How to successfully handle a website migration for your SEO – Our site migration guide

A website migration is the process of making substantial changes to a website’s technology, structure, design, UX, content, or location. This includes changes such as updating the look and feel of your site, changing its URL structure or content management system (CMS), switching to a new domain name or hosting provider, or switching from HTTP to HTTPS.

There are different types of website migrations, each with different objectives and levels of complexity. However, supporting a website migration from an SEO point of view to preserve or ideally improve  the organic visibility of a website follows a similar process. In the following SEO site migration guide, we will cover:

  • Does a website migration affect SEO
  • The different website migration types
  • Why you need an SEO migration strategy
  • The different stages of an SEO website migration:

Does a website migration affect SEO?

The potential negative SEO impacts of a website migration include a temporary dip in organic traffic and search engine rankings. However, they should get back on track within a couple of weeks. 

A website migration will most definitely affect SEO, but with a solid SEO migration plan and strategy in place, the negative impact will only be temporary, and long-term traffic losses will be minimised and rankings maintained.

If the primary goal of a website migration isn’t SEO, working closely with a trusted SEO partner means they will identify untapped SEO opportunities to pursue during the migration that will result positively on your SEO.

What are the different types of website migration?

  1. Site redesign – Redesigning a site aims to change or improve the look and feel of a website or to make UX-driven changes to create a better experience for users. 
  2. Site structure changes – Changes to the site’s taxonomy and site architecture impacting the site navigation, user journeys, internal linking, and URL structure.
  3. Replatforming – The website is moved to a new CMS e.g. Magento to WordPress or upgrading it or integrating a new platform.
  4. Domain name change – When a business is rebranding and must move from one domain to another representative of the new brand name.
  5. Top-level domain, subdomain or subfolder change – Changing the international SEO setup of a website when a business decides to launch separate international websites and needs to move from a ccTLD (country code top-level domain) to a gTLD (generic top-level domain) or move one or more ccTLDs into subdomains or subfolders. 

Other website migration types exist such as content migrations, protocol change migrating from HTTP to HTTPS, or mobile setup changes. Also worth keeping in mind that often more than one site migration type is combined, which adds to both the complexity and risks of the website migration. And also the reason why a well-planned website migration is often the most cost and resource effective.

Why do you need an SEO migration strategy?

  1. Safeguarding existing performance – First and foremost, an SEO migration strategy is needed to preserve the existing SEO visibility and rankings of a site. It is important that the performance that has been acquired so far remains in the process of migrating the site. This will typically involve ensuring that all content that was driving traffic to the old website is available on the new website and making sure all page elements remain intact, preserving the link equity, both externally gained through backlinks from other domains and internally through the current website structure and current internal linking optimisation.

  2. To ensure that all on-site SEO best practices are implemented on the new website – Migrating any existing content optimisations to the new website, from page titles, meta descriptions, headings, and copy have been transferred from the old to the new site without issues but also making sure that SEO best practice guidelines are implemented on the new site.

Following these requirements means that each page has all the required elements – both onpage and technical – to ensure full optimisation of the site, and building strong SEO foundations to be able to further optimise the website further down the line.

  1. Be aware of any technical issues – Both present on the existing site and the new site you are migrating to. The existing site’s tech issues holding your performance back that you want to resolve in the process of the migration and making sure the new site is free of technical issues too. Technical issues to prioritise are issues relating to indexability and crawlability. The most common indexability issues are blocking pages from indexing through noindex tags or robots.txt, followed by poor website structure and internal linking strategy. The perfect example of this is your brand new site being prevented from being indexed as the site is blocked by your robots.txt file.

What should an SEO migration checklist include? 

An SEO migration checklist should include the following issues to be checked for or identified:

  1. Page indexation – meta robots
  2. Canonical rel tag implementation
  3. Redirects (inc. chains & loops) 
  4. Free of broken links
  5. Use of metadata  – title tag and meta description – should be optimised towards target terms and in line with best practice guidelines
  6. Content issues – duplication, missing
  7. Correct use and structure of headings
  8. Url structure – should be in line with best practice guidelines and contribute to the website structure
  9. ​​Internal linking optimisation, when done strategically, all your pages can be found by both users and search engines and your top pages are clearly highlighted through your internal linking strategy
  10. Preferred domain version set up
  11. Site speed test – checking performance against Core Web Vital metrics
  12. Ensure all pages are mobile-friendly
  13. Pages not rendering correctly
  14. Image optimisation – Alt tag and file compression
  15. Breadcrumb navigation implementation – they allow users to track where they are on your website and how far they are from the homepage
  16. 404 page test
  17. XML sitemaps – should contain all landing pages’ urls and free of errors
  18. Hreflang implementation – for international websites

All of these checks will help ensure the website’s success, and an SEO migration checklist can help to ensure that no steps are missed and that the website meets its expectations. 

What are the different stages of an SEO website migration?

The different stages of an SEO website migration include two phases; scope and planning and pre-launch preparation. 

Phase 1 – Scope & Planning 

When planning a website migration and scoping it out, it is important to keep the main objective(s) of the migration in mind e.g., is it primarily an SEO-led project where the objective and expectations are to improve SEO, or are the main objectives behind the project UX-led where the intentions are to improve the user experience while making sure SEO remains intact?

At this stage of the migration project, you might also be considering a new domain name. It is important to make sure your new domain name is representative of your luxury brand, memorable, and also SEO-friendly. Keep away from domain names that make use of hyphens or numbers. Other considerations are choosing the right top-level domain (TLD) extension suiting your business.

Phase 2 – Pre-launch Preparation  

This stage includes any SEO activities that need to be worked on while the new website is still under development.

One of the most crucial parts of this stage and one that future-proofs the site in the long-term is ensuring the website development team working on the new site is clear on what the technical SEO requirements for the new website are. 

While the extent of the requirements will naturally depend on the scope and budget of the project, it is important all necessary SEO requirements are included, or it might be difficult to add them later on in the project without causing delays in the delivery of the new site. 

At Relevance, we use a Website SEO Requirements Document providing the project manager and development team with all the functional SEO requirements for a new website and details of what each is meant to achieve. 

These requirements include the technical configuration of each page’s elements impacting the technical and crawlability of the site as well as CMS requirements to allow a greater level of efficiency once the new site is launched and the site’s SEO on an ongoing basis.

Keyword research and user intent

Many of the luxury brands we work with turn to us to relaunch their existing site and create solid SEO foundations for their new site. During the pre-launch stage an in-depth research and analysis also typically takes place where we conduct comprehensive keyword research and competitor analysis that will directly inform the onpage optimisation of the site, including the content we publish on the site. 

We understand the importance of only targeting HNW and UHNW audiences and only targeting search queries and topics relevant to these audiences to capture their search intent so that we can serve them the most relevant and helpful content.

Redirect mapping

When working with new luxury brands, there is often a need to optimise the URL structure of the site. When optimising the URL structure, it is important that the connection between each old page of the site is made with the new one, through the use of a direct permanent (301) redirect. For this purpose, we produce a redirect mapping document. This mapping is communicated with the development team working on the migration project for implementation. Without the mapping and redirection in place, there is a significant risk of losing search equity and visibility.

Other aspects such as loading speed and how the new site is performing against Core Web Vitals metrics are also checked during that phase of the migration. Core Web Vital metrics are used to measure the overal user experience. These metrics score how quickly page content loads, how quickly a browser loads a webpage and can respond to a user’s input, and how unstable the content is as it loads in the browser.

Phase 3 – Pre-launch testing 

At this stage of the migration, the staging/development website is audited to identify and report on any important technical issues that will harm SEO to be fixed before launch. 

Important aspects to review include broken link identification, unnecessary redirects (including chains and loops, which occur when there is more than one redirect between the initial link users click on and the final destination page), duplicate and missing content including metadata such as title tags and meta descriptions, XML sitemaps, and Robotrobots.txt file checks.

At this point, the planned website architecture and internal linking strategy is tested to ensure all pages of the site are supported and linked to internally – this is a significant part of an SEO strategy and especially important for sites with a high amount of pages to ensure all pages can be found, indexed and even reindexed as the content is further improved on the site. This includes checking main and sometimes secondary navigation, breadcrumb navigation, footer links, body content links, and pagination links.

Poor or lack of testing before launch can have a disastrous impact on SEO and organic visibility once the new site has gone live.

Phase 4 – Launch day 

While the new site is replacing the old one, the downtime should be kept to a minimum.

The SEO team should also support on the day of the site’s launch by conducting important technical spot checks and reporting any technical issues impacting SEO, prioritising any issues relating to indexability and crawlability. 

If relevant, redirect mapping should be checked again to ensure the old site is perfectly linked to the new one for an optimal reindexation of the site.

If the migration involves a brand new domain, tracking and analytics will have to be set up for the new site such as Google Search Console, Google Analytics, and Bing Webmaster Tool set up. 

XML sitemaps will be checked and submitted to Google Search Console and Bing Websmaster Tool to help the new site be discovered by search engines. 

Phase 5 – Post-launch

At this stage the new site has fully migrated, is live, and if everything has gone accordingly to plan, is fully indexed by search engines.

If SEO technical issues have been found on the live site and the SEO team is working with the development team to solve them, it is likely that further technical monitoring and testing will be required. We recommend monitoring the crawl statistics and potential errors of the new site on Google Search Console and through the site’s server logs.

Phase 6 –  Performance review

Now the all-important question: has the site’s migration been successful? To measure the success of the migration from an SEO point of view, performance benchmarking is essential to compare the new site’s performance with the previous one. We recommend waiting for a period of 6 weeks for the new site’s rankings and visibility to have settled before assessing and comparing performance. 

Relevance is a leading luxury digital marketing agency that manages complex website migrations for global brands. To learn more about our website migration and SEO services, contact us today. 

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