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Website migrations: protect your SEO rankings

Rocío García

Website migrations are one of the most important and delicate actions you can take. The success (and future) of your domain can depend on a successful SEO migration. Yet strangely, their importance is often ignored or not given the attention they deserve.

No one in their right mind would throw away years of hard work and investment in their website. Yet the lack of understanding of the consequence of site migrations amongst C-level executives or IT staff, means that businesses often underestimate how delicate SEO migrations are. They think, “what worked before will work in the future.”

False.

A change in domain name, a new CMS or server, a switch to secure HTTPS protocol, URL or navigational modifications or a new mobile site (best practice would be a responsive site, rather than a separate one): these are all tremors that can result in big aftershocks for SEO stability.

So, is website migration bad for SEO? Absolutely not! In fact, major advantages of site migration, when you implement a more structured site architecture or set up a website security certificate, will show demonstrable positive results in the mid-term. The key to a successful migration can be summed up in one word: planning.

A typical site migration requires that you keep in mind two things:

  1. Try to minimise impact on organic traffic. Generally, sites experience less visibility in Google during the first weeks following the migration. This occurs because Google’s robot has to review your entire site again looking for changes. That is why it is important to take all the steps we’ll explain here.
  2. If the site is better than before, you will see it’s visiblity in Google start to improve in a couple of weeks. If it gets stuck in the rankings or continues to lose positioning, it means that you do not have all the main SEO factors under control. This is why planning and testing are so important before migrating your website.

 

Here are some tips for executing a successful site migration that does not negatively impact your website ranking:

Redirect everything that’s important

You’ve worked hard to rank for those keywords that provide you with quality organic traffic or leads, so don’t abandon them. If you have ranked URLs with lots of traffic or backlinks, make these your priority.

If for whatever reason you decide not to maintain these URLs in your new site structure, be sure to create new URLs that also respond to the same user search intentions that brought you all that quality traffic in the first place. (It’s also an opportunity to update that content, if some of it is a bit out of date.) When you create new URLs, try to get external sites to update their links from your old URLs to the new ones.

Once that is done, you can do a 301 redirect from the old address to the new page. Do this will all pages that are key to your business. Avoid automatically redirecting to the home page or other category page. That may be easy, but it is sloppy and you will lose out on all the SEO progress you made in the past.

Performing a complete audit before migrating can help you have a full vision of your website’s status and will help you to avoid overlooking any important details pre-mirgration.

Choose when you will migrate

Plan your SEO migration for a time when there is little site traffic so that impact on your users is minimal. It’s best to be cautious, and prioritise migration during the early part of the week. Anyone who migrates their website on a Friday afternoon is asking for trouble and a weekend filled with technical errors.  If you do your website migration early on during the work week, you will have more time to correct any errors, and there are always some errors, especially if your site is large.

In the days after you migrate, it is key that you analyse website performance, checking for any anomalies, such as a sharp drop in visibility or total loss of all search engine rankings.

Website migrations, one at a time, please

Often people fall in to the temptation of taking on multiple website migration tasks at once. Be careful: the possibility for errors multiplies if you embark on simultaneous SEO migration actions.  For example, if you are going to include a secure HTTPS protocol, but you also want to modify your category URLs or upload a new site architecture, its best to do these things separately. A migration with multiple, complex elements is a recipe for trouble.

Pay attention to tags and links

It’s possible that your website migration looks “minor” if users themselves don’t really notice it—say if if you switch from HTTP to HTTPS protocol, for example. But it will have a significant SEO impact, for better or for worse. If you implement a secure protocol migration successfully, you’ll have a better chance of rising higher up in Google’s ranking.  But if you forget to modify tags or you leave URLS out of your secure protocol setup, you are endangering the SEO authority of your website. A URL without HTTPS can be considered a security breach.

Be sure that canonical tags, hreflang and direct links all point to the right URL in HTTPS.

 

If you are going to do your own SEO website migration, we recommend that you make a plan prior to execution, ensuring you have anticipated all the necessary steps. SEMRush has a migration checklist that is very handy and wil make the process easier. Google Search Console is another indispensable migration tool—it detects and shows you all errors that the search engine finds as it crawls your site. At All Around Digital, we’re expert in website migrations, if you need help, contact us.