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SEO Website Migration Checklist

Bird Migration
Chris Schimkat
As Alpha's Head of SEO & CRO, Chris "Schmako" Schimkat is in his element when matching client objectives with actionable and effective SEO & CRO techniques. When he isn’t investigating code and website structure, you’re likely to find him in the kitchen or out on the soccer field.

There are 2 common scenarios that spring to mind when I think of website migrations. Each one offers a unique set of challenges that could mean the difference between an uplift in organic traffic, or losing it all overnight. These 2 are the most common that I’ve encountered:

  • New domain name, same website
  • New website, same domain name

 

SEO Migration on a New Domain Name

So you’ve just:

  • rebranded, or
  • come into possession of an established website

and you want to flick the switch from one domain to another. Sounds easy right? Wrong.

 

Here is the list of things that I would check or do to ensure a seamless transition to a new domain name:

  • Setup and configure Google Search Console, Google Analytics, and Google Tag Manager:
    • Make sure all goals are working.
    • Ensure correct www. or https version used in Google Search Console.
    • New sitemap submitted to Google Search Console.
  • Check that the URL structure hasn’t changed. If it has changed (do the below)
  • 301 redirect all existing URLs to the new variant of them. There’s a great resource here that I often refer to for help on doing this using your .htaccess file (Note: only applicable if you’re on an Apache server). Triple check that https and www. are forced with a 301 redirect (permanent) and not a 302 redirect (temporary) by plugging it into this nifty redirect checker.
  • Update your Google My Business listings (and any other directory listings for that matter).
  • Make sure meta titles and descriptions have been brought across (and are updated to match your current brand/business name).
  • Check that robots.txt is still blocking the correct resources (not blocking CSS or JS, because Google needs those to check mobile responsiveness and layout).
  • Update any third-party tracking services.
  • Update the final URLs in Google AdWords.

 

If you can get all of these components right, you’re much more likely to have a smooth transition. Remember to keep a close eye on your analytics for a few days, weeks, and months to catch a drop before it has too much of an impact. There could be more things to consider on your own website not listed here depending on your specific situation and technology.

 

SEO Migration to a New Website

The great feeling of a fresh website redesign is quickly forgotten when your sales, leads, and traffic begin to inexplicably drop. So, what precautions can be taken to avoid a drop in organic traffic after your new website goes live? The key here is to anticipate, and take measures to fix problems before they occur.


Site Structure

  • The most common cause for a drop in traffic when a new site goes live is due to a change in site structure. This occurs because a page on your website may have moved to a new URL. So, when Google goes to check the old URL, it finds a 404 page which is bad user experience. Google then decides to stop sending traffic to that page.
  • To fix this, setup a map of 301 redirects from the old URLs on your website to the new URLs. This will mean that if someone has a link to an old URL they will also be carried over to the new URL.
  • This is the single most important thing to do during a site migration for you SEO.
  • If you’ve already gone live and have seen a drop it’s not too late! Go into the Search Console property from your old website and see all of the crawl errors that you can then setup as 301 redirects to the new pages on your website.
  • Sometimes if you remove a lot of important pages you’ll also see a drop in traffic because the reason Google was sending traffic to a page is now gone. Even 301 redirects will only be a band-aid solution if important content is being stripped from the website.


Robots.txt

  • Quite often when a new website is in development, it will have a directive in robots.txt to disallow search engines from crawling the incomplete site. It can be very common for this directive to be passed over to the new site when it goes live. Consequently, you’re telling search engines not to crawl your site and will stop appearing in the search results within a couple of days or weeks.


Meta Titles and Descriptions

  • Remember all those meta titles and descriptions you spent time writing? Make sure that your work isn’t wasted – transfer them over to the new site by exporting and then importing them to the new site. Don’t be afraid to try a few new variations too!


Site Speed

  • All of the bells and whistles that come with your new website can come at a cost to speed. Do a before and after page speed test with Pingdom Tools to make sure that your new site is in a safe range (less than 3 seconds preferably). If your site has slowed down, look at taking measures such as improved hosting, a reduction in plugins, caching, CDN, closer proximity server to your audience, or image optimisation to bring it back up to speed.

 

Monitoring for Issues

There could very well be a range of other factors that can cause a drop in traffic for your new website. For any other scenarios, you’ll want to be fully equipped with data from Search Console and Google Analytics to solve your problem. Check:

  • Changes in traffic/conversions on specific landing pages
  • Most exited pages
  • Drops in conversion rate on specific devices
  • Drops on certain browsers
  • Crawl errors
  • Crawl stats
  • Sitemap errors
  • Mobile responsiveness errors
  • Site visibility with JavaScript disabled

 

If you dig deep enough you’ll be able to find the root cause of any drops and remedy it before it’s too late. If you can’t, give us a call and we can complete an SEO audit to find the problem. If you’re about to start a migration but aren’t confident in the outcome, then we can help with that too.