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SEO Checklist for Website Migration – Don’t Lose Organic Traffic
Wondering about the SEO implications of migration? It is a scary and tedious task with so much at stake! There is a high possibility of ranking dips and organic traffic loss if the migration is poorly implemented!
Whether you want to move your brand to a new domain or merge two owned domains, migrating a website can be prolific. With proper planning and right skills, you can envisage higher ranking, traffic recovery, and better user experience among other benefits.
Let’s say, you want to migrate a blog on the subdomain of your main site. You can increase long-term rankings, traffic while making it easier for your visitors to find content on your site. In cases like merging two domains, or one brand buying a competitor, the fusion can result in increases ranking, authority, conversion rate, and traffic for the merged site.
The reasons and benefits of site migration may vary, but it all requires experience, planning, and skillsets. Create a robust migration game plan with the following SEO checklist and reap all the benefits.
Conduct Risk Assessment
One of the primary steps of creating a powerful plan is to calculate the risks involved in the procedure. This is also true for site migration, as most of the time it results in loss of traffic. Google and other major search engines process the changes and update its index for every new or merged website. This may take time and may result in loss of traffic in a best-case scenario. In worst cases, you may get little or no SEO benefits and may be liable for SEO penalties.
Carefully consider if migrating is the best option for your brand and use this opportunity to make SEO improvements.
Determine the Stronger Domain Authority
Keeping the stronger website and redirecting the weaker one is the best way of merging two sites. This will help you keep most of the traffic and rankings intact while upsetting fewer visitors. Compare every domain’s pages, root domains, ranking keywords, and determine the primary domain for the merger.
Use analytical data and compare factors like organic traffic, conversions, revenue, and other valuable data.
Testing With Sandbox
Testing everything on a test server before starting the migration process is important to determine any flaws. Check the working of redirect, pages, load speed, graphics, and other factors, to correct the errors and keep your project on track.
Performing migration will most definitely lead to errors and can set you back by weeks.
Crawl the Site
Use a crawl tool like Screaming Frog to get a comprehensive list of your site’s URLs. This will provide information about every existing URL like internal linking. Save this data for discovering any mistakenly removed URLs in the migrated site. Use this opportunity to spot crawl errors and redirected links. Replace any link that points to a 404 page and update every link that redirects to the main page.
Simply export these URLs to a new sheet of Google Sheets.
Mapping New URLs to Existing URLs
Another important step in a successful migration is finding the corresponding URL on the current website with the new ones that will be migrated. If two pages are similar, only one will be migrated to the final website. This will avoid duplicate content issues and improve the contents of migrated pages.
Map out new top pages with analytical data and calculate their new navigation positions.
Choose Slowest Period for Migration
You may be prepared to expect some drop in the ranking and traffic for the migrated website. However, you can soften the blow by calculating a historically slowest period to accommodate the migration of your site. Site migrations during holidays or low business days can be extremely harmful.
Use tools like Google Analytics to find out the slowest time for your website, which is when the traffic is the lowest, and plan your migration during such days or hours.
Maintain a copy of your current site’s Google Analytics data. This will help you in situations like traffic loss that may occur after migration. Simply perform a side-by-side comparison of the data from your old site and the new one, to identify the pages that lost traffic.
Identify top-linked pages using tools like Ahrefs and pay close attention to them after migration. If the traffic is lost after migration, one of the reasons can be the unsuccessful authority transfer of these pages.
Create a Custom 404 Page
Make sure that your new 404 pages are not linked to the home page, to keep people on the site. This will allow the users to easily navigate the site and always find something useful, even if their clicked page doesn’t exist.
This will increase user experience on your site and will reduce traffic loss and bounce rates.
Registering Google Search Console
Register the new website’s Google Search Console profile under your existing account. You can include ‘www’ and ‘non-www’, and ‘http’ and ‘https’ versions on every site.
Verify that the new Google Search Console is set up for the proper version. You can later submit any changes of the address into the console and use ‘fetch as Google” to get the changes indexed.
Create Robots.txt File
Set up a new robots.txt file for your site after the migration takes place. This will help you to determine the areas that Googlebot can and cannot crawl on your final website.
This will help you to improve page ranking and minimize any loss of traffic.
DURING MIGRATION CHECKLIST
Ensure Working With Tracking Software
Make sure that your new site’s Google Analytics or any other tracking software is collecting data and working at its best. Ensure that all new URLs and redirected URLs have an existing Google Analytics code and their metrics are tracked.
This will provide an account of any changes in the historical data for later analyses.
Updating Internal Links
You may be tempted to leave the internal links unchanged, as they will eventually redirect to the new URLs. Avoiding the updating of new internal links can slow down site’s performance and dampen your PageRank.
Perform search and replace operation to update domain name without changing the folder structure.
Update XML Sitemap
Updating the XML sitemap can help Google discover the migrated site’s content in its new location. Simply update the XML sitemap to Google Search Console and add its link in the robot.txt file.
This will help Google and any other major search engine authenticate any new URLs and their contents.
Submit Changes of Address to Google Search Console
Carefully submit any changes of address for the migrated website within your registered Google Search Console. This will make it easier for Google to find the new location of your domain’s content and index it properly.
Do not perform this step if the domain isn’t working.
Monitor and Resolve Errors
Due to some missteps during the migration process can result in issues like duplicate content. Track errors in Google Search Console and stay ahead of any issue. Pay special attention to 404 and 500 errors, crawl rate issues, HTML problems, sitemap file failure, and other errors.
Compare your current Google Analytics against the benchmarks taken before migration, to find out the real source of error.
Performing Architecture Audit
After migration, check the rest of the site navigation for errors and rectify them. Few of the most common errors are missing title tags and meta descriptions, removed disallow directives of robots.txt, duplicate content, disoriented mobile breadcrumbs, and slow site speed.
This is also a good step to crawl the new website again and compare its data, to make sure the changes in the migration were done as expected.
Re-Submit Link Disavow File
Once the migration is done, every link will now point to the existing site instead of the old one. If the site experiences issues like bad links, submitting ‘disavow’ file, which disallows search engines to link the site with these bad links.
In the end, keep an eye on things and stay prepared for a dip in the traffic after the migration of the site. If every step during the migration is done right, you can expect to see rankings and traffic improvement along with higher site authority.