Migrating your website can be a huge addition to your company’s SEO performance. For instance, it’s an excellent way to improve site speed and user experience, both of which are essential ranking factors in SEO.
A poorly executed site move can have the opposite effect on your organic results. Your brand could totally disappear from the SERPs and take months to recover from such a huge hit.
That’s why it’s important to gain in-depth knowledge about site migrations, how they can hurt SEO, and how you can prepare your website properly for a successful site move.
Which is exactly what we’re going to teach you in the rest of this guide.
Let’s jump right in.
What is a Site Migration?
Google defines site migrations as the process of moving a website to a new CMS platform, hosting provider, or server. And that’s regardless of the changes that could happen or not happen to the site’s URL.
So, we can split website migrations into two types:
- Site migrations with URL changes — such as moving from HTTP to HTTPS
- Site moves with no URL changes, which often happen when you decide to move your domain to a new host or server
A basic site redesign, even when creating new pages, isn’t considered a site migration. Simply because that doesn’t have any impact on your SEO performance.
Why Migration Your Website is Often a Necessity
A site migration helps you move closer to an SEO-friendly website by improving your site speed, core web vitals, and site security. It also enables you to enhance the user experience by improving your URL structure and site navigation.
Those are some of the main ranking factors for search engines today.
On top of that:
Your audience will notice little to no changes on your website as the migration occurs. You’ll get visitors from all the traffic sources you had before, including traffic from organic results, visitors from direct links, and your social media followers.
The best part of it all?
Google will observe how you’ve improved your site to better match its standards and ranking signals. In return, your pages will get even higher rankings and generate more organic traffic in the weeks following the site update.
How a Site Migration Could Often Hurt SEO
In an ideal world, your site move will be perfect in all its stages.
Every step in the migration process goes successful — and it all ends with your SEO results going through the roof.
But in the real world, things can go wrong all the time.
A single mistake can significantly hurt your SEO progress and have the opposite effect of what you wished for. That’s even more likely to happen with larger websites with a more complex structure.
The results of a failed site migration can be:
- A decrease in the number of high ranking pages in the SERPs
- A massive drop in traffic from various sources (mainly organic traffic)
- Manual penalties from search engines (for duplicate pages, broken links, crawling issues)
- Algorithmic penalties for not following Google Webmaster Guidelines
The good news is:
You can avoid all these losses if you’re careful with each step in your site migration. In the rest of this guide, you’ll learn what you can do to ensure a successful site move and maximize your SEO results.
How to Perform A Site Migration Without Hurting Your SEO
To simplify the process for you, we’ll divide the process into three stages:
- The Planning Stage (Pre-Launch)
- The Development stage (Launch)
- The Monitoring stage (Post-Launch)
In this part, we’ll dive into each phase separately:
The Planning Stage
It’s essential to be clear from the start on why you’re migrating your website. Unless the benefits are obvious and worth the move, it’s better to keep your website as it is.
If you decide to go with the migration, here’s what you should do first:
1- Back Up Your Site
Before you even think about a site move, you need to back up all current site files as well as your database. That can be done automatically in various ways, depending on your CMS and hosting provider.
The reason why you need to back up your site is simple:
Most issues with the site migration process are hard to predict and will emerge as you go. Thus, it’s crucial to have a working version of your site as a backup to roll back to in case things don’t go as planned.
2- Benchmark Current Data
Benchmarking your data will prove essential in later stages when you need to compare the new results to your old ones.
Since each website migration comes with an end goal, having comparable data is crucial for focusing your efforts on what matters. It grants you better insight and allows you to know whether your site migration was actually successful.
Here are the details you should focus on in your benchmark:
- Google Analytics (traffic sources, sessions and users, bounce rate)
- Google Search Console (Highest ranking pages, average CTR, number of clicks/impressions)
- Domain authority/page authority
- Backlink profile
- Site crawl status and metrics
- Mobile usability report
- Page speed insights
3- Choose a suitable Launch Date
To ensure a smooth transition into your updated website, you want to avoid peak hours and busy days. Migrating your site during such times will amplify the negative impact of the site move on the user experience.
You must also stay away from periods when Google is launching major yearly updates as that makes it harder for you to detect technical issues later on.
The Development Stage
In this phase, you’ll take a closer look at the effects the migration might have on your website. You’ll anticipate any issues you may encounter and try to prevent them before they occur.
4- Create a New Sitemap
A sitemap is an XML file that serves as a roadmap that helps search engines crawl and index your site more effectively. It contains links to all your new and old pages and shows the links between them.
By creating a new sitemap, you’ll ensure that all your pages are discovered and accounted for by Google. You’ll save search engines time and speed up the ranking process to get users to visit your site more quickly.
5- Update The Robots.txt File
Your robots.txt file tells search engines which site sections and files they can or can’t access.
During the development stage, it helps you prevent Google spiders from crawling your pages as that may cause your stage site to show up in the SERPs.
Once everything is ready, you can submit a new robots.txt file to lift the restrictions and guarantee that you’re not hiding any essential pages or site files.
6- Perform an Inbound Links Overview
A disorganized site move can be cause for losing many valuable inbound links. As a result of that, your domain authority will decrease, your rankings will drop, and you’ll lose most of your direct and organic traffic.
Here’s the thing:
Not all inbound links are valuable and helpful to SEO. On the contrary, low-quality backlinks may harm your site rankings — especially if they’re unnatural or have low PageRank.
That’s why you need to check your external links for quality and make sure they’re all linking to live web pages. Also, delete any spammy links and redirect broken ones to your newer pages.
7- Update Internal Links
Site migrations are one of the most common causes of internal link errors. You’ll come across many missing pages and broken internal links, which are hard to fix once they add up to hundreds.
As soon as search engines begin to index your site, they’ll run into those missing links. And that will destroy all the SEO progress you’ve made throughout the years.
Thankfully, the solution is simple…
Unless the change is necessary, you must maintain your old site architecture to reduce internal linking errors. Also, keep the same URL permalink structure unless it wasn’t SEO-friendly in the first place.
8- Map 301 Redirects
301 redirects are permanent signals that move users from an old link to a newer functioning one. They’re one of the best solutions to avoiding broken links and missing pages on your site.
To avoid any SEO issues with deleted pages, map your 301 redirects from the start and test them during the development phase.
9- Update Google My Business Listings
If you’re changing your domain name or the links to your parent pages, be sure to update the links on Google My Business and social media profiles.
This step is key to your local SEO strategy as it boosts your brand’s credibility and helps your business get verified quickly.
10- Review Mobile Friendliness
Mobile-friendliness errors is something you must avoid at all costs… Especially before any crawling spiders come across your newer site version.
Use Google’s PageSpeed Insights tool to analyze your website and generate a performance report. If you come across any responsiveness errors, you must fix them before your site goes live — no matter how long it takes you to get it done.
11- Optimize Site Speed
Site speed is an essential SEO factor with ever-increasing importance as Google continues to emphasize its effects on the user experience. So if your new site isn’t ready for faster loading, you might as well delay the whole launch until you solve this problem.
In addition to that:
Don’t forget to optimize your Core Web Vitals to match Google’s requirements. Keep testing your site pages, then implement changes based on your results.
The Monitoring Stage
It’s difficult to get everything about your site move right from the start. That’s why measuring your SEO results after the site launch is vital to making any necessary changes if needed.
12- Set Up Tracking Tools
Your two best friends in the post-launch stage are:
Google Analytics and Google Search Console.
These tools are excellent when it comes to ensuring a successful website migration. Because without them, it’s impossible to tell early on whether there are issues with your migration and how you can fix them.
13- Report On Benchmark Metrics
Now that your monitoring toolset is ready, it’s time to supervise your site performance and make necessary changes.
You’ll most likely find errors with your crawl stats, improper redirects, and missing pages.
Keep in mind:
It’s normal to see temporary fluctuations in your SEO results shortly after the move. But if those changes last for too long, you might need to get help from an expert or run a quick SEO audit to fix the issues.
Wrapping It Up
Migrating your website is a natural part of your company’s journey towards growth. When performed successfully, a site move can help your brand edge out the competition and dominate the SERPs for long years to come.
While making such a big move, it’s reasonable to worry about losing your SEO growth. That’s why having an elaborate plan to maintain your results is crucial to the success of the whole operation.
Need help accelerating your brand’s growth with SEO?
We’re here to help! Contact us now or give us a call at 1-416-840-4411 — we’ll be happy to answer your questions and discuss your project needs!