How to Stop SEO Disasters While Navigating Website Migration

So you press the launch button (because that’s how it works, right?), you sit back and congratulate yourself and your colleagues on relaunching the new website successfully…only to see the organic traffic has plummeted. Panic sets in as the traffic doesn’t recover after days, weeks, and months. This reality is a potential for anyone relaunching a website. Amidst the excitement, not everyone considers the consequences that could happen if not planned effectively, especially from an SEO perspective.

Understanding Website Migration Scenarios

Surprisingly, Google could be more specific about moving sites and what it involves. They have two pages: one for site moves with URL changes and one without URL changes. Let’s explore the meanings of website migration, ranging from changing domains and going international to structural changes, switching from HTTP to HTTPS, redesigning, and more.

Preparation Before the Relaunch

  1. Work out your strategy – Do you need to do this? Why? What are your objectives?
  2. Who is going to be involved in this project? Get them involved as early as possible.
  3. Get professional SEO consultations and UX/CRO consultations.
  4. Looks aren’t everything – balance aesthetics with usability and SEO.
  5. Get everyone to test, involve stakeholders, and fix bugs after launch.
  6. Site migration is not a solution for a penalty.
  7. Never migrate your site during peak seasons.

Optimising Your Website Before Rebuilding

  1. Crawl all URLs and analyse them with tools like Screaming Frog SEO Spider.
  2. Compile a list of URLs, add traffic performance, and eliminate duplicate/low-quality content.
  3. Check for broken links and pages and ensure accessibility for search engines and humans.
  4. Plan new URL structures, research keywords, and update/create content.
  5. Map out 301 redirects, identify important backlinks, measure page speed, and set up social media profiles.
  6. Register and configure the new domain in Google Search Console.
  7. Conducted usability testing, planned the relaunch campaign, and ensured compatibility with browsers and devices.

During the Redesign Process

  1. Block development site to prevent duplication issues on Google.
  2. Implement and test web analytics on all pages.
  3. Publish new URLs and content on the development site.
  4. Add/update title tags, meta descriptions, and alt texts.
  5. Add Google Tag Manager, retargeting, and remarketing codes.
  6. Set up and verify the new Google Search Console account.
  7. Remove or update internal links and XML sitemaps and self-canonise new pages.
  8. Create a custom 404 page, verify 301 redirects, and enhance with schema and Open Graph fields.
  9. Ask relevant stakeholders to help test and ensure compatibility with browsers and mobile devices.

After the Relaunch – Ensuring a Smooth Transition

  1. Submit a change of address via Google Search Console.
  2. Submit a new XML sitemap and update social media bios with unique URLs.
  3. Crawl the new site, check redirects, and fix any 404 pages.
  4. Verify original URL list redirects and add annotations on Google Analytics.
  5. Update backlinks with new URLs and continuously monitor web traffic, engagement, conversion, and page speed.
  6. Test mobile-friendliness, benchmark performance metrics against the old site, and contact authoritative sites to update links.
  7. Monitor indexed page count and search rankings over time.
  8. Keep control of the old domain and organise new usability tests for the new site.
  9. Launch your relaunch campaign.

Strategic Decision: To Migrate or Not?

Relaunching can deliver the best user experience, refresh your brand, and improve the bottom line for clients. However, it is crucial to do it for the right reasons and plan the site migration properly. As Benjamin Franklin wisely stated: “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.” Successful website migration enhances the user experience, revitalises brand identity, and avoids potential pitfalls. Plan and execute your relaunch effectively to catch any problems early and ensure a seamless process.

In conclusion, the journey through website migration is a multifaceted process demanding meticulous planning and strategic execution. Understanding various migration scenarios becomes imperative as we navigate the challenges presented by relaunching a website. The preparation phase before the relaunch requires a comprehensive strategy involving key stakeholders, professional consultations, and a careful balance between aesthetics and functionality. Optimising the website before rebuilding involves a systematic approach, from URL analysis to content updates and thorough testing. Ultimately, the decision to migrate or not should be driven by a clear understanding of objectives and a well-thought-out plan. By adhering to the principles outlined in this process, one can avoid potential SEO disasters and unlock the potential for enhanced user experience and brand revitalisation. As with any undertaking, the success of website migration lies in the careful execution of a well-prepared plan.