The SEO Fundamentals of Website Migrations

SEO Team 31/03/2022 5 minutes

Site migrations can often be stressful. With so many moving parts, there’s a risk that when you migrate your website to a new server, all of the SEO fundamentals that you worked so hard on with your original website could be lost. It needn’t be this way, though. Our SEO team has created a website migration checklist to guide you through ensuring SEO fundamentals are kept in place at all stages. Read on for more.   

What Is a Website Migration? 

A website migration is when a website goes through major changes that affect visibility on search engines. There are several types of migrations, and even more reasons that you might want to migrate.

Why do you need to do a site migration? 

There are many reasons why you would need to migrate your website. For example, if you’re rebranding or modernising your site, moving to a better server could allow you to make a fresh start more effectively. This may also give you the opportunity to make additional SEO improvements, such as refining your site structure, moving to an updated CMS, or moving your site to a secure HTTPS server.

Existing domain migration 

During an existing domain migration, the domain remains the same, but would better accommodate a redesign, change of Content Management System (CMS) or a URL restructure.

New domain migration

A new domain migration involves moving your site onto a new domain, which could involve a move to a new Top-Level Domain (TLD) or combining multiple sites onto one. 

How Does Migrating Your Website Affect SEO?

There are a number of risks that come with migrating your website – these are the ones you should be most conscious of. 

  • Loss of visibility 
  • Loss of traffic
  • Loss of domain authority 

Putting SEO best practices at the forefront of your migration process will mitigate any negative risks to the SEO and website efforts that you have worked so hard to maintain. 

The site migration process requires you to be especially vigilant at three particular points, each of which is as crucial as the other. Here, we’ll go through what you’ll need to consider and the actions you’ll need to take during each of these phases.

Best practices before a site migration

1. Crawl your current site

First things first, you need to conduct a crawl of your site as it currently stands to give yourself a benchmark list of all your URLs, and an overview of how they are performing in terms of traffic, rankings and backlinks. This will ensure that you have a record of everything that’s already on your site, and help you set up the next step.

2. Create a redirect map

Implementing 301 redirects on certain URLs will make sure you drive your users to the most relevant page on your new site without landing on a missing-page 404 status code error. It will also ensure you harness link equity and authority from your current website. 

3. Audit your legacy and staging websites

From your initial crawl, you can then make a list of the URLs, which is vital to ensure that nothing is lost and that can be accessed if needed. This is also a good exercise for monitoring any potential technical issues with the site as it stands – typical issues include redirect chains, broken pages or links pointing to broken pages. Dealing with them before the migration can ensure that your new site is technically sound as well as having good User Experience (UX), which is a strong ranking factor. 

Crawling your staging site before actually conducting the migration is similarly important, as you need to ensure that technical issues will be kept to a minimum when the site goes live. During that crawl of the staging site, it is also essential to keep track of your robot.txt and sitemaps.xml files by mapping out your old URLs. Ensuring that user agents are disallowed from crawling certain pages will help save your site’s crawling budget.

Similarly, the robot.txt files must contain the updated sitemaps with the new site’s URLs so that search engines can discover, crawl and index the pages. Failing to do this will lead to indexation issues, which may lead to the site not appearing in organic search results and, potentially revenue loss .

Best practices during a site migration 

1. Crawl the new site

If no changes to your site’s Data Source Name (DSN) were made, migration to a new site should take place instantly. If not, you might experience some temporary down time. As soon as the new site is live, the best course of action is to crawl the new site to spot potential issues that might negatively impact performance. 

2. Check for indexability and crawlability issues

Potential issues with new site migrations might be related to indexability and crawlability, so you will need to ensure that an updated .xml sitemap is referenced within the robots.txt file. You should then submit this in Google Search Console (GSC) for Google to crawl the new site. 

3. Identify issues with redirect chains

Redirect chains are quite common during site migrations and can negatively impact speed performance. For example, if a page is normally directed from A to B, a redirection chain due to migration would mean a redirection from A to B to C, which means that it will take longer to fully render the page to end users. This results in speed and performance issues, as well as creating a bad UX, so it is essential to spot these issues as early as possible.

4. Update your tracking analytics

It is extremely important to set both GSC and Google Analytics (GA) for the new site to prevent loss of data. The annotation feature provided by GA is particularly helpful for monitoring your site’s performance pre- and post-migration. 

Best practices after a site migration 

1. Conduct a technical audit

Straight after the site has been migrated, it is important to conduct a site audit to make sure that everything has moved across as expected. Common things to investigate are include:

  • Ensuring pages were redirected correctly
  • Indexability
  • Crawlability 
  • 404 errors
  • Broken links
  • Site speed
  • Redirect chains

2. Monitor site performance

Although it is common to see temporary decreases in traffic after a site migration, it is crucial to keep an ongoing close eye on your analytics to ensure that there are no other major issues affecting site performance. The sooner you notice any problems, the less damage they can cause.

Website migrations can be a long and stressful process, but it does not have to be. Keeping SEO fundamentals at the forefront of your mind will help make this process as smooth as possible. If you require the expertise of an SEO agency to help migrate your website according to best practices, get in touch with our team at Passion Digital.