The Importance of a Correct SEO Site Migration

by | Nov 18, 2015

10 min read

When it comes to website migrations, people often forget many of the simplest things. While they cover the larger items such as transferring major parts of content, they often miss smaller details such as implementing canonical tags or viewing the effect a change of user experience has on a website.
Migration is a term that gets thrown around often without a hard definition. While the typical migration is moving from one domain to another, there are multiple types of migrations a site can go through:

We will cover each in detail and identify specific areas where people mess up their SEO, Analytics and User Experience for each.

The Basics

Regardless of the type of migration, these are the items that MUST be covered.
First, find out where your website stands currently. Run a crawl on Screaming Frog to get a list of all your URLs including resources such as images, javascript and CSS files. This will be your holy grail when it comes to anything concerning changing content and redirects. If you identify any pages that are missing, it is a good time to identify why and add them to the list. Could there possibly be more pages missing?
Failing to find pages on your site and leaking page value by not redirecting is a major cause of losing rankings and organic traffic.
When identifying your traffic, take note of the metrics of your site and high trafficked pages. These should include metrics such as monthly visitors, bounce rate, time on site, number of inbound linking domains, number of leads per month, number of indexed pages, domain authority of a website and any other metrics that are critical to your business.
Define your business objectives for the redesign. What will be changing exactly? Consider items such as brand, voice, design, content, on-page factors, URLs, media, paid traffic landing pages and information architecture of a website.
A site migration is a good time for a general audit of your website. Items ranging from correct canonical implementation and ensuring each indexed page has a meta description to improving the on-page SEO and keyword targeting.

URL Migration

This is one of the more common, and complex migrations to undertake. As SEO, analytics and user experience are effected, it is critical to correctly follow SEO tasks within a migration plan.
Even simple changes to a site such as moving from non-www to www, or http to https should be considered URL migrations as Google considers these as different sites.
For major domain changes, Google applies a “Sandbox Mode” for newly setup domains. During this time, Google will crawl your site and try to learn about you. Google is very unlikely to show your new domain in SERPs for 1-2 weeks. In order to by-pass the sandbox mode, setup a holding page and index the website earlier to reduce the risk on launch date.
A URL migration requires specific preparation around SEO to measure the expected traffic drop after a 301 redirection and from Analytics on ensuring tracking will be setup from day 0 with the correct event tracking, goal setup and Analytic setup.
Verifying a new Google Webmaster tools account is often overlooked, however it is a critical task to let Google know that has moved its content and no-longer is relevant due to’s existence.
Most URL migrations will involve an update to the link structure of a site. Rarely will you swap 1 for 1 a domains folders and pages. For most cases, you will need to map each URL from the Screaming Frog crawl to a new landing page that you will be creating.
You will need to transfer any 3rd party tracking apps to your new URL and potentially update the settings from those apps.

Backend Migration

When moving to a new backend platform, backups and staging websites are your saving grace. Ensuring your main site is backed up on its current platform varies with difficulty, but will save you countless hours if something goes wrong causing you to have to redesign an entire site, create new content or source new media.
Wireframes and Prototype testing on a staging/pre-prod environment will be your playground in testing, designing and debugging the new backend setup.
From an SEO perspective, a correctly implemented Robots.txt file will ensure that your subdomain or test domain does not appear in Google while you are still setting up the new backend. This will remove the chances of duplicate content being picked up by Google.
To help monitor and setup tracking and goals, a separate Analytics view with development or internal traffic only should be setup. Here you can test visitors landing to the site, UTM parameters, filters and goals/events.


Visual Redesign

Visual Redesigns range in scale from updating colours, branding and voice of a website to a redesign of how users interact with your website, often including new technical items. The major SEO factors of a visual redesign revolve around information architecture and user-flow of a website.
Hot, flashy widgets made in Javascript may test well with users, however you should avoid using these to hold critical keywords and links due to crawlers from Google not being able to read Javascript and thus, your amazing content.
With a visual redesign, internal links within a website are likely to change too. By drastically changing your information architecture and internal links, you are shifting the page value of your site.
From a user experience point of view, Wire frames and user testing websites such as will help ensure your user experience is maintained at a level which will allow users to navigate through your website the same as, or better than before.
Page value passed on through internal links is a difficult metric to measure. Our recommendation is to change as little as possible in terms of information architecture when migrating and only after…


Are you ready to push the button?

Any type of site migration is a costly upgrade to your website. Stakeholders need to be prepared that they will be losing a minimum of 10-20% SEO traffic over at least the following 6-8 weeks. While these numbers can vary around the size of the website and the type of migration, this is a cost that is often overlooked by decision makers.
Often the small details are missed when doing a migration, resulting in the robots metatag not being removed from the website, four days after launch, or big expensive changes to the information architecture causing a traffic drop.
One of the hardest parts of migration is admitting when you are wrong. Maybe your amazingly designed page layout and navigation looks good to you, but ultimately you need to market your site according to your users. One major business decision when doing a migration is to set a roll-back estimate. Whether this is a required amount of traffic by X weeks, or more commonly a dollar value, you need to decide at what point is the loss of revenue greater than the cost of the redesign.

We’ve shared some of our migration tips and tricks, now please let us know yours! What works for you and what tactics have you avoided in the past and why?

Kirsten Tanner

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