SEO Migration Guide: How to migrate without losing SEO traffic in 2023

SEO_Migration_Process

Migrating a website can be a daunting task. Not only do you have to move all of your content and images, but you also have to ensure that your website retains its search engine optimization (SEO) rankings.

Website migration, also known as SEO Migration, is a process to minimize any adverse effect on existing organic traffic & ranking when migrating your domain or content.

In A Hurry? Here’s A Quick Summary Of The Article.

Why does SEO Migration Fail?

SEO migration can fail for a variety of reasons. One of the most common reasons is that website owners do not take the time to plan and execute their migration properly, or they do not have an idea about SEO migration. As a result, they may lose traffic and ranking due to the move.

The second reason is implementation errors. Even if you follow the correct steps, if your web development team makes any mistakes in the technical implementations, that can have a significant impact too.

SEO Migration Myths

There are a number of myths surrounding SEO migration.

  • You have to lose traffic and ranking when you migrate your website.

One of the pervasive myths in the SEO world is that you have to lose traffic and ranking when you migrate your website. When you complete the successful website migration, there will be some initial fluctuations. Eventually, traffic levels will return to their previous levels or can even be improved.

  • SEO migration means URL redirecting

Many believe that SEO migration is just a matter of URL redirection. But if you haven’t checked your content gaps, you won’t be able to save your traffic even if you have properly redirected to the new page or the domain. It’s important to do this correctly. Without the correct approach, it can result in significant traffic and revenue loss, from which it can take a few weeks or even several months to recover, if you recover at all.

How To Migrate Without Losing Traffic?

To migrate a website without losing traffic, you must follow the correct migration process and checklist.

You can avoid disasters in website migrations by following the SEO migration checklist. You can download the migration checklist below. However, highly recommend reading through the post to understand the SEO Migration Process and update your knowledge on using the template.

Tools you need

  • Google Search Console Data Or Google Analytics Data
  • Web Crawler/ Site crawl, such as SEMRush, DeepCrawl or Screaming Frog
  • Staging website/test server
  • SEO Migration Checklist
  • SearchMinistry URL Mapper Free Chrome Extention

SEO Migration Checklist

The SEO Migration Checklist below outlines the most important SEO considerations for successful website migration. Simply download the checklist and use it as a guide during your next migration.

SEO Migration Process

1. Data Gathering

Before any website migration, you must gather as much important information as possible. You’ll need this to compare with the new website later. Below are the main steps and information you need to gather.

  1. Website Full Crawl
    Obtain information about all links on the site. We recommend you use tools like SEMRush, DeepCrawl, or Screaming Frog for this purpose.
  2. Export top-performing pages in Google Analytics / Google Search Console
    Determine the top-performing pages on the current site. By drilling down into user behavior, you can see what pages have the highest traffic at the top of pages report on Google Analytics. We recommend using Google Search Console top pages for at least the last 6 months. You can export top-performing pages’ “Clicks” and ” Impression” data.
  3. Export Internal Linking Structure
    Your Google Search Console is the best place to export the internal link structure. Go to  Internal Links in the Google Search Console and export all the links.
  4. SEO Benchmark keywords ranking report
    If you have a set of keywords you are optimizing already, ensure you get the latest report before making any changes to the site.
  5. Loading Speed Report
    You can use tools like Google Speed Insights to know the site’s speed. This will be helpful if you need to compare the new website’s loading performance against the old one.
  6. Copy XML Sitemap
    This will be helpful for comparing the URLs with the new website sitemap. Copy or save the XML sitemap into Excel.
  7. Identify growth opportunities
    Most people ignore this, but if you have identified the issues within the current website and bottlenecks affecting the SEO performance, migration is the ideal time to address those issues. Fixing existing issues will help to boost your organic traffic.

2. Review, Comparison & Redirection Matrix

At this stage, we compare the design environment and staging site with the data we have gathered.

  1. Review new Design UX/ Mobile UX issues
    This is the opportunity to look at any possible issues within the UX. Check whether it’s mobile-friendly and meets mobile optimisation requirements.
  2. Review Staging Environment
    Make sure your new site blocks Search Engines for crawling and indexing.
    But you may need to allow other crawlers you use to crawl the staging site.
  3. Runs a Crawler on the staging site
    By running a full crawl on the staging site, you will understand the new site structure and possibly identify and fix the issue before launching.
  4. Review the SEO structure of new pages.
    Review whether the page structure has a proper On-Page SEO structure such as H1 tag, subtopics, and enough text content.
  5. Review the new sitemap compared with the old sitemap.
    This is when you can compare your old sitemap with the new website sitemap. Sometimes this might not be in development yet, but better ask the development team about this as early as possible.
  6. Review Navigation, click depth, and internal links structure
    Compared with the old link structure, ensure new links’ click depth doesn’t exceed 3 clicks. If you need to make any changes to the URL structure, recommend those changes at this point.
  7. Compare with top-performing pages.
    Now check the structure of your existing top-performing pages. Do you have at least the same copy on the new pages? Are there any changes to the text content on new pages? If you lose some content as part of the SEO migration process, you will lose content authority, dropping ranks. This is one of the most neglected areas in SEO migration.
  8. URL Map & Redirection Matrix
    Then we come to the most common aspect of website migration. 301 URL redirection matrix. We need to identify the pages that no longer exist and any URLs that change the URL structure etc, and need to be redirected to the appropriate new URL with 301 redirection methods.

    To compare your old URLs to new URLs in bulk in seconds, download
    SearchMinistry URL Mapper Free Chrome Extention

Update – Google: Keep Old Redirected URLs In Sitemaps Files Temporarily

To a Twitter post by @brodieseo, Google @JohnMu confirms that submitting an old sitemap to Google to crawl temporally is good. This will help Google to pick up redirects more easily, assisting the migration.

3. Launch Day Evaluations

  1. Domain Redirect/ Changes in domain address if applicable in GSC
    This is applicable if you are only changing to a new domain. Create a new profile in GSC or update the domain change.
  2. Remove “no index”, and no follow codes.
    Another common point, especially developers forget to update. Make sure you unblock Search Engines.
  3. Check robots.txt file
    Make sure search engines can access the site without an issue and block sections you don’t want to crawl by Google.
  4. Use Fetch as Google to test crawling issues.
    To double-check, you can use Fetch as a Google option in the Google Search Console account to check for any issues in Google crawling.
  5. Submit a new sitemap.
    Submit the new sitemap in Google Search Console.

4. Post-Evaluation

  1. A new website full crawl
    After approximately 5-7 weeks, another full crawl audit on the site is recommended. Try to fix any issues identified within this crawl.
  2. Compare top-performing pages with new pages.
    Compare old top-performing pages’ traffic performance with new top pages. If there is no significant drop in organic traffic, that means you have done your part correctly most of the time. However, note that at this time, the ranks can fluctuate. If it’s not too significant, give it more time and compare again.
  3. Run SEO benchmark ranking report.
    Finally, run your organic keyword ranking report to check for any improvements or drop in rankings. If there is more opportunity to improve, continue to improve the site until you reach your goal.

Final recommendations when moving a site,

  1. If you can split your site, move it into small sections at a time. In this way, you can reduce the risk of total change or a drop in traffic.
  2. Do the migration within lower traffic periods. Most possibly midnights or during weekends.

SEO Migration Types

With the Migration Checklist provided above, we have given all possible scenarios for SEO migration. However, each checkpoint might not be applicable to all the site migration types.

Depending on your requirements, you can skip some of the steps that we’ll go over later. Choose the section here that applies to you in order to see what steps you’ll need to take for SEO migration.

  • Domain Remains Same, Site Design & URS Structure Is Changing
  • Domain Remains the Same; Site Design & URL Structure Changes
  • Website Domain Change Only; Site Design And URL Structure Remain the Same
  • Domain Name Change and New Design
  • Platform Change Or Upgrade In CMS Version
  • Content Changes / Adding or Removing Pages
  • URL Structure Changes Only
  • Design Changes Only
  • Migrating from HTTP to HTTPS

Domain Remains the Same; Site Design & URL Structure Changes

This is the most common type of site migration, applicable for website redesigns and structural changes. The entire process is applicable except for the domain redirects and domain change updates in your Google Search Console account.

Website Domain Change Only; Site Design and URL Structure Remain the Same

Most of the time this will be because of a change in the brand name resulting in the need for a domain name change. If you are not changing anything except the domain, you do not need to perform any content audits.

Domain Name Change and New Design

This situation applies when you’ve re-branded your business and want to improve your website design and structure.  In this case, the whole process is applicable.

Platform Change or Upgrade in CMS version

This will happen most of the time when you want to upgrade to a new version of your CMS.

In some cases, a CMS upgrade can change your internal site architecture. You need to investigate how the CMS update will change the URL structure and performance metrics like loading speed. Depending on the results, you can skip certain parts of the guide, but we always recommend that you follow the full process.

Content Changes / Adding or Removing Pages

Every change in your content can have an effect on your organic traffic. It can increase traffic, but if you change existing content that was performing well, your traffic can drop. The best option is to check whether you are changing the best-performing content on the site or not. Our recommendation is not to remove such content and always try to improve on it. You’ll need to make sure to redirect URLs with the 301 redirect method.

URL Structure Changes Only

The perfect example of this type of change is the category or product URLs in e-commerce sites. We recommend that you don’t have a deep URL structure for e-commerce sites most of the time. With this situation, the entire process is applicable, as the risk of losing traffic is high even though it’s just a URL change. Just a URL redirection will not cover some scenarios you might not be prepared for if you didn’t follow the entire process.

Design Changes Only

This is applicable when you do conversion, optimisation, or you just need a better look and feel. There’s no change in the URL structure, but there can be a change in layout and text content. In this situation, you always need to compare previous content on the site to the new content. Gaps in content can result in a drop in traffic.

Migrating from HTTP to HTTPS

If you migrate your site from HTTP to HTTPS, Google treats this as a site move with a URL change. Your rankings and traffic can fluctuate. The best option is to use the 301 redirection method, redirect HTTP to HTTPS, and create a new profile in Google Search Console.

If properly done, website migration actually can increase your organic website performance, not the other way.

Read the guide from Google for more information.

Author

  • Tharindu Gunawardana

    Tharindu is a passionate digital marketing specialist with over 14 years of experience planning and executing cross-channel digital media campaigns in the Asia Pacific and Australia. He is also known as the SEO wizard due to his extensive knowledge and technical skill in SEO.

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Mark
Mark
5 years ago

Thanks for the comprehensive guide. Sometimes staging sites are blocked for crawl , in that case how to run a crawl.

Tharindu Gunawardana
4 years ago
Reply to  Mark

If you are using Screaming Frog, you can actually bypass any settings in the robots.txt file. Just go to Configurations> Robots.txt>Custom

Darnell Hanes
4 years ago

Really informative, thanks for sharing this!

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