Website migrations can be tricky beasts and maintaining your sites rankings following a migration are really important and can be majorly affected if things aren’t managed properly. In this post I want to cover some of the major points to check off as you work on a site migration. Some of these points might not apply to your site however, for the most part they will be things you don’t want to miss. Feel free to use the below points as your own checklist for site migrations, I’ve not found a decent, simple checklist online yet and having completed a few migrations in the last month or so I thought this might be useful to others.Migrating a site in terms of SEO is about mitigating against the risks of losing a sites rankings and overall authority and hopefully this will help.
New Site Test/Development Environment (Staging)
It is really important that while your site is in the development and testing stages that it is inaccessible to Search Engines and where possible to users too. This can be done by password protecting the site or using the robots meta and .txt file disallows. This will prevent any migrated content being seen as duplicated while the site is pre-migration.
Stick to the same domain (if possible)
In most site migrations you’ll be keeping with the same domain and this is the ideal situation to be in as when the new version of the site is live there is no link equity loss through a domain redirect.
Try to keep the URL structure the same (if possible)
Where possible, unless the new sites architecture demands it, you should try to keep to the same URL structure. This means the same folders and where appropriate pages are kept the same. E.G. http://www.mysite.com/subfolder1/page1 remains the same on the new site only with a redesigned look. By doing this you will minimise redirects which not only slow a site down a little there is also less link equity loss through a 301 redirect.
Redirects From Old Pages To New Pages
If it isn’t possible for one reason or another to keep your URL structure the same or you have created entirely new pages it is highly important that you map your old pages to your new pages and ensure that there are 3o1 redirects set up to go live when the new site is migrated. If your site is large it is worth doing a crawl of the old site and the new site, creating a spreadsheet and ensuring that any old pages don’t have a new version are redirected to the most relevant new page.
When one site is migrated over to a new one sometimes the internal links are missed. It is important to check the new sites internal links don’t point to any assets (pages, CSS, Java or images) that no longer exist. If you spot any on the new site it is important that these are updated to point to the new assets. I recommend updating the link rather than redirecting it.
Site on a New Platform
If you are building your site on a different platform it is important that your new robots.txt file reflects any changes in what pages or directories need disallowing. For example on a WordPress site you might want to disallow /wp-admin/ whereas on a Drupal site you might want to disallow /modules/. This will make sure that there aren’t pages indexed post migration that shouldn’t be.
Sometimes on a new site platform or a new domain it can be possible that your pages can be reached with and without www. This can cause content duplication issues and should be avoided prior to the new site going live. You can do this by redirecting one version to another at the DNS level, with a 301 redirect and also you should add a canonical link to the page version you want to be identified as the original.
Page Titles, Meta Description, Header and Alt Tag Migration
When you have built your new site it is important that the new pages contain the Page Titles, Meta Descriptions, Header Tags and Image Alt Tags that their counterpart pages had on the current (old) site. This will minimise the number of major changes that a Search Engine will see when it first reaches your new page.
Keep The Content The Same – Or make as little change to it as possible
When a Search Engine finds your great looking new site it is important (as I mentioned above) to minimise how much is changed on the page as possible. When a new page is set live obviously the code will look different but it when they see a page targeting the same terms with relevant content that is also the same it will work in your favour in maintaining your search rankings.
Authorship and Publisher Markup
When you are migrating a site its sometimes the smaller jobs that get forgotten about. In order to keep your sites Publisher and Authorship markup in place on the appropriate pages it is important to ensure that you include the Rel Publisher link and Rel Author links as they appear on the old site. This will help to make sure there is less chance of your logo or profile image being removed from the search results (Thats if Google doesn’t remove them anyway – because they do!)
Schema & Microformats
If your old site made use of structured data markup it is important that this is migrated to the new pages where this data is now placed so that your pages benefit from the advantages structured data offers a site.
New XML Sitemap Creation
Inevitably there will be changes to your sites pages following the new site going live so it is important that your new sites XML sitemap reflects all your live pages that you want indexing in Search Engines. You can do this using a crawling tool to create a list of your pages and set crawl priorities in the right format.
Before the new site goes live it is a good idea to crawl the new site for any broken links, missing tags and canonical issues that might have been missed. Then you should be all set for the site to go live from an SEO point of view. Of course its important to take a rankings snapshot prior to the site going live to be able to measure the changes effectively.
When the site goes live there are a number of things that should be put in place to facilitate the new pages being re-indexed and their rankings being re-assessed as soon as possible. There are also checks that should be made to ensure that there are no issues with the new site that may harm the rankings post migration.
Verify The New Sites in Google and Bing Webmaster Tools
When the new sites go live you may find that the verification to the Webmaster Tools accounts are lost and re-verification is needed. You should do this as soon as possible in order to monitor any changes and issues that might have arisen post migration.
Submit Your XML Sitemap
Once the site is live you should go into your Webmaster Tools accounts and submit your new sitemaps. This will help Google and Bing to find your new pages and index them sooner.
Don’t Delete the Old Site
Once the new site is live you should move the old site version over to a location where it is accessible to your developers and not your users or Search Engines. This is important because it can be used to troubleshoot any issues or as a backup should something go wrong on the new site.
Make an Annotation in Google Analytics
To better benchmark the sites progress in terms of visits you should log into Google Analytics post migration and add an annotation to the date the migration took place. This will serve as a reminder to you in the future should you see any visit drops.
PPC Ad Destinations
If you are running a PPC campaign you should update the destination URLs of the Ads so they aren’t going through a redirect or to a broken link. This will speed up the load time of the Ad post click and also minimise the risk of Ads being disapproved.
If you are migrating an Ecommerce site there are a number of other checks you need to make prior to a site migration however these fall into more of a CRO or UX bracket and while these can have an effect on a sites SEO rankings they are indirects. A few main points to check are;
Robust testing of the buying process for bugs
Ensuring all product and category details are migrated across appropriately
Making sure that all conversion tracking is copied over as needed
I hope that this list has helped you to consider a few things you might not have thought of during a site migration and I hope that you can make use of it in the future. If there are any other points you think are of importance please don’t hesitate to add them into the comments below and please feel free to share this with anyone you think might find it useful.
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