Migrating Your Site? Put SEO Front & Center
Starting a new career, relocating to a new city, moving into a new home, the list goes on…life brings a myriad of changes that challenge us. And guess what? The same goes for life in the online landscape.
Think about it, there are numerous algorithm updates and evolving tech trends that prompt site migrations. Shifting over to HTTPS or upgrading to a newer platform can be a smart move, but how will search engines react to this change?
Here’s the thing—failing to launch your site migration with SEO in mind can put a serious dent in your traffic and rankings. Or even worse, you can face a permanent loss. Though we wish this whole move was as simple as bopping over to a new platform with your rankings safely tucked in your pack, it’s just not that easy.
To have a successful site migration, you need the guidance of SEO.
Read more about how site traffic and SEO work hand in hand to help your business:
What Is a Site Migration?
A site migration is when your website undergoes considerable changes that impact its visibility on search engines.
Migrations are initiated for reasons like:
- Site location changes: Transitioning from HTTP to HTTPS, adding a mobile site version, and rebranding.
- Platform changes: Upgrading or moving to a newer version of your current platform and implementing new platform features.
- Content changes: Adding, removing, or consolidating site pages and introducing new languages/locales.
- Structural changes: Site hierarchy, navigation, and internal linking changes.
- Design & UX changes: Altering the look and feel of your site, incorporating media, and ramping up your site speed.
Why SEO Matters for Your Site Migration
To reel in the traffic, engagement, leads, and revenue you’ve been hoping for, you have to layer your migration strategy with SEO tactics.
Here are three reasons why.
1. Search Engines Need to Comprehend What’s Going on
Website migrations are tricky because you’re rocking the SEO boat. Site transfers affect almost every technical aspect of your website, and these technical aspects affect your SEO. As much as site transfers bring growing pains for your team, they make Google pretty uncomfortable too.
Let’s think about the following site components for example:
- Internal links: Your site’s internal linking is one of Google’s most important ranking factors. Without an SEO team who can carry out URL mapping and redirects during the migration, your visitors will bump into broken or outdated pages.
- Images: When moving or uploading images to a new site, you need to add alt text that describes the photo. This is a standard SEO practice. It helps search engine crawlers understand what the image is and index them properly. Refer to Google’s Image Best Practices for more details.
- Content/metadata: When you’re migrating your site, you need to move your metadata (title tags/meta-descriptions) over to the new platform. If you’re creating new pages/content, you need to understand how to create the right metadata search engines will be able to comprehend (what your page is about and the kind of value it provides).
Simply put, SEO uses search engines’ language to tell them what, why, and how your website is changing. Omitting SEO as part of your site migration is like moving to a new city without your wallet and belongings. You won’t have the resources to help keep you afloat.
2. Minimizes Traffic Fluctuations & Safeguards Your Bottom Line
Just to be clear, a site migration will almost always result in a temporary loss of traffic. Why? Search engines need time to process the change and update their index accordingly.
Though you can’t control this temporary dip, what you can control is how quickly your site bounces back. A good SEO migration plan will ensure your new site is back up and running like it used to.
For example, one of Big Leap’s clients, Visionworks, was looking to migrate their site’s content management system (CMS). They needed guidance on the transition, while still maintaining their strong traffic and rankings.
By covering all of our client’s SEO bases, not only was Visionworks’ site able to rebound in as little as a month (it typically takes about three months to see a full recovery), but they also boosted their organic views by over 100 percent and clicks by over 40 percent.
3. Lessens the Number of Google Penalties
Yep, penalties exist online. That’s why you need to know Google’s Webmaster Guidelines—the bible of a true SEO expert. Otherwise, your site can be removed entirely from the Google index. All those rankings, engagement, and traffic rates you worked so hard to earn will go down the drain.
You should be able to understand your old and prospective/new site as much as the search engine does; SEO gives you this level of knowledge. That way, when the migration is complete, your team won’t be weighed down with various penalties.
Come Out on Top: Your 8-Point SEO Site Migration Checklist
We get it, the term SEO tends to fill people with dread. After all, it’s a long-term investment that requires consistent effort.
Well, take a breather, because we’ve got an eight-point checklist to help simmer down those woes. This checklist will ensure your team is properly prepared to migrate your site with SEO. So set aside some time and plan accordingly.
Keep in mind, every business is different, so we encourage you to customize or add to these points in a way that best aligns with your goals.
1. Maintain URL Structures on Webpages
When migrating your site, maintaining a consistent structure across all URLs is essential. In other words, a URL should have the same:
- Hypertext (HTTP/HTTPS)
- Domain (.com, .gov, .net, etc.)
- Paths (content after backslash)
You also want to avoid renaming the URL in a way that removes keywords from the URL. These practices will help you optimize your new site for SEO and help your page rank. You’ll then want to update and save the HTML and internal links in your sitemap, which brings us to our next point.
2. Create an Updated XML Sitemap
An XML sitemap tells Google which web pages on your site are the most important. Creating a sitemap prior to your migration will ensure the search engine can crawl to and understand your new pages. A site map will also help Google understand your website’s structure.
For more details, be sure to check out Google’s instructions on building and submitting a sitemap.
3. Have Your 301 Redirects Mapped Out
Improper redirects are a huge whammy for your new site and SEO. You need to add in proper 301 redirects so your visitors and search engines understand whether a page has been removed and which new pages have replaced old ones.
Start by putting together a map that shows your obsolete URLs redirecting to your new URLs. Make sure the new page/URL is an appropriate destination for content on your old URL page.
Use crawler tools, like Screaming Frog, to conduct a full site crawl on your old and new sites. This will help clarify the URLs that require 301 redirects.
4. Verify Your SSL Certificate
If you’re moving from HTTP to HTTPS, it’s important to verify your SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) certificate. It’s a digital certificate that authenticates the identity of your new website and binds a secure connection between your site and your visitors. Therefore, it’s vital to ensure your SSL certificate is valid. Look into Google’s process for migrating to HTTPS.
5. Get Rid of Duplicates with Canonical Tags
Duplicate pages/content pose a lot of SEO issues. They can cause search engines to miss unique content and dilute your ranking ability. And if your page does rank, Google might pick the wrong one as the “original.”
Therefore, take care of any duplicate content on your new site. Each site page should have a canonical tag. This tag tells Google what the master or “preferred” page/URL is. Here is the code to add under your section:
6. Create/Update Your Robots.txt File
A robots.txt file tells search engine crawlers which specific pages of your site they should and should not crawl.
Because Google has a crawl budget, flagging less important pages in your robots.txt file (like a thank you page after a user has submitted their contact info, an unfinished page, or a duplicate page), can help Googlebot spend its crawl budget in the best possible way.
Otherwise, your server will get overwhelmed by crawlers; this can slow down your site and harm the user experience. So instead, flag your most valuable pages, so the search engine bots can utilize their budget wisely. Look into the Google Search Console’s guidelines on creating a robots.txt file.
7. Save Your Old Site’s Analytics
You need to keep and save the record of your former website’s analytics (traffic, click-through, engagement, rankings, etc.). Hopefully, you’ve already been tracking them through platforms like Google Analytics.
You can add the tracking code to your new site. That way, you can compare your previous site’s performance with your new site’s. This will allow you to properly measure the success of your migration efforts.
8. Don’t Forget Your Custom 404 Page
Make sure your new site has a custom 404 page. A 404 page is an “error” or “page not found” page. This is important because it can be pretty common for errors to occur during site migrations. Therefore, it’s essential to create a helpful and custom 404 page.
A good 404 page will help your users find the information they’re looking for and encourage them to explore your site further. For more details, refer to the best practices to follow.
Migrate with Big Leap
For further guidance on migrating your site with SEO, reach out to our team. With both SEO and web development teams, Big Leap carries over a decade of experience providing site migration services backed by SEO. We have a comprehensive SEO site migration process that will ensure your move goes smoothly and safeguards your bottom line.