By Jojo Taylor
Are you are considering re-designing your website? Do you want to move your site to a new CMS platform? Or do you just want to change your domain name?
If you answered ‘yes’ to any of these questions, then you are considering a ‘site migration’.
Unfortunately, site migrations are not always as simple as they may seem and can hurt your digital presence if not done well.
But don’t worry! This article will help you understand the risks of site migration, how to mitigate them and how to recover your traffic when a website migration goes wrong.
What Happens When you get it Wrong?
Loss of Website Traffic:
Perhaps the biggest risk when it comes to migrating your website is the potential for a loss of website traffic. While this may often be temporary, in the worst cases a site may never recover.
Decline in Search Rankings:
Loss of traffic is often paired with a decline in Google’s search rankings. An initial decline in Google’s search rankings is all but inevitable when migrating your website. However, a bad migration can mean a site may never reach its original search position and it may even be dropped from Google’s index completely!
Things to Consider when Migrating a Site:
Sound a bit scary? Don’t worry, there are steps you can take!
While there are indeed a number of SEO risks that come with migrating your site, a successful site migration can improve your digital presence in the long-term.
This site migration checklist highlights the common mistakes that people make, how to avoid them, and what actions you should take to migrate your website successfully.
To make it easier for you, we have split the stages of migration into four: Plan, Test, Launch and Monitor.
You need to consider any potential issues that you could run into before they happen. Here are some actions that you can take to plan for your website migration:
- Consider your timing – Even with a well thought out migration strategy, you are still likely to lose website traffic during the first couple of weeks after you launch your new website. Choose to migrate when business is quieter, and your temporary loss of traffic won’t be such a blow.
- Engage with your audience – Engaging with your audience by informing them of the website migration will help them find your website much easier when you first launch.
- Audit your current website – To conduct a website audit, you need to examine thoroughly how well your website works. How fast are the pages on my website? Which pages are generating the most traffic or conversions? Which pages rank highest on Google? Are there any broken links on my website? These are all questions that you should be asking yourself as you go through your site. By answering these questions, you will be able to find out which parts of your current site you should carry over to your new one, and which parts need to be changed so that you can optimise the new site after you migrate.
- Create a redirect spreadsheet – Make a spreadsheet that shows how all the URLs on your current site will correspond to the URLs on your new site. This will come in handy later when you need your old URLs to point to new pages on your site!
- Make an XML sitemap for both your current site and your new site
A surprising number of people underestimate the importance of testing their site first. The testing stage of the process helps you to identify any problems with your new site before it goes live. This allows you to fix them before they affect your search ranking.
The most important thing to remember when testing your site is to make sure that your testing site is not being indexed by Google. This will stop your current site (and your new site) from being penalised by google for duplicate content, and stop users being able to see your site prematurely.
You can do this using a few methods, but we recommend using a ‘noindex’ meta tag in the site’s code to tell Google not to index it. You can also protect your test site with a password to be extra safe.
Having prepared for your site migration and tested your new site, the day has finally come to migrate your site! Once you have migrated the site successfully, there are some steps that you need to take immediately to retain web traffic and search rankings:
- Remember that redirect spreadsheet that you made with your old website’s URLs? Now is the time to use it! You will need to add a 301 redirect to every URL from your old site so that it directs your customer to the appropriate page on your new site. This will prevent returning customers from getting lost on their way to your site.
- Add your Google Search Console and Google Analytics tracking codes to your new site and check that they work – you will need these working to keep track of how your new site is performing.
- Remove any meta tags or passwords that might prevent your site from being indexed by Google.
- Submit your XML sitemap. This will make a big difference when it comes to SEO. Submitting sitemaps allow Google to understand the structure of your site and to identify important pages quicker.
If you think that the hard work is over, you’re wrong. It’s important to keep a close eye on your site after a migration as issues are most likely to appear in the first few weeks.
You will need to check daily that all of your internal links are working correctly. If there are any broken links that lead to 404 error pages, it is best to identify them as soon as they happen to avoid any collateral damage for your website traffic. You will also need to keep an eye on GoogleAnalytics. If you notice a drop in traffic, you will need to figure out the reason for this as soon as possible.
How to Recover from a Bad Site Migration:
You may be wondering if you can recover from a bad site migration. The answer is yes, you can. However, the journey to regaining traffic and search ranking is long and perilous.
To recover from a bad site migration, you will need to start by identifying your problem areas, and this can be a very time-consuming task.
To do this, you will need to conduct a full audit of your site and address all the errors that you find. These will often include problems with redirects, your sitemap, meta tags, canonical tags, links and badly optimised content. Sadly, fixing any number of these can be difficult, and it will be much harder to recover your site once the damage has been done.
Fortunately, there is always expert help available! Diffusion Digital is an eCommerce agency who specialise in WordPress and Shopify as well as digital marketing, so if you’re thinking about migrating your website, we’ll be able to help you through all stages of the process.