Recently we’ve been seeing so many case-study examples of poorly managed site migrations, including multi-million pound corporations who’ve lost their (previous long-term) presence in the organic search space for a range of commercially valuable search terms, and never recovered thereafter.
In many cases, these companies threw a lot of money at PPC to claw back some presence – but not all of us have the budget for that.
What’s the cause of this grave site migration error? A failure to plan and implement a cohesive SEO strategy from the beginning.
Many SEOs would have you believe that site migrations are a recipe for disaster. It’s the old migratory myth
Even Google is full of site migration horror stories, which warn you to expect a loss of anywhere between 20% – 70% in site traffic.
But, despite popular belief, we know that migrations can present you with a great opportunity for improving search presence and ROI, so long as you have a foolproof plan.
I may be preaching to the converted here, but I cannot stress enough the importance of preparing a tailored SEO strategy, so I’ve defined five critical steps for achieving a smooth site migration.
Involve SEO from the start:
Make sure you have an experienced team member working on the project, who can help to incorporate SEO at all relevant touchpoints, from the SOW onwards; including CMS decisions, architecture, taxonomy, page-theming, use of images, internal linking etc.
Consolidate your redirects and mapping:
Crawling every page of your site is intrinsic to a successful migration. Create a detailed redirect map and audit H1s, page titles, meta-descriptions and more, to inform the architecture of your new site.
Finally, make sure you test everything thoroughly in staging and after launch.
Use your data:
Your data is your life jacket. You should use it to:
Analyse site performance throughout the “Migration Window” (see end of article): Daily tracking is key to comparing your sites true visibility pre and post migration. It gives you the full picture of your migratory success, and allows you to create an instant plan of action.
Benchmark visibility against competitors: Site-agnostic data shows you who’s performing better and why. You can use this to tweak your content and site structure for an effective migration.
Identify opportunities: Discover pages that, with only a slight push, can move up into the conversion zone.
Determine and knead out conflict issues: Ensure internal cannibalisation isn’t carried over to the new site.
Look out for any existing redirects to avoid cycles
Make sure there’s a project owner:
Assign one person responsibility to run the migration and make sure they are entirely au fait with all elements of the site.
Prevent the stage from being revealed:
Your stage site is something which you really want to keep under wraps. Remember robots.txt only blocks crawling and not indexing – meaning your stage site could still get indexed and released into the digital ether.
So, of course, use IP whitelisting, set up logins and apply no-index meta tags.
What is the “Migration Window”?
The migration window refers to the seven to 14 day period after a migration has been executed. During this time, your rankings may assume many different forms:
- A straight switch in the SERPS – old page for new
- The change-over may take some time to set in
- Random drops can occur
- You may see a brief coexistence between your two domains for a short time
- You could see a straightforward transition, with no change in rankings
- You may see a positive uplift in performance (That’s if you follow the steps above!)
SEO should be the cornerstone of any site migration strategy.
Don’t expect to lose visibility, or buy into the old ‘migratory myth’. Instead, use data to inform your entire strategy before, during and after the migration.
And, remember, you can’t just sprinkle magic SEO dust on your site if things go wrong.
Your visibility will already be damaged. That’s why we SEOs need to get in on the action from the word go, to safeguard our most important asset, and capitalise on any business opportunities.