If you find yourself having to migrate your website – maybe your platform is out-dated and you figure why not restructure while upgrading, or perhaps your current web host isn’t performing up to expectations – you might wonder how the shift will impact your site’s credibility with search engines.
What is web migration?
Transferring your website to a new domain or applying major structural/design or platform changes constitutes website migration. The challenge is to retain your page ranks and clearly let Google know you have migrated your site and it should treat the new site as a new and improved version of the one before it.
As a site owner or SEO, there are many factors you’ll need to take into account during migration and a few key things you’ll need to do to ensure the following:
- Prevent drops in search engine ranking positions (SERPs) for your targeted keywords
- Prevent reduction in organic traffic
- Reduce broken links (404s)
- Prevent indexing of duplicate content
Migration is a big deal and it helps to sketch up a rough website migration checklist – from both a web development as well as an SEO point of view.
From an SEO point of view, a website migration plan should take into account the following:
The SEO, developer and designer are all going to have different priorities and hence different points of view during the migration. Having everybody on the same page really smoothens the process. The designer and developer should consult the SEO if they’re planning on making any major design or structural changes to the ‘new’ website during migration.
If there are any potential penalties that may arise from such changes, the SEO is well placed to flag the same and suggest alternatives.
Mapping your old website URLs to the revised site structure is probably the most important SEO consideration during website migration. When migrating, your URL structure might change and content that was available on one URL on your legacy site will now sit on another URL on your new site.
Using a 301 redirect will automatically forward the user to the new page, and more importantly, will let Google know the page has moved permanently to a new location, thus allowing it to update its index.
Avoid using 302 redirects, as they don’t pass on as much value, and can instead lead to significant drops in rankings. MOZ has an excellent step-by-step write-up on the URL Mapping Process.
Change of address:
Just like when you shift homes you need to notify the post office and other legal institutions about your change of address, the same needs to be done when migrating a website. In this case, you need to notify Google you’ve moved to a new address, which is simple and can be done via Google Webmaster Tools.
Add your site to your Webmaster Tools account and verify it, then choose the Change of Address option in the settings menu. Select the new site under the drop down that appears and that’s it! Google now knows your website’s new address.
You’re probably going to host your new website on a test domain to make sure everything is perfect before making it live. At this juncture, it’s important to not allow search engines to crawl and index this test environment.
Allowing indexing will lead Google to believe your site contains duplicate content (the original being on your still-live old site), and will also throw up many 404 errors and non-optimized meta information in search results.
Ideally, the test environment should be password protected, or you should allow access from only internal IPs till the website is live, but using the no index meta tag to your header for robots, or disallowing the entire url to be crawled in your robots.txt works almost as well.
The above points are the bare minimum you need to work when migrating your website to avoid SEO-related penalties, but here’s a helpful checklist you can follow to take care of other factors as well:
- Content Canonicalization (Avoid Duplication)
- Filter 404 pages to be removed or redirected
- Remove broken links
- URL Re-writes (301)
- Disable indexing by robots
- Prepare HTML & XML Sitemaps
- Change of Address on Google Webmaster
- Benchmark new site performance against old
It’s hard to even figure out where to start with a shift as major as website migration. We hope the checklist above helps you simplify the process. We can assure it’s not as daunting as it appears if you follow these basic guidelines, and stick to MOZs process for URL Mapping. If you need help migrating your website – be it from one domain to another or from one platform to another – do get in touch with us.