January 24, 2017 by Yudi Levine

How to Save Your  SEO During a Website Migration

Website redesigns and other migration changes affect your website structure. And any structural changes have the potential to significantly affect your SEO and website traffic. After a migration, a previously high ranking website may lose rankings and visibility — or sometimes, no longer even rank at all — seriously affecting its traffic numbers, brand image, lead generation, and of course, revenue. In short: there is a lot of potential for things to go wrong if you are not careful with your redesign or migration plan. 

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The best way to mitigate migration issues is to plan, plan, and plan some more. You need to lay out every aspect of your current website, so that you can track your SEO as it stands, and ensure that it can be properly carried over to the new domain. Here are some basic steps that every redesign or migration plan should follow:

  • Map all of your current content, so that none of it goes missing
  • Make sure you properly redirect every URL
  • Put together a pre-launch plan, to solidify tasks and timing
  • Put together a “migration task force” team, consisting of the following:
    • A developer, who will manage the back-end development and processes, behind the scenes
    • A marketing guru, who will manage the branding and layout of the new site
    • An SEO expert, who will make sure search engines fully understand the new site changes and have no issues crawling and ranking the content
    • A PPC expert, who will make sure your campaigns keep running smoothly, even if landing pages have new URLS, etc.
  • Put together a post-launch plan, that will help you monitor, diagnose, and fix any issue that may arise

Staying organized and covering all fronts will help make your website migration a success, with few errors or hits to your SEO.

However, if you’ve already completed a website redesign or a migration without this plan in place, and have noticed changes to your site traffic, let’s first look at what you can validate to confirm the migration is actually the root cause of the issue. Then we’ll go over the steps you can take to fix any issues and get your site visibility back again. Migration mistakes can happen, but not if you put the proper precautions in place!

 

  1. Confirm that the migration is what has caused the issues

A redesign or migration go-live will happen at a specific date. So the first thing to do is review your analytics account and your traffic data before and after that go-live date. Does your traffic drop only after the migration?

At this point, you should also reference checklists like Why My Traffic Dropped to rule out other potential causes — like an analytics tracking issue, or a search engine algorithm update. If these could be reasons causing the dip in your traffic, then you’ll need to do some additional analysis before you can implement a fix.

  1. Identify the hardest hit areas

Once you’ve confirmed that the traffic loss is indeed due to the migration, the next step is to find out which areas have been the hardest hit. In other words, use your analytics data to understand which pages have had the biggest decreases in traffic, rankings, impressions and conversions, by comparing your search traffic per page before and after the go-live date.

Keep track of these page URLs and the decrease in traffic, and sort them (biggest traffic loss to smallest). This will help you to prioritize which pages to fix first. In addition, you’ll also want to identify the keywords each of these pages was ranking for, so that you can monitor them as well, and make sure they continue to rank (or rank again) after you’ve implemented your migration fixes.

  1. Review crawl errors

Website crawl errors can prevent your pages from appearing in search results. The Crawl Errors report in the Search Console provides details about these errors, by showing a list of all site URLs that Google is unable to crawl, or that are returning HTTP error codes.

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You can also use an SEO crawler tool like Screaming Frog to crawl the list of affected pages (see #2 above), as well as your website in general, to evaluate the current onsite SEO. Crawler tools can very quickly give you feedback on the following areas:

  • Broken Links
  • Redirects
  • Duplicate Content
  • Missing, too long, or too short meta data
  • XML sitemaps
  • URLs blocked by robots.txt

Some of these errors are definitely more technical than others, but a crawl errors report will at least give you a high-level overview of potential issues with your site, and what these

issues might mean for your site traffic.

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So, you’ve confirmed that your traffic loss is due to the migration. Now what? Well, now it’s time to focus on implementing fixes for these identified issues, and getting your SEO back up and running.

 

URL Errors & Redirects

Website redesigns usually result in changed URLs, so you need to leave a breadcrumb trail for the search engines to find you.

A crawler tool like Screaming Frog can provide a report of all broken links, or you could enlist the help of Google Search Console’s “crawl errors” report. Common URL errors include:

  • Server Error: just like under the DNS errors, a server error for your URLs means the same: that a Googlebot cannot access your URL, the request was timed out, or your site was busy, and the bot was forced to abandon the request.
  • 404: this error is one that most people see on an almost-daily basis. A 404 error occurs when a user tries to access a webpage that doesn’t (or no longer) exists. The causes of this error could be from broken links, incorrect URLs, or a redirected page that is no longer valid.
  • Access Denied: these errors occur when a Googlebot cannot access your site. Perhaps a URL requires a login in order to view it, or your server requires proxy authentication, or your hosting provider is blocking Google from accessing your site.
  • Not Followed: these errors list URLs that Google cannot completely follow. Perhaps your redirects are not redirecting to the right page, or because some features such as JavaScript, cookies, session IDs, frames, DHTML, or Flash can make it difficult for search engines to crawl your site.
  • URLs Blocked for Smartphone: this “Blocked” error appears on the Smartphone tab. If you get the “Blocked” error for a URL on your site, that means that the URL is blocked for Google’s smartphone Googlebot in your site’s robots.txt file.
  • Flash Content: most mobile devices cannot process Flash content, so those Smartphone URLs will return this error. You may need to upgrade to a more responsive web design to avoid this error. 

You’ll need to ensure that all authoritative page URLs from the old site are redirected to the same or similar (but still relevant!) content on the new site, using your 301 redirect tool within your WordPress or website management platform.

Analyze Inbound Links

Inbound links are very important for SEO and search engine ranking, and a change in URL structure could mean that you lose them. It’s crucial to perform an inbound link analysis to find out where your inbound links are coming from and include them in the migration plan.

Open Site Explorer is a great tool to help out this. It can report on top page information, such as linking root domains, backlinks, and social signals, such as Facebook Likes for a certain page. You could also use Google Search Console’s “Links to Your Site”, which can report an exportable table of your most linked content. 

Once you have a list of your top linked pages, you need to make sure these pages are moved in a migration, and, if the URL structure has changed, that they are being redirected to properly.

Update XML Sitemaps

Update all of your XML sitemaps to eliminate all old URLs and resubmit the new sitemaps (which include only new URLs) to Google Search Console via the Sitemaps section. This will also allow you to test your sitemap before it gets submitted, which will allow you to identify errors before its finalized.

Fix Duplicate Content

Duplicate content competes with each other on your site, and will make the search engines only return results for one of the pages, instead of all of them.

Review the “HTML Improvements” section of the Google Search Console and go through all duplicate title tags or meta descriptions and edit them so that each one is unique. Include keywords in your re-writes, and, as mentioned above, ensure titles are no longer than 70 characters, and descriptions no longer than 150 characters.

Recrawl

After these fixes have been applied, resubmit your original “hardest hit” lost traffic pages to be recrawled with the Google Search Console “Crawl” –> “Fetch as Google” section.

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And a few other housekeeping reminders:

If you have a new URL, don’t forget to:

  • Submit a change of address in Google Search Console
  • Update your Analytics tracking codes
  • Update your Google My Business listing
  • Update website links on your Social Media platforms (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.)
  • Update URL links in your “social sharing” buttons
  • Create new ads in your PPC campaigns, as you can’t redirect to an updated domain within Adwords. You’ll also need to update your tracking codes. You might want to run a test campaign first to make sure you’ve covered everything.

 

Ongoing monitoring

It’s necessary to continually monitor data after a migration, so that any new errors can be quickly found and quickly fixed. Here’s what your ongoing routine should look like:

 

  1. Use Google Search Console to check and review crawl errors

  2. Continue to crawl old URLs to ensure the 301 redirects are working properly

  3. Keep an eye on your search engine rankings to ensure your new URLs are ranking similar to what they were before the migration, or to what is expected

  4. Monitor traffic via your Analytics account, and keep a close eye on any decreases

  5. Check indexation of old and new domains in Google Search Console. Indexation of the old site will eventually stop, and be fully replaced and increased with the new site.

  6. Monitor 301 redirects to the old domain until indexation of the old site stops

 

Summary

In summary, you can now understand just how important it is to prepare and plan in advance of doing a website redesign or migration, to avoid the errors listed above. A lack of planning can cause critical issues to your SEO, affecting your search engine rankings, and ultimately, your website traffic, leads and sales. As they say: Fail to Plan, Plan to Fail!

 

If you’ve experienced a sudden downturn in traffic, an Inbound Marketing assessment may be what you need to make sure your website and digital strategy is functioning as effectively as possible.

“This guest post was contributed by Jannelle Chemko, who is a Marketing Expert from Umami Marketing, a full service results-driven Inbound Marketing Agency and Google Certified Partner.”

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