Whether you’re completely overhauling your website or just making minor tweaks, migrating a website while maintaining good SEO can be extremely tricky.
In this article, we’ll highlight the first four key phases that need to be addressed when migrating a website, and point out how to avoid major pitfalls.
Don’t miss part two of our guide for the final four phases!
Our 8 step guide to an SEO focused website migration: Parts 1-4
Step 1 – Getting buy in
Search engine traffic, for most sites, is an extremely valuable traffic source. So identifying the risks and potential rewards of a website migration is the first port of call.
A simple search of ‘good and bad website migrations’ should demonstrate potential benefits as well as what could go wrong. Ultimately, the decision should come down to what percentage of your traffic comes from search though. If you can attribute any sort of monetary value to this traffic (i.e. user conversions from search), even better for helping to assess the risk you’re taking to hopefully reap great rewards.
Once you’re armed with the data and your rationale, you can pitch your value to stakeholders. Outline your plan and highlight how you’ll be involved to manage the SEO aspect of the migration.
Step 2 – Project scope
There are many different types of migration, some more simple than others.
At the start of the project, it’s important to understand and define the project scope. For example, is the site changing platform? Is there a new domain? Or is it a structural (URL) change?
For more details see this image below (credits to WebMaxFormance):
Simple switches like http to https (which we hope you’ve already done!) just need basic redirect rules, and are therefore less SEO involved projects. On the other hand, mixed migrations that involve structural changes, content migration and platform changes need much more input.
If you’re unsure which best relates to your project, try researching some of the migration types in the image above – or get in contact with an expert SEO and web development agency like us!
Step 3 – Things to consider
There are lots of things to consider when migrating a website, and these all need to be thoroughly thought out as each decision can hugely impact your site. Here are some questions you’ll want to think about.
- Is the tech stack likely to enhance page speed? Will the site be optimised to only use code that is necessary for the site to run?
- Is changing URL structures absolutely necessary? If these URLs could be used on the new site, then it could be worth keeping them as they likely have accrued a ‘good reputation’ in Google.
- Is a large amount of content likely to be culled?
- Is valuable content (AKA content that draws a lot of organic traffic) being migrated across to the new site?
- Is content being consolidated? And if so, does it make sense to do this? Make sure you know what keywords you’re aiming to rank for on the new consolidated site, don’t just assume a combination of previous ones will work.
- Are the most valuable pages on your website being well linked to from a solid site architecture? How is internal PageRank changing from the old site to the new site? This is something that you should benchmark.
- Has keyword research been conducted and has this been considered when building the site architecture? Is the new website doing a good job of targeting high value/opportune keywords?
- Is the website going to use parameter URLs for filtering of content?
Again, if you’re unsure here it is worth contacting an agency who can help benchmark this. Drastic shifts in website internal linking can have a massive effect on a page’s performance.
- Does the CMS facilitate SEO changes such as ability to custom write meta data?
- Are there any other functionality considerations that might be useful for SEO’s maintaining the site? For example, ability to control update page titles, indexation of a page, redirects, canonicals, images etc.
- What are the key benefits to switching your site host? What impact is this likely to have on page speed performance? Is the new server a shared server or a dedicated server?
- Are there any learnings/considerations you can take from competitor sites? Do they have some key UX modules that would work well on your new site? Do they have better visibility than your site?
- If not, is there anything you can do better from the old site to the new?
Step 4 – Designs, information architecture (IA) and UX
Prior to the website being built, web designers will likely build prototypes, an information architecture (website navigation) and showcase potential new UX features.
This stage of the migration can be extremely difficult, depending on the complexities of the build. However, if the steps above have been followed, you’ll find life is made that little bit easier. We’ve listed the areas you’ll need to think about at this stage below.
Ultimately, as an SEO, the designs themselves aren’t too important, but it’s worth having a glance over these to make sure you’re happy the site is going to be fit for purpose from a crawlability perspective.
You’ll need to check the architecture of the site, making sure all the fundamental pages are well linked to, and also consider any other pages that might be required.
If the site in question is an ecommerce platform, for example, you’ll need to work out what filter pages you’ll want to index, or which ones you want to block crawlers from seeing – importantly, check that this has been built into the IA. Alternatively, if the new site has a blog, consider how tags and pagination are going to work.
Mobile designs vs desktop
Another important aspect of the design phase is the differences between the mobile and desktop version of the site.
Make sure that key functionality and SEO elements are visible on the mobile version of the site as Google crawls all websites using a mobile crawler.
Finally, revisit any prior research you’ve done, making sure any new features that might bolster the site’s SEO or that are advantageous for UX have been implemented.