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SEO Guide For A Successful Website Migration

Alec Sharratt

by Alec Sharratt on 4th April 2012

Video Transcript

I would like you to picture this for me. You’ve got an existing website and you’ve got a new website in development. It’s on a test server or a development server, something of that sort, and you’ve probably paid quite a bit of money to have that done. The single most important thing that you can do at this point, once the new site is ready to be uploaded, is to have a migration strategy in place.

It’s not just as simple as uploading new websites and deleting the old one, or replacing one with the other. There is a bit more work that needs to go into it. This isn’t a huge job and, depending on the size, the website can be done in a day or maybe a couple of days, but it is the single most important aspect of launching a new website, and I’ll go into that now.

So why is it the most important step? You’re probably thinking, well, I’ve already paid a web developer a lot of money to design the site. We’ve paid designers for the pictures, or photographers for images for the site, that kind of thing. What else do I need? Well, this is important because your web developer might not necessarily be aware of the impacts that launching a new website can have on your rankings and your traffic.

So the way that Google looks at your website is on a page by page basis, and you may be aware that each page is ranked for a specific set of keywords or long tail variations of those keywords. Once you launch a new website to replace an old one, all of those pre-existing pages and all of their authority and all of their relevance to the keywords you’ve been targeting will be lost. So the primary benefit of doing this properly is the act of protecting your investment in your website. If you’ve spent time or money or a lot of effort in optimising it to appear or be visible in Google for your set of keywords, then this will protect that investment. There’s no other way of doing it. There’s no other way of redirecting one page to another that’s going to allow Google to look at the new website as if it was maintaining the previous authority of the website.

It will depend very much on the type of server that you use as to the actual methods that you can use to go about this. Really, we’re talking about redirecting, 301 permanent redirects. They can be used in a number of different ways. So you can use H tags as files. Or if you use IIS or a Windows server, there’s different techniques that can be used, that I won’t go in to the nitty-gritty of here. I’m really trying to highlight here the importance of doing this, why you should do it, and the benefits you’re going to get out of that in the end.

So let’s just say web developers won’t necessarily be looking to do this kind of work for you. So if you do use an SEO agency of any kind, it’salways worth speaking to them before you launch a new website, just to inform them this is what you’re doing, and seek advice there. In only a very, very few isolated cases is it not possible to set up redirects. Pretty much any server that you’re on will allow this to happen, although I have seen a couple of cases where this wasn’t immediately possible. In most cases, you may have to seek expert advice when it comes to actually migrating websites.

But the real importance of this comes, as I say, in protecting your SEO investment. Each page will be ranked based on the strength of that page. So once a new page replaces it on the website, something needs to tell Google that this page is replacing this page properly. Page B is replacing page A. If you don’t do that, Google’s not going to know. So even though they might index the new page and they might see that it’s got the same keyword focus as the previous page, it won’t necessarily pass on any of the authority the new page has got. This is because the old page will likely have links going to it, social bookmarking. It may be listed in directories. People may have linked to it from blog comments, that kind of thing, and the new page just simply won’t have that. So it’s not going to have the strong anchor text links the other page has.

But by setting up redirects to go from page to page, rather than just the top level domain to domain, what you’re going to be then doing is saying to Google, “Look, this new page, page B, is replacing page A. So please pass on all of the authority from page A to page B.” Granted, if the contents change on the new page, then you may have to look to optimise that again in order to build up the relevance. But in terms of the authority that the page carries, being largely derived from its link profile and how it’s been promoted online, you’re very, very much going to carry that authority over.

The reason why I say this is very, very important to do in the initial phases of designing the website or once the website is actually designed, but not live yet, is because the longer the gap that you leave between launching the new website, replacing the old one, and then setting up redirects is going to have a massive impact on the website’s traffic. This is something that we’ve seen at Koozai a number of times, where a website is launched, replacing an old one, and all of the traffic drops almost instantaneously as all of your keyword rankings are lost when Google realises that these pages that it’s sending people to aren’t there anymore. The longer that period is, the less chance there is of getting those keyword rankings back in the short term, and the greater the impact that it’s going to have on them in the long term.

Now, you can experience some degree of downtime when doing the website migrations. So even if everything is done properly, you can still experience a week, maybe two weeks of fluctuation in traffic and rankings as Google sort of figures out what exactly is going on. But in most cases, 99 percent of these will come back pretty quickly.

So that’s from the redirect point of view, saying these are the new pages and this is where they go and please redirect the authority. But there are other things to consider as well. There are pages on the sites, like the sitemap, the XML sitemap and so forth, that carry a lot of links or that inform Google of where these pages are. Now they must be addressed straightaway as well. It’s obviously worth having a conversation with your web developer to ensure that they are aware of your SEO requirements and that you have optimised the website so that they can look at these different aspects.

Other things include making sure the Google Analytics code is on all of the pages of the site and in the correct place that it was before. If you don’t do this, again it’s going to look a lot like you’ve lost all of your traffic. If you haven’t done any of the redirects, it’s more likely you probably have lost all of the traffic. But the Analytics code, again, needs to be in place along with resubmission of the sitemap to any webmaster tools accounts that you have and so forth.

Then, outside of the website, it’s obviously then worth going and looking at all of your business profiles and changing any links that you may have there so that they’re now pointing to the correct page. But the beauty of the redirect is that anything that you missed will be caught by the redirect. Any external links pointing to pages that don’t exist anymore will be directed on to the page that is there, and that is the basis of website migration.

Alec Sharratt

Alec Sharratt

Alec Sharratt will be writing about his passion; the technical aspects of search. Well experienced within the IT industry, Alec has bags of knowledge on everything technical from simple spreadsheets that will save you hours right up to news and tips to make search that little bit easier.

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3 Comments

  • Terry Rydzynski 4th April 2012

    Too true. We’ve seen a number of sites actually get a significant increase in traffic YoY after doing migrations properly. are you guys you guys get the same?

    Reply to this comment

  • Terry Rydzynski 4th April 2012

    Seems I can’t type coherent sentences…

    Reply to this comment

  • Alec Sharratt

    Alec 4th April 2012

    Hi Terry,

    Yes, we see this and the flip side of this all the time. If a website migration isn’t done properly I have personally seen websites drop completely from the search results… On the other hand when done properly, a recent migration that I did resulted in huge increases in traffic and rankings.

    Take care
    Alec

    Reply to this comment

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