Hi, everyone. Welcome to another episode of Ask, Learn, Grow. The show where the Reef team answer questions and share updates and insights from the digital marketing industry.
We have SEO Manager Rob Perez with us today, and we’re going to be talking about site migrations.
Rob, this is a huge topic. I’m guessing we’re going to condense it and focus on a couple critical areas?
Yeah, exactly right.
It does happen quite frequently, in that brands and business owners carry out a brand refresh, and part of that process usually includes redesigning or redeveloping your website.
There’s basically three different scenarios.
The first one is if a website has a new template and the web structure stays the same.
This basically means it’s all cosmetic and only the appearance of the website changes, not the structure.
The second scenario would be if they changed their CMS. So if originally they were using WordPress for example, and then they moved to Shopify instead.
Most of the time, this would also involve changing the structure of the website.
The third scenario is if they completely change the domain. So if they had reefdigital.com.au and rebranded and changed the domain to oceandigital.com.au.
This would mean that every URL on the site would definitely change and a redirection plan would be required by default.
Scenario two and three would require a redirection plan. If however, you’re only changing your design template (scenario 1), then that doesn’t require any kind of redirect mapping as URLs remain unchanged.
That being said, typically when you’re going to change the look and feel of your website, you’re more than likely going to review and change the content on the pages too. As a result, there’s a high chance that the URL structure would also change to reflect the updated content and pages.
So it’s always good practice when you’re going through this process, to take extra care to ensure that you’re managing the project in the right way.
These projects require substantial time and effort, so you might as well be thorough and do it right.
It’s a good opportunity to review everything, like you say, Rob.
I mean, there’s times where the structure won’t change, but if you’re reviewing something as big as this, then you might as well use the opportunity and the time wisely, and review everything as there will be efficiency savings in doing so.
You mentioned URL redirection. This is critically important to get right.
Yeah. So people often see redirection as just a task and something to do just because you have to, but sometimes people forget the main reasons behind why it’s so important.
The two main reasons why you need to take the time to put in place a redirection plan are:
- To ensure a continuous user journey
- If a person visits a page based on your old website URL, when they do visit that page and it no longer exists, with a redirection in place, they won’t be taken to a 404 error page. The redirection will automatically take them to the relevant page you selected so they don’t bounce off your website and perhaps go to a competitor instead.
- To preserve SEO authority and therefore rankings and visibility
Over time, you build what’s referred to as domain authority for your website as a whole. This includes your content, site age or history, traffic, but more importantly, how many backlinks are pointing to your website.
Page authority is also included. So domain authority is the metric for the website as whole, but each page also has a subset of that domain authority and has its own page authority and every individual page will have this.
Not all pages on your website are equal and they carry different levels of page authority.
So by default, your homepage will be given most of your authority.
Your main service or product pages will likely acquire more authority than something like your contact page for example, or your about us page.
The reason why I’m explaining this, is that when you’re doing a site migration, if you’re removing these pages (changing the URL has the same effect as removing the page) and you don’t put a redirect in place, you’re actually forfeiting your authority for that page.
It’s almost like starting from scratch again, as if your website was brand new.
So the main reason why we put in place redirections is that we pass the SEO authority (and ideally rankings and traffic) from your old page that previously existed, to a new page that you’re just creating now.
It’s very important that we do this or you can lose years of SEO optimisation simply by not putting in place a redirection. It’s surprising how many people miss this part.
I’ve had to recover a few of those myself over the years, I’m sure you have too, where the redirects haven’t been mapped properly and the site previously had really strong SEO and great search visibility.
New website went live, everything dropped. Traffic dropped, search visibility dropped, conversions dropped, SEO hard work was lost.
You mentioned that they may then seek your help to fix it, like what’s happened to my traffic and sales?
It’s one of the first things you check in this situation, the redirects.
So things weren’t mapped right. You mentioned the authority that these pages have built up over time will be lost because the redirect isn’t in place for the new structure, so it’s almost like starting over.
Usually that’s how the search engines treat it, so very, very, very important to get redirect mapping right from an SEO perspective.
Consequences can be quite severe if redirect mapping isn’t done properly.
Yeah, that’s exactly right. You’ve spent many years building up your domain authority so it’s hard to lose that overnight just by failing to carry out a redirection plan.
What are some things that you should look out for when doing a redirection?
There are a few things, but to put it simply, you need to focus on the redirection mapping plan.
What I would recommend is simply creating a Excel sheet and have one column listing all the URLs for your old website, and another column listing all the URLs for your new website.
What you do is you map out which pages will remain live and which pages will become a dead page, whether through being removed completely or from a change in the URL structure.
With the pages that are going to change or be removed, you need to choose a page on the new website that’s the most relevant page that you would want to redirect the visitor (and search engines) to.
You need to do this for all the URLS.
Typically, if you have a very large website, this can take a significant amount of time and require a high level of attention to detail.
For small websites, it should be quite straightforward.
After you do all of that, you need to apply the redirects. Exactly how and when will depend on the CMS you are using.
For example with WordPress, you can use a plugin – there’s one called ‘Redirection’ – and you pretty much just copy and paste each of the URLs you mapped in the previous step.
Copy and paste the old URL and then copy and paste the new URL, and this will create the redirection in WordPress.
Remember to also copy across your meta data too.
Depending on how you’re carrying out the website migration will again depend on the best way to do this.
You can have a scenario where you completely change and rewrite meta data for the new website, but if you’re bringing any content across to the new site, you might want to also bring across the meta data for those pages too.
What Google is expecting, is that when it crawls your new site, that the topic of the new page is similar to the page that redirects to it.
If it isn’t and you’re not really helping to show Google that this is the same topic (by having the same or similar content and meta data on your page), then Google might not index that page as you hoped.
That could be a bad thing or it might be a good thing. How Google ranks the page will depend on the redirects, content and optimisation. If you don’t have meta data in place, that’s not helping Google to understand the content of the new page.
After the website migration is set live, you need to monitor things closely.
Check if your site is indexed. I would typically give this a couple of days to about a week.
Head to Google and check to see if your site is still indexed in the search results.
Next, assuming you have Google Analytics and Google Search Console configured, check your traffic and whether there are any changes, whether positive or negative or even if it remains constant, that’s a good sign too.
The goal is to avoid a decline in rankings and traffic.
Depending on how much change has taken place with your website migration, could potentially indicate how volatile the post live period might be.
Lastly, just make sure that your sitemap is updated.
So usually with WordPress there’s plugins like Yoast SEO that can automatically create your sitemap for you. In this instance, there’s not much for you to do here. With other CMS platforms, you might need to address this.
Also check your robots.txt file to make sure that the search engines are allowed to crawl your new website. If they are unable to crawl your site, your site could be de-indexed in the search engines.
In your robots.txt file, you have the ability to allow search engines to crawl certain sections of your website and block them (or request that they follow the instruction) from crawling other sections of your website.
So to sum things up, redirections are crucial to make sure that you don’t experience a drop in rankings and traffic. So get this right as well as the other steps and your migration should be a success.
Remember post migration too and keeping a close eye on things.
Quite often post migration, you might see that your rankings are somewhat erratic. Don’t panic or start making further changes based on the fluctuation.
This is common and it’s just the period where Google is reviewing the changes and determining where to place the site in the search results.
Things usually stabilise after the first couple weeks of the new site going live if it’s been well handled. Hopefully it ranks even higher, but stability and consistency of search presence is also a good result.
That’s right, yeah.
Cool and that wraps up today’s call.
If you’ve got any questions about website migrations or any digital marketing related topics, we’re always happy to help. If you’d like to put a problem or a burning question to the team, please do and we’ll see what we can do for a future video.
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Apart from that, thanks all for watching and enjoy the rest of the day.