Why do we care about SEO Website Migrations?

I’ve been listening to various SEOs and webmasters recently espousing how they do SEO Site Migrations and how they worry because they normally lose rankings and traffic for a while.

I don’t understand that. I’ve done a large number of site migrations and I have never lost traffic or rankings – not once. In fact, the usual state of affairs is that I have gained SEO traffic and Google rankings.

This covers website migrations where major websites changing design, information architecture, domains, folding many into one, splitting domains. The largest migration I have done recently was around ~20 million URLs. Fun times ;-)

#SEO #SEOTutorials #SiteMigrations #Redirects #HTTPS

HTTP to HTTPS SEO Site Migration Background

Chrome 62 will be being released in a few weeks (October 2017). In doing so, any URL with a form on it will be marked in the address bar as “Not Secure” if the URL is served on HTTP. In Incognito mode, all URLs on HTTP will be marked as Not Secure. If you haven’t planned to upgrade to HTTPS, you really should.

Note that going HTTPS does not make your website secure. Using HTTPS ensure there is a secure communications layer between the user’s browser and your server. The data transported cannot be intercepted and read, because of encryption.  That’s what HTTPS does.

It also enables the latest in serving speed technology to be used.

Finally, as if that weren’t enough, it also allows you to track referrers from other HTTPS websites. Until you switch to HTTPS, traffic from HTTPS to HTTP discards the referrer and is counted as Direct traffic in most analytics packages.

If nothing else changes, then going HTTP to HTTPS is simply a protocol change and this is estimated to transfer all page equity at  100% from old URL to new URL.

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Step-By-Step Guide to SEO Site Migrations:

  • It’s really important that you take your time and plan.
  • It’s also really important that you impress on the site owners and devs the critical nature of getting an SEO Migration right. Google won’t pick it up instantly without being nudged and you will be sitting in the ranking doldrums for 3-6 months post-migration when Google gets it wrong.
  • Work with the devs and technical crew to understand capabilities, issues and roadblocks. Keep communications open, don’t allow yourself to be siloed and excluded.
  • Create a detailed plan using the following steps. Some knowledge  of sub-steps may be required.
  • The process is the same for HTTP to HTTPS as it is for any other migration. In fact it might be simpler if all you are doing is a simple protocol change.
  • I’ve broken the list down into sections to make it easier.

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SEO Website Migration Checklist – Pre Go-Live

Pre Go-Live is a matter of getting your checks done, your crawls done and your redirect lists done, checked and double-checked.

You’ve got to get your ducks in a row!

  1. Create and verify relevant GSC accounts.
  2. Check them for issues.
  3. Identify and resolve where possible any GSC issues raised.
  4. Continue to monitor GSC for issues until go-live.
  5. Create or review fallback plan if the migration fails.
  6. Ensure traffic & rankings can be monitored post migration the same as it can be monitored pre-migration.
  7. Confirm any new tagging or other tracking structures to be in place post-migration.
  8. Identify all 301 & 302 redirects currently in place.
  9. Identify all Campaign / PPC URLs.
  10. Identify all Orphaned URLs.
  11. Identify all Live URLs.
  12. Identify all on-site 404 errors.
  13. Check for any on-site broken links and rectify.
  14. Develop XML Sitemaps for all current URLs and submit to GSC.
  15. Ensure XML Sitemap references are in the current robots.txt file.
  16. Confirm URL schema and New URLs.
  17. Map old URLs to new URLs on a page-to-page basis.
  18. Create 301 redirects for old URLs to new URLs. Avoid chains.
  19. Record pages indexed, links, rankings  and other key SEO KPIs, including speed.
  20. If needed, update TTL on old server to shortest cache time.

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SEO Website Migration Checklist – Pre Go-Live – Staging

This part of the migration is about testing things to make sure you are able to understand what will happen on the new site and fixing things which are wrong before launch.

  1. Test all redirects are in place on a page to page basis.
  2. Test URLs rewrite to the preferred URL version.
  3. Check for broken links and crawling issues.
  4. Rectify issues where possible pre go-live.

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SEO Website Migration Checklist – Go-Live

This is the bit where sweaty palms occur. Go-live is always nerve-wracking, just in case there is a stuff-up. The only times I’ve had issues with SEO migrations are when instructions have not been followed causing crawling and indexation issues.

  1. Set up and remove 503 header status if required.
  2. Add XML Sitemap of new URLs and submit to GSC.
  3. Update robots.txt file if required.

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SEO Website Migration Checklist – Post-Live

If you’ve done everything right, this is nervous, but not problematic. There will be a smooth swap-over of old URLs for new URLs as Google crawls the old URLs picking up the 301 redirects. If simply changing protocol from HTTP to HTTPS this should be very smooth. If changing IA or design, there may be some good reason for nerves, but that’s where your job as an SEO comes in.

  1. Test all 301 redirects are in place on a page to page basis.
  2. Ensure 404 page is configured correctly.
  3. Ensure URLs rewrite to the preferred version.
  4. Monitor GSC post-live for issues and resolve.
  5. Check live site for broken links and crawling issues.
  6. Monitor SEO traffic,  rankings and other KPIs and evaluate changes. This should be done for
  7. Monitor site speed.
  8. Send out updates with new URLs to acquire fresh new backlinks.
  9. Outreach to update backlinks for priority URLs.
  10. And relax.

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SEO Website Migration Checklist – Excel Version

This is the Excel version of the above checklist. It should make sense and includes a few extra columns.

Belmore Digital SEO Migration Checklist

Belmore Digital SEO Migration Checklist


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SEO Site Migration Checklist – Trello Board

Trello is a lifesaver. I love it. This is a free board you can use to copy the same elements as the checklist. There are a few more tasks on it, but nothing substantial

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SEO Site Migrations Summary

Having done a bunch of site migrations, I still get nervous for each one, but by following the above checklist I know I have very little to actually worry about, providing the client actually does as requested.

Follow the steps, be exact in what you do, don’t be afraid of large spreadsheets, and it will all be okay.

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