Each migration has its level of risk and complexity and that is why you need proper planning.
You might want to do a Site Migration because of a Rebranding or due to a change in the framework or Content Management System (CMS) you want to use.
Whatever the reason is, to make it a smooth, fast process and to avoid repercussions on your SEO performance, there are a few simple steps I advise you to follow.
You need to prepare for a site migration in order to avoid one of the worst things that could happen to your website: lose ranking positions and traffic to your site.
A well done site migration should not affect the SEO signals your website has gained throughout the years. You do not want to lose the trust associated with your domain as well as the relevance of all the content you have built over time.
At the same time, based on a statement made by John Muller, a site migration that has been correctly implemented, should only take up to 2 days for Google to become 100% aware of it.
In fact, he says: “Nowadays our systems are pretty good, (…) sometimes within a day or two things will just switch over. And you’ll see pretty much no change with regards to search.” (John Muller)
So let’s see how to make that happen and avoid complications.
Aspects to pay attention to BEFORE you do a Site Migration.
First and foremost, you want to make sure that a Backup of the existing site has been done. This is the only way you can roll back the changes in case something goes wrong.
Another crucial aspect to take into account, is that you need a staging environment where to implement all the changes first, before moving them to production.
That being said, the other 3 main things you need to do before you migrate:
- Mapping of the URLs. Crawl your entire site and create a list of all the existing urls. This will allow you to have a clear overview of the website. Then, you need to work on creating a Benchmark of the Performance of the existing pages and the main keywords they are ranking for. This is especially important for your top pages and it will allow you to compare the pre and post migration SEO performance.
- Definition of the Redirects that need to be set if the site migration implies a change in the urls.
- Preparation of an SEO checklist with all the SEO aspects you need to check. The checklist will be an extremely useful and effective way to test all the changes on your staging environment first and once they are live.
Perform an Audit of the site in your Staging Environment.
The next step is to review the changes implemented on your testing environment and make sure that everything looks good before moving to production.
The goal here is to double check that there are no changes that are not required and that the site migration will not make things worse.
The comprehensive checklist will guide you in this process and make sure nothing gets forgotten.
This way you can easily replicate this auditing process over and over again, especially if you happen to work on site migration quite often.
You might want to organize your audit template in a way that makes it easy to review the following critical aspects:
Indexation and Canonicalised pages:
- Sitemap and Robots files have not been modified
- All the relevant pages have Index / Follow meta robots tags
- Pages that you do not want to index (eg. “author”, “tag” pages) have been correctly deindexed instead
- Pagination is another aspect that can be easily messed up. Make sure it keeps on functioning they way it did or that it follows the new revised functioning you wanted to implement
- No duplicate pages have been created
- There are no Canonical tags’ issues due to a wrong implementation
- Preferred url version has been specified
- Meta tags and Headers have been transferred over
- All relevant pages have been moved over
- The word count is not lower than it used to be. If that happens, it could mean that some relevant content got lost and you want to add it back
- Breadcrumbs have the same structure as before
- Schema markup has not been messed up
Site Structure and Information Architecture:
- Existing urls’ structure has been transferred over or has been correctly updated like in the case of rebranding
- Navigation and Footer links are the same
- Internal links’ structure. Contextual inlinks and outlinks have been transferred over and there are no broken or insecure “http” links.
- Internal Redirects: double check 302 redirects, redirect chains and loops’ issues
- Orphan pages: no orphan pages’ issue has been detected
- Crawl Depth has not got worse
You want to make sure that your pages’ speed and, consequently, your site speed has not got worse either.
One easy way to help you perform this audit, is to run the site, still in staging, on Screaming Frog.
Move to Production and Compare the SEO Performance
To make sure that the site migration has not negatively affected your website you need to perform the same audit once the migration has been moved to production. In fact, it often happens that some of the changes do not get published to production.
Once the site migration has been completed and you have confirmed its correct execution, you want to wait some time and then perform a comparison of the pre and post site migration data.
This means that you will use the initial benchmark of your pages’ SEO performance to see if there was any negative effect after the migration.
As already mentioned, before the migration, you have to map the main keyword(s) each page on the site is ranking for, starting from the top pages. One way to do that is by using the Search Results’ section in Google Search Console (GSC) tool.
Select the page you want to check, look at the main ranking keywords for that specific page and to metrics like:
- Total Clicks
- Total Impressions
- Average CTR
- Average Position
Another even simpler way to do that is to connect Screaming Frog with GCS as well as Google Analytics (GA) and the data will be populated directly in the Screaming Frog dashboard and can be easily exported.
The only thing you have to do now is compare your SEO performance before and after the site migration and carefully track its impact on your overall SEO strategy.