Site migration dos and don’ts
Site migrations are one of the most complicated procedures in SEO. Everyone who has dealt with any type of website migration will have stories to tell about the things that went right and the things that went wrong. In many cases, you’ll hear horror stories about losing a lot of traffic after a migration.
What is a site migration?
A site migration is a term used to describe any significant move of a website to a new domain, a new platform, new structure or a combination of these. The most common types of site migrations are:
- Platform (CMS) migration
- Websites merge
- Domain name change
- Redesign and/or site architecture
Each type of migration has its own individual challenges but all share a pool of dos and don’ts.
When it comes to igaming sites, one mistake made during a migration can have a big impact on revenue. But you can avoid any potential mishaps by ensuring you have a plan to follow pre and post-migration – and ensuring you have ample time to prepare for it.
Proper preparation and planning can prevent poor performance. In most cases you’ll have some turbulence in rankings post-migration, which is perfectly normal. What you want to avoid is rankings and traffic continuing to decline a few weeks after the migration.
To prevent this, then, you need to:
- Have a pre-migration plan
- Test in a staging environment
- Do post-migration checks
- Conduct post-migration monitoring
What you should do on a website migration
- Do give yourself time and plan ahead
The planning phase of a migration is crucial. Planning should start at least 3-4 months before the migration date, especially when the migration includes a website redesign.
This will allow sufficient time for all stakeholders involved to get together and identify any potential issues down the road. A website redesign, for example, the main purpose of which is to improve UX, might not consider the existing internal linking structure or the existing taxonomy of the site.
However, these might be factors that will force Google or any other search engine to reevaluate how they see the site, which can lead to trouble.
- Do conduct a thorough technical SEO audit
Before you even start thinking about anything else you need to do a full tech audit by crawling your site with a reliable crawling tool (Screaming Frog is ideal). By crawling your site and going through a detailed technical audit checklist, you can uncover a lot of legacy issues like 4xx and 3xx pages, redirect chains, missing or duplicated meta tags, issues with canonicals and so on.
This is your chance to fix all your legacy issues and migrate over a clean site where crawlability and indexability is not going to be an issue. By doing this you’re eliminating any possible tech SEO reasons that might have caused issues if the migration subsequently doesn’t go as planned and you can look elsewhere to identify the problem.
- Do create a 301 redirect map
Depending on the type of migration, there will be some URLs that will need redirecting, be they 4xx URLs or URLs that you decided are no longer required (thin pages, for example, or pages that you decided to merge together). You will also have a list of legacy redirects that you might have added over the years. Make sure you review any old and new redirects and ensure you’re not creating redirect loops or chains.
Redirect mapping is a very crucial element in a website migration, so make sure you get this right to avoid any post-migration issues.
- Do plan the navigation, structure and page templates of the new site
When it comes to site structure, a migration might make or break your site, even if you do everything by the book. Therefore, unless you are migrating specifically with a focus on site structure, you should keep the same structure and URLs pre and post-migration.
Bear in mind that even if the new URL structure makes more sense, for Google it’s a new URL and essentially a different site if you change a lot of the URLs. So unless you have very strong reasons to change your site’s URLs and architecture, you should keep everything identical to your old site.
When it comes to page templates make sure your headings and the way pages link internally do not change.
- Do benchmark your existing rankings and performance metrics
There will always be some sort of turbulence pre and post-migration, so you need to have a benchmark to monitor the effects and, most importantly, to spot if there is a group of pages that has been affected positively/negatively. Benchmark your positions, your traffic and add an annotation in GA. That way, if you lose any traffic, you’ll have a clear picture which pages need attention and what other metrics have been affected (CTR, bounce rate, etc.).
- Do migrate during a quiet period
When it comes to igaming sites this is crucial, especially for sports betting sites. The last thing you want to do is migrate a site during a busy football period. Even if you have planned everything perfectly, there are still things that might affect your traffic, however temporarily. To minimise the casualties in revenue you should pick an off-peak period for the migration.
What you shouldn’t do on a website migration
As we’ve seen, the checklist of things to do while migrating a site is pretty lengthy once we start digging into the details – and the same is true when it comes to what not to do. So if you don’t want a horror story to tell, here’s what you need to avoid.
- Don’t make a lot of changes at the same time
If you migrate a site and, at the same time, change the platform, site structure, design and add a lot of additional features, then you’re asking for trouble. First and foremost, you’ll never be able to pin down what went wrong if you lose traffic. You’ll also confuse Google and any other search engines as to what your site now represents.
- Don’t neglect your redirect mapping
Redirects are probably where a lot of site migrations fall short. This is not because there is no redirect mapping in place but because the redirect mapping is not adequate. Make sure you have a full inventory of your site pre-migration and that you have a list of legacy redirects in hand before you start your mapping.
- Don’t forget to make essential checks post-migration
Of course, you should have a post-migration checklist. However, some things are more important than others and must be checked straight away minutes after the migration, including tags, canonicals and redirects. You might think that a migrated site cannot have a noindex tag but it can and it has happened – so make sure you don’t miss these kinds of things.
- Don’t panic if you see a drop in traffic and rankings
Depending on the type of migration, Google or any other search engine will need time to recrawl your site. A full site recrawl means the search engine might discover things they haven’t before or might re-evaluate how they see your site. So in most cases it’s normal to see some fluctuation in traffic and rankings for a few weeks. If you panic and start making additional changes then you have lost the game by default.
Site migrations are complex. There are a lot of factors to consider, but they don’t have to be disastrous for your SEO. With the right planning, the right SEO approach and the patience to deal with any unexpected post-migration issues, the process can be a smooth one – and one that will lead to a success story.