How to successfully conduct a website migration

Merche Martínez

Written by Merche Martínez

When we think about renovating our website, certain questions pop into our head, like:

  • What is going to happen to the traffic my website is currently getting?
  • Will I keep my rankings in search engines?
  • What is going to happen to the external links pointing to my current pages?
  • What do I need to do for my new pages to get traffic from the old ones?

It’s certainly true that a website migration is a highly delicate process in terms of SEO, and depending on our website’s present situation, it needs to be dealt with in one way or another. The stages it is comprised of, though, are usually the same:

  • Information architecture analysis of the new website.
  • Content and optimisation.
  • Redirects.
  • Monitoring.

Information architecture analysis of the new website

First, we need to conduct an analysis of the current information architecture of the website, to define a site map with the pages organised in various levels, following a balanced architecture that will help correct indexing of the content. By “balanced architecture” I mean to say that there must be a balance between the importance of the content and the depth at which it is situated in the architecture.

This architecture will be recommended for the new website. This step should be taken prior to moving the content, because the relevance study will be carried out on the newly defined architecture.

Content and optimisation

Content migration is, perhaps, the most entertaining task of all. It’s about copying the content of each of the old pages and generating content for the new pages. When copying the content from each page, we must make sure we modify the internal links so that they point to the new URLs.

As we’ve mentioned previously, a website migration implies a delicate episode in terms of rankings. If we’re going to make any improvements on the website, it is better to do them before they we publish it.

At this stage in our optimisation we cannot go crazy: if a page is ranking well and it’s receiving traffic, we should follow the rule of “if something works just fine, do not touch it“.

Redirects

First, we must identify the landing pages that are set to be redirected. The pages can be:

  • Pages ranking well for critical keywords that bring traffic to the website.
  • Pages receiving more views from natural results.
  • Pages receiving more direct traffic.
  • Pages with more and better quality inbound links.

Once we’ve identified these pages, we can proceed to program 301 redirects from the old pages to the new ones.

There may be pages, which do not have a content equivalent on the new website, namely discontinued products. In this case, we can either redirect the page to the corresponding product category, or we can return a 404 error with a user-friendly page, where we can suggest related products. These decisions are made by studying each particular case individually.

Monitoring

This stage is just as important as the previous ones. No matter how careful or meticulous we have been up until now, there still may be pages that haven’t been redirected correctly.

In Google Webmaster Tools we can monitor the new indexed pages, and any possible errors on the server and the pages we are going to deindex.

Discarded pages should usually return a 404 error code, and it’s perfectly natural for them to grow in the weeks following the migration, because these pages have been removed from the previous version. It’s also normal for the number of indexed pages to increase, because the first new pages are going to get indexed, and then the old ones will begin to get deindexed.

Success or failure?

A website migration is considered to be a success if the organic traffic has practically remained stable, and the goals continue to be achieved weeks after moving the website. Our experience tells us it’s possible to successfully migrate a website, but we must be aware of the existence of external factors, which could negatively influence the outcome, and in this case, Google has the last word.

To round off this post, here is an example of real traffic development, with data collected by Google Analytics before and after a migration, which can be considered a success.

Successful migration

Merche Martínez
Autor: Merche Martínez
SEO consultant at the Human Level online marketing agency. She's an expert in search engine optimization at both national and international levels. She's also a certified Google AdWords user.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *