An enterprise website migration is no small feat.
We’re talking hundreds of thousands of URLs and years of SEO equity on the line.
To pull it off without traffic loss, you need a solid redirect strategy.
With the right approach, you can migrate an enterprise website without losing traffic or search rankings.
If you stay organized, leverage tools to scale, and pay attention to details, you will have done everything you can to ensure business continuity in the short, medium, and long term pertaining to organic performance.
Aside from the technical aspects of migration, an enterprise migration, more often than not, comes with the added pressures of:
- Strong levels of C-level/VP-level attention and communications.
- Multiple project teams and stakeholders making SEO-impacting decisions.
- SEO pros needing to be involved in “non-traditional” SEO calls and planning meetings.
In a large site migration, there is also the increased potential for something known as “migration lag.”
What Is Migration Lag?
Migration lag refers to the time period after launching a new website where traffic and rankings drop as search engines discover and index the new site.
For huge enterprise sites with hundreds of thousands of URLs, this lag can last for months.
To minimize migration lag, you must have a solid redirect strategy before the new site launches. This means:
- Prioritizing redirects for high-traffic and high-value pages. Focus on redirecting pages that drive the most traffic and revenue first.
- Using wildcards to redirect categories of pages. For example, redirect /product/* to /new-site/all-products/.
- Including URL parameters in redirects. Make sure redirects pass on any query parameters, like /product/123?color=red to /new-site/product/123?color=red.
- Breaking redirect chains. If a page has been redirected multiple times, point the final redirect to the new destination URL.
- Redirecting backlinks. Find all links pointing to the old site and set up redirects so they point to the proper new pages. This preserves the link equity you’ve built up.
- Accounting for recent redirects. If you’ve done any redirects in the past six months, set up new redirects to point those pages to the proper new URLs.
With technical SEO savvy and patience, you can navigate an enterprise website migration with minimal traffic and rankings loss.
Stay on top of your redirects and keep optimizing and reacting to your data and Google’s ever-changing search engine results pages (SERPs), and search traffic will return to normal.
Defining The Migration Strategy
Once you’ve audited your existing site and redirects, it’s time to map out how you want to handle the migration.
The strategy you develop now will determine how seamless this transition is for both your users and search engines.
What do you want to achieve with this migration? Are you aiming to consolidate domains, move to a new content management system (CMS), restructure content, or a combination?
Be very clear on your objectives so you can develop the best approach.
With hundreds of thousands of URLs, you’ll need to determine which redirects are most critical to implement first. Focus initially on:
- Your most important pages (home page, product pages, etc.).
- Pages that generate significant traffic.
- Pages with strong backlink profiles.
Once the high-priority redirects are handled, work your way down from there. Don’t worry about redirecting every single URL right away.
As long as you have the majority of important pages and traffic accounted for, the remaining redirects can be added over time.
Map Content And URL Structure
Determine how you want to reorganize or restructure your content on the new site.
Map out which existing URLs will redirect to which new destinations. Group related content and consolidate where possible.
The new information architecture should be intuitive and user-friendly.
For the bulk of redirects, use 301 permanent redirects.
In some cases, temporary 302 redirects may make sense, especially if the page content is still being migrated.
Be very careful using wildcards, and always do spot checks to ensure no 404 errors. Redirect parameters whenever possible to avoid duplicate content issues.
Make a list of any pages with strong backlink profiles and ensure they are redirected properly. Reach out to webmasters linking to those pages and let them know the new URL.
This helps to preserve the SEO value built up over time.
With careful planning and strategic prioritizing, you can migrate an enterprise website and put the necessary redirects in place without (too much) chaos. But go slowly; this is not a task to rush!
Think through each step and check your work along the way.
Establishing The Migration Project Timelines
When managing a large website migration, establishing realistic timelines is crucial.
Trying to redirect hundreds of thousands of URLs in a short timeframe is a recipe for disaster.
You need to plan ahead and be strategic in how you phase the work.
Avoid Phased/Partial Migrations
Avoiding phased or partial migrations is crucial when managing redirects for an enterprise website. Piecemealing your migration will only create more work and headaches down the road.
I worked on a migration in the past two years that was consolidating multiple domains (products) under a new umbrella domain, and the original plan was to do one after the other in a phased approach.
More than a year later, the second domino still hasn’t fallen, and Google has started to rank the umbrella domain for products in the group it isn’t optimized for – causing an internal domain cannibalization and performance issues as the brand entity is “fractured” across multiple domains.
Prior to this, I’d never witnessed a phased or partial migration mitigate the risks to the performance that the cautious decision-makers felt it would.
Do It All At Once
The best approach is to redirect all URLs at the same time. This ensures:
- No pages are left orphaned without a redirect in place.
- There are no redirect chains created that need to be cleaned up later. Redirect chains can negatively impact SEO and user experience.
- All backlinks point to the proper new destination page. If done in phases, old pages may accumulate new backlinks that then need to be redirected.
Setting Up 301 Redirects At Scale
At an enterprise level, setting up 301 redirects for tens or hundreds of thousands of URLs requires some strategic planning.
Here are some tips for tackling this at scale:
Using Wildcards And Handling Parameter URLs
When managing redirects for an enterprise website, wildcards and parameters become your best friends. With so many URLs, creating individual redirects for each one would be an endless task.
Wildcards allow you to redirect groups of pages at once.
Say you have product pages like /product/abc123, /product/def456, /product/ghi789. You can set up a wildcard redirect like /product/* to point to the new /products page.
This single redirect will capture all product pages and send visitors to the right place.
Parameters, like IDs, SKUs, or dates, often change when site content gets updated or reorganized.
Rather than tracking down each instance of an old parameter to redirect it, use a redirect that includes the parameter.
For example, if you have a URL like /blog/post?id=123 that is now /news/story/123, set up the redirect /blog/post?id= to point to /news/story/.
This will catch any page with that parameter pattern and send visitors to the new structure.
When used properly at an enterprise scale, wildcards and parameters can:
- Save countless hours of manual redirect creation and maintenance.
- Ensure no page is left behind during a migration or site architecture change.
- Continue to capture new pages that match the pattern as the site grows and evolves.
Be very careful when using wildcards and parameters in your redirects. Test them thoroughly to ensure no unintended pages are caught in the net.
Monitor them regularly, even after launch, to catch any issues early. Used responsibly, though, they are indispensable tools for managing redirects at an enterprise level.
Breaking Redirect Chains
Redirect chains can easily form when you have a high volume of redirects on an enterprise website.
A redirect chain occurs when a URL redirects to another URL that also redirects, creating a chain of multiple redirects to reach the final destination page.
To avoid redirect chains, you’ll need to trace back through your recent redirect history to find the original source URL. Once you identify the initial URL that started the chain, redirect it directly to the final destination page.
This will cut out all the middle redirects in the chain and provide a much better user experience.
- Check your server log files to view URL redirect histories from the past three to six months. Look for any patterns of the same URL redirecting multiple times.
- Use a redirect crawler tool to automatically detect redirect chains on your site. These tools will crawl your site and log any series of multiple redirects for the same URL.
- For recent redirects less than 180 days old, double-check that the original URL is now redirecting properly to the correct final destination. Newer redirects have a higher chance of issues, so verifying them will help avoid future problems.
- If you discover broken redirect chains, fix them by redirecting the initial source URL directly to the last destination URL in the chain. Remove any middle redirects that are no longer needed.
- Test all fixes to ensure the redirect chain is fully broken and the user experience is improved. Check that SEO rankings and traffic have stabilized for the URLs involved.
By diligently detecting and breaking redirect chains, you’ll provide a much better overall experience for your users and site visitors.
Your enterprise website will function more efficiently, and you’ll avoid potential drops in search rankings and traffic.
When migrating an enterprise website, it’s easy to forget about redirects that were already in place. These historic redirects, especially those under six months old, still need to be accounted for to avoid traffic loss.
As you audit your site’s current redirects, make a list of any that point to pages that will be changing or removed in the migration.
These redirects will need to be updated to point to the new destination URLs. Some things to look for include:
- Temporary event pages that now redirect to a general section.
- Product pages that now redirect to an updated model.
- Blog posts that redirect to a category archive.
Double-check that any historic redirects over six months old still need to be in place. Some may be sending signals to search engines that are no longer needed.
Removing unnecessary historic redirects will also help to simplify your site’s redirect structure and make it easier to manage going forward.
When setting up your migration’s redirect plan, be sure to factor in updating any historic redirects to their new destination URLs.
Leaving these behind could result in lost traffic and rankings for important pages on your site.
Staying on top of your enterprise website’s historic and new redirects during migration is key to a successful transition with minimal SEO impact.
Overcoming Redirect Limits
If you have an enterprise website with hundreds of thousands of pages, you may run into issues with redirect limits from your CMS or ecommerce platform.
Many systems like SAP Hybris and Salesforce Commerce Cloud cap the number of redirects you can have at 50,000-100,000. For a major website migration (especially enterprise ecommerce websites), this likely won’t cut it.
To get around these constraints, you’ll need to get creative. A few options to consider:
- Use wildcard redirects to capture categories of pages. For example, redirect
/shop/*. This single redirect will capture all pages that start with /products.
- Exclude parameters from redirects when possible. If you have pages like
/product-name?size=large, redirect only
/product-nameto the new URL. The parameters are often not indexed or linked to, so you can leave them out of the redirect.
- Break up redirect chains. If you have a series of three+ redirects for a single page, break up the chain and create direct redirects from the initial URLs to the final destination. Historically, chained redirects were thought to pass along link juice, but this has been proven false. Keep redirects as direct as possible.
- Prioritize mission-critical pages. When you start to reach the redirect limit, focus on redirecting pages that drive significant traffic and revenue. You can leave less important pages unredirected or with a 404 error temporarily.
- Ask your CMS vendor about increasing limits. Many systems will increase redirect limits on an enterprise website if you ask and explain your needs. Be prepared to pay additional fees for this add-on.
With creative thinking and persistence, you can overcome most redirect limits and complete an enterprise website migration without losing a big chunk of your organic traffic.
The key is having a well-thought-out redirect strategy and implementing it well before you hit your CMS’s limits.
Benchmarking Organic Performance (Traffic, Rankings, Indexation)
Once the redirects have been implemented, it’s time to see how your organic traffic and rankings have been impacted.
Benchmarking Your Progress
This will help determine if any further optimization is needed. Here are a few key metrics to monitor:
- Organic search traffic. Compare traffic from major search engines like Google before and after the migration. Expect some initial drop in traffic, but it should start recovering within one to two months. If traffic is still significantly lower after three months, revisit your redirect implementation.
- Keyword rankings. Track the rankings of your most important keywords to see if their positions have changed. Drops in ranking are common after a migration, but rankings should start improving again over time as search engines recrawl your new site. Major drops that don’t improve could signal redirect or content issues that need to be addressed.
- Indexation. Use a tool like Google Search Console to check how much of your new site has been indexed. A large, complex site can take three to six months for Google to fully recrawl and re-index. Look for steady increases in indexation over time. If indexation stalls or drops, there may be technical issues preventing Google from accessing parts of your site.
- 404 errors. Monitor your 404 errors to ensure any broken links are redirecting properly. High numbers of 404s, especially to old URLs, indicate redirects that need to be created or fixed.
- Backlinks. Do a backlink audit to verify that any links pointing to your old site now redirect to the proper new URLs. Failure to redirect backlinks is a common cause of traffic and ranking loss after a website migration.
Regularly benchmarking these key metrics will give you valuable insight into how well your enterprise website migration and redirect implementation is going.
Make adjustments as needed to get your new site’s organic performance back on track.
Communication Migration Performance To The C-Level
Communicating migration performance to leadership is crucial for continued support and investment in your enterprise website.
Even if the migration itself goes smoothly, problems can arise after launch if the C-suite isn’t on board.
Set Clear Expectations
Before the migration, sit down with executives and set concrete goals and key performance indicators (KPIs) for the new site.
Not all metrics need to matter directly to SEO, but giving the C-level more data and clarity can help prevent knee-jerk reactions and bad decisions from being imposed on the migrations team.
Be transparent that there may be an initial dip in metrics as the new site establishes itself. Having targets will help determine if the migration is meeting business needs after things settle in.
Share Detailed Reports
In the months following the migration, provide regular reports on how the new site is performing compared to the old site and the established KPIs.
Compare these same metrics from the old site to give context on progress. Be open about any issues, and have solutions and next steps ready to propose.
It often helps to create a Looker Studio report so the C-level has instant access to data and feels as though they have some control over the situation.
While reporting on challenges is important, it is also important to showcase successes from the migration.
Promoting wins, big and small, demonstrates the value of the investment in the migration and builds confidence in your team.
Keeping leadership regularly informed about how the new enterprise website is performing is essential.
With open communication and a mix of progress reports and wins, executives will remain supportive and engaged in optimizing the site to achieve the best results.
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