It is essential to avoid the common pitfalls that can hurt your SEO efforts and thereby make sure that your next site migration goes smoothly.
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A look into site migration
Migrations are one of the most difficult and dreaded SEO tasks. You need to avoid common pitfalls that impact your visibility and can result in lost traffic and revenue, in order to make site migration work.
On August 11, 2021, a Search Engine Journal webinar was presented by Cody Gault, Migration Services Lead at Conductor.
He has shared the most common site migration issues. Having a look at these will help you to be prepared to handle them.
Into a recap of the webinar presentation:
There are numerous reasons why brands take on a website migration. But, site migrations are often scary for most people. Because if done wrong, site migrations pose a lot of risks.
Site migration can significantly impact your visibility and rankings in search results. If it is done wrongly, it can make you lose rankings and revenue.
In his webinar, Gault shared that the majority of teams they work with have zero experience with migrations.
Almost everyone is worried about losing rankings and traffic and there isn’t a full plan in place to mitigate risk. Most migrations take around 4-6 months on average, teams often feel rushed to complete them.
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Common migration issues stem from:
- Technical SEO problems.
- Content changes.
- Rushed projects.
- Lack of communication.
- Lack of action and focus.
Mentioned here are the major items to be included in a site migration checklists:
If you’re working on React or Angular, you must remember the following:
- Don’t launch without a form of pre-rendering. The worst damage that Gault has seen is when a client relies on Google to render the content.
- Don’t hide your content behind user interaction because Google can’t see it, and can’t rank it.
Failing to take into account internal linking can be harmful to SEO.
Preserve your internal linking structure by:
- Not drastically changing your internal linking structure while changes are likely to happen. But you need to be aware of your previous internal linking. Burying sections of the site behind a few layers of pages never ends well.
- Make sure that your menu navigation is a strong signal to Google. Countless issues can stem from menu navigation being gutted.
Launch Day Critical Issues
Things you don’t want to miss checking before launching your newly migrated website.
- Check noindex tags. They have no place on your live site.
- Check redirects. Make sure that they are running.
- Check robots.txt. You don’t want to block Google from crawling your website.
- Check canonicals.
- Rollbacks are not your friend and often bring problems.
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- Never change your content when migrating. Changing content removes a formerly stable element and Google will have to re-evaluate the site based on the changes made during the site migration.
- And, if you really need to change content, backup old content in case you need to re-add it. Because reverting content can be a key factor in migration recovery.
Target your redirects properly. Don’t mass redirect to the homepage.
- If a page is missing, find a suitable match.
- If an important page has no match, consider recreating the page.
Site Migration Best Practices
Mentioned here are general tips and best practices to make sure your migration is as successful as possible.
- Don’t change, unless it’s necessary
It is advisable and favourable to hold out on certain changes like that of a content change and piece it out after the launch. It’ll be easier to also identify any specific issues.
- If critical Issues are present, delay the launch
Migrations are already bumpy enough. So, don’t further add additional issues into the mix.
And if your site is going to launch regardless of the issues, you must make sure to inform the client or your higher-ups of the potential fallout.
- Never launch during a Google update
As Google updates make it hard to diagnose problems and if one is coming up that they alert you to, push back the launch to make it easier to identify how the migration impacts things.
- Avoid Phased Migrations
Though Google mentions that they can handle phased migrations, Gault often sees problems with this approach. Be careful with phased launches when dealing with international sites especially.
- Start Your Redirects Early
Test your redirects if possible and you’d be amazed how rare this is.
Of course, you’ll have mistakes that can be fixed with testing. But, be aware of potential better redirect matches down the line.
- Triple Check Your Redirects
Check when the site launches. Check later that day or the next day. Check a week later just to be safe.
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Site migration is not child’s play. As mentioned, there are numerous factors to consider.
- The majority of the issues with migrations aren’t always the most obvious.
- Be aware of what’s changing and delay if needed. Internal linking and content changes aren’t always good.
- Keep the migration simple as possible. Consider saving some changes for after the bulk of the migration.
- Good communication and addressing issues prevent major headaches later on.
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