By: Snaptech Marketing Jul 8/2019

Migrating a website can be a daunting task that can have a serious impact on your business if done incorrectly. One of the main causes of unsuccessful website migrations is the lack of understanding and involvement of SEO within the process. Because of this, many businesses experience a large drop in organic visibility and traffic to their website shortly after migrating their site. With the abundance of changes Google has made to the overall landscape of organic search, along with the best practices for a website, it is crucial to have the right process in place.

Elements of a Website Migration

A website migration process takes place when a website transitions from one environment to another. This can happen in a variety of ways, all of which can have the potential to impact your business in one way or another.

  1. Domain Update: When a business changes the domain of their existing website to a new domain in a possible re-branding effort.
  2. CMS Platform Update: When a website changes Content Management Systems (e.g. moving their site from Shopify to WordPress) that are more user-friendly or may allow them to integrate more features.
  3. Structural Updates: When the website architecture, URL structure, and navigation all change to reflect additional pages or modified services and products.
  4. Design Updates: When a redesign of the website is taken on to improve overall usability and flow of the website.

The Goal of a Website Migration

Due to the risk that is inherently associated with migrating a website, the goal should be to mitigate this risk by ensuring that all changes are properly communicated to search engines. If done correctly, a successful website migration should result in minimal fluctuation in organic visibility and traffic. In fact, visibility and traffic should grow as a result of meticulous planning and execution.

Why SEO is Important to the Success of a Website Migration

While the overall look and feel of a new website are among the most important aspects of a site for many business owners, what many also need to know is just how large of a role SEO plays on a website. Because Google can be quite unaccommodating to major changes to websites, it leaves many websites at risk of losing the organic rankings that they’ve worked hard to achieve.

Although Google is definitely smart and can detect many changes a website makes to better meet its algorithm, there are times when Google does not recognize changes made immediately. When Google first sees a new website, it’s almost like they’re saying, “Wait a minute, this isn’t the same site as before, and we don’t recognize any of this!”

Executing SEO website migration tasks improves the overall communication with Google throughout the process and tells Google, “Listen, we’re making these changes to the website, but don’t worry, we’re the same site as before! We’re just updating it to better meet your algorithm.”

Steps You Can Take to Ensure a Successful Website Migration

We’ve discussed why SEO should be at the forefront of the overall website migration process. But how do you make sure that that happens? Below are three of the most important steps that need to be taken to ensure that all changes are properly and effectively communicated to Google when the new site does launch.

1. Plan an SEO-Friendly Website Architecture

A well-planned website architecture creates a great user experience and makes the website more crawlable. Re-vamping the website architecture also provides businesses with an opportunity to expand on what is currently present on their website by adding new landing pages or identifying additional services or products that could be added.

From an SEO perspective, this means that there is an opportunity to identify additional keywords which will drive more traffic to the website and provide the business with more value. The website architecture should be planned out thoughtfully, taking all of the above into consideration to create the optimal user experience for users and to capitalize on the opportunity to improve your business’ organic search presence.

2. Use an SEO-Friendly URL Structure

Similar to planning an SEO-friendly website architecture, it is important that the new website follows SEO best practices for a URL structure to give search engines a better understanding of each webpage.

In the case of migrating a website, it is always the goal to keep certain elements as similar as possible to the old website. If the current URL structure of the website follows SEO best-practices, then great! You just saved yourself some time. However, if it doesn’t, hold tight because you have some work to do.

Now, what exactly classifies as an SEO-friendly URL? Many aspects come into play here – from, including keywords to using hyphens. A more in-depth guide on SEO-friendly URLs can be found here.

3. Proper 301 Redirects

One of the most crucial parts of a website migration project is mapping out 301 redirects and ensuring they are properly implemented. A 301 redirect forwards people from old URLs to the new URL that has the content that they are looking for.

In the case of a website migration where URLs are changing to reflect a more SEO-friendly website architecture, the use of 301 redirects is crucial in communicating to search engines and users that certain pages are still there, but have moved to another URL. It also helps search engines better understand how the old site’s webpages relate to the new site, which is crucial in maintaining your website’s overall organic visibility.

If poorly planned or neglected, the results can be disastrous. Search engines will not be able to understand the URL changes made, key ranking signals will not be passed over from the old webpage to the new webpage, and a site’s overall organic visibility will plummet. Not only that, but users are likely to land on pages that either don’t exist (404 errors) or are completely unrelated to what they are actually looking for (Not good!).

So how do you plan out 301 redirects properly? Typically, in an excel spreadsheet, two columns should be used.

Column 1: Old website’s URL
Column 2: New website’s URL

Column 2 should have the most relevant URL in which the old website’s URL should be redirected to. E.g. www.domain/blue-shoes —> www.domain/shoes/blue. Once this spreadsheet is created and confirmed, they should be implemented and tested on the new website prior to launch to ensure they work correctly.

Common Mistakes in Migrating a Website

There is so much that could potentially go wrong with a website migration. Without following a proper strategy, you run a major risk of completely falling off of search engines. Listed below are just a few of the most common mistakes businesses encounter when migrating a website:

1. Not Considering SEO as Part of the Process

Of course, we have to mention the obvious, but not taking into consideration the implications migrating a website incorrectly may have on your organic visibility is probably the most common mistake we see businesses make.

At Snaptech, we take a holistic approach to everything we do, which is why our SEO team works closely with the web development department to ensure everything is properly aligned and done in a way that reduces the risk for our clients’ website migrations.

2. Incorrectly Planning 301 Redirects

Poorly planned 301 redirects can be detrimental to a website’s organic visibility. Many times, businesses redirect pages to the wrong destination or completely forget to redirect pages. This causes users to land on incorrect landing pages and doesn’t allow search engines to understand how pages on the new website related to the old. As a result, your organic rankings, visibility, and traffic will take a hit.

3. Not Tracking and Monitoring Success After Launch

Your work isn’t done once the site launches; in fact, you should just be getting started. Many forget this and don’t keep a close eye on organic performance and technical issues that can get in the way of a successful site launch. This lack of monitoring can lead to further issues down the road that will lead to a negative impact on your website.

Putting It All Together

A website migration project is complicated and can very well end in a disaster if you are not properly educated on how large of a role SEO plays. Counting on an expert agency like Snaptech Marketing can help to make this process a breeze. If you’d like to start a conversation with us, don’t hesitate to reach out or call us today at 604-677-5237.