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Performing a website migration is daunting. One of the most unheralded tasks is making sure organic search rankings do not crumble from the move from one website to the next. Not having someone or a team helping you with this analysis is similar to doing an acquisition without an attorney producing and examining the acquisition documents. But how do you know if that someone or that team is capable of helping you go from one website to the next?
Below is a list of the items you need to look at before going from one website or platform to another. This isn’t every single item you want to look at it, because each migration differs from one to the other, but this gives you a good 30,000 feet overview of what to look for. All of these items have been different initiatives that our team at Visiture has seen firsthand set back an eCommerce website post launch if not handled properly.
This one is the most widely talked about, but unfortunately for the wrong reasons. The reason you execute a 301 redirect is so you can redirect pages with backlinks pointing to your pages, to their new respective pages. If you have a page with zero backlinks, social shares, etc. … then a 301 redirect is not as necessary, though we still recommend them.
Here are times when you need to do 301 redirects during a website migration process:
If you are changing URL structure; i.e., example.com/category/p123 will become example.com/category/product.
If you are moving, deleting, or consolidating categories. Any old categories or URLs that change need to be 301 redirected to new pages.
If you are deleting products. All old URLs need to be 301 redirected to categories or, at least, the homepage.
The Screaming Frog Tool or SEO Powersuite does a great job with performing 301 redirect maps, which is a large spreadsheet of old pages moving toward the new ones. One tactic which is not done very often in website migrations is making sure all of the links are 301 redirected to new places. This is very important, as you might have links to attribute pages, but when you just 301 redirect the category URL, the link still dies because the canonical link disappears when you 301 redirect.
Here are the steps to perform a more complete and thorough 301 redirect map:
Use three tools to acquire all of the backlinks you have, such as Ahrefs, Google Webmaster Tools, and Majestic SEO. These are our three favorite tools for gathering backlinks.
Combine in a spreadsheet all of the “referring pages” into one complete column. If you have vast amounts of links over 50,000, then you can simply consolidate into the ones you value highest. You can also delete the ones going to the homepage, as those will obviously carry over.
Put in which new page the old page will be going toward, and then combine this in your overall 301 redirect map.
Meta Information & Body Content
SEO does not always have to be a struggle with UX and CRO, but there needs to be compromises, especially when it comes to website migrations. There are countless times where the new eCommerce website has no body content, whereas the old version did have body content. Subsequently, when they launch their new site, their category pages suddenly drop in the search engine rankings.
It’s a fact that Google does favor long form content. The 2015 Search Metrics Guide showed that the majority of sites rank higher in Google when they have longer form content on their page. Does this mean we need to write content for all of our category pages? No, but when switching from one platform or website version to another, if you have body content on category pages, you need to transition it over to the new site version; otherwise, you can suffer from the losses the category content was helping to overcome.
In the same situation, our team at Visiture has watched many websites drop in rankings simply from meta information not being migrated over from categories and top-selling products. With any migration, making sure all of the content coming from one site version to the next is critical.
Performing a Technical SEO Audit
It most cases it makes sense to perform a technical SEO audit on both sites, to compare them before a move. There are many reasons and, in our experience, we have found there to be major consequences when not completing an SEO Audit for both sites.
Here are some common items we found from merchants who came to us months after their post launch and, once we remedied their situations, their search traffic went back to the acceptable levels they were at before the launch:
Bread crumbs being tagged with <h1> tags.
No <H1> titles/tags on Category pages.
Product titles being populated in each meta tag on a product; i.e., meta title, meta description, and meta keywords.
“No-index” tags being populated on the homepage and product pages.
“Rel=Nofollow” links on the navigation bar and links throughout the site.
<H1> and <P> tags not being correctly implemented on product pages.
Checking on site speed from one site to the other. If your new site is not faster or at least 90% of the speed of the old site, you can suffer losses.
Checking on the Google Mobility Test. If your site is not mobile friendly for all of the blogs, homepage, categories, and products, you can see a large impact.
Canonical tags are not implemented correctly. You can look into your “source code” by right clicking on the page and retrieving the source code. You can see if your canonical tags are correctly implemented and canonical to the right page.
Ensure your new site has a correct 404 page in case something unforeseen happens.
Making sure the new sitemap is correct and similar to the old site map if you are keeping the structure the same.
All of these items are staples for a successful website migration, in regards to SEO. There are many more, depending on your site, but performing a technical audit for both sites will clear up a lot of issue. The list above is a good checklist to help you get started.
It is important to make sure you submit your sitemap when the new site launches. We have tried before and after, but the best scenario we have found is to resubmit your sitemap in Google the day of the new website launch. You can do this in Google Webmaster Tools.
Do Not Lose SEO Knowledge
Generally, this is more for retailers who have a history of search engine optimization work. There might have been past consultants, SEO managers, or others who have made many discoveries and optimization techniques. Sometimes we see this knowledge not being transferred to the new site.
Here are some good examples of this not being accomplished:
Not looking in Google Webmaster Tools to identify which settings you have, such as which pages you want Google to crawl.
Not importing over rich snippets and schema markup into the new version.
Not incorporating old 301 redirect maps or old 301 redirects into the new map.
Make sure you look in the old Robots.txt file for anything that should be moved over.
These items are normally rare ones that we see. However, as a general best practice, you want to go back and identify the old work completed by SEO teams and make sure all of this work will carry over and not hurt you on the new migration.
One thing that you should keep in mind – There is no SEO migration process that can 100% guarantee that you will not fall in Google’s search rankings. Basically, Google can do whatever it pleases.
One thing we have seen in the past, which we have labeled as “grandfathering in,” is where a website has historically ranked in Google search engines and, because they have good usability factors such as high CTR and low bounce rate, they will not be dropped in Google search for particular phrases. This happens a lot when old websites with poor usability like “nonresponsive,” “an outdated design,” or “slow site speed” somehow continue to rank high in Google search.
You must understand, if you are “grandfathered” in Google search, you will eventually drop. Google will sooner or later value other websites more due to their design being more updated or the fact the other websites achieve more backlinks from being a “better source” of information or products. Google will drop you, and the longer you wait to do the redesign, the longer it takes to get back into the high rankings for Google search. This happens time to time, and it is impossible to know if you are being “grandfathered” in.
However, there are steps to get a better idea of whether you are “grandfathered” in:
Look at the web pages below you for your particular search phrase in Ahrefs. Do they have a higher backlink score? Do they have more backlinks? Do people find them more popular and link to them more?
Look at the web pages below you in Google page speed and mobility tests. Are they faster and mobile friendly? If so, sooner or later they will overtake you.
Are the web pages below you better designs? If so, consumers will interact better with more polished designs, unless you have much better competitive advantages on products/price. But, if you are in a SKU competitive market, you could be leapfrogged in a matter of weeks.
It is tough to stomach the thought of losing your high rankings, but if you are there just because of historical data, then it is better to do the new site design sooner, than later, because then it makes the process of getting back easier than if you wait until the other sites finally overtake you.
We hope this guide helps you in your journey from one website to the other. Every migratio
n is different, but hopefully this provides more clarity and helps you moving from one site to the next.
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