How to Migrate a Website and Improve Traffic and Rankings

What’s this about?

I’ve never believed the stories that SEO migrations cause traffic and rankings drops.

If you approach and execute your SEO website migration correctly and well, you are likely to increase traffic and rankings, not lose them. I’ve done it numerous times for big websites and small ones.

Generally, the bigger the technical cruft holding back traffic, the bigger the bounce you might see, if you can resolve the issues.

Read this tutorial to find out how to do it.

#SEO #SiteMigrations #Redirects #GoogleSearchConsole #XMLSitemaps


How to Increase Traffic & Rankings with an SEO Website Migration?

 

There are a number of particular areas you need to focus on in order to improve traffic and rankings. These are in addition to the main checklist on the page linked below.

Do your website migration properly:

  • If you want to migrate a website safely, you will have already read my post: How to do an SEO Website Migration Properly and paid proper attention to it. If not, please read it before going on.
  • Have you read it?

Find all Old or Orphaned URLs:

  • You would be surprised at how many sites have “old” URLs which have been orphaned (no longer linked on site), or which have been removed from XML Sitemaps.
  • You can get to a final list of URLs by crawling all URLs, merging with URLs in XML Sitemaps, and merging with other data sources, such as Google Search Console, URL export of your BackLink Tool of choice, Archive.org.
  • These URLs should be redirected.

Find all Undiscovered URLs:

  • Doing the above will also likely give you a list of undiscovered URLs, these might be 404 Errors from Google Search Console which have external links, or they might be URLs nobody ever knew existed from other sources.
  • If they were linked on-site, or externally, they should be redirected.

Concatenate Chain Redirects (Updating):

  • One of the simplest reasons for ranking loss is chain redirects.
  • Imagine you have a 301 redirect pointing from Very Old URL to Current URL. You might think it’s enough just to redirect from Current URL to New URL. It’s not.
  • You need to update all old redirects so that Very Old URL redirects to New URL, and Current URL redirects to New URL.
  • Updating this can be painful, if you have several links in the chain, but it is most definitely worth it.

Redirect Removed URLs to Relevant Pages:

  • If URLs are to be removed, they need to be redirected.
  • The ideal way to do this is to redirect to the next most relevant page. If there isn’t a relevant page, then decide what would be useful for the user.
  • Avoid redirecting to root, or an unrelated page if at all possible.
  • The usual cascade to work through is: direct replacement / close replacement / replacement / topic / parent topic / related topic / root.

Protect SEO Standards Fiercely:

  • This makes me sound like a nutter, but the only way to ensure that clients do not lose traffic, but gain traffic and rankings is to fiercely advocate for SEO Standards: doing 301 redirects properly, ensuring all URLs you could possibly find are redirected; ensuring the proper signals are sent to Google.
  • Don’t forget to check you’re not blocking crawlers in robots.txt 😉

What are the Main Risks for a Website Migration?

  • Google is getting pretty good at understanding that websites go through a migration period. However, the larger the website, the bigger the risk that rankings may fluctuate.
  • I’ve said this to clients and proved it in the execution, that if you do your SEO migration properly, there should be no change in rankings, and if you hoover up all the equity & value from all old URLs you can usually expect a bump in rankings & traffic.
  • The absolute key to it (assuming you’ve follow the checklist and the points above) are that Google crawls the Old URLs again to discover the redirects. The best way to ensure that is to make sure that Google has all the Old URLs available in XML Sitemaps submitted to Google shortly before migration. You can use the Last-Modified date in the XML Sitemap, but Google pretty much ignores that.
  • The second most important thing is to make sure that the New URLs are also available for crawling by way of (wait for it) XML Sitemaps submitted to Google Search Console.
  • Finally, now, you have a shiny new website, with shiny new URLs. Doesn’t it make sense to announce your deliciously designed website? Maybe with some good quality PR? And wouldn’t it be sensible to point links to the New URLs, not just the home page? Remember, Google loves links, it loves links to new URLs, so wherever possible, if links could be pointed at those new URLs, that’d be a good thing, right? (There’s a hint in here somewhere).

Last Thoughts:

  • Website migrations are nervy things.
  • Lots of things can go wrong, often for reasons out of your control.
  • The best way to manage those risks is to have a very good checklist, and make sure you, the devs, and everyone else responsible for the migration knows the risks involved and the ways to mitigate that risk.
  • Good luck!

More info:

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Mobile First is NOT Mobile Friendly


TL;DR

  • There’s a lot of smack talked about website migrations.
  • They are not easy, but if you do them properly, you can often increase traffic and rankings.
  • You do this by following an exacting checklist and leaving no stone unturned in the search for URLs to redirect.
  • And then redirecting them properly, without chains.
  • There’s no good reason to lose traffic and rankings from a borked SEO migration.
  • Read The State of SEO in mid-2017.
  • Read about how Google’s Mobile First Index is not Mobile Friendly.
  • Finally, get your content ranking well on Google by starting to understand Find Crawl Index.

Thanks for reading. If you would like to discuss what these changes mean for your web property, or would like to know how to implement them, please feel free to contact me.

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