:
a) Switching the main domain of your website.
b) A subdomain change.
c) Expired domain purchase.
4. Template Driven Transfer:
a) Internal navigation change.
b) Layout and structure alteration.
c) A code change.
d) URL switch.
5. Content Driven Move:
a) Fluctuation of the number of pages on your website.
b) Different tone, targeting, or focus of your content.
c) Producing new content about a separate market.
6. Design-Driven Website Migration:
a) Altering the look and feel of main pages.
b) Addition or removal of interactive elements.
c) A branding change.
7. Business Strategy Move:
a) The website’s goals change.
b) A new marketplace focus.
Now that we’ve fully established when and why your company would need to migrate your website, this is where we’ll determine how to successfully move or transfer your company’s existing website from one server to another with minimal downtime.
Please, take into account the main objectives, time constraints, effort, and available resources. The first, pre-website migration phase is key because if your company’s goals, objectives, and resources fail to get appropriately defined, problems could arise.
How do you migrate your website from one server to another?
Everyone likes movies, so we’ve boiled down the transfer process into a simple, three-act structure. Kind of like how your favorite blockbuster has a beginning, a middle, and an end, the same goes for every website migration.
Now, it would be impossible to lay out a checklist for every company’s website migration scenario. This would be a “War and Peace” sized novel. You don’t have time for that. But, we’ve done our due diligence.
The majority of all website migrations are due to a URL change, a content alteration, a web hosting change, or a structure overhaul, so this checklist will speak to all of those scenarios.
If you consider yourself an SEO genius or a seasoned, website transfer guru, please download our free Site Migration Plan For SEO Experts for a full, in-depth look into the website migration process.
Act One: Plan, Plan, and Plan Again
Before beginning any sort of website move, make sure you, your SEO specialist, or data-science technician crawl your current website. This will allow you to create and save backups of your entire site, the links, the content, everything.
For your peace of mind and ours, you’ll want a backup file just in case there’s an issue during the migration. It’s nice to know you can easily restore your website from a trusted source.
Secure backups are guaranteed to make the whole process a lot smoother. Of course, we hope you’re already backing up your company’s data on a regular basis and in a secure location. Always better safe than sorry.
Once you’ve crawled your website your team should create an XML Sitemap of your new site. By building a list of all your pages and the content you’ll aid your business in your overall goals:
NOT losing traffic or search engine rankings and giving your customer a better experience.
This XML Sitemap will act as blueprint that informs every search engine and the Google bots about the content that’s on your page.
Your sitemap should include:
Traffic Driving Keywords
URL’s including PPC redirects
URL’s or Keywords you DON’T want.
And keep in mind, for keywords and URL’s, make sure your team is documenting hundreds of these for your files. The more that are in your company’s arsenal the better. Especially, in the post-migration phase when you’re testing. If your business has lost some traffic you’ll always have a list of files to compare and see where you may have lost traffic in the migration.
Now, comes one of the most important parts of your company’s pre-website migration phase. Your team will need to find all the matching URL’s that are going to be migrated over. There must be a clear one to one redirect path to ensure you won’t have significant traffic loss.
Once you’ve compiled all the keywords and URL’s your team will need to benchmark the rankings. This is the process of studying the traffic and conversions of all your information. Google Analytics is a great tool to understanding that information so they can execute your businesses’ new website to its highest potential.
The next step for your team would be to make a custom 404 redirect page with a link inside. This link would take people visiting your site during the move to an actual location site so they don’t wind up in the dark abyss of the web.
Finally, they’ll have to register the new website’s Google Search Console and setup the robots.txt files. These are pieces of code that tell the trusted Google bots where to look for content on your website. Once that’s finalized, your business is ready for Act Two and on your way to a successful website migration.
If you’re looking for a more in-depth view into the first-phase of a website migration for your business, download our free Website Migration Guide For SEO Experts.
Act Two: Take Action!
If you’ve done your necessary homework in the pre-migration phase then your team will be well-educated in your website and its server data, and are ready for a smooth site transfer.
Please take this time to identify the most valuable aspects of your website. What’s most important to your customer? By realizing which parts of your website are the most important to your business and its customers you’ll give yourself sections to focus on. Ultimately, helping ensure a successful move.
The first part of the second act will be tracking Google Analytics, its data, and then measuring the sites performance. Your team will want to make sure all your URL’s and redirect URL’s have the correct code in place so your metrics are being tracked.
Keep track of all the data and its fluctuations so you’ll be able to pinpoint the problem if any issues may arise.
Once the code is all correct and they’ve strategically measured the performance they’ll need to start exporting your websites data. Remember, the more information the better, so please record this intelligence. Even something as simple as taking a screenshot of your website data could be of value to your business down the line.
Now that your team has collected your data, it’s time to put your URL’s to the test by performing a Site Lookup.
When your team performs a website lookup make sure your new URL’s are matching the URL’s based off the sitemap they created in Act One.
If everything they’ve indexed is looking good then congratulate the team and go ahead and start updating your internal links. By properly updating all your 301-redirect-links with the correct anchor text you’ll ensure your team they won’t overload crawlers or get stuck in a redirect loop.
Note: for the pages where the URL remains the same there shouldn’t be much to worry about, as long as the content on the new page hasn’t been drastically altered.
Once your team has digested all that information they need to put it to action by updating your XML Sitemap. When they create this new XML Sitemap you’re telling Google, “hey, we moved, look at all this fascinating new information at this new location we created.”
Once it has your stamp of approval, your team should send the updated XML Sitemap and change of address to Google Search Console. Remember, this should have all of your robots.txt files already set up, that way the friendly Google bots can successfully discover your updated content.
Now, do keep in mind, Google only needs to know this change of address for the new website, not for the legacy website.
If your team has taken all of the precautions in the pre-migration phase and followed the launch plan to-a-tee, the post-migration phase should be fairly painless. Have your team keep a close eye on things and do be ready for a slight dip in rankings and traffic. At Evolve we normally start to see improvements within a couple weeks.
If you’re looking for a more in-depth view into the second-phase of a website migration, download our free Site Migration Process For SEO Experts.
Act Three: Test, Test, and Test Again
The final journey. Just like in the movies, the third act is your characters ultimate test. The same goes for any successful website move. Testing is incredibly important. It should occur both during the migration process and after its completed.
Monitor the error reports in Google Search Console and Google Analytics. Remember to keep a close watch on all the following:
Level 400 and 500 errors
Sitemap File errors
As well as monitoring those key points, we’d also recommend that your team crawls the site again just to ensure the Google bots can find all the content you want found. If possible we suggest performing an Audit with an agency like Evolve Digital Labs. This will confirm that your website’s user experience is friendly and up to your new standards of excellence.
Once everything looks good you’ll need to put this new website to use and reap the rewards. Update the External Links that you may have in your network. This would be any other websites, blogs, or resources that would engage in traffic flow to or from your website. You want to make sure everyone is actually seeing all your hard work and dedication in action.
As soon as that’s completed, you’re website is live and your business is on its way to not only providing its customers with a better user experience, but achieving higher profits, an increase in search rankings and superior website traffic.
If you’re looking for a more in-depth view of the final-phase of a website transfer, download Evolve Digital Labs free Website Migration Best Practices For SEO Experts.
At Evolve, we want to put an end to poorly managed website migrations. If done correctly your business DOES NOT have to see a drop in search engine rankings, traffic, and performance.
“It is entirely possible to migrate without losing any traffic or revenue; you can even enjoy significant growth right after launching a revamped website. However, this can only be achieved if every single step has been well-planned and executed.” – Modesto Siotos, Technical SEO Director at iCrossing UK
If this sounds like something outside of your company’s toolbox, you might want to know, where in St. Louis is the best place to subcontract a website migration?
We build a framework for success by turning our immense amount of search engine data into satisfied clients. Our PPC specialists and SEO experts remove all the aspects of guesswork by operating in an outcome-driven mindset.
Evolve Digital Labs is a certified Google Partner, specializing in Search Engine Marketing, Online Lead Generation, Performance Website Audits, Website Optimization, and Content Creation in the Healthcare, Telecom, B2B, and Business Innovation sectors.
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