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SEO Website Migration Checklist

Posted on Wednesday, March 7th, 2012 by Print This Post Print This Post

Categories - Featured, SEO

Unremitting search engine algorithm updates and ever increasing consumer expectations online have conditioned us as online marketers to constant change on the Internet.  And we recognize that in order to keep up in an increasingly competitive online marketplace, we must evolve with these changes.  For our websites this means that everything from a website redesign to domain name will likely require sprucing up at some point.  Unfortunately, website migrations for sites of all sizes can be a complicated and time-consuming undertaking—one riddled with potential SEO pitfalls that can cause a significant drop in traffic and/or negatively impact your customers’ on-site user experience.  Fortunately, an SEO-centric website migration strategy can not only help you avoid these dangers and retain current traffic, but also increase traffic and improve your site’s offering over time.  Although each migration or redesign is unique, there are some core SEO website migration best practices which every marketer should consider:

  1. Develop a pre-migration timeline- Thorough pre-migration analysis and documentation of your current website, content inventory, existing URLs, and links will help your avoid a website migration train wreck once you flip the switch.  Depending on the size and complexity of your site, it may take your team weeks to map your URLs and develop an inventory of existing links/content.  Make sure to factor in at least 2 to 8 weeks of pre-migration preparation before determining a migration deadline.
  2. Coordinated effort between Marketing and IT- Often IT and Marketing teams have different priorities when planning a website redesign.  While IT teams are typically concerned with upgrading the speed and technical backend of your website, Marketing teams are commonly focused on site navigation and design.  A well executed website migration requires insight from both IT and Marketing, and should be approached as a collaborative effort.
  3. SEO-friendly CMS platform – You want to move forward with your website migration, not backwards.  If you’re switching content management systems (CMS), make sure to select a system that’s an improvement on your current system’s SEO offering.  Does your CMS allow you to customize internal anchor texts, edit page-specific meta-data, and create custom URLs?  Current SEO-friendly CMS platforms include: Drupal, Joomla, and WordPress.
  4. Develop a content silo strategy- In order to achieve high rankings and attract customers, websites must provide information that is clearly structured and keyword-rich.  A content organization scheme will help improve on-site navigation, making it easier for customers to quickly understand the content of your website.  Content silos will also enable search engines to crawl deeper pages of your site crawl, and improve your site’s topic authority around highly searched, location- and/or industry-specific categories.
  5. Document all existing URLs and content- Create an inventory of all the pages of your site and map them to their new destination URLs.  Prioritize high-performing pages according to traffic, rankings, revenue, and links, and manually migrate top-performing pages.
  6. Define a proper destination for all existing pages- Imagine you were moving to a new house.  To avoid chaos in your new home, you’d label the boxes while packing according to the contents’ intended destination in your new place.  For example, dishes, glasses, and cups would be labeled in a “Kitchen” box; blanket, sheets, and pillows would be labeled in a “Bedroom” box, and so on.  The same is true for your content.  To make the migration process as streamlined as possible, work out and document where you want your content to exist post-migration.
  7. Implement 301 redirects across your site- Links define your website’s reputation online. Unfortunately, when URLs change, links break.  So one of the most important steps in a migration is to implement permanent 301 redirects across your site. Implement 301 page-to-page redirects to permanently redirect pages on your old site to relevant pages on your new site.  This will inform the search engines that your site has moved.
  8. Inform valuable links of migration- If you have links from high-authority sites, e.g., The New York Times, contact the webmaster of each site to request link change from the old URLs to the new site.  This may be a manual process, but it is well worth the effort.
  9. Monitor traffic and crawl errors post-migration- Review crawl errors regularly to confirm that the 301s from your old site are working properly and check for unwanted 404 errors.
  10. Retain control of old domain- Retain control of your domain post-migration for at least 180 days.

Website migrations or redesigns are at once painful and exciting.  The move usually takes longer than you planned.  But hopefully this checklist will help you end up in the home of your dreams without breaking any dishes along the way.

What’s been your experience with website migrations or redesigns?  Any horror stories you’d like to share?  Or any other tips to ensure a smooth move?

About Camille Canon

Outside of summer jobs and not-for-profit internships, The Search Agency is my first official place of employment. I recently graduated from Mount Holyoke College, where I studied Art History and German. I am an avid cook, baker, and destroyer of diets. My specialties are cream cheese brownies, biscotti cookies and lemon bars. I am also an Art enthusiast. Living in Berlin enables me to follow a young, emerging Art scene complete with “eccentric” performance pieces and temporarily converted butcher shop galleries. I also enjoy running, traveling, and handy work. Camille Canon +

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16 Responses to “SEO Website Migration Checklist”

  1. David says:

    Succinct list good for all site migrations

  2. Good post … possibly missing a few things though?

    1) 1 step at a time.
    If you are making lots of changes, break them down into phases.
    Do *not* change Domain, change URLs, change Design and change Content all at teh same time.
    Instead – try to break it down into parts, and change 1 part at a time; wait for Google to have crawled the majority and monitor the SERPs to ensure things are stable.

    2) Run in Parallel.
    If you are moving hosts – then do not simply up and leave.
    Isntead – ensure that you have a working copy on the old location, and a working copy on the new destination.
    That way, whilst things are updating, it won’t matter if people land at the old location, or the new – they still get a working site.
    (Warning: For online transactions that use a database, this may not be as simple as it sounds!)

    3) Changing Domain.
    Google has a tool (chage of address) in Google Webmaster Tools specifically for this job.
    Use it.
    Also look through your most influential InBoundLinks (those from high traffic, better conversion and even higher PR sources), and see if you can get them to update to the new Domain.

    4) Changing URLs (CMS/Platform etc.)
    If you are changiny the URLs (for whatever reason) be aware that Google does not pass “all” the value through a 301 (no, no idea what is lost … it seems small, but it “could” have a minor/tiny impact in some cases).
    Further, it can take G time to crawl them all (it crawls the old URL, sees the 301, schedule a crawl of the new URL … it takes time).
    For larger sites – it is recommended to do a section at a time.
    this isn’t easy when moving the entire site to a new platform …
    … so look into URL Rewrites.
    You can get away with rewriting the New URLs to look like the Old ones … then every so often batch-change so they are replaced with the New URLs, and matched with 301 redirects.

    • Camille says:

      Thanks for your comment and tips, Lyndon! Yes, you are right are quite a few things you could add to this list, as Website Migration is quite a weighty topic.

    • alonso says:

      Hi Lyndon, I’m suggesting migration to the small business I work for and I will like to suggest them your services. please let me know if interested. thank you

      migration jitters

  3. Jacob says:

    Gravitated towards “Coordinated effort between Marketing and IT.” Every consultant stresses the importance of coordination between departments and we get sick of hearing it, but it wouldn’t have such prevalence if it didn’t have the ring of truth. Too often departments run around like decapitated chickens until the progress reports are due, and then act confused that they’re all using different rubrics. If we don’t work together we’ll never get anything done.

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  11. Max says:

    This info is definitely of a very high value to anyone dealing with migration. Unfortunately, most people remember SEO only after the migration is complete and traffic suddenly drops, as do the rankings. I was one of them too. I was too much obsessed about making the move as fast and painless as possible looking for the right tool and didn’t think about SEO (i was lucky – the tool was great http://www.cms2cms.com). After the migration my content was safely moved, but I lost 30% of traffic (which Google brought me) and now I am striving to get it back. So thanks again for directing my efforts (at least some of them).

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