Here is how to Retain your Organic Search Traffic while performing Website Migration
That kind of graph is what we do not want you to see for your website. The internet is evolving with a breakneck speed, companies change, technology gets better, and strategies adjust. It’s inevitable that at some point you are going to be overhauling the website to meet the latest needs. All of those files, content and all the technology back at the office involved needs to be picked up and moved, upgraded, or merged.
The other scenario could be that your company has taken over another firm and now you need to move all their resources including merging their website into yours. Or maybe you need to rebrand and start using another domain name to match.
Whatever your reasons are, you are now facing the most dangerous task for your business: “Site Migration”. Screw up and you could lose all of the website traffic overnight. Believe us if we say that it takes only one or two mis-steps to tank a redesigned website’s keyword ranking on the SERP and drop in the organic search traffic to zero for extended periods of time.
We didn’t mean to scare you but now let’s talk about the ways you can mitigate these risks. If everything goes well, site migration can be a boon, not only for organic search visibility, but also for many other marketing channels.
7 Steps That Make Site Migration Useful
#1. Start small
A site migration is a gradual process that you need not rush into. It is going to be co-ordinated across teams that do not speak the same technical language. So the best thing to do is run a small test on a subdomain to make sure that all of the team is on the same page. That way if there are any breakdowns in the chain of command or communication meltdown, you damage only a small portion of the site and you learn a lesson for the major revamp.
#2. Make sure the new site is better than the old one
This one is self-explanatory. But the problem is when the designers and the web developers get a little too excited when building up the codes of a new site but all of that flashy programming ends up in a tangled mess of source codes and slow load times.
If you’re going to be moving the content from the old site to the new site, make sure the new site works faster, is clean, and generally more SEO friendly than the one you’re leaving behind. Performance matters.
#3. Set up tracking tools prior to migration
Before touching anything on your old site, please make sure that you have the right tracking tools in place to track the migrations progress before, during, and afterwards. There are many tools offered for this purpose.
#4. Establish a thorough 301 redirect plan
This is the most crucial step of site migration and we’ll tell you why it is so important to emphasize on this step. The search engines need to be told that you’ve moved your site to a new home and they need explicit change of address instructions. Otherwise, all of that link authority you have earned over these years, all of those profitable keyword rankings you’ve earned, will all vanish.
Take every URL on your site; map it to corresponding new addresses on the new site as best you can. Use the following excel sheet to your advantage to map the old addresses with the new ones.
Just keep in mind one thing: don’t let your team use 302 temporary redirect addresses as those are easier to implement. 302 redirects will tell the search engines that you want to keep all of the rankings and links going to the old site pages, and you are sending traffic to the new site pages temporarily. A 301 redirect will tell the search engines that all of the keywords the old pages rank will swap out from the old one to new site pages.
#5. Don’t Forget to promote new site’s location
The most challenging part of a site migration is getting the internet to understand that you have moved. People who were your regular site visitors, bookmarked your site, shared it with their friends on social media, are the ones you need to reach out to to stop them from talking about the old URL and inform about the new one.
This is where your PR and social media team comes into play. They should reach out to anyone linking to the old site and warn them that they may need to update their links.
#6. Time to get the job done
Now is the time for execution. What you need to do is roll out the new site as fast as you can within a day or two. If you take any longer, the search engines start getting confused and start serving up a mixed bag of URLs in their index. Not to forget it’s effect on organic search traffic. Move that site fast and move it right.
Here’s what needs to be done:
- Apply the 301 redirects based on your mapping document.
- Update all of the rel=canonical tags on your sites so that they point to the new URLs.
- All of the internal links should now point to the new site URLs.
- Reach out to people who are still linking to the old URLs(people with influence), and ask them nicely to update links at their end.
- Update your site’s XML sitemap and submit it to Google and Bing’s webmaster tools.
Do all of these above steps as fast as you can so that search engines make the necessary adjustments and start indexing the new URLs. Once you have finished all of those five steps, you should start to see the new site’s landing pages replace the old one’s in the SERP in a week or two, or it depends on how often the search engines crawl your website.