Undergoing a URL migration can be quite complex and lead to negative consequences if not properly executed.
Too often, developers and business owners underestimate the scope of a site migration and therefore end up failing to properly allocate the necessary resources and time for a successful migration.
To avoid dramatic decreases in organic search traffic care must be taken properly to follow basic and advanced technical SEO best practices.
At the enterprise level, webmasters should incorporate special considerations before migrating legacy content, switching hosting providers, or transitioning platforms.
The scope of the project is vastly larger and far more complex than often anticipated.
Here’s how you can successfully pull off a successful enterprise-level site migration.
Is a Site Migration Right for You?
Improving Your UI & UX
What’s the number one reason for a website migration?
To improve user experience and web design.
Today, websites should be revamped at least every four years or so to stay competitive.
Aside from choosing a new CMS or web host provider, sometimes it’s nice to hit the refresh button on your backend and redesign your website from the bottom up.
Rebranding Your Business
Your website is a reflection of your business.
So it will be necessary to change the theme of your site and scrap legacy to match the vision of your company during a rebrand.
Burn It All Down
Many businesses build new websites simply to fix something that isn’t working or to try something new.
But site migrations won’t automatically improve your keyword rankings or traffic flow.
Site migrations should be carefully considered before investing the time and resources required for such a massive project.
Keep these considerations in mind when planning the objectives of your site migration.
Align your migration with business objectives and evaluate whether the costs justify the intended ROI.
Why Are Enterprise Migrations More Challenging?
Enterprise websites present more challenges than smaller websites for a number of reasons:
- Content is often focused on multiple topics.
- 404 errors, duplicate content, and redirect chains are more common with larger, legacy websites.
- Enterprise companies often operate in different locations and deal with multiple languages.
- Larger sites tend to be older meaning that content can be outdated and useless.
Even alignment around the new focus of the site can be mixed among executives.
Not only do agencies and webmasters have to deal with a site migration of a greater scale, but they also need to account for the multi-faceted objectives of an enterprise organization.
What Are We Migrating?
Before undergoing a migration, figure out your objectives.
- Are you trying to make your site more secure?
- Are you trying to refocus the content of your site to reflect new products or services?
- Are you simply trying to improve the theme and UI of your website by switching platforms?
The most common migrations that websites undergo include:
- Protocol changes (i.e., HTTP to HTTPS)
- TLD migration (i.e., ccTLD to gTLD and vice versa)
- Platform migration (i.e., Drupal to WordPress)
- Host migration (i.e., GoDaddy to Magento)
- Subdomain/subfolder migration (i.e., moving legacy content to a subdomain)
- Hybrid migration (i.e., a mixed approach of one or more methods above)
Different migrations come with different considerations.
For example, migrating all URLs on a top-level domain to HTTPS will require you to place HSTS protocols to ensure that all redirects navigate to HTTPS pages, as opposed to their HTTP version.
Along the same lines, migrating content from a TLD to a subdomain will require you to recrawl your site to ensure that you don’t break any internal link pathways.
Going over the vast considerations of each different migration could fill a book.
Instead of doing that, the remainder of this post will focus on the basic technical aspects that all migrations should follow and the steps you can take to ensure you don’t mess up your site migration.
From an SEO standpoint, your job is to ensure that all technical SEO specifications are handled with care when migrating URLs to a new site.
For this process, it’s keen to create a technical SEO template that covers the use and implementation of the following areas:
- A map of all redirects being implemented.
- A complete XML sitemap of all existing URLs.
- The URL structure of webpages, including protocol.
- Domain topology.
- The transition of pages to TLDs, subdomains, and subdirectories.
- Robots.txt incorporation for both staging environments and the new site launch.
- Structured data.
- Metadata, including image alt text.
- Internal links of all indexed web pages.
- Existing redirects or custom 404s on your site.
- Mobile responsiveness.
- Page speed.
- Header tags.
- Media files, backend code (CSS, etc.), and widgets.
- Canonical tags.
- Hreflang attributes.
- Image sizes and file types.
- HTML markup.
Documenting your technical considerations and process ensures that you will be aligned with developers and that they also have more insight into the scope of work at hand. This can help their team in creating budgets and timeframes.
Site migrations are much more than simply redirecting URLs from one domain to another.
Every element must be considered and handled with care.
Enterprise sites often comprise of multiple domains, subdomains, and topic focuses.
Ensuring consistency throughout this transition will require you to evaluate these technical factors across all existing real estate being migrated.
Steps for a Successful Migration
This simple step-by-step guide will help webmasters ensure a safe and painless site migration for enterprise sites.
It will mostly relate to full-scale website migrations (e.g., host, platform, or domain migration), as opposed to protocol changes and other smaller changes.
Create a Sandbox or Staging Environment for Your Website
Whenever you make any significant changes to a website, it’s always ideal to create a staging environment and test server to test your changes.
If moving to a new platform or CMS, you must also ensure that users have access to override certain functions of your code and markup. This means being able to adjust meta titles for pages, implement custom URLs, etc.
Review your developer’s staging environment to see whether the UX, information hierarchy, and technical SEO changes align with your shared vision. The last thing you want is a high category page missing from the navigation when you go live with the new site.
Be sure to use robots.txt for your staging environment so it doesn’t get indexed by any search engines.
Finally, add password protection to your staging environment for extra safety.
Map out All Redirects from Old to New URLs
If your URL structures are changing then you’ll need to create a file mapping out all redirects from the old URL to the new one.
Most platforms you migrate to will already have a tool built into the backend for you to write your redirects.
Although, performing a regex expression with the .htaccess file of your old website is the most straightforward way to perform a full site or protocol migration.
You’ll also want to use a tool (e.g., Moz) to map out all internal links so that you can monitor these pathways when transitioning to the new site.
For an added bonus, I would set up custom 404 pages or URLs that won’t be redirected or will be broken during the migration. Creating these beforehand will ensure that there is still a pathway to your new site after the migration.
Crawl the Legacy Website
Crawling is an important step in setting up the information architecture of your new site, as well as deciding which pages to keep and noindex.
First, export all URLs from GA and add them to your sitemap.
Next, create a spreadsheet with all indexed URLs and place them in a spreadsheet to markup their redirects, metadata, canonical tags, etc. on the new site.
Depending on the tool you use, you can end up crawling more pages by setting the user agent to Googlebot and ignoring robots.txt files on all property of your TLD.
Crawling your site will alert you to any immediate errors, such as crawl errors or redirect chains that need to be rectified before the migration.
Most importantly, extracting your top performing pages from Search Console or any of your analytics software will give you insight into how you should set up your information architecture and where renewed focus on link building, etc. should be placed on the new site.
Create Benchmarks for Performance
Benchmark performance and set lofty goals for your new site to address any inefficiencies with the new site.
Actions to Take Post-Launch
Set up Google Analytics Tracking Code & Enable Search Console
Be sure to migrate your old tracking code to the new site so that you have access to Google Analytics.
Create dates so that your tracking code accounts for changes related to the migration.
Furthermore, verify your site with Google Search Console so that you can track your goals and ensure that the site is performing to your intended vision.
Create Self-Referential Canonical Tags for New Webpages
When migrating from an old site to a new one, it’s important to set up new canonical tags on each webpage so that the new site gets indexed by search engines.
Test Redirects, Canonical Tags, Internal Links
Use Screaming Frog and other scrapers to test all of the changes you’ve made to the backend of your new site.
This will help ensure that there are no broken pathways, all relevant webpages are being indexed, and duplicate content is not popping up.
Ensure that all internal links point to new URLs and don’t rely on 301s or 302s.
If any pages are removed in the process, be sure to place redirects on the page if appropriate or use a soft 404 if nothing relevant exists.
Fix Duplicate Content Errors
Poor redirects can result in massive duplicate content errors.
This can arise from canonical tag errors, pagination, protocol changes without HSTS headers, and creating default folders on your backend.
Moz, Raven Tools, and a number of other tools are available to help spot duplicate content errors.
Update All Platforms & Directories
After migrating to a new domain or moving content to a new subdomain, you’ll want to contact publishers and directories to update your backlinks, whenever appropriate.
At the same time, you’ll want to update social media profiles and bios to reflect these changes, as well as promote your new website for all of your fans.
Crawl Your New Site
Once you’ve tested your changes, it’s time to dive deeper into your site beyond redirects and canonical tags.
This crawl should include:
- Monitoring index status on pages.
- Identifying any 404 errors that persist.
- Optimizing metadata.
- Implementing new structured data on your site.
- Ensuring indexed pages are being deep linked.
- Monitoring loading speeds and any backend issues in CSS, etc.
After this is set up, it’s time to submit your new sitemap to search engines to accelerate the indexation process.
This may take weeks to months so be sure to keep a watchful eye on this.
Crawl Your Old Site
Finally, you’ll want to complete one last crawl of your old domain to ensure that URLs have changed to your custom parameters and that redirects are working properly.
Furthermore, resolve any 302s from the old site that still linger.
Be sure to continually track your performance in Search Console and Google Analytics to make any adjustments to the new site.
Generally, you’ll want to plan for slow periods in the year to execute a migration.
Also, deep linked pages won’t be indexed for months after a migration, so it’s ideal to commit to other marketing strategies in the interim.
Finally, before undertaking an enterprise-level site migration, it’s important that you are in total alignment with your staff and developers.
Alignment and focus will ensure that your most important pages are migrated successfully and that search engines and users can readily understand and engage with your new website.
- 9 Ways to Avoid SEO Disaster During an Ecommerce Platform Migration
- Moving a WordPress Website from HTTP to HTTPS: A Complete Guide
- How to Avoid SEO Disaster During a Website Redesign
Featured Image: Pexels
Screenshot taken by author, September 2018