There are lots of reasons why a business needs to go through a site migration. Whatever the case, if it is done properly, you can offset some of the risks to SEO of a site migration. But what are the key areas to look for?
Why migrate your site?
There are lots of reasons that you might need to migrate your site. A few examples can include:
A change to CMS or platform – maybe you are unhappy with the current platform or it simply doesn’t provide the features you need. Migrating to a new platform or CMS can be the best option. You can see this comprehensive guide for more on this
Changing to HTTPS – adding the recommended layer of security to your site is important for SEO but is also a migration and can cause problems
Changing your domain – maybe you have outgrown your old website URL and want a new one or are rebranding. This would mean a migration to your new site
What are the SEO risks (and how can you avoid them)
There are clear risks to your search engine ranking when you migrate your website because it effectively breaks that flow the search bots use to find and crawl your site. By looking at the biggest risks, you can see how to best avoid them.
Decline in organic traffic
It is common to see a change to organic traffic immediately after migration, but the key is to ensure this doesn’t last for too long or become a steady decline. The risk here is that the new domain is seen as weaker than your old one due to its newness – all those backlinks are no longer pointing to it and the domain authority weakens.
The solution is to put together a URL mapping document to tell Google where old URLs are now going to be found and pass on their ‘link juice’ to the new pages. Examples of what could be in it include:
Which pages to lose or use 301 redirects
Important pages to migrate
Which URLs are the most important
Which pages match which old ones
Broken internal links
Broken internal links are where pages or posts link to others but due to the migration, these links are broken, and the user gets a 404 error. This is where you have not mapped or redirected a page to anywhere and the link is therefore broken.
Use a tool to find broken links and then redirect them to the right place. The URL mapping process will help with this, but it is easy for some to be missed so regular checks for any broken internal links is an important ongoing job.
Lower conversion rate
Another common issue is that conversion rates take a downward turn when you migrate your site. There are a few reasons this can happen such as:
Redesigning the site while migrating so it is hard to tell what the cause of the change of conversion rate is
Different form fill boxes, colours or styles
Added steps in the purchase process that puts customers off or is no longer compulsory for them to sign up
An intrusive pop up
There are tools that can help to identify what the underlying cause to the conversion rate change could be. For example, hot spot tools tell you where people are clicking – do they click out of the pop up? Are they not scrolling long enough to see the signup box? By studying behaviour on site, you can get ideas about what isn’t working and make changes.
Search Console issues
When migrating a site, it isn’t uncommon to run into issue with Google Search Console and these can impact SEO. A manual action for unnatural links is one example – a spammy link or from a low-quality website that is pointing to your new site. Because it is new, this affects the site more than it would with the older, more established one.
Having an SEO specialist check over your website and backlinks is a good way to avoid this kind of problem. You can also check Search Console yourself and see what issues and problems are showing.
There are all kinds of indexing problems you can encounter when making a site transfer. But if there are lots of them such as a big difference in indexation count, then this can rapidly impact SEO standing.
Look to see if pages are being indexed twice due to the migration. Search from your site in an incognito window and see what comes up. If the old site still appears, it is also indexed, and this can lead to problems. Or if your new site doesn’t appear, then something could be stopping it from being indexed.
Get the right help
There’s no doubt that migrating a site is a big job and there are lots of common problems that can have an impact on site traffic. It is often a good idea to get the right help with the process to spot these common problems and deal with them before your traffic dies off completely.
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