How To Migrate To A New Website Safely For Your SEO

SEO | 5th May 2017 | Mark



It’s never an easy decision to redesign your website or move the platform completely but sometimes it is necessary to keep up with the increasing demands of the latest technology.

Once the decision has been made, however, there is no going back. In these instances, it is essential that you have a plan in place to make sure your hard earned SEO efforts on your old site do not go to waste.  Therefore, it is imperative that you have a structured SEO migration strategy. This article explores the requirements for migrating your old site to a new site from an SEO stand point.

301 Redirects

The biggest issue you will face is ensuring you don’t lose any pages or strength of those pages. In order to achieve this, take a crawl of your current site using a tool like Screaming Frog being sure not to miss any of the current URLs.

Once this is completed you will then need to map the old URLs against your new website to ensure that all of the old URLs have a new home on the new site. If they do not match exactly then just use your best judgement on where to point the old URLS.

Avoid pointing to many URLs directly to the home page unless there is absolutely nowhere else for them to go.

Once you have them mapped out you will need to create a redirect file in whatever format suits your server. Usually, a htaccess file will suffice. There is much debate around on which type of redirect to use but in our opinion ensure that all redirects are 301 redirects so as not to lose any of the hard earned link value you have built up for your old website.

If you have been clever, when building your new site, you will have created it with exact match URLs so redirecting will not be a problem. If you are reading this prior to starting a build seriously consider this as an option as redirecting is very time consuming and should be done manually so as not to miss anything.

Top Tips: Avoid pointing too many URLS to the home page. Point as many as possible to more relevant pages to get the best out of your link authority.

If you are reading this prior to building your new website save yourself a lot of time and construct your link architecture the same way as your old site.

Title Tags

Title tags are also very important from an SEO perspective so once you have your crawl of the site you will be able to locate the title tags. If you have used Screaming Frog your title tags can be found surprisingly enough within the title tag section of the menu making it easy to extract them all.

Once you have mapped out your URLs and know where they are pointing it will then make the task of transferring the titles over an easy one.

If you are tech savvy a script can probably be produced to drop the mapped titles directly into the database speeding the whole process up. In my opinion though performing manually is a much safer approach, especially if you are migrating a site that already has lots of traffic. The last thing you want is the wrong title tags on the wrong pages.

Top Tip: Automation isn’t always the best option. Avoid having to rectify mistakes by either manually inputting your title tags from the old site to the site yourself or triple checking any automation you have created to do this.

Canonical Tags

Most platforms today will take care of this for you automatically but it’s worth pointing out just in case your chosen platform doesn’t. Duplicate content is very bad for SEO so check to see if your new platform handles canonicalisation automatically or if you are going to have to build it into your migration plan.

How to use canonical tags

If you are doing it yourself be sure that you input the correct URLs as even a slight mistake could render your new page invisible to search engines.

Top Tip: Canonical tags tell the search engines which URL to count as the URL for that particular page so if you have made a mistake all the strength of that page could be lost so even if your new platform automates this it’s worth double checking they are correct.

Heading Tags

These appear on page but are vital for search engines to understand what each page is about so unless you are re-writing each page and changing its focus don’t forget to transfer your heading tags.

They are less important these days in terms of rankings but in our opinion without over optimising, everything we can do to help the search engines understand our pages should be done.

Various Heading Tags

Top Tip: If in the past you have only made use of the H1 tag why not take this opportunity to incorporate H2, H3 and H4 even to further help the engines. Just be sure not to over optimise. Provide useful informative heading that explains the content well.

At Tags

Alt tags are almost always overlooked when migrating a site or in a lot of cases in general. They play a huge role in the site’s overall visibility. Some may argue with this but our belief is that they should always be optimised.

How To Use An Alt Tag

Alt tags inform the search engines what each image is and is vital for appearing in the Google Images search vertical so don’t forget. The image title element is also important for appearing in Google Images so if you haven’t made use of this on your old site be sure to include it during your sites migration as you will see the benefits.

Top Tip: Check to see if your current site uses the Alt Tag effectively. If it does then great, make sure you migrate. If it doesn’t, improve your chances of appearing in Google Images by adding them to your new site.

Meta Descriptions

Meta descriptions are less important for SEO but play a big part in your click through rate. Unless you plan on completely rewriting them don’t forget to transfer these over also.

Even if you do plan on rewriting it will enable you to launch the site quicker if you transfer them initially and then rewrite them after site launch.

Top Tip: As they are less important for rankings people write them and forget about them. After your migration conduct a few searches and see what your competition are doing with Meta Descriptions as you may be able to improve your own click-through rate as a result.

robots.txt file

Whatever you do, do not transfer your robots.txt over like for like. Most platforms have their individual nuances that should be blocked from search engines so before embarking on a migration make sure you familiarise yourself with them.

There are many resources online for pretty much any platform you can think of that will help you to create the perfect robots.txt. Here is Googles help for robots.txt files

Take this opportunity to also block useless parts of the site from being crawled. A good way to test this is to go back to our old friend Screaming Frog and run a site crawl on your new site. A lot of platforms tend to create crawls that can go on forever due to poorly filtered navigation etc. creating infinite pages due to all of the different combinations so that the crawl never finishes.

If your crawl can never finish, then a search engine will also surely get bored and not crawl all of your pages. If it does you run the risk of some important pages not being indexed after the migration.

Pay attention to your robots.txt and ensure it is optimised to its maximum potential.

Top Tip: Keep running screaming frog on your new site and adding unnecessary pages to your robots.txt file until the crawl can complete. This will help Google when crawling your site also.

XML Sitemap

The XML sitemap used to be standard in the SEO world as a means of telling Google which pages to crawl on your site. Today with the advances in search engine technology they are less important. As stated earlier though anything you can do to help has to be a bonus.

As with the robots.txt make sure you don’t forget to update your XML Sitemap and transfer it like for like. If you do your site will be saying one thing to the engines and your sitemap will be saying another. Be sure to update it and then head on over to your search consoles and update them in there.

Top Tip: A lot of people forget about their sitemap once uploaded and if your new site does not keep it updated for you this can cause problems. If you delete pages from your site your sitemap may still be showcasing them. when Google crawls it it will result in a 404 error unless it has been redirected. Be sure to check in on your XML sitemap regularly and keep it updated and don’t forget to resubmit to Search Console when updated.

Website Content

This is pretty standard and we wouldn’t expect any of you to forget this but if we are doing a guide on what not to forget then copy has to be a major one.

Main site copy will 99 times out of 100 not be forgotten but your blog might be. If using a WordPress blog, there are numerous extensions out there that can make transferring your blog posts over very quick. A simple search within the plugin section will bring these to light.

We would recommend taking this migration opportunity to get rid of thin content from your blog. Content that underperforms can do more harm than good for a website. If you are taking the time to produce a new site only switch over amazing blog posts.

Google Analytics Example Showing Thin Content

Top Tip: When moving your content make sure you only move quality content. If it isn’t quality make it great before moving it. If you can’t make it great but still want to transfer it we would recommend No Following it and No Indexing it to be safe.

Page Load Speed

Page load time is playing more of an important role in terms of rankings these days especially as usability metrics are coming more into play. When migrating check your current site speed against various pages of your site before the switch over.

Google Page Speed Insights Example

This isn’t something you can do prior to the switch over in most cases but if you are prepared and know what you are aiming for as a minimum, configuring your site speed on your new site needs to be one of your first tasks post go live.

Top Tip: Spend the time on site speed as it is becoming more important as a ranking factor. Certain platforms are heavier than others but all will be able to be improved even if it is not possible to get them into the green.

Update Most Valuable Links

It makes sense that once the site has gone live to revisit your link profile and go through it searching for your best links. Ideally, it would make sense if you could contact everybody who has linked to you and ask them to update their own site with the new link location but probably not going to be possible.

Our recommendation is to focus on your most valuable links and make contact with those Webmasters and asks them to swap. They may not wish to do so but there is no harm in asking and as you have already redirected the pages will not cause too many issues but its always best to have your links point to the exact pages they should be.

Top Tip: Download all your links from as many sources as possible, Moz, Magestic SEO, Search Console, A Hrefs. Put them all in one spreadsheet and delete duplicates. Sort in order of Domain Authority and work your way down.

Summary

Migrating a site is a huge job but with the correct preparation shouldn’t be too painful. Getting your redirects correct from the beginning is in our opinion the most important tip we can provide.

We also suggest closely monitoring 404 errors post go live as well as your rankings. If 404 errors increase rapidly, you have forgotten pages to redirect so should be rectified immediately and if rankings start to drop you might have made mistakes with canonicalisation or titles or something else. Without the correct monitoring in place, it will be difficult to tell. Good luck.

SEO Migration Checklist

  • Redirect all of your old URLs and map them to individual new URLs
  • Transfer all your title tags
  • Ensure canonicals are transferred and are correct
  • Transfer your heading tags
  • Transfer your alt tags
  • Transfer your meta descriptions
  • Update your robots.txt to block correct resources and pages
  • Update your sitemap.xml to only display new URLs
  • Transfer your sites content and blog posts
  • Optimise your page load speed on your new site
  • Try and repoint as many links as possible

If you need any help with your SEO efforts Web Vitality is always on hand to help so, feel free to view our SEO Page or to get in touch via our contact us page.