Site migrations that protect your SEO
I am increasingly asked to manage website migrations to ensure that none of the SEO “juice” that clients have diligently built up over time is lost.
What is a site migration?
A site migration is when an existing site is moved to a new domain or the structure of the site is changed. Sometimes two or more existing sites can be merged into one.
Why is site migration a problem for SEO?
Search engines associate each page or other piece of content on the Internet with a specific URL that becomes its identifier. They then give that URL a ranking value depending on the search term used and a certain number of other criteria.
Website owners often do a lot of work making their page content useful and informative get a other quality sites linking to them, which all boosts the position of those URLs in the search results.
If you move a page within your site, or to a new domain, then its URL changes and Search Engines have no way of knowing for sure that the new URL needs to be associated with that page.
So you have to tell it, by using 301 redirects that inform the search engines about the change of address for that particular content and that the SEO value accrued should be carried over to the new URL. The 301 code means “moved permanently”.
If the migration is not done correctly what can happen is that when the search engines try to access the URLs they have indexed they receive the classic 404 “page not found” error and after a few days will remove that URL from their indexes and all of the SEO work that had gone into getting the site ranking well will have gone to waste and your site will be back at the bottom of the ladder.
How do you migrate a website?
There are several important steps in a site migration, mostly to be carried out before the new site goes live:
- Crawl the site and any other sources that may have URLs listed for your site (Search Console etc).
- Create a mapping spreadsheet with the complete list of URLs in the first column.
- Talk to the development team of the new site, make a list of all of the new structures of URL and have that confirmed by the team.
- Using that list, generate all the new URLs and paste them in the second column of your spreadsheet so that there is a target URL in the new site specified for each URL in the old site.
- Any pages that will not be in the new site need to have a 301 or a 410 “gone” directive.
- When the new site goes live, the entire list of old URLs should be crawled in list mode to ensure that all the 301s and 410s work correctly and there are no loops.
Why hire someone to take care of migrating your site?
Migrating a site seems quite simple, but someone without experience may overlook a detail or not spot an unusual situation that would require slightly different handling. The cost of hiring someone to manage the migration is relatively low compared to the potential loss of ranking and therefore sales, and the stress involved when you realize that your new site has gone live but Google can’t find and index the new URLs.
One more advantage of having your migration done by an expert
There’s nothing like having the list of URLs and redirections laid out in black and white to really get you thinking about how your site is structured, if it is truly optimized for the search intent of your users and if it is logical and clear for search engines.
As an external eye with considerable SEO experience, when I am sorting through the URL list I often spot ways of improving the future site structure and will make suggestions about ways to make it even better.
About my service
The migration service includes:
- A 1-hour call to define the project
- Crawls, compilation of URL lists, and creation of a mapping file with the 301s that need to be set up.
- A 1-hour call to define the new URLs and validate the mapping file
- A crawl in list mode when the new site is online to check that the 301s are working correctly
- Communication via e-mail, Slack, WhatsApp etc during the migration process.
The migration service does not include:
- Writing the .htaccess file or other code with the redirections etc
- Coding or other technical work on the site