We’ve been a part of many website migrations, so we decided to compile a list of the most common problems we’ve faced and how we prevented them from happening again.
“A website migration is literally moving from an old website architecture or design to a new one, generally with some significant technological, design or copy changes on the site.”
“So the first, and probably the biggest, problem that we have to deal with this maintaining Authority. Authority’s largely about the quantity and quality of links coming into your site, and what influences those have on your search engine rankings and, then, obviously your traffic and leads.
Often when a new site is launched, you would typically have a new series of webpages that differ from those on your old site. These may have external links pointing to them from other websites, pushing authority into your site. If these old pages are not correctly redirected to the new ones, the site may lose authority, or link juice, which is a very important ranking indicator. During migration, this is often ignored or left to the last minute, resulting in a possible drop in rankings and traffic.”
“So ensure setting up your redirects and ensure those links and external links are all pointing to valid and existing pages as best as possible.”
“Okay, so another big consideration that I see a lot of developers missing through migration is ensuring the mobile version of the site is correctly optimized.
Google is launching their mobile first index next year which will mean that they’re going to use your mobile version of your site as their primary version to rank both your mobile and your desktop versions, so it’s vastly important that the mobile version is, number one, crawl-able and indexable and, number two, satisfies the user according to mobile best practice.
This often gets ignored, but developers need to test on the staging version the mobile version three four times as intensely as their desktop version, because that’s really what Google’s going to be using as a reference point.”
An obvious one but one that often gets left to the last minute is tracking.
Google Analytics tracking code, Google tag manager tracking code, AdWords tracking code and any other tracking code that you had on your previous site. Ensure those codes are set up across your site and all pages are tracking, but also ensure all your goals within analytics are still valid so you know if you’re creating new forms and Thank You pages on your site ensuring those are all set up within analytics before the launch date.”
“So indexation is really just ensuring all of your pages are being crawled and that Google’s storing them in the index correctly.
There are a few considerations here; one is sitemaps, which is ensuring that your XML sitemap (the one that Google uses to get a full view of your site) is up-to-date and is representative of all your new pages and it’s submitted to search console upon launch. It’s good to have an HTML sitemap for users as an additional source of internal linking.
Ensuring that your new pages are all being submitted to Google search console (which forces them into the index) and then just keeping an eye on the volume of pages in the index is very important, there might be some crawling issues that are preventing Google from crawling some of your new pages.
One more consideration is also excluding any pages using the ‘noindex’ tag, such as ‘Thank You’ pages, as this often gets missed. You don’t want searchers hitting a thank-you confirmation page because it’s going to rack up unnecessary goals in your analytics account.”
“The fifth point is content variance and this is something I’m seeing at the moment with one of our clients, where they’ve had a massive site with a lot of blog content.
They took the opportunity of migrating to reduce their content and cut it down, which is fine, but often you will then have a lot of updated content on your site especially blog content that’s no longer applicable, so that’s all good but what you need to do is ensure that you have a clear idea of what that old content is ranking for and whether that’s still valuable rankings that you want to maintain into your new site.
Look at the best way to condense all of that content into possibly longer, bigger or newer pieces and redirecting those old posts into the new ones or providing a short summary to say that this post no longer available and has been updated and the new version is here and then provide an internal link from page A to page B.”
“This is another thing that gets missed or left to the last minute and can rack up huge number of development hours.
Your designer and developer who’s recreating your new site should be testing your page speed on various tools all the way through the design development process, because they are often some optimizations that need to happen on the site that can be in conflict with new design technologies.
Keep an eye on the amount of plugins that are used, if using a WordPress platform make double sure that your images are all optimized and compressed wherever possible, as much as possible.
You can test your desktop and mobile versions on Google PageSpeed insights and various other speed testing tools out there such as Pingdom, just go nuts use everything possible because this is gonna become a huge factor next year when Google launches its mobile first index update.”
“A couple of general points less technical, timelines, you need to put a buffer period of about two to three weeks for the SEO team to really do a pre-launch audit and go through all of the best practices.
We need to show that the site is number one, maintaining the integrity of the rankings that were there before and that the developers have enough time to respond to any recommendations that are being made.
Post-launch audits are when your sites actually within the index and there’s a huge amount of testing that needs to happen there before starting any new SEO initiatives or projects. You really have to ensure that Google’s indexing the site correctly and that the authority is being maintained on the new site.
You need to track your users’ experience constantly to make sure that users are engaging with your content in the right way, that all forms are working and that all tracking is working.”
“Benchmarking sounds like a simple point but also often overlooked. You need to run your ranking data across all your devices and across all your locations to get as much data as possible. You need to know what your current site is ranking for, what’s influencing your traffic and what’s sitting behind your traffic and conversions and analyze it all in detail.
As the site is being brought closer and closer to the launched version you need to look at the data to ensure the ranking potential is being maintained all the way through, and then, on post launch, run all those checks again. You want a clear comparison one week out, two weeks out and three weeks out to make sure you’re not missing anything and there are no gaps in the strategy.
If the decision is made to reduce content or pages, the client needs to sign off that they are aware that there may be a drop in rankings and traffic as a result less content being available to rank for keywords.
“I really hope this helps you through your migration. If you have any other questions (there’s obviously a lot more to this than what I’ve covered today) just drop us a comment below and we’ll be happy to give you some further advice.” – Anthony Coe, Head of Digital Strategy, CleverClicks