So, you have an old and dusty website that needs a serious update. You decide a new fresh look for your website is the only way to get more traffic, leads and revenue.
Luckily for you, you have a friend with a degree in web design. Their portfolio is full of shiny new websites that match a look you’re after. Your new site goes live, but the new traffic you were expecting never comes…
If this sounds familiar, then you probably got caught up the in the excitement of a new website and didn’t focus your attention on SEO. It happens, but it doesn’t have to.
Vertical Measures Went Through This Process, Too
At Vertical Measures, we are not immune to the lure of a shiny new website. In fact, we recently redesigned our website, but managed to avoid major dips in performance because we did it with SEO in mind.
A new site means a chance to fix the issues that had been hindering overall growth. It’s a chance to improve your website, not lose all the hard work put into building an organic audience.
We hear the horror stories of traffic loss from a bad migration, but this is completely preventable with careful planning. To help avoid potential redesign nightmares, we created a checklist for migrating to a new website with SEO in mind.
Website Redesign Checklist for SEO
STEP 1: Map the Redesigned Site Structure
A site migration is an opportunity to optimize everything, including the URL structure of your site. We used our migration as an opportunity to reorganize the URL folder more logically. This is also the time to consider URL format changes like www or non-www and a trailing slash or no trailing slash.
Our blog went through the largest update. We had too many similar categories, so we began renaming, reorganizing and consolidating. We decided on eight categories that perfectly described our expertise in digital marketing.
The new URL structures meant we had to set up redirects from old URLs to new URLs. Luckily, not every URL needed change, so we didn’t have to worry about setting redirects for everything – but we’re damn close.
With any change in site architecture, the search engines need to relearn how your website is structured. Naturally, it’ll take time to update your site index with every new detail of your site architecture, but the result is well worth it.
HTTP vs HTTPS
Ever since Google announced HTTPS as a ranking signal, secure websites have taken over Page 1 results. If your website is one of the last remaining HTTP, then now is the time to start encrypting your user’s data.
Not only is there a ranking benefit, your users feel safer to enter their personal information. Whether filling out a form or making a purchase, Google will process a migration to HTTPS much faster than migrating to a new site architecture. It can quickly scan and update your site index because there’s not much of a difference from your old non-HTTP site.
Now, onto the hard part…
STEP 2: Decide What You Should Migrate
For our site, we updated the site architecture, design and moved to HTTPS. VerticalMeasures.com has been around a long time and we’ve maintained best practices, but a new site meant more opportunities to #ImproveEachDay.
This is one of our favorite company values, so we gladly began the process of updating our website. It took many months of careful planning and execution, but when completed, the fresh look (and boosted performance) made all the effort worth it.
If you’ve had your site for a while, you may have built many unique pages. Some of them may have performed well, and some of them you may want to eliminate. Determining which pages have SEO-value will determine how well your new site design performs organically.
We like to take an aggressive approach and look for anything that might have SEO value. Here are the most important ways to determine which pieces of content to migrate:
How well you rank is partially determined by how many backlinks your site has obtained. Backlinks are the fuel that will drive the success of your site and if you take that away, then your site will fail.
The first step is to look at your backlink profile and see where your backlinks are going to. Use sites like Majestic or Ahrefs to pull your backlink data and start building up your list of pages to carry over.
Even without backlinks pointing directly at a page, it may still garner organic traffic. We looked at organic landing pages for the last 12 months and organized it by sessions.
Pulling impressions and click data will also help determine what to bring over to the new site. We highlighted pages that had little to no organic traffic and set those aside. Everything else we added to the list of priority pages to carry over to the new site.
If your page ranks for a relevant keyword in the top 100 positions, you should bring that page over to the new site. If any search engine ranks your page for a targeted keyword, but it ranks closer to position 100 than position one, consider it a step in the right direction. After all, you don’t want to get rid of something that will potentially help you later. Take the pages with relevant ranking keywords and add them to your redirects list.
Use keyword trackers to help monitor keyword fluctuations after the migration. If things go wrong, a tracker will help identify where it happened. Depending on the size of your keyword rankings portfolio, select the best keywords that represent your site’s goals and begin tracking before migration day.
Not every piece of content can be a winner organically. There will be pages that don’t thrive on search engines but are still valuable on your site. If you’re an e-commerce site, you’re not going to throw away a product because it doesn’t rank.
If you’ve been a long-time follower of our blog, you know we’ve built a lot of content throughout the years. After finding valuable pages for SEO, we had a lot of leftover pages. To find out what to carry over, we had to perform a content audit.
- Do we really need this article of best link building strategies from 2009? No, we need to remove that article because link building back in 2009 is a completely different world compared to today.
- Do we need top tips to become a better content marketer? Yes, sort of. The odds are favorable that there are some valuable evergreen tips in that article.
You don’t have to reuse the whole article. You can be selective and take sections of content to reused for future articles. We now have a treasure trove of content we can repurpose for future use.
STEP 3: Create a List of Redirects
Redirects are the most important part of any migration checklist. If old URLs don’t redirect properly to the new site, your organic traffic will suffer greatly. The redirects will ensure the safe transfer of organic ranking signals from old to new URLs and avoid dropping in keyword rankings. Not setting redirects will send search engine bots and users to 404 Not Found pages, which can have negative consequences.
You will undoubtedly have a couple of duplicate pages. For our site, we highlighted the pages that were changed to fit our new site structure. These pages were redirected using a 301 Permanent redirect to carry over the organic value to the new URL.
Creating our mapping spreadsheet consists of two columns with our old URLs and new URLs. Map your pages pointing to the most relevant pages and avoid taking the easy route by sending everything to the homepage. Google stated that sending all pages to the homepage will be treated as a soft 404.
The day is finally here to show off your shiny new site and begin the journey to more organic success! Unfortunately, the work is only beginning.
On migration day, crawl every important URL to make sure they are going to the correct page and check for broken links. If you have access to a staging site, you could skip this step on migration day by doing this ahead of time.
For our migration, we set up redirects and found the inevitable broken links. However, setting up redirects can cause redirects chains. Removing the extra redirects will reduce latency time and result in improved page load speed. We expected this issue and were prepared to spend time updating internal links.
Check your metadata to make sure everything has transferred over correctly. This means the title tags, meta descriptions and H1 are where they are supposed to be. If they didn’t get transferred properly or if you switched to a new platform that has different default metadata formats, then your keyword rankings may change negatively.
Make sure your analytics tracking is in working order. The new site structure may require an update to the goals and events. Analytics data is important to troubleshoot any mishap from the migration.
If you’re switching domain, claim the new domain in Google Search Console and use their change of address tool to notify Google. Submit your updated XML sitemap to Google to help the discovery and index process. Updating your index will take time, but we can still do things like XML sitemaps to speed it along.
Check your canonical tags to see if they’re updated to the new URL structure. Also, check for pages that do not have canonicals and add them.
Perform tests to check for errors in:
Lastly, crawl the list of valuable SEO pages we told you to keep. Every URL in that list should result in a 200 Found status code, which indicates everything transferred properly.
Follow Through During Post-Migration
Here’s the tricky part: The unpredictability of how search engines are going to respond to your site change. Hope for the best but prepare for the worst. Check the crawl errors report in Google Search Console regularly and update internal linking or set redirects for the significant errors.
Ensure Google is updating your site index and everything is being redirected properly. If you still see several old URLs in your index, then it’s a sign of improper implementation of the redirects.
If there is a way to measure the performance of your website, then do it. It’s a great way to determine if your migration is successful. If there is a drop in organic traffic, use your Google Analytics data to find troubleshoot where the performance drop occurs.
If you keep SEO best practices in mind during website migrations, organic performance doesn’t have to take a hit. If you have any questions on website migration, or you are having trouble regaining organic traffic after redesigning your website. We can help!
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