If you are moving your website to a new platform, there are a few things to consider before you start. Most good web designers and developers will have a proper website migration checklist that they follow, however, if they aren’t experienced and are not talking about some of the things I mention below, you need to get an SEO company involved. This will be especially important if you rely heavily on your website for leads or revenue conversions. Working in this industry I have seen too many companies lose traffic and sales after a poorly executed site migration.
1. Crawl and Copy existing Site
Pretty obvious really, but your developer should crawl the current site to keep a record of URLs, meta, copy, images, links, video and blog posts. I recommend you use Screaming Frog to carry this task out.
2. 301 Redirect Plan
If your URLs are due to change when you migrate the site it is vital that your developer has a plan to 301 redirect every single page from your current site over to the corresponding page on the new site. Do not allow them to implement a blanket redirect of all page URLs to only one page, section, or URL of the new site.
A 301 redirect tells the search engines that this is a permanent move, this is also the only redirect that will retain link juice (in my opinion about 80%).
If you have pages that will not exist on the new site, they still need to be 301 redirected. Set the redirect to the most similar page or higher level category page. if you’re not sure which pages on your site has the higher authority use Moz Open Site Explorer to help identify those pages with strong Page Authority.
3. Analytics or Other Conversion Tracking Codes
Make sure these codes are moved over to the new site as it goes live so that you don’t lose any traffic data. This includes ecommerce tracking codes! If you have goals set up in analytics that are tracking URLs, these will need to be updated too.
4. Google Webmaster Tools
If you don’t already have Google webmaster tools (WMT) then ask your developer to put this code on your site. It’s a very useful tool for doing post checks on the site after migration. Any critical warnings or messages will be emailed to you. For example, if there is something in the new site structure or set up that is preventing Google bots from crawling the site you will lose rankings very quickly.
You can also keep both old and new sites verified in WMT to keep a close eye on redirects to make sure they are working correctly.
Post Migration of the Website
After the site is migrated, some developers think their job is done. Wrong! It is very important that they do the following checks to ensure the migration has been successful from a search point of view (not just the visual aspect). Changing platforms or content management systems will always cause some disruption in rankings and traffic whilst the dust settles and the pages are re-indexed. The key is to minimise the traffic and revenue loss.
1. Broken Links
Ask your developer to crawl the site again to discover any broken links or other issues that will affect the site’s performance. Any that are found will need to be fixed ASAP to minimise the disruption.
2. Customised 404 Error Page
A customised 404 page is always a good idea as if there are any loose pages that have been missed in the redirection plan, the user will get a helpful message with full navigation to get to where they want to go.
3. Test your site in all browsers!
Time and time again, I have seen web designers make sites live without checking it functions properly in all web browsers. Remember not everyone uses the same browser as you! A great tool to do this really efficiently is Browser Stack. Remember to check mobile and tablet formatting as well.
4. Site Maps – onsite and XML
Ask your designer/developer about site maps. There should be an onsite one that helps visitors and search engines find all categories and pages easily. The XML site map should also be created for extra search engine visibility.
5. Inbound Links
Has your developer thought about your link profile in the migration plan? Where possible it would be good idea to get any valuable inbound links to the site changed to the new URL. As stated before, a 301 will retain about 80% of the link weight/”juice” but if the link is from a very high DA site then this is best practise.
The success of a website migration is all down to planning and correct execution of the redirects. Be very careful that your web designer or developer is experienced enough to realise the pitfalls and the potential impact of these errors might have on your site’s traffic and revenue. Too many times I have seen website owners forge ahead with a migration and then a few months later approach us to find out why their traffic has plummeted. Sadly, often in these cases it can be too late to retrieve old data to put things right. Meanwhile competitors have jumped in and it’s so much harder to claw back lost positions if you have lost all your ranking power.