How to pull off a website migration
(without hurting your SEO).

By Steph Von der Heyde | Other

Dec 18

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When you make the decision to do a website migration, you are probably going to want to have your SEO guru on speed dial. The process involved in pulling off a successful site migration is one that can either be excruciatingly painful or seamlessly executed.

For the newbies who are wondering what a website migration is about, in short, it is the process of migrating your existing, or as some refer to it as your “legacy” website, over to either a new content management system (CMS) or it could perhaps be receiving a web design makeover.

The reasons vary far and wide. The migration process requires the business owner, web development team and the SEO team to work closely alongside one another in order to achieve the best possible outcome.

The process of a successful website migration is one that is frequently debated and not theoretically set in stone. It is based purely on preference and what has worked best over recent times. Despite the variation in process there are fundamental elements that underpin the mammoth task which we’ve summarised for you in 6 core phases.

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Phase 1 : Before you begin

  1. Discuss goals with client

Ensuring that they understand the magnitude of the project

  1. Set timelines

With SEO team, development team and the client

  1. Design a migration plan

A plan which outlines the steps you’re about to take and the timeframe you have to do it

  1. Set your benchmarks for success

Identify benchmarks which you can measure once the new site it live e.g rankings, conversions, traffic

Phase 2 : Actions on the legacy site

1.Crawl the old site

Identify any redirects, then export this data and keep it on hand

  1. Export your top landing pages

Exporting all URLs that have received inbound links (crucial for SEO)

  1. Identify 404 pages

And export them – 404 pages could have some quality links

  1. Measure Site Performance

On both the legacy and the new site, & report any performance issues to the client.

Phase 3: Redirect Mapping

1.Compile a list of old URLs

Export the data from the legacy site

  1. Compile a list of new URLs

The developer can plan out all the URLs on the new site

  1. Map old to new

List and map all your old pages so that you can redirect to the new site without missing any.

  1. Redirect Instructions

Create a list of redirect instructions to add to htaccess file on site transfer

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Phase 4: Staging Site

1.Prepare a robots.txt file

In the robots.txt file for your staging site, be sure to disallow crawler access to the folder containing the staging site.

  1. Prepare HTML + XML sitemap

Prepare HTML + XML sitemap this ensures search engines and users can access all your new site content.

  1. Scan for broken links

You probably won’t have any issues seeing as it’s a new site, but just to be sure, check that all your links are working and are taking readers to the right pages.

  1. Check 301 redirects

The most important part of this phase. Check & double check!

  1. Fix thin copy and duplicate content

Bulk up any thin pages you may have and do a check for internal and external duplicate content. If you find any duplicate, give it a re-writing it to improve it and make each page as unique as possible.

Phase 5 : New Site Goes Live

  1. Installing Analytics / Tag Management

Ensure your analytics code is firing on all pages (preferably using tag manager). Also consider using a service like uptime robot to monitor site uptime.

2.Configure Google Search Console (formerly Webmaster Tools)

If your domain name changes, you will need to setup a new search console account and Submit your xml sitemap to GSC once new site goes live.

3.Manual Checks

Run a spidering tools, such as Screaming Frog to check for any duplicate, short or long titles & tags and crawl errors.

  1. Monitor crawl errors Update the valuable inbound links.

Fix any crawl errors or inbound broken links (note: inbound links typically refers to links from other sites into the site which is not reporting in GSC)

  1. Page Speed & Performance

Ensure that pages load fast and perform optimally for desktop and mobile

Phase 6 : The Final Stretch

  1. Measure impact & success

Run ranking checks every couple of days thereafter – comparing against the benchmarks you set before the site migration. These include:

  • Rankings
  • Traffic
  • Conversions
  • Page Speed

Keep this up and then congratulate yourself, because you’ve successfully navigated your first website migration! Nice work.

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