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Site Migration Checklist: An SEO Guide

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Re-launching a site, whether a new version or a re-brand can affect SEO visibility if not done mindfully, by hurting rankings, causing a loss in trust flow, sometimes also affecting user experience.

In some cases, migrating to a new site carelessly and without any sort of SEO awareness might even cause a loss of all rankings due to Google not comprehending and thus acknowledging the site migration, which would be counter-productive to the initial reasons behind site migration; increasing visibility and improving UX to drive traffic and increase your conversion rate

Reasons for Site Migration:

  • Upgrading to HTTPS

Back in August 2014, Google announced that site using HTTPS site would benefit from minor boost in rankings, hoping to encourage a safer web.

  • Changing Brand Name

Rebranding and changing the name of the site would involve similar actions, although it is also important to ensure users understand that this is the same brand as otherwise they could land on the site and bounce off straight away thinking this wasn’t the right company. Bounce rate being a ranking factor, it is crucial to make it clear through design or in writing above the fold that this is merely a change of name.

This is nevertheless an important change, for which you should prepare to see performance slow down for some time.

Consequently, you might want to think strategically about this, and implement your site’s migration during a low business period, avoiding any peak periods. 

  • Changing Top Level Domain (TLD) 

Depending on your strategy and target audience, it might be beneficial to migrate your TLD to a more specific one to focus country target further, or in other cases, to a more general TLD if you wish to internationalise, which could then be targeted to countries at sub-domain levels. Additional considerations  would include:

  • implement hreflang tags
  • geo targeting change in Search Console 

Site Migration Steps: SEO Checklist

Migrating to a new site implies you already had a live website, for which you should have done a keyword research and competitors’ analysis to help define your keyword strategy.

This will be essential in helping optimise your new site, and notably meta and heading tags, content, URL structure and interlinking.

1) Notify your SEO Agency: once you have decided on getting a new site, make sure to let your SEO agency (or team) know, in order for them to be able to assist and support you throughout the process, as well as ensuring off-site and on-site optimisation is on point. We also recommend that you give your agency access to the staging site at least a couple of weeks before completion so that any issues or errors and optimisation can be checked.

2) URL Structure:

  1. Compile a full list of all the URLs on the current site by crawling the site. Screaming frog is probably the best tool to use to do so.
  2. Then map out an ideal URL structure based on the keywords you are targeting for your new site. It is important to include folders rather than having all the pages on the root which will help Google understand the hierarchy of your pages and the importance that should be attributed to them.
  3. Try to assign a corresponding new site URL (or best option) to all current URLs which you will then need to 301 redirect.

3) 301 Redirects: it is crucial that you do not implement a blanket redirect redirecting all pages from your old site to your new home page (or any other single page or section) of your new site.

  1. Instead, set-up page-to-page 301 permanent redirects to new corresponding pages in order to pass on as much link authority as possible, preserve rankings and prevents drops in traffic. This will also avoid any user clicking through to a specific page featured on SERPs relevant to their search query and then being redirect to a generic page which could cause them to bounce off your site.  
  2. Also, ensure that only the preferred domain is accessible with sitewide non-www to www redirects and that non-trailing slash to trailing slash ‘/’ redirects are in place. 

4) Canonical tags: ensure all pages have a rel=canonical tag pointing to the preferred version of the URL to avoid any future duplication issues.

5) Robots.txt file: ensure that search engine crawlers are not allowed to access or index the staging version of the website by password protecting the staging/new site using the Disallow : /  directive (as below) as this could not only cause duplication issues, and thus hurt your rankings, but also lead users to click through to staging pages from SERPs.

User-Agent: *

Disallow: /

Read more about robots.txt files.

6) Optimisation: ensure new pages are fully optimised, including page titles, meta descriptions, heading tags, content and interlinking based on your keyword strategy and targeted phrases for the different pages.Screenshot 2016-02-18 at 10.49.19

  1. Optimised URL Structure
  2. Homepage Design and Content – Every page should have textual content. This is especially relevant on the homepage to give Google clear signals about what the website is about to consequently assess its relevance to certain keywords which will determine rankings. It should be designed so that there is room for at least an H1 heading tag and some text. Don’t include important text within images as Google won’t be able to read it. We would recommend that any sliders used have web text overlaid to be readable by Google. It is also essential to make sure that your above the fold visual is optimised and designed to be inviting and engaging as will be highly relevant in determining whether a user stays on your site our bounces off.  We would recommend including obvious links to important category pages within the website as well as any offer, promotion or USPs.
  3. Navigation – Ensure that important pages are easily and rapidly findable and accessible, not buried too many clicks away (ideally most pages should be no more than 3 clicks away from the homepage) by taking advantage of navigation dropdowns and footer links.
  4. Calls to action – If possible include a contact form on every page to encourage enquiries, make sure that the telephone number is clearly displayed in the header and that there are links to social profiles in the footer.

7) Dynamic Sitemap.xml: Set up a dynamic sitemap.xml so that all pages are automatically included. This is particularly important for e-commerce websites.

8) Internal Linking:  Make sure that all interlinking links are pointing to the final URL to avoid any unnecessary redirects which could dilute link quality.

9) Schema markup – This markup consists of tags added to the HTML within the website to improve the look of the search results. The basic implementation would be to add it to:

  1. The business contact details in the footer using Local Business Markup (Local Business (http://schema.org/LocalBusiness)
  2. The breadcrumbs (https://developers.google.com/structured-data/breadcrumbs).

The structured data can be tested using the testing tool here : https://developers.google.com/structured-data/testing-tool/. It can also be added to events and products if this is suitable for the website. 

10) 404 Page: Ensure that an optimised 404 page is created correctly so that any incorrect URL has a 404 HTTP Not Found Error header and that a custom 404 page is being displayed to users explaining that the page cannot be found and suggesting further navigation to relevant pages to avoid them exiting the site. This is important as there are likely to be indexed pages which 404 in Google and a user should always be encouraged to stay on the website clicking through to one of them rather than bouncing off.

11) Mobile – Back in April 2015, Google’s mobile friendly algorithm update rolled out, “Mobilegeddon” aimed at boosting ranking for mobile friendly site for mobile search results, making it very important to have a mobile friendly site, notably as mobile searches are overtaking desktop searches in the UK.

The mobile website should allow users access to the same pages as on the desktop and the most ideal implementation would be a responsive design. If not a switch to desktop should be available. Google makes additional recommendations depending on implementation: https://developers.google.com/webmasters/mobile-sites/mobile-seo/

12) Page Speed – This is a ranking factor and should therefore be considered. There are a number of ways to increase the page speed, including plugins for wordpress sites.

The website can be checked using the Google page speed tool here : https://developers.google.com/speed/pagespeed/?hl=en

13) Inbound Links: It is also important to check any links pointing to your site – a great tool to use for this is Majestic – in order to identify any high quality links, notably from domains with high authority and trust flow, to then ensure you get in touch with them to get the links to your site updated to the new URL.

This will allow you to preserve as much link juice and authority as possible. Don’t forget to change your site’s URL on social pages such as Google My Business, G+, Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, Instagram, Pinterest etc.

Screenshot 2016-02-18 at 11.02.22

Google Analytics Checklist:

  • GA Tracking Code: ensure your Google Analytics code is present on all pages, and pasted in the HTML source code right before the </head> tag. You can use Google Tag Assistant to check that it has been correctly implemented.
  • Goals & Event Tracking – If forms or downloads made available on the site do not have a unique landing page URL upon submission or download which can be tracked as a goal destination URL in Google Analytics, you should add event tracking to these forms or downloads, for which your Search Performance agency can provide you with the code to be added.
  • Default URL: ensure you update your web site address (default URL) once the redirects have been set up, under Admin>Property>Property Settings.

Search Console Checklist:

  • Keep the old site verified and add your new site. To do so, you will have to be able to verify the property as a site owner by:
    • Uploading a file to your server
    • Adding a meta tag to your website’s HTML
    • Adding a new DNS record
    • Using your Google Analytics or Google Tag Manager account

NB: If your agency has sufficient access to your Google Analytics account, and is listed as a site owner in Search Console, they will be able to verify your new property for you.

  • Change of address: inform Google that the site has moved through the in the Search Console account of your old property.

Screenshot 2016-02-18 at 11.05.58

  • Use the robots checker in Search Console to check that the website is accessible.
  • Use Fetch & Render in Search Console to check that the page is being viewed the same for search engines and crawlers.
  • Add data highlighting in search console to any news or events pages
  • Sitemap.xml: ensure the sitemap.xml in place with all the new URLs ready to submit to Google once the site is live
  • Robots.txt: make sure the robots.txt file is edited once the site is live so that search engines can crawl the website and make sure that no css or js files are being disallowed.
  • Fetch as Google to encourage crawling: Go to Crawl>Fetch as Google, and then submit your homepage URL, and other main pages to the index, in order to encourage Google to crawl your new site more quickly.

Crawler Checklist

  • Run the list of old website URLs to check that all the redirects are in place, which is something your agency will be able to do.
  • Run the website through a crawling tool to ensure there is no unnecessary redirects, redirect chains, canonical tag errors, 404s and that the optimisation is still in place.

Post Site Migration Checklist: What to do next?

Once the new site is live, it is crucial that you closely monitor any changes, to be able to anticipate and react to any arising issues.

  • Search Console:
      • make sure to monitor the number of indexed pages from the sitemap under Crawl>sitemap
      • check for crawl errors under Crawl>crawl errors  to also see whether there are any links from external websites which would benefit from 301 redirects
  • Google Analytics:
    • monitor organic traffic to be able to notice any suspicious drop in traffic.
    • monitor users’ on site behaviour to assess your sites’ navigability, and content relevance.
  • Crawl the site: check for any unnecessary redirects, redirect chains, canonical tag errors, 404s and optimisation issues.
  • Use the ‘site: ‘  command in Google to check for any indexing or optimisation issues.
  • Monitor Rankings: keep an eye on your SEO visibility and ranking keywords to help you prioritise your next SEO steps, using tools such as Searchmetrics and Sistrix.

Ensuring that all these steps and actions are ticked off for your new website going live will enable the migration to happen as seamlessly as possible, whilst preserving as much SEO value as you can.

To find out how we can help you improve your website health to enhance your organic visibility in order to drive additional traffic to your site and increase leads and revenues, get in touch with us today!


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