Protecting Rankings and Traffic During A Rebrand: How to Protect Your SEO During a Website Migration

How to Protect Your SEO During a Website Migration _ MediaOne Marketing Singapore

Are you thinking of changing your brand name or website’s URL?

It’s a strategic move that often makes a lot of sense but is also a major undertaking that could hurt your website’s rankings and traffic. 

How, you ask? 

How Rebranding Affects Your SEO

Changing Your Domain Name or Website’s URL Means Losing Your Domain Authority

Your website’s domain authority is a metric that measures how well your site will rank in search engine results pages (SERPs). 

It takes time to build up domain authority, and when you change your domain name or URL, any progress you made toward building it up is lost.

Changing your URL or domain name could mean resetting your domain authority to zero and having to start from scratch. 

Changing Your Website URL and URL Means Your Links will Become Broken

When another site links to yours, Google views it as a vote of confidence or endorsement. The more the website is endorsed, the higher it will rank. 

Remember, not all endorsements are equal. A backlink from a high-authority website, such as the New York Times, is worth more than a link from an unknown blog. 

However, when you change your website’s URL or domain name, the links to your site become broken. You lose all the benefits you gained from these external links, and your SERP ranking lives to suffer for it.

Unless You Set Redirects, You Also Lose Direct Traffic

Any visitors who typed in your website’s exact URL to visit it are also lost when you change it. 

Unless you set redirects, these visitors will land directly on a non-existing page, and you’ll lose that traffic altogether. 

The only way to avoid this problem is to set up redirects from your old website to the new one. That will ensure that all visitors are correctly rerouted when they try to visit your site.

Indexing Issues Can Also Affect Your SERP Rankings

When you change your website’s URL or domain name, Google sometimes takes time to reindex it. 

If there is a delay in reindexing, your website could temporarily disappear from SERP results, and you’ll lose out on the associated organic traffic. 

To prevent this issue, you want to submit your new domain name or URL to Google Search Console so they can reindex it as soon as possible.

Doing the Prework for a Successful Rebrand

Ludwig Makhyan, the cofounder of Mazeless, Enterprise SEO, recommends doing the prework before rebranding.

You must take critical steps to ensure the migration procedure runs smoothly and that there’s nothing left to chance.

Here are the suggested solutions:

Following a good SEO migration checklist is the easiest and surest way to handle the migration process. 

Generally, the whole process can be broken down into three stages: Pre-Migration, Launch, and Post-migration.

Pre-Migration Checklist 

Pre-Migration Checklist | MediaOne Marketing Singapore

Before you even think of making the switch, make sure to do the following:

Run Benchmarks for Your Analytics

Benchmark your data and establish a baseline for total traffic, organic search queries, conversions, etc.

You want to make a copy of your analytics data to identify traffic losses or gains after the rebrand quickly.

Identify Key Traffic Pages

Identify the pages on your website that get the most traffic. These are the pages you want to prioritize when setting up redirects.

Review the Staging Setup

Ensure the staging setup is up to scratch and running smoothly. That will ensure that your rebranding process runs as smoothly as possible. 

Create An Inventory of Your Content

Create an inventory of all the content on your website, including blog posts, images, videos, etc. 

You want to ensure that every piece of content is correctly transferred to the new website. 

Create a List of All the Redirects

Create a list of all the redirects you need to set up. That will help ensure no traffic is lost during the migration.

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Backup the Site and Its Database

You want to ensure none of your data is lost during migration. Therefore, back up your entire website and its database before you start.

Starting the Migration

Starting the Migration | MediaOne Marketing Singapore

After planning your migration, the next step would be the actual migration process. 

You want to ensure all the redirects are in place and everything runs smoothly.

The main point here is to minimize any disruptions in the transition process.

Evaluate The Complexity of the Project and See if You can Migrate it In Chunks

If the project you’re migrating is too big, then perhaps you should consider migrating it in chunks.

You can move the website bit by bit as you test out each segment to ensure everything runs as intended. 

The general rule of thumb is to keep every migration simple. Minimize the number of migrations you’re making, and test each process to ensure you’re not making any mistakes. 

It can be problematic when you’re making several changes at once. Remember, with every change you’re making, you’re introducing a new variable that can potentially have unexpected effects on your website’s performance.

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Update Your DNS Settings

Once you’ve finished the migration process, it’s time to update your DNS settings. 

You want to ensure your DNS settings are configured correctly and point to the correct server.

Doing this will ensure the traffic is redirected to the correct server after the migration.

Remove Temporary Website Blocks

You want to make sure that you remove any temporary website blocks from your old website as soon as you’re done with the migration.

You can use the coverage report in GSC (Google Search Console) and Crawlability report in Site Audit to identify any temporary blocks on your website.

Enable and Test All Your Redirections if You Haven’t Done So Already

Once you’ve removed all the temporary blocks, the next thing you want to do is to enable and test your redirections.

You want to ensure everything works as intended and the traffic is redirected to the right pages.

You can rerun a site audit campaign to make sure there’re no 4xx errors. 

Next, sort out the tabs for permanent redirects, and go over the list to ensure all pages and link URLs are properly redirected.

Test Your Site for Any Errors and Bugs

After the migration, your website might have some errors or bugs that must be fixed. 

Be sure to review your site and test every feature.

Identify any errors or bugs that need to be fixed, and get them sorted out immediately.

Verify the Website on Google Search Console (GSC)

Next, it’s time to verify the website on GSC. That will help you monitor and improve your website’s performance in organic search results. 

Once you’ve verified your website, you can use GSC to track and monitor your website’s performance.

Submit a Change of Address in GSC

Go to “Change of Address” in GSC and let Google know you’ve moved your website to a new URL.

That will help ensure that there’s no confusion as far as Google is concerned.

It will also help you identify any problems quickly and transfer any “link juice” from your old URL to the new one.

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Send Old URLs in GSC Sitemaps to the New URLs

Ensure all your old website’s pages are listed in your GSC sitemap.

Also, when you submit your sitemaps in GSC after the migration, you want to make sure you’re pointing the old URLs to new ones.

Update Your Links (Backlinks, Ad Campaigns, etc.)

That’s where the challenge is. 

Ensure all the links pointing to your website are updated and point to the new URLs.

Start by updating your ads and social media links, then your backlinks. 

Reach out to all the sites that link to you and inform them of the change.

Here’s an email template you can use to contact them:

“Hello, 

We recently migrated our website from <old_URL> to <new_URL>, and we would appreciate it if you could update your links to our new website address. 

Here’s the page/article linking to our website (article or page URL), and the link should now point to <new_URL>: 

<old_link>. 

Thank you for your time and help. 

Regards, 

<your name>”

Should the website’s owner refuse to respond, you want to set a 301 redirect from the old URL to a new one. 

For the unacquainted ones, a 301 redirect is a permanent redirect from one URL to another, and it’ll help ensure that any link juice on the old link is passed to the new one.

Resubmit Disavowed Links to Google Search Console

If you had any disavowed links before the migration, it’s time to resubmit them to GSC. 

GSC will then recrawl them and adjust the link profiles accordingly.

After Migration Checklist

Your work doesn’t involve moving your website from one URL to another. 

You want to monitor your website’s performance and resolve the issues you find. 

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Here’s a checklist you should go over after the migration:

Check if the Site Has Any New Migration Issues

Rerun your site audit campaign after the migration and see if any new issues have cropped up. 

Ensure all the pages are indexed, broken links have been fixed, and there’s no duplicate content on the website.

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Check the “Compare Crawl” tabs to see if there are any issues that need to be fixed. 

Check the Performance of the New Website

Now, you can compare the performance of your old website to the new one. 

You want to start by checking the page load times. Is the site faster?

Make sure the configuration changes you’ve made have improved your website’s performance. 

Run a site audit to check the site’s speed, page titles, meta descriptions, page redirects, image optimization, etc.

Use SEMrush’s performance report to compare the performance of your old and new websites.

Track Indexing of the New Pages

If you haven’t done so already, upload two sitemaps to GSC, one for old URLs and one for new ones.

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You can then track how Google removes the old URLs from its index and adds new ones.

Ultimately, only the new URLs should remain in the search engine’s index.

Track Your Positions

After the migration, your site will temporarily lose some of its rankings. Your traffic will drop, and you’ll lose some of your visibility.

But they should be able to get back on track soon enough.

If your website doesn’t recover in a few weeks, you should thoroughly analyze the website and your link profile. 

Look for any issues preventing your website from ranking as it should.

Cancel Your Old Hosting

While Migrating your website, you don’t delete your old site immediately. You do it after you have finalized everything and indexed your new website. 

Once you’ve done that, cancel your old hosting and free up the resources.

However, you want to ensure you have all your 301 redirects set up and working correctly before you do so.

You also want to back up your old website before you cancel the hosting. That way, you’ll have an archive of your old website.

Troubleshooting

If your website isn’t performing as expected after the migration, then you have some troubleshooting to do.

You should conduct an in-depth analysis if you still haven’t regained your rank position, income, and visits.

  • Find out if you’re losing your website traffic evenly across all pages or if it’s from specific pages. 
  • Track down the source of the lost traffic. Is the traffic loss due to a broken link, technical issue, or index related?
  • Once you’ve identified the source of the problem, fix it and monitor your website’s performance. If the lost traffic is from ads, backlinks, or organic searches, you may need to check the redirects or contact the web admins and ask them to update their links.
  • You also want to check your organic ranking to see if it’s still okay. If it isn’t, you may need to adjust your link profile accordingly.
  • If the issue affects your website, you want to rerun a site audit to see if any technical issues need to be addressed. No matter the issue, you can find a solution and keep your website on track. Just follow the tool’s instructions to fix the issue.
  • If the traffic drops because of specific pages, then adjust the content, meta tags, and images to make them more relevant. You also want to check with its old version to see what changes could have caused the dip in performance. What’s missing or different that could have caused the loss in traffic?

If your conversion rate drops, but your bounce and exit rate are still the same, then you may need to adjust the content on the page or update the design. It ought to be a technical issue, but it could also be a content or design issue.

However, that’s rarely the issue. More often than not, it could be that your audiences aren’t satisfied with your new website or are taking time to adjust. 

What you want to do at this point is focus on creating a journey map for your customers. Gradually reel them in with the help of a lead magnet or CTA. 

Re-engage them and get them through your website by providing helpful resources and discounts.

The Final Word

Migrating your website is a time-consuming and complicated process. A lot could go wrong, but with the right tools and planning, you can make sure it goes off without a hitch. 

As a recap:

  • Don’t migrate the site entirely, but break it into chunks. You can begin by creating a sample of the site and testing everything first. Once you’re sure everything works, you can go ahead and move the site piece by piece. 
  • Remember, not all migrations are the same. The process could take a few days, or even weeks, depending on the complexity of the migration. You also want to treat each type of migration differently. For example, if you’re changing to a new domain, changing web hosts, redesigning your site architecture, etc., you don’t want to mix them all up. 

Instead, you can break the migration into steps and treat each step differently. Focus on each step separately, and verify everything before moving on to the next step.

  • Migrate during low traffic. That will ensure there’s minimum disruption to your website. The reduced server load will allow Google and other search engines to crawl and index your website faster. 
  • Hope for the best, but plan for the worst. Run tests and check everything before the big move. That way, you can minimize your chances of running into unexpected errors. 

Plan for everything, test it, and then let the migration happen.

About the Author

Tom Koh

Tom is the CEO and Principal Consultant of MediaOne, a leading digital marketing agency. He has consulted for MNCs like Canon, Maybank, Capitaland, SingTel, ST Engineering, WWF, Cambridge University, as well as Government organisations like Enterprise Singapore, Ministry of Law, National Galleries, NTUC, e2i, SingHealth. His articles are published and referenced in CNA, Straits Times, MoneyFM, Financial Times, Yahoo! Finance, Hubspot, Zendesk, CIO Advisor.

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