Whether you are a small, medium, or enterprise business, you will have to deal with a site migration sooner or later. You may be asking yourself, but why would I migrate my site? What does that even mean?
Let me back up and explain what a website migration really is. Digital marketers use the term “site migration” to cover a broad range of events to describe a site going through substantial changes that can affect search engine visibility. This term covers everything from changing platforms, structure, content, and even UX.
Site migrations can be tricky even for the best professional. There’s always a chance that you’ll lose your site’s rankings when you start making changes. The more changes you make the more likely you are to lose rankings. I know it sounds frightening, however there are some things you can do to ensure you minimize the risk and quickly stabilize your rankings.
Within your site there are links everywhere, some links you may not even be thinking about. The most important being your navigation menu. A well-structured navigation menu helps search engines like Google, understand which pages are most important and help shape how your site is ranked. When you make minor or even major changes it can have a huge impact on how your site is crawled by search engines.
While navigation links are the first links search engines see they are not the only links. On most pages on your site there is more linking, call-to-action (like going to a form or your contact page), links to other pages or products, or even affiliate links. When you begin your migration try to make the fewest number of changes possible. This will help mitigate any rank drop.
The old saying goes “Content is King,” and that is especially true with your website. Content changes are one of the top reasons for ranking drops. We tell our clients that during a migration you need to keep everything the same. Google and other search engines already need to re-evaluate your site due to the migration. By changing content you are slowing the entire process. This could make it harder to stabilize your ranking. We also know that sometimes you need to change your content, and if you have to do it during the migration, make sure you have a backup of the old content as well. There are times that you may need to revert to the old content to aid in migration recovery.
Before you even start with the migration you need to make sure you have a good, if not great, redirect plan. No one wants their customers coming to their site just to be hit with a 404 (page not found). Below is a list of three best practices you should follow to create a great redirect plan.
- Don’t mass redirect all pages to the home page. This not only frustrates users, but search engines look poorly on this.
- If a page is missing find a suitable match to redirect to. This may sound silly, but it is missed quite a bit. It takes time to pair redirects but it is worth the time spent.
- If an important page has no match you may want to consider recreating the page. Every page has its own ranking, and sometimes the pages have so much rank that you don’t want to lose that “juice.”
While all three of these, internal linking, content, and improper redirects, are some of the major issues we see with migrations, they are not the only issues. There are many things that could affect a ranking drop during a migration. Talk with a professional. If you want to learn more about website migration or how digital marketing can help your business, our team of digital marketers are always ready to help.