THE BLOG

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Tarek Riman Headshot

Conducting A Site Migration Without Losing Rankings, Traffic Or SEO

Posted: Updated:
MEDIA TECHNOLOGY
neyro2008 via Getty Images
Print

Site migration is the process of moving a website to a new domain or directory. It is a process undertaken by almost every company out there, more often than we tend to realize.

For marketers and digital specialists, the goal of a successful site migration is one that does not result in any loss of traffic, revenue, SERP (search engine results page) rank or SEO strength.

seo migration
Source: Tarek Riman

You may have heard that this is as simple as redirecting the old domain to the new domain with an SEO friendly 301 redirect. That's a good start and better than nothing, but a more detailed procedure will allow you to make this transition without losing value, visitors or revenue, while getting rid of any mistakes on the current site.

SO... how do you conduct a smooth, SEO friendly site migration while maintaining good rankings on Google, Bing or any other search engine ?

The first step is understanding the main goals behind an SEO friendly migration, which are to:

  • Maintain traffic and search engine rankings
  • Provide a seamless user experience and transition

There is no magic bullet to achieving these goals. Rather, it's all about paying attention to details. Here are the 4 main factors to keep an eye on during a site migration:

  1. URL structure
  2. Duplicate content
  3. Canonicalization
  4. Indexed pages

You will need to watch the details at all stages of your migration: pre-migration, the migration itself and post-migration.

2017-03-03-1488504459-5552384-AAEAAQAAAAAAAA2VAAAAJDk2MzdkNDBkLWI5NjctNDM0Mi04MGZlLTg1YzIzYWI5NTI3Mg1.jpg Source: Tarek Riman

1. What To Do Pre-Migration

1. Know your current site/platform

-How well do you know your current SEO situation? Start your migration with a thorough SEO audit of your current site and platform.
-What strengths do you want to carry over?
-What mistakes or weaknesses do you currently have that you want to leave behind? A migration is an ideal time to fix those!

2. Understand and map current site architecture

Download your current sitemap(s) and export the list of indexed pages from the Google Search Console. This will give you a full list of existing pages that should be redirected to the new site.

3. Understand and map new site architecture

All your current URLs will need a new URL on the new site. Make sure you have a clear map of which new URLs the current ones will map to.

4.Create a redirect map (Matching Sheet - Matching all the old URLs to the New URLs)

Map out all the old URLs to the new URLs on the new site.

Additional factors to consider:

1. URL structure

Ensure the new site is well structured and categorized. This will provide consistency across all pages, posts and properties.

2. Avoid duplicate content

Ensure you are using the right tags on the new site and old site to avoid any duplicate content. For example, make sure that the new site is blocked from search engines, and only set it up to be indexed when the redirects from the old site are in place.

3. Launching your new design

With new designs and domains, it's common to get so familiar with it during preparation that we forget to notify visitors! It is a good practice to provide a notice of changes and if those changes will impact visitors in any way. If you're smart about it, you can turn the new design into a marketing advantage by creating a build up, release date and feedback request.

2. What To Do During the Migration

1. Keep the old site

The most common mistakes I see is an old site being taken down once it has been redirected.

The ideal approach is to keep the old site and the new site running in parallel, using the correct SEO redirects and tags.

2. Tag the new site pages properly to avoid penalization

It is important to have all the pages canonicalized to the new site before your redirect in order to avoid any duplicate content. Canonicalization tells the search engines which pages to recognize as the true pages.

3. What To Do Post-Migration

1. Perform an audit for the new site

Check your Google Search Console and Bing Web Master tools. This will allow you to discover crawl errors, mobile usability, pages indexed, top keywords driving traffic and organic search traffic.

Ensure you fix any broken links, redirect loops or missing URLs.

2. New sitemap, new robots, and submit the new site for indexing

Submit the new sitemap and robots.txt file to search engines and keep an eye out for any errors, broken links and incorrect redirects.

3. Test Redirects

As a final check on the new site, check all redirects to ensure there are no redirect loops, mismatches or inconsistencies.

Also double check that all the redirects are 301s, not 302s. The 301 status code tells search engines that a page has been permanently moved to a new location. This way, the search engines not only know where to find the new page, but all the SEO value built up on the old page is now given to the new one.

2017-03-03-1488508177-2464241-seo.jpgSource: Tarek Riman

Takeaway:

Site migration can be a tedious process. It is crucial that is done correctly if you don't want to lose any of the SEO strength you've built on the old site and want to maintain or improve SEO on the new site. If you are not vigilant about the details, you can suffer a loss in visitors, SEO strength and revenue that could take a long time to get back. Pay extreme attention to details. Suffer through the tedium. It will be worth it, and the cost of not doing so is far too high.

Check out Moz.com for in-depth details on proper site migration:
https://moz.com/blog/web-site-migration-guide-tips-for-seos