SEO DIP SITE MIGRATION

Matthew Carter
Hello friends, my name is Matthew Carter. I’m a professional link builder for a large SEO agency in New York City.

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Update all of your social media profiles, bios you use as a guest publisher, other websites you own, forum signatures you use, and any other platforms you take advantage of, so that the links point to the new site and not the old.

You need to make sure you have a complete list of the URLs on your old site so that nothing ends up getting lost because of the transition.

If you find any orphan pages, make sure to update the site, and link to these during the migration. These pages are much less likely to pick up search engine traffic if they aren’t linked to from the rest of your site.

For any pages where this isn’t possible, you will need to set up an individual redirect. Make sure this doesn’t create any conflicts with your regex and that it doesn’t produce any redirect chains.

Changing your domain name or implementing HTTPS can be a great business move, but if you fail to consider how search engines will react to this move, you are almost certain to take a major hit in organic search traffic.

20. Update all other platforms.

This might sound obvious, but as you go through the process, you will quickly realize how tempting it might be to leave the links unchanged, since they will redirect to the new URL anyway. Do not succumb to this temptation. Apart from the server load, which slows down site performance, the redirects may dampen your PageRank.

I recommend self-canonicalizing all of your pages on the new site (except, of course, for pages that should canonicalize to another page). In combination with the redirects, this tells Google that the new site is, in fact, the new location of the old site. Sitewide self-canonicalization is recommended anyway, since URL parameters create duplicate content that should always canonicalize to the parameter-free URL.

Verify that canonicalization on the new site references the new site and not the old. Canonicalizing to the old site can be disastrous, as it may prevent the new site from being indexed.

Never do a site migration without first testing everything on a test server. Verify that the redirects work properly, and do all of the checks that follow in private before going public. Trying to do it all in one go without testing is bound to lead to errors, and if the mistakes are bad enough, they can set your site back by weeks.

Few things can destroy a brand’s performance in the search results faster than a poorly implemented site migration.

Also, ideally, the URL architecture should be identical to the old one unless you have very strong reasons to change it. If you do plan on changing it, a site migration may seem like the ideal time to do it, but you should be aware that doing so may cause Google to see it as an entirely different site. If you do both at the same time, you will not be able to determine whether any losses in traffic were the result of changing the architecture or of migrating the site.

You should have a spreadsheet that lists every old URL and every new URL.

Ideally, during a site migration, all of the old pages exist on the new site. Obviously, removing a page removes its ability to capture search engine traffic. On top of that, dropping too many pages during the migration may lead Google to conclude that the new site isn’t the same as the old site, causing you to lose your rankings.

Use the following SEO checklist to prepare yourself as you develop a migration game plan for your website.

Crawl your site with a tool like Screaming Frog, and be sure to save the crawl for later.

4. Crawl your site before the migration.

Some industry professionals claim that you can give up control of the old domain once Google stops indexing it, but I would never advise doing this. While it’s possible that Google will attribute links pointed at the old site to the new one, even without the redirect, this is placing far more faith in the search engine then I would ever recommend.

Keep a close eye on your search and referral traffic, checking it daily for at least a week after the migration. If there are any shifts in traffic, dive down to the page level and compare traffic on the old site to traffic on the new site to identify which pages have lost traffic. Those pages, in particular, should be inspected for crawl errors and linking issues. You may want to pursue getting any external links pointing at the old version of the page changed to the new one, if possible.

Any other 301s can be taken care of after this. Always update your internal links to point directly to the correct page, never through a redirect.

Use a tool like SEMrush to monitor your rankings for your target keywords. In some cases, this will tell you if something is up before a change in traffic is noticeable. This will also help you identify how quickly Google is indexing the new site and whether it is dropping the old site from the index.

Remember that a site crawl may not be able to identify every single page on your site. For example, if you have pages that aren’t linked from other pages on your site, they won’t show up in a crawl. You can use your own records and databases to find these pages, of course, but if this isn’t possible, you can find these pages in your Google Analytics data, as well as through a link explorer like Ahrefs.

Install Google Analytics on the new domain and get it up and running well before you launch the site to the public. You do not want to have any missing data during the transition, and it’s important to watch for any changes in traffic during the migration.

Test your redirects on a test server and verify that this doesn’t produce any 404 errors. I recommend doing this before the redirects go live on your public site.

6. Map all changed URLs from old to new.

Keep in mind that once the redirects go live, your site has effectively been migrated. The new site should be in pristine condition before setting up the redirects.

A site migration will almost always result in a temporary loss of traffic — Google needs time to process the change and update its index accordingly. A carefully executed site migration can minimize traffic fluctuations, and in a best-case scenario, Google will ultimately treat the new site as if it were the original.

Use Screaming Frog or a similar tool to crawl all of your old URLs. Be sure to crawl a list of URLs that you collected before the migration, and make sure the list includes any URLs that were not discoverable by crawling. Do not attempt to crawl the site directly; the 301s will cause it to crawl only the first page.

Crawl the new site to verify that there are no 404s or 301s (or any other 3xx, 4xx, or 5xx codes). All of the links on the new site should point directly to a functioning page. The 404 and 501 errors are the biggest offenders and should be taken care of first. If there is a suitable replacement for a 404 page, change the link itself to point to the replacement, and verify that a 301 is in place for anybody who arrives at the missing page through other means.

Update your PPC campaigns so that they point to the correct site. If your PPC campaigns are pointing to the old site, attribution will be lost in Analytics because of the redirect.

Check the external URLs to verify that all of the redirects are functional. None of the external URLs should be 301s or 404s. A 301 in the external URLs is indicative of a redirect chain and is bad for performance. A redirect to a 404 will lead to a very frustrating experience for your users and may hurt your SEO in other ways.

Make a copy of your Google Analytics data; you will need this information so that you can quickly identify if any traffic is lost after the migration.

Still, that is only the best-case scenario. The reality is that site migrations, in and of themselves, typically offer little to no SEO benefit and do not eliminate search engine penalties. (That is why SEOs often use site migrations as an opportunity to make SEO improvements, like streamlining the site structure, fixing broken links, consolidating redundant pages and making content improvements.)

A website crawler retrieves the URLs and markup on your site, “seeing” this information similarly to how Google would.

While temporary dips in traffic are common after a migration, you should still be keeping a pulse on your analytics to ensure nothing big was missed that could be affecting performance.

Recall that website migrations help with website organization. As such, pages should be uniform and contain the same information as they did before. To illustrate, if the HubSpot Marketing Blog underwent a site migration, the content and descriptions for each blog post would be the same, just look different.

1. Crawl the existing site.

Web design experts recommend a site redesign every 2-3 years to keep up with web standards and design trends. This can often be accomplished with a simple facelift or re-skin. However, in some cases, you may be up against a site migration.

If you’re making major changes to the URLs on your site, you’ll need redirections in place to guide Google and your website users from your old URLs to your new URLs.

For more information on how to update URLs, check out this article.

Using the crawl report, see if you find any anomalies, including duplicate content or 404 errors and broken links. In addition, you should click around the new site and look for issues.

If you’re moving your site to a new server, part of the process will include “pointing” to the site’s new location. Coordinate with your web/IT team and/or your hosting providers (new and old) to accomplish this.

Here are the circumstances in which you might need a site migration over a simple redesign:

15. Monitor performance.

If you have ads running or other platforms that may be using old URLs, be sure to add fresh links.

Website migrations can be done on your own or professionally. (For example, HubSpot offers migration services to customers switching to HubSpot’s CMS.)

Redirect chains can slow your site down and impact performance. You can avoid this by breaking the chains, redirecting A to C and B to C .

Don’t be concerned if there aren’t “perfect” replacements for every piece of content. Just do the best you can to direct your users based on their original intent.

6. Choose the right date for the migration.

Existing redirects should be migrated as well. Try to keep as many existing redirects as possible to lessen the workload, and make sure your URLs are mapped before you test redirects, to make sure you have backups if you lose them.

If you have tons of pages, manual mapping probably isn’t in the cards for you, so to save time, look for patterns in your URLs that can be redirected in groups or sections.

Once the new site is live, you can do a crawl to see if it has been migrated how you expected it to. One thing you want to look for is proper indexability and crawlability.

You can always update or rewrite titles, meta descriptions, and HTML markup, but you should still ensure that each page includes the proper information.

Google Analytics allows you to make “Annotations” of important dates or events. This can help you contextualize the data and measure performance pre-and post-migration (unless you opted for a new Analytics setup).

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