Website migration is when a website undergoes significant changes in areas that can greatly impact search engine visibility. Usually the changes are related to the site’s structure, location, design, UX or content. A poorly executed site migration can hinder a brand’s performance. Often, website migrations result in traffic and revenue losses that can last anywhere from weeks to months.
Although website migrations result in losses most of the time, it’s not always the case. It’s possible for your website to migrate without any loss of traffic or revenue. This can only be achieved, however, with careful planning and execution. Below is a checklist of ten ways to keep traffic and revenue growth during website migration.
1. Inform users that your website will be moving
Once you have made the decision to migrate your website and made a plan for your website migration, the first thing you should do is inform your website visitors that your website will be moving. Keeping your visitors informed ahead of time helps them prepare for the transition, especially if your new website experiences some issues along the way.
2. Migrate during a period of slow growth
If you plan and monitor your migration properly, you can perform the migration during a slow period in the year. For SEO purposes, migrating during a low-traffic time will ensure that any negative impact will be minimized if something goes wrong. Don’t migrate before the holidays because that’s when you would likely get the most traffic. While you want to avoid losing traffic altogether, it’s better to lose traffic when your business is slow than when you have high traffic.
3. Contact your prominent links
Reach out to authoritative sites that link to you and tell them about the migration so that they can update your link to direct to the new website. Maybe not all of the sites will change the link but, if they do, it could speed up the process of Google recognizing that your site has migrated.
4. Update internal links
As mentioned in the previous point, your HTML links should all point to your new site, not your old one. You might think that it’s okay to leave the links unchanged because they will redirect to the new URL. However, it is not okay to leave the links unchanged. The server load will slow down the performance of the site and the redirects may reduce your PageRank.
The best way to rewrite links is by executing a search and replace operation on your database. The operation should be carried out so that it updates the domain name without modifying the folder structure. You should write your search and replace operations thoroughly so that only text containing a URL is updated. You want to steer clear of updating your URLs and brand name with the same search and replace operation.
5. Keep track of all changed URLs and identify any pages you removed
You should make sure to keep a list of all your old and new URLs. In the best circumstances, all of the old pages exist in the new site. Removing a page eliminates its ability to get SEO traffic. Also, eliminating too many pages during migration may make Google think that the new site isn’t the same as the old site, which will result in you losing your rankings. The URL structure should be the same as the old one unless you have very good reasons to change it. It would be ideal to keep all of the old pages, however, if some pages must be removed for branding reasons, there are some things you need to do. First, you need to make a list of all of the pages. Do not redirect pages from the old site to the new site. Then, remove all of the links from the pages. After that, remove the pages from the old site and let them redirect to 404. If you have a replacement page, implement a redirect and change all of the links to refer to the new page. Do this only if the replacement page carries out the same purpose as the old page. Don’t redirect the removed pages to the home page. If you don’t have a replacement for a page, it should 404.
6. Make sure that a custom 404 page is in place
A custom 404 page can help users turn a mistyped link or a page that no longer exists into an opportunity. A custom 404 can emphasize creativity and branding if you create an attractive and appealing 404 page. You can include links to different parts of your site. You can also make your custom 404 page a landing page which could convert website visitors into leads.
7. Monitor analytics at all times
Put Google Analytics on the new domain. Make sure that it is up and running properly before you decide to launch the site to the public. You don’t want to have any data missing when you start the transition. It’s also crucial for you to be aware of any changes in traffic during the migration.
8. Watch traffic, performance and rankings
It is best for you to watch your search and referral traffic. You should check out the traffic daily for at least a week. If you find any changes in traffic, compare traffic on the old site to traffic on the new site to figure out which pages have lost traffic. Monitor those pages for linking problems and crawl errors. Be mindful of your most linked pages because they play the largest role in your site’s ability to rank. Changes in performance in those pages correlate with your site’s overall performance. You can also use a tool like SEMrush to keep track of your rankings for your target keywords. With this tool, you can identify how fast Google is indexing the new site and if it’s removing the old site from its index.
9. Update PPC platforms and all other platforms
It’s important for you to update your PPC campaigns so that they refer to the correct site. If your PPC campaigns point to the old site then ascription will be lost in Analytics due to the redirect. You should also update all of your social media profiles, websites that you own, forum signatures, bios that you use and any other platforms so that the links refer to the new site in lieu of the old site.
10. Hold onto the old domain
Lastly, with the exception of migrating to sell the original domain, do not give up control of the old domain. The old domain should actually redirect to the new domain. If the redirects are lost, all of the inbound links from the old site will also be lost. Successful migration looks like minimal – or no – visibility loss during the first couple of weeks (short-term goal) and visibility growth after the first two weeks (long-term goal).