Whether you are migrating to a new domain or setting up HTTPS, a website migration can be stressful for businesses, particularly when it comes to search engine optimisation. A good presence on search engines such as Google and Bing can lead to valuable custom so poor preparation can cause the nightmare scenario of your website dropping in rankings.

Let’s jump in and see what points you should check off your SEO list when migrating a website…

Planning Your Website Migration

The first step of any major project is to ensure that thorough planning is carried out. Start by determining the objectives of your migration. Are you looking to grow traffic, conversions or both? Is your current SEO strategy failing and does your website require a complete overhaul in terms of content? Perhaps you predict a re-launch will provide fresh PR and backlinks, or maybe you are simply moving to a secured HTTPS connection? Consider whether your migration is actually worth the time, effort and risks, and if you actually need to go through a complete migration process.

When you have committed to the idea of a migration, start planning all the elements that you need to consider. Identify your priority pages and if creating a new website from scratch, design your structure based on the best performing existing content. At this stage you should be working collaboratively with all departments within your organisation and ensuring progress is kept on track. You won’t be able to complete certain tasks on your end until milestones have been met. For instance, you won’t be able to put redirections in place until the website structure has been finalised.

Don’t forget to identify the risks that you may face in the road ahead. Your immediate concern will be preventing a decrease in your website’s visibility but mistakes and unexpected issues can occur so prepare a number of contingency plans. You should always put yourself in a position to switch back to your old website should it be required.

Test Your New Website on a Private Server

From an SEO perspective, most of your work will only come into fruition when the web developers enter the final stages of the development process. When the website is ready to move to an online staging area, ensure that it is kept private. The number one priority is to prevent indexing by search engines which can be done through the robots.txt file. It may also be wise to password protect the website to stop someone randomly stumbling across the URL.

Content is one of the biggest factors when it comes to ranking highly on search engines. With a plan at hand, start implementing your content and optimise each page, remembering that your priority pages should focus on their own specific keyword. Don’t forget about the need for strong internal linking!

As you head closer to launch make sure that every aspect of each page is tested and review the website’s technical performance – don’t hesitate to push the developers for higher scores if needed. Make sure that you are happy with the website’s structure, user journey, mobile optimisation and SEO-specific elements such as titles, meta descriptions and headings.

Redirections and Final Setups

There are a few reasons to make sure that old links redirect to new pages on your website. First of all, from a user’s perspective, no one likes to be greeted with a 404 error even if the ‘Not Found’ page has a quirky design. This can lead to high bounce rates which may have an affect on your rankings, so be sure to redirect users to a page where they can find useful and relevant information for their search query. Redirects can also help Google better understand the new structure of your website. Export a spreadsheet containing a complete list of your existing website’s URLs, add in the relevant redirects to a separate column, and import the file to your new website.

We’re getting closer to launch but it’s time to install the last few essentials components. Setup any necessary tracking code such as Google Analytics or Google Tag Manager. It’s recommended to use the same accounts and tracking IDs unless you decide to pursue a completely fresh start. You should also look to install any useful plugins such as Yoast.

Congratulations, you’re just about ready for the big launch…

Launching Your New Website

Your priority for launch should be to keep downtime at a minimum. Transferring from old to new can take anything from a few minutes to hours and there’s always a chance for something to go wrong. Choose a time when your website traffic is at its lowest and won’t impact your business. When everything is live, do one final review to make sure that everything looks and works as intended. Check that the new website can be crawled by search engines – it’s a common error not to update the robots.txt file.

Check that your imported redirections are working as intended and take users to the correct pages. If you have transferred to a new domain, even if going from HTTP to HTTPS, you will need to set up a new Google Search Console. When you have done so, submit your new XML sitemap and if applicable, upload a disavow file. To ensure that maximum link juice is passed, arrange for your most valuable backlinks to be updated to any new URLs.

It’s time to shout loud and proud about your new and improved website! Share the news on your business’s social media platforms and schedule an email to spread awareness.

Review the Migration Post-Launch

The hard work of a website migration doesn’t end when the website is launched. You should keep a very close eye on how the changes are taking place in the following months. Problems may arise such as an increase in crawl errors. Review the website’s performance on a regular basis and continue adding additional content.

Have your objectives been met? When the dust has settled, analyse the impact the migration has had on your business and determine if you’ve achieved the aims set out. Don’t panic if your rankings fail to see an immediate impact. It can take weeks or even months until for signifiant movement to occur while search engines de-index old pages and index new ones.

Search Engine Optimisation is one of a number of digital marketing services that we provide. At Activate Digital we can you boost your search engine presence and in return generate an increase in website traffic and conversions. If your website requires SEO improvement, contact us today to enquire about how we can assist.

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