Like all things, websites need to be updated from time to time. Sometimes it's a simple design refresh where you're updating your look and other times, it's a brand new website. This is an exciting time! But don’t forget the SEO implications to your organic search channel.
Let’s break it down:
Organic search traffic comes when people use a search engine (like Google) and then click on a listing that goes to your website. We call this an Earned media channel. This means that your website has earnt online authority from other websites linking to yours, your website content, social media profiles, citations and a myriad of other factors. You earn respect and authority over time and this is how search engines decide where to rank you in their results pages.
A new website starts from scratch. It has to claw its way up from the bottom rung – for some it means not even ranking for its brand name for a few months! Most established websites get anywhere from between 15% to 50% of traffic from search engines. Go see for yourself in Google Analytics - this channel is hugely important.
Now try to Imagine all that traffic disappearing overnight - it’s not a comforting thought. Yet this is the reality many businesses face when performing a website migration without considering their SEO.
Don't let this be you!
We’ve put together a simple checklist to follow with your web developer. These steps will help to minimise the negative effects of site migration so you can get the most out of your new website sooner.
Special note: If you’re moving websites and all your URLs are staying the same, you’ll have less to worry about because a URL is how search engines recognise an individual web page. You might even get a small bump in traffic if you’ve added extra content! But if you’ve taken away content in the new design, then beware. If your content stays the same, then you might find that your rankings and traffic also stay the same.
There are three parts to a successful SEO migration.
- Part One: Planning
- Part Two: Migration
- Part Three: Review and Analysis
PART ONE: PLANNING | TIME FRAME: 1-2 WEEKS BEFORE LAUNCH
- Ensure you have full Owner access to your current website’s Google Search Console (GSC) That’s Owner level access – admin access is not enough to use the ‘Change of address’ tool. Don’t worry if you haven’t set up GSC for your website before - it’s an easy task which should take around 5 minutes.
- Generate a list of all the URLs that make up your current website. Your developer might be able to provide this to you. Alternatively, you could use a tool like Screaming Frog. (Love this tool)
- Import this list into an Excel spreadsheet and match each existing page to its equivalent page on the new website. Take the time to map old pages to new pages and do not re-direct all the old pages to the new homepage. Sometimes old or irrelevant pages should be left without being redirected and that's OK.
- Generate a record of your keyword rankings for all major terms. For a free tool try 'Rank Checker', a plugin for Firefox.
- Generate a list of websites that link to your current website. You can get this information from GSC or a third party tool like Moz or Ahrefs. We'll be trying to contact these people so include contact details if possible. Don’t forget to include services that you've set up yourself, such as your social media profiles, Google My Business, and other online directories.
- Have a chat with your developer and ensure that there is a friendly 404 page in the works for visitors that have gotten lost. The 404 page should have the goal of re-orientating lost users and allowing them to continue their browsing with minimal distraction.
PART TWO: MIGRATION DAY | TIME FRAME: LAUNCH DAY
Today your developer should kick into action that re-direction list you made in Step 3 above. Once your developer has confirmed this has been done, follow these steps:
- Test a few of your most important pages manually by going to your old URLs and seeing what page you get re-directed to.
- Ensure all of your other old URLs have the correct response code - 301 - with a tool like Screaming Frog. (Seriously, this tool is awesome)
- Set up a new GSC account for your new website URL.
- In GSC, inform Google using the ‘change of address’ tool that your domain has now moved. This can find this tool hidden within the cog icon to the upper right hand corner. Once again, in order to do this, you’ll need full Owner access to both your old and new websites.
- GSC also lets you submit the most important pages of your website to Google immediately. These are pages like your homepage, main service/category pages, and your about us page.
- Using a tool like Screaming Frog, you can create an XML sitemap of your new website. Get your developer to upload it to “www.yourwebsite.co.nz/sitemap.xml” and you can also submit the sitemap in GSC.
- Ensure the new 404 page is up and looking good.
- Remember that list of websites linking to yours? Contact each of the websites if necessary and ask them if they could update their links to your new website address.
PART THREE: REVIEW AND ANALYSIS | TIME FRAME: 4 - 6 WEEKS AFTER LAUNCH
- Every week in Google Analytics, keep an eye on your traffic and conversion levels for any big fluctuations. Google can take up to 6 weeks to crawl and re-index your website.
- Check GSC every week for any crawl errors or other important messages.
- Remember that keyword ranking list for your major search terms? Re-check your keyword rankings every month or so to see if there are any issues.
- Chase up and verify if those websites you contacted to update their links to your site have done it. Try bribery (joking…no but really).
- Maintain control of your old website domain and 301 re-directs for about 6 months after the website migration.
If you have a big website migration project, a little time spent planning and executing the tasks above will save you a lot of heartache. Probably the most important step is to ensure that the 301 re-directs are in place from the old website to the new website. If you have any problems, give us a call!
Hopefully this helps you the next time you're doing a website migration. Yes, it's a lot of admin work, but a couple days’ work could save you years of wasted effort.
Other handy site migration articles:
- support.google.com/webmasters/ answer/6033049?hl=en&ref_topic=6033084&rd=1
If you’d need someone to look after your website migration, or if you need help with any other aspect of your online marketing, please feel free to get in touch – we’d love to help!