site migration organic traffic

06 Aug How to Migrate Your Website Without Losing Organic Traffic

Migrating your website to a new domain or platform can be an exciting project with the prospect of increased traffic, revenue, and conversion rates, but what about the risks involved? When it comes to website migrations, there is no marketing channel at a bigger risk than SEO. If not properly orchestrated, years of SEO work and its resulting traffic can be lost in a matter of days. Though the chance of catastrophe exists with a website migration, your site’s SEO can be easily preserved as long as you are careful and properly migrate your website. Follow our checklist for the key tasks all sites need to perform for a successful migration.

Redirects

The task most critical to any site migration is the proper configuration of redirects from the old site to the new site. To prevent lost traffic in the transition, there should be a redirect for every page on your existing website. If every page from the old site has been recreated on the new site, this process will be as simple as matching all of these one-to-one matches. If pages on the old site are not to be migrated over, confirm these pages aren’t strong drivers of traffic or revenue before redirecting these pages to their closest equivalent on the new site (if the page is a strong driver of traffic or revenue, consider recreating this page on your new site). A 301 redirect will pass all of a page’s SEO value from one page to the other, so a comprehensive set of redirects should ensure that your organic traffic does not plummet post-migration.

Google Search Console

Google Search Console Indexed Pages
A visualization of Google indexation switching from an old site to a new site

Setting up Google Search Console properties for both your old and new domains will best allow you to track the progress of the migration and verify that the transition runs smoothly. Monitoring your crawl stats on both properties will demonstrate the transition of Google’s crawl from one site to the other, and tracking your indexation status of both sites will confirm this.

In a successful migration, you should see a decline in indexed pages on your old site that is offset by the pages indexed on your new site. Eventually, the amount of indexed pages on your old site should reach zero (this can take days to weeks, depending on how many pages your site has). If this decline in indexed pages stagnates, review the still-indexed pages and verify that redirects exist for these pages. If there are any URLs you want to quickly migrate, you can also use the URL Inspection Tool to resubmit your old URL so that Google follows the redirect to the new URL and indexes the new URL instead.

Sitemaps

Once your redirects are all set up and ready to go live, you’ll want to re-submit your existing sitemap and submit your new site’s sitemap in Google Search Console. Re-submitting the sitemap on your old site will trigger Google to recrawl these URLs, and in turn process the associated redirects to these pages. Submitting the new site’s URLs to Google will result in the new site’s pages being crawled as well, and will better allow you to track the indexation status of these URLs (Ideally, Google indexes the pages in your sitemap and not pages it is finding outside of your sitemap).

Robots.txt

Before opening your new site up to crawlers, make sure you have a robots.txt file that blocks the new version of any pages you previously blocked on your old site.

Update Links

Your site’s internal links send a strong signal to Google about what pages you think are important, so updating all of your site’s links will speed up the migration process and leave Google with no doubt as to which version of a page it should rank. If your own site has links pointing to the old version of a page, Google may think the link is still important and not know which version of the page to rank (especially if the old page has many external sites linking to it). While 301 redirects should point both users and Google in the right direction, you should update all internal links on your site to reflect the new site’s version of the URL.  If possible, reach out to the most authoritative websites that link to your site and request that they update their links to your new site.

Metric Benchmarking

Before launching your new site, you should establish statistical benchmarks for all of your key user metrics (traffic, engagement, conversion rates, etc.) to compare the new site’s performance against.  After the new site settles in after launch, confirm that metrics are in the expected range (presumably better than your previous site!), and investigate any drop-offs in conversion rates or increases in bounce rate. Beyond user metrics, benchmarking your site speed is an important task so that you can measure the improvement and its potential effect on the user experience.

In terms of benchmarking for SEO, the most important task is to keep a close eye on your keyword rankings. Before the migration, collect your rankings for all of your crucial keywords, and re-check your rankings periodically to assure that your keyword ranks remain where expected. Some volatility is to be expected as Google processes all of your changes, so be patient if it takes 2-3 weeks for your keywords to settle back into their expected ranking). If your keyword rankings fall off after the migration and do not appear to recover, it is likely that one of your redirects was misconfigured or crucial content related to that keyword was not migrated.

As Google becomes more focused on UX when evaluating websites, monitoring your site’s engagement metrics becomes more crucial. If your bounce rates, conversion rates, and time on your site all worsen on your new site, it could be a sign that your new site isn’t offering an improved experience and could result in worse rankings for your site. In the same vein, mobile site speed factors into Google’s ranking algorithm as well, so any improvement in load times has a potential positive impact on your rankings.

Conclusion

With the proper planning and preparation, a site migration can be a seamless process with minimal disruption to your site’s traffic (though you should try to migrate your site during a period where site traffic is light). Once the new site is live, closely monitor traffic and Google’s crawl of your sites until the you see a complete transition of pages indexed in Google Search Console (this could days to weeks, depending on the size of your site). Once this process is complete, you can call your migration (and hopefully your new website) a success.

about Chris Brown

Chris Brown has nearly 20 years of retail leadership while driving impressive results in a diverse range of retail business models including, pure play ecommerce, brick and mortar, omnichannel (with substantial mobile expertise) and merchandising.   As Vice President of Omni-channel and eCommerce Strategy, Chris connects with clients to help drive their digital strategy, combining his experience in high-growth retail environments with software solutions to build revenue, increase conversion and drive retention.    Connect with Chris on Linkedin: linked button

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