Why website migrations fail from an SEO perspective, and how to minimise the negative impact on performance
It is no secret that every website migration (no matter how large or small) is likely to have an immediate negative impact on SEO performance. This is because Google needs to review (and in some cases re-index) significant website and content changes. It often takes several weeks for performance to fully recover (and accelerate if done correctly) as a result.
In this post, however, we review why some website migrations fail and cause a detrimental impact to organic search performance if left over time, and which technical SEO elements to look out for to prevent longer-term performance drops.
Why do website migrations fail from an SEO standpoint?
There are several reasons why migrations fail from an SEO point of view, the top ones are listed here:
- Failure to plan: We’ve all heard the saying “fail to plan, plan to fail”. It is true in this scenario as well. If you do not have a clear migration plan with milestones and touchpoints with critical stakeholders, something will likely slip through the net during your migration.
- Lack of 301 redirect maps: The most critical step in any website migration from an SEO standpoint is ensuring you have a 301-redirect map in place. This helps search engines quickly pick up new pages, and it helps users find the right pages if they are accessing your website from organic search or through directly typing in an old URL. A custom 404-page design will also help ensure the user can navigate through your website if you did miss a 301 redirect somewhere.
- Major changes in website structure: If you are making major site structure changes (especially if you want to make your website leaner) we would recommend you think twice. Removing critical landing pages will reduce website authority, and you will see a detrimental impact to your website as it may become less clear to the user and the search engine, how the site is to be navigated, and how pages relate to one another.
- Domain moves or consolidations: A domain move or consolidation will often have an adverse effect on SEO performance (more so than any other type of migration), due to the lack of authority that the new domain has vs. the old domain. In instances like these, it is almost like starting from scratch to build up authority for the website, and while a 301 redirect map can help direct authority to the new domain, it still won’t be where the old domain was, and there will be work to do to build this back up over time.
There are of course many other reasons why website migrations may fail from an SEO standpoint, and sometimes these reasons depend on your given website, your competitive set, and even market conditions.
If you are looking to run a website migration and want to find out more about potential problems, feel free to contact us.
Pre-migration prep for SEO
It is vital to understand that your SEO specialist must be involved in the migration process from the start. Your safest option is to involve them as soon as a decision to migrate your website is made, and prior to any decisions being made around potential platforms, designs, etc. This is because your SEO specialist will have many thoughts around what needs to be built into your CMS, design, site structure, etc. to ensure the most positive SEO performance.
Whether your SEO specialist is based in-house or is sub-contracted in (or you are working with an SEO agency), you will want to facilitate introductions to the following teams:
The website developers: to discuss the ongoing migration plan and feed in any technical SEO requirements and fixes throughout the process.
UX designers: to discuss the user experience of the website and any tweaks to ensure both SEO and UX work together without compromising on performance for either.
The creative team: to discuss any tweaks to the copy and design for content optimisation as well as CRO (conversion rate optimisation).
The product team: to discuss their requirements for the website and ensure these are taken into consideration throughout the design and build process without compromising on SEO.
The data & analytics team: to benchmark existing performance and ensure any tagging is placed on the website post launch to avoid gaps within the data.
You will also need to ensure other stakeholders within your marketing department are involved to ensure a smooth migration process. This will include anything from email marketing and social media for branding and launch messaging, to paid media for campaign pausing and landing page switchovers (where applicable) on launch day.
Pre-migration testing for SEO
You will already know that one of the most vital steps to completing a website migration is the pre-migration testing. Vital areas of testing include:
- Running full website crawls of the staging environment to ensure there are no major errors flagged prior to launch, and to ensure all internal links are working correctly.
- Review of website architecture to ensure no key landing pages have been missed prior to launch.
- Review of all on-site content to ensure the migration has been completed in full and there is no sudden and unexpected loss of content upon launching your website as this can cause large performance drops.
Post migration testing for SEO
All pre-launch tests will need to be conducted post-launch on the live site to ensure nothing has fallen through the net during the launch process. However, there are additional tests to conduct post-site launch, which cannot always be done on a staging website:
- Redirect testing to ensure all changed URLs and deleted pages have been 301 redirected to a new destination page. It is often difficult to fully test 301 redirects when a website is still on a staging site, and therefore these must be tested post-launch.
- Site speed testing to ensure there are no major flags after the site has been re-launched. The staging site will often sit on a different server which is why this test will not be accurate if done on a staging website and is best completed on the live site post-launch.
Website migrations are often long, and complex processes run over long time periods. Over time, things can change and get missed, which means testing prior to launch and post launch is vital to pick up any major flags that will create performance issues in organic search. It is also important to be prepared to roll the website back if a major threat to organic performance (or any other marketing channel performance) is uncovered post launch, as this can cause drops in business revenue if not handled correctly.
Watch this space for a full, downloadable migration checklist and roadmap to help you determine what you need to think about when migrating a website, and how much time you will need to plan in for SEO.
Get in touch today if you would like to discuss your website migration in more detail. We can help ensure that you are fully prepared prior to launch and post-launch.