Site Migration SEO Survival Kit
Imagine: For months you have been planning to launch a new site. The design looks great, the content is engaging and you are excited about the update. However – the site launches, your traffic drops dramatically, and you are never able to recover from the loss.
Migration to a new site can significantly damage a sites organic traffic if not correctly managed. Search engines need to be properly instructed and redirected to the new site in order to maintain ranking and indexing and ensure the above scenario does not occur.
After successfully migrating high volume websites (ranging from 40K to 5M pages) I have learned that no matter what you do, your ranking will decrease for 20-30 days. However, implementing the following model will ensure that after a month you regain your SERP position.
If possible, keep the same URLs. If you are changing the URL, it is important to properly set up redirects so that search engines understand it is a new site and not duplicate content they are indexing. Implement 301 redirects for each URL in order to keep the links from the original site. Use a 301 redirect rather than a 302 redirect, because the redirect is permanent and if you are using Windows or Linux it is a header configuration that works for all servers. Make sure to look for hidden URL changes such as moving from .php to .cfm. Internet Officer is a good tool to check your redirects.
If you are changing the structure of your site, then you need to ensure that the meta data can either be transferred or rebuilt. This is a good time to perform a content audit, and add optimized content to be included on the new site.
Be careful not to change too much content so that search engines don’t lose trust in your site.
Don’t forget both your internal and external links. Internal links help distribute link power to important pages, indicate to search engines the important pages on your site, and help search engines understand the new structure of your site. Use a link checker such as Xenu or Yahoo Site Explorer to make sure you don’t have any broken links.
Implement a external link building campaign to the full URL of the new site so that search engines understand you have changed your site and index it a quicker rate. For example, do not link to http://www.domain.com, instead link to http://www.domain.com/index.php. Publishing an online press release is a quick way to gain some links.
Properly submit your data and verify site ownership to Webmaster Tools so that search engines are aware that new content is available and that they should begin crawling it. Sitemaps are the easiest and quickest way for search engines to discover your new site, so make sure to take advantage of them.
Remove all of your old sitemaps, and then create and submit a sitemap listing based on your new URLs and site structure. Make sure to ping search engines and check your crawler rate. Any changes to off-limits content should be updated in your robots.txt. In your robots.txt you can also block sections or paths that existed in the old site but not in the new one.
Don’t change your WhoIs information or search engines will think your website has changed owners, and it may effect your ranking.
If possible, migrate your site in stages – first the site and then the redesign. If your website is seasonal, migrating during off-season is recommended. This will also reduce the possibility of a server performance crisis.
Completing the actual migration does not mean that your work is completed. Use the following methods to identify potential problems and fix them:
- Closely monitor your site on search engines, web analytics and your server logs.
- Use statistic tools to check and compare pre and post launch traffic.
- Monitor crawl errors such as 404 pages for signs that something went wrong, and that you are missing traffic because an old page is not properly linking to a new one.
- Keep both the old and the new site verified in Webmaster Tools.
- Watch search engines to ensure the new pages are properly being indexed.
- In order to prevent any confusion, maintain control of your old site domain for a minimum of 180 days.
This article covers the basics of what is involved to ensure safe SEO migration of your site. If implementing these elements yourself seem overwhelming or confusing, contact Emboodo for a free consultation of how we can help ensure your site migration is a smooth and safe transition.