How To Carry out A Successful Site Migration And Protect Your Google Rankings

Sites move for varying reasons. Whether changing to a new URL, updating your CMS, or merging businesses, preserving your SEO traffic and managing your current visitor’s experience is vital for seamless website migrations. While there is never a good time to migrate, you can easily mitigate any downtime or loss in rankings and conversion by planning early and monitoring the process.

Google

Migration SEO can easily be placed into three phases: –

  • Planning and benchmarking
  • Carrying out the migration
  • Monitoring the results

Planning And Benchmarking

The first part of SEO migration is planning and benchmarking your existing rankings and traffic. The URLs, images, and content won’t change in an ideal world; you will change the domain. However, every migration is different.

You must download a list of your existing pages, meta tags, images, URLs, and content here. You will need crawling software for the URLs, meta tags, and image attributes to make your job easier. Screaming Frog SEO Spider is a great software allowing you to shuffle your site and pull out all the data you need. It is free for the first 500 URLs so that you can carry out the research free of charge for smaller sites.

Neil from Sheffield SEO company Digital Impact Solutions said, “Regarding text changes, I would try to keep these to a minimum while you launch your new site. If something goes wrong with the migration and you have only changed a few things, it will be easier to find out the issue. Once the site has had time to settle (around three months), you can feel safe carrying out further tweaks as needed.”

Google Analytics

I would also recommend looking at any website traffic reports you have. Look at data for the last 12 months to ensure you include all pages bringing in conversion and traffic. I would also recommend using an SEO ranking tool to look at your current Google rankings so you can baseline these before switching to your new site.

XML Sitemaps

Sometimes, pages are not included in the main navigation or may have been forgotten. Exporting the site’s sitemap XML will allow you to plot the entire site structure.

Backlinks

A step often missed by SEOs and web admins is exporting your current backlink profile. Preserving your site’s authority is just as important as handling internal migration. If you can easily change the backlinks, then do so, but for those you physically cannot change, note the pages; these will need to be redirected to working pages.

Another bonus tip at the planning stage is to make sure you have a list of all the URLs you use in paid campaigns, whether these are Google Ads, Facebook, or other paid media. If these cannot be crawled, your marketing campaigns will take an epic nosedive.

New URL’s

If you are doing a site restructure and the URLs are changing (even if it’s just .html or .php at the end). Then, you will need to 301 permanently redirect these links. This tells Google and website visitors that the pages have changed and redirects them to a new working page.

Make sure you redirect the links on a page-by-page level. Just turning every connection to the home page is not recommended, and you will see your internal pages lose any Google rankings. While this process can be quite labor-intensive, it is a critical part of migration.

Carrying Out The Migration

This will depend upon the level of the migration you are carrying out, whether it’s a new site keeping the existing domain or switching to a new environment.

Keeping The Old Domain

By now, you should have the new site on a development domain (hidden behind a password) or put on a no-index tag so Google does not start indexing the new location before you are ready (I have seen this happen with disastrous effects). I recommend going through each page and ensuring you have implemented all meta tags and images. It may also be good to crawl the site to check for any internal links in content that have not been updated (sometimes links within the content can be missed).

Once you are ready for the new site to go live, make sure you have redirects in place and remove the new site’s no-index tag. As soon as the site is live, I recommend grabbing all of the URLs from the old site and making sure that they redirect successfully using something like Screaming Frog again. Google Analytics should be transferred over, as well as Google Search Console. Within Google Search Console, uploading a new sitemap with the new site architecture is also advisable. What you are doing here is ensuring the transition goes as smoothly as possible.

Switching To A New Domain

This is the same process as above, with the only addition being making sure you create a new Google Search Console and switch over your Google Analytics. I would also recommend changing the URLs in your social sharing buttons so the share counts are carried over to the new website and testing any paid ads.; regardless of the method you choose, now is also the time to reach out to site owners who link back to you, letting them know the URLs have changed.

Monitoring The Migration

Just because your new site is live and appears not to have lost rankings doesn’t mean you can celebrate with joy..just yet. I would closely monitor existing rankings and traffic daily over the next month or two. As old URLs drop out of the index and new URLs are indexed, there will be some fluctuation, but If you notice any drop in traffic and rankings, it will be worth looking at the URLs and making sure they do not bring back a 404 or error page. You can also do this via the Google Search Console coverage report and look for any increase in 404s or crawl error warnings.

I would also recommend daily or weekly checks of any 301 redirects. CMS and human error mean a redirect may suddenly stop doing its job, and the only time you notice is when the phone stops ringing, or your rankings plummet. Also, remember that any internal link juice is shared across the redirect, and it may take at least three months to fully transfer to the new domain or page (I usually leave these in place indefinitely). There is no such thing as a seamless migration, but implementing the ideas above means you may just come out of the other side with your rankings and traffic unaffected.

Sandy Ryan
Writer. Music advocate. Devoted bacon trailblazer. Hardcore web fanatic. Travel junkie. Avid creator. Thinker. Skateboarder, coffee addict, record lover, reclaimed wood collector and RGD member. Producing at the junction of minimalism and mathematics to craft delightful brand experiences. I'm a designer and this is my work.