what not to do in a site migration

The Do’s and Don’ts of Website Migration

In SEO by Angelique Swain

A website migration journey can feel like steering your essential digital presence into choppy and uncharted waters. Yet, the rewards of navigating this course successfully are well worth the effort. 

Picture this: a scenario where, following a meticulously planned site migration, organic visibility surges by an impressive 60% just one month after the move, and organic traffic leaps by over 80% two months post-launch. These aren’t just numbers; they’re a testament to the transformative power of a well-executed migration. 

But, the flip side of this coin demonstrates the stark consequences of a migration mishap, emphasising the critical need for precision and foresight in this process. 

With insights gleaned from the trenches of SEO strategy, courtesy of Edwin Mills from Kaomi Marketing, our guide aims to walk you through achieving such remarkable growth while sidestepping the pitfalls that could derail your journey. 

Planning is Your Best Friend

Imagine setting off on a road trip without a map or GPS. That’s what undertaking a site migration without a plan is like. A thorough migration plan coupled with a developer deployment pipeline is your roadmap. This approach ensures that SEO efforts align perfectly with development work, catching any potential issues on the staging site before the world sees them. 

Treat the staging site as if it were live; crawl it regularly during development and immediately before and after the migration goes live.

Don’t Surprise Your SEO Team

Here’s a real-world example of what not to do. We had been working with a global retailer for several months while they planned a rollout of their new e-commerce site. However, our carefully laid SEO plans were violently disrupted when the business chose to take their new site live… on a Friday afternoon… with no warning.

Surprise! 

We watched in dismay as their traffic tanked and called in all hands to launch and implement an immediate recovery plan to stop the bleed.

That was in March 2023. However, it took around five months for the organic traffic to return to pre-launch numbers, which hints at the lost revenue in the interim. 

Let’s now take a look at the multitude of factors that come into play when you tinker with your website. 

1. Redirects: The Pathways of Your Site

Redirects are the signposts that guide users and search engines from old URLs to new ones. They need to be mapped out meticulously during the planning phase and tested rigorously post-launch. Using tools like Screaming Frog or Sitebulb for crawling these on a staging environment is ideal. Aim for a 1:1 match between old and new URLs wherever possible, but don’t shy away from consolidating pages if it makes sense. 

For example, redirecting “website.com/waxing/” to “website.com/products/waxing/” with a 301 redirect ensures users and search engines find the right page.

2. URL Structure: The Skeleton of Your Site

Think of your website’s URL structure as its skeleton—a crucial framework that supports and organises the entire body of content. Just as a well-constructed skeleton is essential for mobility and strength, a well-planned URL structure is vital for SEO and user navigation. It’s not just about making your site look organised; it’s about making it accessible and understandable to both search engines and humans.

When planning your site’s migration, the URL structure deserves careful consideration and strategic planning. Here’s why:

  • Search Engine Crawling and Indexing: A clean, logical URL structure helps search engines crawl your site more efficiently. Search engines like Google use the path of URLs to understand the hierarchy and relationship between pages. This understanding can influence how your site’s content is indexed and ranked.
  • User Experience (UX): Users favour websites that are easy to navigate and understand. A URL that clearly indicates the page’s content (for example, website.com/products/waxing/ for a waxing product page) enhances user experience by making it easier for visitors to guess what they will find on a page before they click through.
  • Keyword Relevance: Including relevant keywords in your URLs can also contribute to better SEO performance. While it’s not the most critical factor, it helps reinforce the relevancy of your content to search engines, aiding in your overall SEO strategy.
  • Link Sharing and Readability: Simple, descriptive URLs are more likely to be shared and clicked on. They are easier to read and understand, making them more appealing in social media posts, emails, and other digital communication forms.

Best Practices for URL Structure in Site Migration

  • Maintain Simplicity: Aim for short, readable URLs that convey content relevance at a glance.
  • Use Hyphens to Separate Words: This makes URLs easier to read and is the standard practice for SEO-friendly URLs.
  • Avoid Unnecessary Parameters: Dynamic parameters can clutter your URL and make it less user-friendly. Whenever possible, opt for static URLs.
  • Follow a Logical Hierarchy: Your URL structure should reflect the organisation of your site. This hierarchy helps users and search engines understand the relationship and importance of pages on your site.
  • Consistency is Key: Ensure consistent naming conventions across your site. This consistency helps with site management and creates a predictable pattern for users and search engines.

During a site migration, revisiting and refining your URL structure is an opportunity to correct any historical issues and align with these best practices. By doing so, you not only enhance the SEO potential of your site but also improve the overall user experience—a win-win in the digital world.

3. XML Sitemap: The Index of Your Site

Your XML sitemap acts as a directory for search engines, guiding them through your site’s pages. Update it to reflect the new URL structure, ensuring all links are active (status code 200) and free from redirects or errors. Tools like Screaming Frog or Sitebulb can help test your sitemap before it’s submitted to search engines. Remember, a clean sitemap is a searchable sitemap.

4. Robots.txt: The Gatekeeper of Your Site

The Robots.txt file tells search engines which parts of your site they can and can’t crawl. Determining the proper directives and syntax for this file ahead of time—and testing it—is crucial. Include the URL of your XML sitemap here to make search engines’ jobs easier.

5. On-Page Elements: The Interior Design of Your Site

On-page elements are like the interior design of your website. Just as the choice of colours, furniture, and layout can transform a house into a home, these elements refine and define your site’s appearance and usability, significantly influencing both user experience and search engine optimisation (SEO). Here’s why they’re crucial during a site migration and how to optimise them effectively.

The Role of On-Page Elements in SEO and User Experience

  • Content Quality and Relevance: At the heart of on-page SEO is content. High-quality, relevant content that satisfies user intent can elevate your site’s ranking and authority. During migration, ensuring that content is accurately transferred and updated to meet current SEO standards is essential.
  • Title Tags and Meta Descriptions: These elements are the first interaction users have with your site on a search engine results page (SERP). Think of them as the curb appeal of your website. Well-crafted title tags and meta descriptions can significantly impact click-through rates. They should be concise, include target keywords, and accurately describe the page content.
  • Header Tags: Header tags (H1, H2, H3, etc.) organise your content hierarchically and make it easier to read. They also give search engines indicators of the content’s structure and key points. Each page should have a clear, relevant H1 tag, followed by H2s and H3s for subsections, incorporating relevant keywords naturally.
  • Internal Linking: Internal links not only help with site navigation but also spread link equity (ranking power) throughout your website. A strategic internal linking structure can boost the SEO performance of individual pages. Ensure that all internal links point to the new URLs post-migration and that they’re relevant and helpful for the user.
  • Image Optimisation: Images enhance the user experience but can slow down your site if not properly optimized. Ensure all images are compressed for faster loading times, use descriptive file names, and include alt text for accessibility and SEO.

Best Practices for On-Page Elements in Site Migration

  • Audit and Update Content: Review content for relevance, accuracy, and engagement. Update outdated information, remove redundancies, and ensure your content strategy aligns with current SEO best practices.
  • Optimise Title Tags and Meta Descriptions: Each page should have unique title tags and meta descriptions that accurately reflect the page content and incorporate target keywords. This optimisation is crucial for improving visibility and click-through rates.
  • Structured Header Tags: Maintain a clear hierarchy in your content with properly structured header tags. This structure not only benefits the reader but also helps search engines understand the content’s organisation.
  • Review and Revise Internal Linking: Ensure all internal links are updated to reflect the new site structure and URLs. This process includes removing broken links and optimising anchor text for relevance and SEO.
  • Optimise Images: Compress images to reduce load times, rename files to be descriptive and include relevant keywords, and ensure all images have appropriate alt text for accessibility and to provide context to search engines.

By meticulously planning and optimising these on-page elements, you enhance your site’s “interior design” and its functionality and appeal to both users and search engines.

6. Post Migration: The Monitoring Phase

After your site goes live, keep a keen eye on traffic and rankings to catch any unforeseen issues. Monitor the site’s performance closely, identifying and fixing problems with urgency. Regularly crawling the site post-migration will help you catch and correct issues like poor or missing redirects, outdated metas, and broken internal links.

Website Migration Made Simple

Website migration might seem like a Herculean task, but with the right planning, tools, and mindset, it can be a smooth transition. And a beneficial one, too!

Remember, the goal is not just to maintain your SEO standings but to improve them, making your site more accessible and enjoyable for users and search engines alike. By avoiding common pitfalls and following the advice shared today, you’re setting your site up for success in its new phase of life. 

If you’ve got questions or you’re planning changes to your site, we warmly invite you to get in touch with our friendly, experienced team.