Complete SEO Guide for Site Migration

Complete SEO guide for Site Migration

Nothing can kill your website’s performance in the search engine pages faster than a poorly implemented site migration.

There are so many reasons you would want to migrate your website. Perhaps politics is at play, and you have no say in the decision made. Or maybe the UX/UI team has made a solid case for redesigning the website. 

Or maybe you discovered a few issues with the site or came to find out that you’ll never be able to rank the site without overhauling its entire technical stack or changing its URL. 

Whichever the case, a simple site move can significantly affect your search engine rankings. 

However, you can minimize many of the SEO issues resulting from site migration by carefully planning and following a simple SEO site migration checklist like the one we’ll be covering in this article. 

What’s Site Migration?

SEO site migration is a term that SEO professionals use to describe any event whereby a website is subjected to substantial changes in areas that could significantly affect its search engine visibility. It typically refers to the changes made to the site’s location, structure, URL, platform, UX, and design.  

It includes everything – from uploading your website files to a new web host to changing the website’s URL structure and updating its layout. 

Types of Website Migration

Site migration is a collective term for all the events leading to a substantial change in the structure and normal functioning of your website. It includes activities such as:

Protocol Switch: Switching your website from the insecure HTTP protocol to a more secure HTTPS protocol.

Switching to a subdomain: Changing your website URL to subdomain. So, your website goes from using this type of URL www.yoursite.com to using this type of URL “subdomain.yourwebsite.com.”

Changing to a New URL: Changing your site’s domain name to a new domain name – from www.youcurrentdomain.com to www.yournewdomain.com

Changing Your Top-Level Domain: Changing your website’s URL from a .com to .net, .org, etc., and vice versa – from www.yourwebsite.com to www.yourwebsite.org or www.yourwebsite.com.sg

Changing Your Content Management System: You’re not just changing your CMS, but migrating everything to a new CMS – from WordPress to Joomla or Umbraco and vice versa. 

Website Redesign: We’re not taking minor modifications to your website’s colour scheme, but a situation where you’re revamping everything. It ranges from changing your website’s aesthetics to a full site rebuild with significant changes at the code level. 

Structural Change: Changing your website’s structure or architecture. It might mean changing your website’s user flow, its layout structure, or the URL structure with which the site is built. 

Changing Webhost: Switching from one web host to another also qualifies as site migration. It might appear like a simple task to some people, but it does affect a few things that could potentially affect your SEO score. 

Hybrid or combination: You might find yourself doing more than one of the above types of migration. 

What’s SEO Migration? 

SEO Migration is the process of migrating your website with SEO in mind.

It simply refers to the process of transferring your search engine ranking, indexing signals, and authority. It guarantees that you don’t lose your search engine visibility (read: rankings and traffic) when migrating your website. 

Why You Should Migrate Your Website with SEO in Mind

Since you launched your website, you’ve been working to increase its organic visibility and equity. You’ve managed to rank it for several keywords or the search terms that your customers and prospects use to find your website in the search engines. 

Now when you move its content, change its URL, or make significant changes to its structure or layout, you’re changing what search engines already know about your website. 

You’re changing your site metrics and everything you’ve applied to the site to get it ranked. 

Your goal while migrating your website should be to ensure you’re doing it with as minimal traffic losses as you possibly can. With SEO migration, you’ll be taking necessary precautions to curb traffic losses. 

What Happens When You Do Not Factor SEO in Your Migration Strategy?

Simple: you risk running all your previous SEO efforts down the gutter. You risk losing your last SEO score, traffic, and leads.

You don’t want the migration to take you a few steps back, not when you had already made tremendous strides in getting your website ranked. 

Before you migrate your website, you need to conduct a thorough SEO audit and devise a proper SEO migration strategy. You need to account for SEO when relaunching your website. 

10 Things that Could Possibly Go Wrong During a Website Migration

When migrating your website, you need to start by auditing your current website and device a proper migration plan. Failure of which, your sources of organic traffic may dry up.

So, with all these risks, why migrate?

Your business still needs this migration. Maybe you’re moving to a more mobile-friendly platform, adopting a more user-friendly design, or are in the process of rebranding your business. 

That said, here are ten things that could possibly go wrong when migrating your website. 

  • Redirect Snags

Ever visited a website only to be greeted by an error message along the lines of “this page can’t be found?”

We’re talking broken links and other redirect-related problems. Redirects are a bigger problem when they happen behind the scene. What you want to avoid is sending your site visitors to a wild-goose chase. 

When they click on a link, they should be able to find what they came looking for instead of being directed to a non-existent page. 

  • You Forgot to Set up a New XML Sitemap

You’re not going to win over search engines simply because you just launched a new website. In fact, they might treat you like a newbie by acting all blind towards it. 

It’s your job to help search engines index the right URL and site pages by updating your XML sitemap.

You need to create a new XML sitemap and submit it to Google. Having an updated sitemap will allow you to see all your site’s pages in one place to better understand your site’s architecture and the complexity of your domain name. 

  • Duplicated Content

While migrating your website, a few small things may slip through the cracks. 

For instance, you might have created a new piece of content and accidentally posted it on two different pages. Although unintentional, this could land you into serious trouble with Google 

This is a common mistake that so many people make while migrating their websites. They’re trying to work aggressively to hit an unrealistic migration deadline. If that’s the case, learn to slow down and always double-check the migrated site to make sure there’s no duplicate content. 

  • Poor-faceted Migration

A faceted migration will expand your website immensely. However, it does come with one serious pitfall. 

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The faceted elements you use will dilute your website content. They might also hurt the overall performance of your website when not implemented correctly. 

The only way to avoid this is to ensure your facets are backed up by good content.

  • Not Transferring the Right Content

When you’re only transferring part of your website content, you have to make sure you’re moving the right content. 

You have to find out which pages drive the most traffic to your website. You also want to find out which page content is more socially successful. 

Be sure also to confirm that you haven’t left any single one of these pages behind. 

  • No URL Visibility

Before and after you’ve migrated your website, use a crawling tool like Screaming Frog to crawl your website and list all your URLs.

Now you want to check your new website against the old one and identify all the URLs you’ve missed. 

The chances are good that a few of your URLs will be missing, and that’s where the problem sets in. 

  • Incorrect 301 Implementation

The biggest issue with migration is sorting out the problem of redirection. 

Your 301 redirects have to be done more carefully, or else, watch them throw a wrench into your rankings. 

Flat redirects, which is where you redirect lots of your old pages to your homepage, can also cause some serious damages to your rankings. 

You have to be very careful and keen on how you handle redirects. Take your time to go through every single one of your old pages and make sure they’re redirected to their most relevant new page, and not haphazardly. 

  • Your 301 Redirects Implemented as 302s

Another thing that could go wrong is finding out that your 301 redirects are implemented as 302s. 

302s are temporary redirects. They’re to show Google that your website has been temporarily moved. 

Usually, webmasters use this type of redirect when they want to send their users to a new page or website for a short period, especially when updating or redesigning their website. 

301 redirects, on the other hand, are permanent. They’re to redirect users to your new website instead of not an interim one. 

That being said, it’s your job to make sure that whoever is handling your migration has only used 301 redirects, unless otherwise. 

  • Not Removing Robot.txt

This is surprisingly a common migration mistake that lots of webmasters make. 

When launching a new website, most of them simply forget to remove the “disallow:/” direction the robot.txt. 

That means Google won’t crawl their website, and until they go back and remove Robot.txt, your SEO efforts from then on will never pay off. 

  • Improper Optimisation of Your New Content

You should immediately optimize your new content to rank for it. You have to directly submit the new sitemaps to Google, advertise the website, update your business listings (by changing your website address to your new URL), and set monitoring for this new web property.

All this should be done immediately after you’re done migrating your website. Failure of which, you may not be able to rank your website. 

23 SEO Checklist for Website Migration

  • Weigh Your Options and Think Your Decision Through

Don’t migrate your website simply because you feel like it. Make sure you have a convincing reason to do it.

While at it, keep in mind that after you’ve migrated your website, you’re bound to experience a temporary drop in traffic. 

Google won’t just process the change in an instant. It needs time to process everything and update its index. 

A carefully executed website migration will minimize traffic fluctuations. In the best-case scenario, search engines will ultimately treat your new website as if it’s your original website.

All said and done, when is a site migration justifiable?

  • When you have a strong case for rebranding
  • When migration is more likely to help you generate more links and press
  • When you need to move your website to an HTTPS protocol
  • When switching to a more flexible or user-friendly CMS
  • When your website isn’t mobile-friendly or user-friendly enough, and you need to overhaul the whole structure or layout
  • Pick a Slow Date for the Migration

Pick a day with slow traffic or when there’s less activity on your website to migrate it. Preferably, pick a weekday, when your team is in the office.

As tempting as it can be, you want to avoid migrating your website on the weekend. 

Afternoon and evening launches are preferred; just in case you want to iron out unexpected issues or troubleshoot anything, you can always wake up to it in the morning when the traffic is low.

 

  • Backup Your Website

Before you proceed with anything, you have to back up everything on the site carefully. Should the migration decide to go sideways, you should have a backup plan to revert everything to its original setting. 

This is something you discuss with your web development team. Let them devise a comprehensive rollback plan that you can use to revert to the original website should things fail to go according to plan. 

 

  • Create a Sandbox or Staging Website

It would be best to have a test server to stage your new website and test out everything before proceeding with the actual migration. 

You’re to create a duplicate website that your users won’t see. Here’s where you test all the changes that you intend to make in your new website. 

By staging this website, your web development team will have the time to experiment with different things and even implement the 301 redirects before the site goes live. 

This will also save you the trouble of updating the URLs in your sitemaps and internal links so many times.

 

  • Crawl Your Website Before You Migrate

Run your site through screaming frog. You’ll be provided with a list of all the page URLs on your site. 

You want to save this crawl to compared it with a crawl of your new website after the migration. 

Make sure all the URLs are listed in your new website so that not a single one of them gets lost during the migration process. 

At the same time, you want to remove all the links redirect to a 404 page. You also want to get rid of all the links that redirect to an already redirected page to prevent the issue of multiple redirections. 

 

  • Create a Facsimile of Your Google Analytics

Again, for comparison reasons, you want to create a copy of your analytics data. You need to find out if you’ve lost any traffic after the migration. 

In case you lost traffic, you can export the analytics data from your new website to compare it with the data that you earlier on copied. 

The point is to identify which pages, in particular, lost traffic. In most cases, the traffic loss resulting from website migration is tied to individual pages and not your entire website, like some people love to assume. 

 

  • Move Your Website, But in Sections

If you’re transferring multiple properties, with numerous sections, then you should consider chunking the migration in stages, rather than moving all the files at once. 

Doing this will make the migration process more manageable. It’s also bound to make troubleshooting a whole lot easier. 

 

  • Run a Backlink Audit

If you’re planning to do a domain migration, then you might want to start by performing an organic health check or a backlink audit of the domain name. Find out if the domain name has been penalized for spammy backlinks or anything. 

Where are its current backlinks pointing to? 

Look at its metrics, including its DA. You want to do all this to avoid encountering a problem that you may turn out to be a hard fix. 

 

  • Crawl Your Website After the Migration

Crawl the newly migrated website and compare the data from your old and new website to find out if some links are missing.

Run the website through Screaming Frog for a list of all the page URLs on the site. 

You’re not only going to use this to fix the issues on your new website but also to map your old URLs to your new URLs through 301 redirects. 

By doing this, you should know which pages or content pieces to prioritize and what links to update so they can reflect in your new URL structure. 

 

  • Map All the URLs that Changed

Create a spreadsheet of old vs. new URLs.

After you migrate your website, your old pages will move from your old site to the new site. 

Obviously, with every page you remove, you’re robbing your website of its ability to draw search engine traffic.

Worse is when you choose to remove so many pages during the migration process that Google automatically assumes that’s a new site, and as such, ranks it accordingly. 

The only way to avoid sending the wrong signal is to maintain the same URL architecture as the one you had on your old site. If you must change it completely, then you must bear in mind that Google may consider it as an entirely new website.

It’s even worse when you have to change the URL structure of your website and migrate it at the same time. 

There are so many reasons you’d want to maintain the same URL architecture. The core being it allows you to take advantage of regex in redirecting your old pages to new ones. 

That way, you don’t have to set the redirects one-by-one. 

 

  • Prioritize SEO

This is one of the things we do here at Media One for every single one of our SEO site migration project, and which we strongly advise you also to do.

We usually start by crawling your website before and after we’ve migrated it. In both incidences, we try to pull all the page URLs that live there. 

Next, we’ll go ahead and compile the URLs data from different SEO data sources and analytics, including Google Analytics, SEMRush, Majestic, and more. 

While doing this, we’ll be scoring each URL to determine which one among them has the highest SEO value. With the information we collect, we can tell which content or 301 redirects we should prioritize during the migration process. 

You have to identify high priority URLs and find out what content is to be consolidated, removed, or updated. 

Prioritizing URLs means better performing content will have a chance to continue performing right out of the gate while missing or outdated content can either be updated, recreated, or removed. 

 

  • Update Internal Links

After you’ve migrated your website, you have to make sure every single one of your internal links is pointing to your new website, not the old one. 

This might sound so obvious, but it’s a process you don’t want to ignore. You’ll also start noticing how tempting it is for you to leave the links just the way they are and assume they’re already redirecting to the new website. 

Well, this is a temptation you should ignore. 

The server load will slow your site performance, while the redirects are more likely to dampen your PageRank. 

The ideal way to go about it is to manually perform a Google search and replace the link on your database. The point is to ensure the link doesn’t change, assuming you’re maintaining the same site structure. 

 

  • Self-Canonicalize New Pages

The canonicalization on your new site must reference the new site. When the canonicalization references your old site, it might prevent your new site from getting indexed.

We suggest you self-canonicalize all the pages on your new site, except those that are being canonicalized to another page.  

That, combined with the redirects you’d have made, should be enough to tell Google what the new website is all about, as well as the location of your old site. 

Self-canonicalization of your entire site is still recommended, considering URL parameters create duplicate content when they should be canonicalizing to parameter-free URLs. 

 

  • Customize Your 404 Page

Create a custom and more engaging 404 page. 

What’s a 404 Page? 

A 404 page is the page that users are redirected to whenever they encounter a broken link on your website. 

By customizing this page, users can always find their way to your homepage or any other page on your website. It helps them to find what they came looking for easily. 

A blank 404 page can’t help users navigate and will, as such, cause many of them to leave the site altogether. 

 

  • Update Your Google My Business 

If you’re migrating your domain, you want to make sure you’ve also updated the website link on your Google My Business, Bing Places, and other citation pages. 

Make sure you’ve updated any place you suspect might still be using your old domain name.

Remember, this is part of restoring your local SEO strategy. Failure to do this might cause your local listing to suffer.  

 

  • Trawl Your New Site for Duplicate Content

Some of the missteps in your migration process might have resulted in a few of your site content duplicating themselves. You want to get rid of them before Google catches wind of it and rushes to get your penalized. 

Learn about some of these issues, and then follow the steps highlighted below to avoid them: 

  • If you make the mistake of publishing more than one version of your URL, Google will interpret it as duplicate content and penalize you for it. It’s that simple. 

If self-canonicalization is done right, then this issue should be able to fix itself. However, the best way to go about it is to set up your redirect rules in .htaccess, allowing only one version of your page URL to be accessed. 

You also want to ensure that all the links are consistent to avoid creating an internal redirect conflict. 

  • Your IP address must redirect to your website URL.
  • Look for folders that direct users to the same piece of content, especially the default ones. 
  • Make sure that only HTTP or HTTPs is used. Know how to redirect www or non-www versions of your website. There should be only one accessible version of your website, with the rest directing back to it. 
  • If your website features a search function, then the search results shown should be non-indexed. 
  • Self-canonicalization should be able to help you resolve most of these issues, or any content duplication issue resulting from URL query strings. 
  • Identify Removed Pages

It’s a bad idea to remove pages from your website during the migration process. The last thing you want is to make Google think that’s a new website.

However, if you must get rid of some of the pages, here are the steps to follow:

  • List all the pages on your site
  • Avoid redirecting old pages to your new site
  • Now remove all the links from the pages that you want to remove
  • Have these pages redirect to a 404 page
  • For each page, try to find a suitable replacement and set a redirect to point it to this new page. 

Keep in mind that you’re only allowed to do this if the new page serves the same purpose as the old one. Otherwise, you’re better off just creating a new page. 

  • Never redirect a removed page to your homepage (or soft 404 as some refer to it). If you do not have a suitable replacement for the page, the only recommended option left would be to 404 it to a custom 404 page you’d have created. 
  • Install Google Analytics

You need to install Google Analytics on your new website. This should be among the first things you do upon launching your new website. 

You need to start tracking its performance right away. Find out what’s changed and what needs to be corrected or changed immediately. 

You’re doing all this to watch for the changes in traffic. Find out why your traffic is fluctuating, and figure out how to best get everything right back on track. 

 

  • Don’t Sell or Lose the Old Domain

Unless you’re migrating your website to sell your old domain, we strongly advise you against giving up its control. 

Ideally, it would be best to make your old domain redirect to your new site – preferably on a page-to-page basis. 

When you lose the redirects, that means you’d have lost all the in-bound links generated by the old site. 

Some professionals would advise you to let go of the old domain name once search engines stop indexing it, but that’s not something we’d recommend. 

 

  •  Update Your PPC Campaigns

You also want to update your PPC campaign by making sure that it points to the right site. 

If your PPC campaigns are still pointing to your old site, then the redirects might make you lose attribution.

 

  • What’s Your Index Page Count?

Google can’t index your pages immediately. It’s going to take them a while before they index everything. 

However, you want to keep track of how Google is indexing your pages, and in the end, make sure your new site has the same indexed page count as your old site.  

 

  • Update Your Backlinks

Your old site must have managed to attract so many backlinks. Don’t let them go to waste. 

Go to Moz, Majestic, Link Explorer, Google Search Console, or whatever backlink tracking tool you prefer to find which pages link back to you. 

After that, you want to reach out to every single one of these sites and ask them to update them. 

It’s time-consuming. So, have someone help you keep track of the backlinks that have been updated and those that could use some little bit of follow-up.

 

  • Perform a Pre- and Post-launch SEO Audit

Before and after you’ve migrated your website, you need to conduct a thorough SEO audit to confirm if everything (pages, links, content, tags, and mobile devices) has been accounted for in the migration. 

You have to make sure all these SEO items are in their proper shape before hitting the migration button. After that, you also have to make sure that they have all been migrated properly. 

Visit these SEO agencies in Singapore to help you with your website SEO.

Author Bio

Tom Koh is widely recognised as a leading SEO consultant in Asia who has worked to transform the online visibility of the leading organisations such as SingTel, Capitaland, Maybank, P&G, WWF, etc. Recently he was instrumental in consulting for a New York-based US$30B fund in an US$4Bn acquisition. Tom is a Computational Science graduate of the National University of Singapore. In his free time he performs pro-bono community work and traveling.
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