Recently the company I worked for made a big decision to rebrand and with it came the dreaded domain name change. We are also having a new website being built so another SEO favourite URLs. This article will share my leanings from my sleepless nights and epic amount of research into making sure it didn’t go wrong.
After my research I decided to not listen to what I read and decided to change our domain name and page paths all in one hit. I bet you’re thinking “That’s suicide”, well yes but my results further on may surprise some.
Post Migration Preparation
I know of all too many bad experiences of this, from things like pages dropping forever to massive Google penalties for doing it wrong, which is why the prep work into this was huge. Just from my research I was getting worried about the task at hand. On our website we have over 70,000 URL’s. There were also a lot of rule sets for the different types of url paths our development team created the rules based on my rule sets and there was a huge amount of testing on a server that we had set up purely for testing.
Also being a solo In House SEO it can be hard to bounce ideas off people; luckily I have some good contacts through LinkedIn and Networking that I conversed with on a regular basis on these matters. I am also willing to do the same should you need the reassurance of what you are doing. (Details at the bottom of this post)
A big BIG URL List
Initially you will need a comprehensive URL list. You can get these either by spidering the site using tools such as Xenu or by asking your developers to create a script that will query your CMS’s database to generate a list of EVERY page on your website. But beware here, if your computer is of an average standard and you have a large site. Prepare for Excel to turn into a cripple when you need to work with the data.
With this list and the rules creates you can magic up some formulas that will create the new URL’s in the cell next to the old url. (This list will prove to be a bible for your PPC manager and affiliates if you have them) For me I used it for easy reference when people asked me “What’s the new URL for xyz page?”
If you have a smaller site then this will begin to form the basis of your 301 list. If you need to know how do 301’s then please Google it based on your server architecture. (As that’s another article separate to this) If in my case you have a large site then you need to sit down with your development teams and run through redirect rules based on your new URL construction rules. Prepare to call RegEx a friend by the time you finish this. (or just get your developers to do it if you are not sure)
Look at all those backlinks
Yet another long winded task in this project was updating of backlinks. In reality you cannot update all of your backlinks. If you have a portfolio of 100k backlinks in Yahoo you definitely have a lot of late nights. Luckily there are some awesome tools around to help you work out the importance of the backlinks. You can take your pick of SEOMoz’s Linkscape and Majestic SEO’s Link Intelligence as they are both brilliant tools, or like me, you can use both of the tools and mash them up in excel using some crazy formulas and pivot tables. From doing this I have worked out the top backlinks by order of importance. We’ll just store this for now until the day of the switch.
We have many development servers that we always test new functionality on. So with this task we dedicated on solely for the Migration Project. This server took a beating with the amount of spiders and load testing we threw at it. If you have the ability to do this then do, I cannot stress how much more weight off your shoulders it will be for you to see the success on there before putting it all live. What am I looking for in testing? Mainly I was looking to see any 404’s, 500’s that appear and to make sure the 301’s went through to the correct place. On a site as big as ours to check all results would have meant I’d be there for years. So we did a cross section of around 70% of our heavyweight pages and the rest being the lower converting pages.