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How to migrate the website and not lose positioning results?

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Technological progress and strong competition in many industries encourage the implementation of new solutions. But change doesn’t have to mean risk. It is enough to prepare for them. We advise on how to migrate your website without any drops in search engine optimization results.

An online store perfectly optimized for SEO and UX or even a simple information website is a must today. Without fine-tuning the website and its individual elements, it isn’t easy to talk about competing with other websites. As the business grows, new functions are added, or even the need to change the entire page arises. In this case, the migration is forced by changes to the functionality of the website, CMS, interface, menu structure, or domain. Do you want to migrate your site but are worried about losing SEO results? We advise you on how to do it safely.

Website migration – what is it?

Migration is a comprehensive concept regarding all changes within a site, but it is primarily a process whose main goal is to transfer or change the existing site. Migration may concern CMS, domain, hosting, or URL structure on the website. These are some of the most popular types of migrations. Still, we also often deal with content migrations, HTTP to HTTP protocol changes and changes to the mobile configuration, and a website redesign.

Migration also includes rebranding and mergers of the parties. Contrary to appearances, this is quite a frequent activity, especially in the e-commerce industry, whose rapid development and constantly growing customer expectations force the owners of online stores large-scale optimization activities.

How to prepare for migration?

If you want to keep the SEO results, you need to prepare. The process should start with making a copy of the old page and transferring it to the test server. It is important to have access to the old website’s structure at all times, both during and after the migration, so that you can recover the previous version of the website in case of any problems. Thanks to this, you will not lose your website completely in the event of a migration failure.

In addition, it is worth scanning the page with a crawler such as Screaming Frog or Sitebulb to create a list of existing URLs within the domain. With this list, you can set up appropriate redirects from old URLs to new ones. The list will help you verify the correctness of the URL structure on the new version of the site.

When migrating large online stores, we have to consider that the URL list within one domain may fluctuate in the range of even several or several million. In such a situation, it is unrealistic to create a redirect list for all addresses manually. At this stage, you should turn on tools such as Google Analytics and generate a list of the most important URLs from the point of view of sales or traffic on the website that need to be redirected and optimized accordingly. Then it is good to develop a similar list with the Senuto tool or another one that allows you to analyze the visibility in detail. In such a tool, we generate another list of URLs, this time of key importance due to the visibility of the previous version of the website in search engines.

By redirecting the URLs occupying the highest positions in the search results, you will significantly reduce the risk of decreased website visibility after migration. By focusing on addresses that are high in search results, you won’t lose key traffic, i.e., organic search traffic.

We create a similar list for the URLs to which the backlinks lead. External links convey a certain power and value to our website. Losing them may hurt the website’s ranking in search results. For this, tools such as Majestic or Ahrefs will be useful, thanks to which we can generate a list of URLs within our domain to which external links lead in a few seconds.

After creating such lists, we get a ready-made list of key URLs to base the activities related to migration. It is worth monitoring the status of these subpages both during the migration and immediately after its completion. According to these recommendations, URLs from the list generated should be redirected to one with the addresses on the new version of the page.

For later analysis of the results of the new website, it is important to connect the domain to tools such as Google Search Console. This will enable ongoing verification of any errors signaled by Google, which is especially important in the first days after the migration. The Google Search Console tool allows you to monitor the status of your website, including the index status of your sitemap and any 404 errors. It is also worth analyzing whether the page is displayed on additional Google services, such as Google News or Google Discover. And this can be done with   Google Analytics. 

File transfer

Migration is such a demanding and complicated process that it requires proper planning. When setting a migration date, make sure that it does not fall out when your site is busy. It is worthwhile to migrate at night or during the hours when traffic is the lowest. This will prevent financial losses resulting from the temporary suspension of the site’s operation. Also, avoid performing the migration on Fridays or just before the holidays and holidays of the employees responsible for it. Migrating during this time is additional stress and the risk that the site will not be up and running for the entire weekend or not be tested thoroughly enough.

How to prepare a new version of the site for migration?

After careful analysis of the old version of the website and collect all the data and information needed for further operation, you can go to the new website version. When analyzing a new site, check to see if you have new page equivalents for the old version. This is a necessary condition, at least in key pages from the SEO point of view or sales of subpages. If such subpages are available on the new page, it is worth planning to immediately redirect from the old version to the new one.

When you receive a test version of a new website, take care of a detailed audit. Basically, it should be divided into two independent parts:

  • audit of the test version of the website.
  • an audit performed shortly after its implementation.

At the stage of the test version, it is important to optimize such elements as:

  • titles,
  • headers
  • content,
  • internal linking,
  • URL structure.

You should also check whether search engines will have a problem with indexing the subpages of the website. For this purpose, meta robots, robots.txt, and canonical tags should be verified. Taking advantage of the opportunity and the possibility of implementing key changes for search engine optimization results, take care of verification and possible improvement of the page loading speed. At this stage, it is worth discussing with the developer’s such things as the frequency of sitemap updates and backups.

When migrating content from the old version of the website to the new one, make sure that it is done correctly, i.e., whether the relevant content is on the right subpages, has not been duplicated, and that some of it have not been lost.

When auditing a new website, keep in mind its mobile version, which is currently crucial for Google – it will be necessary to create appropriate recommendations for it.

Creating and implementing a new website gives you a chance to remove old bugs. The best solution is to create a list of problems with the old version of the website and present it to those responsible for the technical side. If so far there have been problems with the website loading speed, displaying or indexing by Google bots, some functionality was missing, or certain activities were not possible, it is worth reporting it as things that will be necessary for the further stages of search engine optimization and key to achieving even better results in the field of SEO.

Key activities during migration

Migration is such a demanding process that basically all its activities and stages can be considered key. However, there is one activity that must be performed with the utmost precision and commitment. I’m talking about redirects.

Redirection is a mechanism implemented by the server, and its task is to automatically direct the user from one side to the other. Creating such redirects aims to provide recipients with access to specific, expected resources on a given site. There are different types of redirects, but the key for us is a 301 redirect. Be vigilant as developers are very eager to use 302 temporary redirects that do not transfer the previously developed page power.

Thanks to the implementation of correct redirects, you can avoid problems related to the appearance of 404 errors on our website. This is especially important during migration, as changing the URL structure would generate 404 errors for all existing URLs.

Setting the right 301 redirects will automatically direct the user from an obsolete URL to a new one where the target content is posted.

As we mentioned before, the ideal solution would be to redirect all subpages one to one, but in some cases, this is unfortunately impossible. While in the case of a small blog or offer page, a manual search of the page structure and matching the appropriate addresses of landing pages on the new page should not be a problem; it is even unrealistic in large e-commerce. In such a situation, you should use the previously described, carefully selected subpages, which for specific reasons are important and should be redirected one to one. The remaining subpages are then redirected slightly more automatically, i.e., one to many, where we consider some losses when a given subpage does not fully meet the user’s expectations.

Page redirects can be set in the .htaccess file. This is a standard text file located at the root of our website (i.e., / public_html /) that may contain some basic instructions. 

Currently, the functionality of setting redirects appears more and more often in CMS panels. Such possibilities are in the most popular content management systems. In some cases, this is a paid option, but definitely worth your attention. Thanks to the implementation of such functionality, you can manage redirects in an even more convenient way. During constant monitoring of the website “regularly,” catchall 404s and redirect them to valid URLs.

What about migration?

Post-implementation analyzes should start on the day of site migration. It is worth remembering that changing the website should not cause any errors, so we recommend switching the domain from the old website to the new one. This means that we do not copy the source files of the new page and do not replace the old ones on the server, but during the migration, both versions of the site should be available online in parallel. In this case, it is enough to switch the domain from one version to another. As a result, everything should run much smoother and more stable while not causing many errors.

The transfer of the website to the new domain must be verified in the Google Search Console tool. If you have two verified domains, use the tool available at the URL https://search.google.com/search-console/settings/change-address. As a reminder, this is only necessary if you change your domain. If it remains the same during migration, skip this step.

Still, with Google Search Console, it is worth adding a new sitemap, or “sitemap.xml,” generated for the new website. You can find more about it here: https://developers.google.com/search/docs/advanced/sitemaps/overview?hl=pl. Thanks to this, Google will attract new addresses for indexation even faster. Immediately after implementing the site, the old sitemap should be thrown into the crawler. What for? To check if all addresses have been redirected. If the utility detects non-redirected addresses, check again that the list is complete.

GSC Migration

Right after implementing a new page, it is a good idea to manually check if the search engine has access to each type of subpage. For this purpose, we analyze one example of a subpage, e.g., one category, one product card, one descriptive page, the home page, subpage dedicated to blog entries, etc. Then we throw their addresses into Google Search Console to speed up the indexing process.

Additionally, if you have key subpages that are the most important from a business or marketing point of view, you can manually index them using Google Search Console. Then the Google bot will find your page even faster, which will certainly have a positive effect on the indexing process.

In the days following the migration, analytical activities should be continued, combined with a readiness to react quickly to any errors. The following tools will be useful: Google Analytics and Google Search Console. In the first one, it is worth monitoring possible 404 increments. If they are generated, where they should not, you need to re-analyze the list of our previous redirects and, if necessary, add more. You can use Google Search Console to monitor the health of your website. And carefully check whether new addresses are indexed correctly, whether the sitemap has been indexed correctly and whether there are any errors. It is also worth checking the page’s loading speed and testing the correctness of the schema if one has been implemented.

If you have such a possibility, change external links as well. It is worth doing it, for example, on the websites of our partners or friendly publishers. The more links without redirects with relevant destination addresses, the better for our website.

In addition, it is good to check the most obvious things that, contrary to appearances, happen quite often. Below is a short checklist of basic things that should be verified right after website migration:

  • leaving noindex for the entire page or for its important parts,
  • incorrect canonical tags,
  • incorrect urls in the sitemap,
  • leaving the test content on the website and indexing it,
  • content invisible to search engines,
  • “Losing” some of the content that was on the old page,
  • lack of optimization of the new page in terms of search engines,
  • no redirects or incomplete redirects,
  • technical problems of the server on which the new version of the website is located,
  • restriction of search engine bots due to performance issues.

Impact of migration on SEO results

Website migration is a very complex task that requires careful implementation. If we skip any stage, we must take into account significant drops in visibility and traffic. Below are some examples of visibility fluctuations in the Senuto tool when migrating carefully and when some steps were neglected.

In the screenshot below, the moment of implementation of the page is marked in red. The implementation of redirects, which was carried out only about a week after implementing the new version of the website, was omitted.

The impact of migration

Here is the increase in visibility after the implementation of the new version of the site. The date of migration is marked in red again.

New version of the site

Below is the visibility graph after the correct implementation of the page. Here, one-to-one redirects were used for the most important subpages, while the rest were redirected one-to-many.

Migration

As you can see, accuracy during migration is essential. Proper redirects, proper optimization of the new version of the website, and careful analysis play a key role in implementing post-implementation and quick response to emerging errors.

A successful migration checklist

Below we present a short and summary list of activities that should be carried out during the migration.

  • Preparation for migration
    • We make a copy of the old page.
    • We compile the url list on the old site, preferably using a crawler.
    • We prepare a list of URLs generating traffic and sales using Google Analytics.
    • We prepare a list of URLs occupying high positions in the search results, e.g. using Senuto.
    • We prepare a list of linked subpages, e.g. using Majestic or Ahrefs.
    • We check if the website is verified in Google Search Console, if not, we verify it.
    • We analyze where the most traffic comes from.
  • Preparing a new version of the website for migration
    • We check if all the subpages of key importance for us are on the new version – we focus on those that have the best visibility and generate traffic and sales.
    • We check whether our key subpages are properly optimized in terms of SEO, whether they have, for example, appropriate title tags, headers, content and internal linking.
    • We verify that the search engine will have no problem with indexing and that it is not blocked by e.g. meta robots, robots.txt, canonical tags.
    • We check if there is a sitemap and if there are urls of key importance for us.
    • We verify whether the website loads correctly, i.e. with the appropriate speed, and whether it is optimized for mobile devices.
    • We are setting the URL redirect list from the old version to the new one.
  • Website migration process
    • We migrate by switching the domain from the old site to the new one, avoid copying the source files.
    • Let’s verify the new domain (if we have one) in Google Search Console.
    • We are adding a new sitemap to Google Search Console.
    • We check if the redirects have been implemented correctly.
    • We check whether the search engine has access to every subpage of the new website.
    • In Google Search Console, we manually index some URLs to speed up the process of indexing the entire site.
  • What about migration?
    • We verify the correctness of canonical tags.
    • We remove invalid urls from sitemap.
    • We check whether the content on the website is correct and whether it has been completely transferred from the old version of the website.
    • We check whether the website has been optimized according to our guidelines.
    • We check whether the server can withstand increased traffic and whether bots search engines were not blocked.

summary

  • The main purpose of migration is to move the site or change the current one.
  • During and after migration, you should have access to the structure of the old website to be able to recover it at any time.
  • The crawl program will allow you to create a list of website URLs, which will be useful for checking the correctness of the address structure on the new version of the website.
  • Google Analytics allows you to create a list of URLs relevant to sales or website traffic – the list should also be created for addresses to which backlinks lead.
  • Redirecting the top-ranked URLs will reduce the risk of a drop in visibility after migration and slowly prevent the loss of organic traffic.
  • The best time to migrate is when there is the least traffic on your website.
  • The test version of the new page requires an audit, and so does the page that has been implemented.
  • In migration, special attention should be paid to 301 redirects leading the user to the new URL.
  • One-to-one subpage redirects are most beneficial for the website. However, this is not always possible. That is why you should redirect the most important pages this way, and the rest one-to-many. 
  • It is recommended to switch the domain from the old website to the new one, and if there is a domain change, check it in Google Search Console.
  • It’s a good idea to create a new sitemap for the new page and add the previous sitemap to the crawler.
  • The post-implementation audit should take place on the day of migration, and it is good to devote the following days to the analysis post-implementation because it is one of the most important stages of migration.

Summary

Migration is a demanding and multi-stage process that must be carefully planned and carried out. Starting from the analysis of the old and new version of the website, through the laborious selection of appropriate URLs for redirects, to consistent post-implementation analyzes and verifying the correctness of the web site’s operation and, most importantly, quick response to errors. Detailed implementation of the plan and meticulous execution of all tasks, in turn, will guarantee success and avoid drops in traffic or visibility.

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