While moving to a new website design and new website structure to improve UI/UX (which can help in the enhancement of conversions and bounce rate), companies disregard SEO in their redesign process. Thus, not taking SEO and content into consideration during the web redesign and launch, can result in a significant decrease in traffic. It may also take months or even years to recover from traffic drop after the launch. This loss of organic traffic translates directly into a loss of revenue. To prevent this issue, it is advisable to include SEO in the redesign process.
This guide (Complete Guide for Website Migration While Preserving SEO) will cover the most critical steps that need to be followed to maintain as much of the accrued SEO as possible during the planning-development, pre-launch, and post-launch phases of the website design and migration. This also covers all of the technical SEO and ensures that the necessary resources are properly in place.
SEO Tools needed:
- Google Analytics
- Google Search Console
- Screaming Frog
- Ahrefs or any Keyword Tracker
- Preparing for Migration
- Post-launch of Migration: Addressing Technical On-Page SEO Factor
Preparing for Migration
Before implementing the new design or migrating process, there are two important things you or your SEO specialist should uncover. First, identify the indexation issues which include duplicate content, blocked content, or any Google penalties you may have incurred. Second, develop an inventory of the current site’s existing pages and posts. With these, users aren’t confronted by a slew of broken links and empty pages.
To execute these steps, a manual crawl to the site is needed. The result of the crawl needs to be exported to a spreadsheet. There are number of tools available that can perform this work. The most common and highly recommended is Screaming Frog. This tool will drag the site and will pull out the data which eventually be the basis for the redirect file.
Identifying indexation issues
After performing the manual crawl on the website, it is easy to identify the indexing issues. There are several different methods that can be used to determine if the site is experiencing issues.
Option one: Using a site search on Google. To find out, type “site:domainname.com” to identify which pages have been indexed by Google. This query directs Google to pull search results for the website only. If it has indexed a significantly lower number of pages than what was included on the manual crawl, it is an indication that Google is having trouble accessing your website for some reasons. On the other hand, if it has indexed significantly more pages than what the site actually contains, the website has the duplicate content issue.
Having duplicate content can be a huge issue because if Google interprets the duplicate content as an intentional attempt to game the system for SEO ranking, Google will penalize the website. An SEO specialist and development partner need to determine the cause and solution for any potential indexing issues you may have encountered.
Developing an inventory of the website’s existing content
The list pulled from the manual crawl can serve as the inventory of the website’s existing content and can be used for the content audit. In performing content audits, the list is helpful in creating a strategic plan and data-driven decisions on what page should stay, and what page should go in the site migration process.
Making smart content audit decisions
In performing a content audit, there are several factors that need to be considered, but the good thing is there are tools that can provide a qualitative review for smart content audit decisions. These tools namely Google Analytics, Google Search Console, Ahrefs, and Backlink Checking Tools can provide important insights.
Things need to consider in the page-content-audit:
- Is the page popular?
- Does the page has lots of inbound users?
- Are other websites, especially well-respected websites with high authority, linking to this page?
- Is the content on the page accurate and relevant?
Additionally, Google Search Console can provide highly useful information that can help in guiding the content strategy when performing a content audit. This includes which search terms the website displayed for in search results (impressions), the average position the pages displayed in search results, the click-through rate, and a number of clicks for certain terms and pages.
After collecting data from the crawling, indexing, and landing page insights, it is time to organize the data and map the tasks.
Dealing with redirects
Once everything has been set and the old landing page matched with the new landing page, it is time to deal with the redirection. The proper redirection needed is the 301 redirection. A 301 redirect indicates that the page requested has been permanently moved to the Destination URL, and helps pass on the Requested URLs traffic in a search engine friendly manner. Creating a 301 redirect tells search engines that the Requested URL has moved permanently and that the content can now be found on the Destination URL.
301 redirect will minimize the not found page/error page/404 page. Googlebot will consider 404 pages as intentionally deleted or removed from their index. But if, after launch, almost all of the pages on the website resulted in 404 errors for several weeks, that could harm the domain authority and result in a significant drop in organic ranking over an extended period of time. In addition to bot problems, 404s also create user experience problems. Any person that might have the old page bookmarked on their browser will experience this 404 error. When a redirect is implemented, both the bot and the user are automatically redirected to the new URL.
Remember, deleted or removed pages must not be redirected to the home page only.
Now that the preparation for migration has been done, it is time to migrate content into the CMS. One of the two ways to migrate content to the new design is to manual transfer. This can be done by creating each new page and post, copy/pasting and formatting the text, and uploading and adding your images. The second option is to bulk import. By using bulk import options, all posts, pages, tags, categories, and special pages will be imported to the CMS without consuming too much time.
Once the contents were successfully migrated, the QA of all pages is a must. Check each page if the H Tags, images, Meta Title and Meta Description were properly added. To rewrite the Meta Title and Meta Description, it is advisable to use the Yoast plugin.
Often image optimization is overlooked in website migration. Images can provide important context to the content, improve SEO, and serve as an essential element in the redesign, but if done incorrectly, they can also weigh down a website. Large image files can bloat the size of the page and slow download time, so it is much important to review images to make sure they are properly sized, compressed, and uploaded as the right file type.
Some image optimization practices that will improve SEO include:
- Writing appropriate image alt. text for each image.
- Using a descriptive and easily readable file name for your images.
- Including keyword-optimized caption when appropriate.
- Ensuring images are in <img> html tags on your html/content pages and include height= and width= attributes in the tag.
Post-launch of Migration: Addressing Technical On-Page SEO Factor
After the successful migration of content, several technical on-page SEO factors must be addressed to make sure the website is functioning properly.
Testing Google Analytics tracker
To prevent the issue in the drop-off of website traffic, Google Analytics code must be active and firing properly on all pages. To know if Google Analytics is properly tracking visits, go to Google Analytics, and check on Realtime view. Of course, you need to access the website.
- Testing of Google Analytics tracker
- Testing of forms and check if goals are tracked properly on Google Analytics
- Test events if firing tracked.
Testing and improving page speed
Another important SEO metric to take into consideration for your site redesign is page speed. Google uses page speed as a ranking factor in large part because it is so closely tied to user experience. Faster pages will rank higher in the search results because Google knows there is a better chance a user will be able to access that content successfully. Generally speaking, the goal when migrating the site is to aim for a page load time of three seconds or less. To view the current page speed, go to Google Analytics at Behavior > Site Speed > Speed Suggestions.
There are free online page speed checkers that provide information on what may be the reasons and impact of the page speed of the website. Some of the recommended tools are Sucuri Load Time Tester, Pingdom, or Web Page Test. To get an accurate measurement, make sure to do the page speed testing once content has been migrated (including images).
Making sure that the website is mobile-friendly
One of the SEO ranking factors is the mobile-friendliness of the website. Google announced this and added it to their SEO ranking guidelines. Check here: Make your site mobile-friendly. Make sure that the website is mobile responsive or has a separate mobile website domain that is optimized for displaying correctly on mobile devices. This should have been addressed earlier in the design process. Just always remember to meet Google’s criteria.
The importance of XML sitemap
XML sitemap’s main purpose is to provide link inventory to search engine spiders that will help them locate the content on the website. Once the Yoast plugin is installed, this provides a convenient way to create and manage XML sitemaps. To check if the site has an XML sitemap, add “/sitemap.xml” after your website’s domain.
Yoast plugin generates a sitemap for a blog post, page, category, tags, author, and image. These XML lists can be disabled depending on what pages need to be indexed by Google.
Remember to submit a sitemap on Google Search Console so that Google will update its database and recrawl the site. To submit in the Search Console, go to Sitemaps and add the page of the sitemap.
Migrating content to a new website should always include SEO. SEO is vital to avoid the drop in organic search traffic. Preserving SEO ranking while improving the site for the long-term requires regular, ongoing review, and maintenance.