A website migration or redesign is a term widely used by SEO professionals to describe any event whereby a website undergoes substantial changes in areas that can significantly affect search engine visibility: new domain, structure, design, platform or CMS, content, urls, design, UX of the site…
Are you planning a website migration? Does natural referencing represent an important part of your activity? Be careful, few actions can destroy a business's performance in Google results faster than a poorly implemented site migration.
Change of name, change of CMS, redo a new site design, improve the customer journey, merge content, the opportunities for redesigns are numerous for a site.
But one mistake can lead to significant drops in your organic traffic , Google rankings, and conversions.
How to carry out this specific referencing operation , without risking harming natural referencing?
The processes and checklist will be covered in this article. We've put together everything you need to know to avoid disaster during a site redesign.
What is a site redesign and migration?
Site redesigns can take many forms . This may involve rebuilding a site on a new CMS, changing the domain name, merging with another site, moving to HTTPS or a mix of several changes.
The migration process will be all the operations that allow you to move from the old version of the site to the new one, ensuring the continuity of the site's operation, from a technical and marketing point of view... Its objective is to achieve the desired changes without harming the different spheres.
Here are the main reasons that can lead to considering the redesign and migration of a site:
- A CMS that no longer meets the needs of the growing company, in E-commerce for example.
- Change of site or company name.
- Rebuild a healthy SEO strategy following an audit.
- Working the tree structure for indexing.
- Merging of several companies or sites into a single site.
- Creation of a site adapted to mobile devices.
- Improve site security.
- Work on optimizing the loading speed of a site.
- Wish for a new design and a new user experience.
Concretely, migrations can consist of carrying out one or more of these steps:
- Change domain name.
- Switch the site from HTTP to HTTPS.
- Change URL structures.
- Change your site's navigation
- Migrate part of a site.
- Transfer the site to a new server.
- Switch to a new CMS or framework.
- Redesign a site.
- Change the structure and organization of a site.
- Change host.
Switching from Http to Https
Read our article dedicated to the transition from http to https and its impact on SEO . We give you the method to carry out the migration of your website in https without impact on the natural referencing of your site.
Change of domain name
Changing your domain name can have a negative impact on SEO if the operation is not carried out by following certain specific recommendations following your name change.
What can be the impact of a redesign or migration?
Businesses change, technology evolves, marketing methods improve and strategies adapt. It is necessary for a company at some point to take up the challenge of redesigning and migrating its website.
All the files and content created over the years must be recovered and moved, upgraded or merged, and this without impacting the natural referencing of the website and the hard-won positioning in Google results.
Site migrations are tricky and no two are the same, they can lead to disasters:
- Significant drops in traffic and positions.
- Drop in conversions.
- 404 errors.
- Loss of positioning on Google.
- Complete de-indexing of the site from Google.
Change of design: this operation remains quite simple to manage if it is limited to just modifying the visual aspect without affecting the structure of the site. However, it can have an impact on the conversion rate.
Redesigning a site: Changes to the tree structure of the site can also affect your search results if they are not made with their impact in mind.
Change of domain name: when a site changes its name, it is important to notify search engines of these changes and to take the necessary actions. Without it, you could start from scratch and not benefit from the rankings acquired by the old domain name.
URL restructuring: changing the URLs of your pages without taking the necessary measures results in lost positions on Google and navigation errors for visitors.
Changes to content: Changes to content and internal links may upset obtained Google rankings. Beware of what you remove and what you add, especially on pages that bring you visits and conversions.
Change of CMS: this operation is often the most delicate, because it mixes several problems into one, change of design, structure, creation of new content...
Migrations typically fail for these reasons:
- A lack of knowledge of the associated risks.
- No SEO audit.
- A lack of knowledge of the different parties involved.
- Poor planning of the steps upstream.
- A flimsy or non-existent checklist.
Natural referencing is a very volatile marketing method . When considering migrating or redesigning your site, it's important to have a migration plan so you don't lose the hard-earned results of the past.
This is also an opportunity to optimize everything, including your site structure. Use the migration and redesign of a site as an opportunity to optimize SEO by starting on an optimal basis.
Depending on the types of more or less complex migrations, these recommendations are not all appropriate and necessary. It is advisable to create your own checklist according to your needs and to carry out a complete audit in order to identify the errors and steps to be put in place.
Good planning lays a sound foundation for operations that can be quite heavy depending on the case. It is important to prepare operations well in advance in order to avoid the most serious pitfalls and limit the risk of loss of turnover.
Think carefully if migration is the right choice
A migration and redesign can have significant consequences on the natural referencing of a site. When the operation is well done, the consequences are often minimal, but a temporary loss of traffic is always to be expected for a few weeks, the time that Google fully integrates the changes.
It is therefore important to measure the risks and the desired benefits in order to know whether this type of operation is desirable or not, and whether the targeted benefits are worth this risk.
Laying the groundwork for the redesign work
The redesign of a website involves many changes that can be beneficial on several levels: technical, seo, content marketing, conversion, organizational... It is therefore important to define what must change, evolve, be deleted... We do not realize an overhaul every 3 months. It is necessary to lay the right foundations and anticipate future developments .
Create a multidisciplinary team
All the people concerned must be present in the discussions . This mainly includes system administrators, developers, designers, writers, project managers, SEOs, legal departments, management…
It is important to coordinate all these players and for everyone to be able to assess the consequences of the overhaul on their specialty in order to raise objectives and fears.
Map the tasks in a specification
Create a list of what must be done before, during and after and assign these tasks to the right interlocutors according to their specialties.
A project management system and scope of work will help everyone involved in the process keep track of what tasks they are responsible for, what has been accomplished, and what remains to be done throughout the process.
Define the best period for the operation
Certain times of the year may be more conducive to initiating a migration . Launching this type of operation at the end of the week during the holidays of part of the team during a period of great activity on the website is clearly not the best planning to plan.
- Availability of key team members.
- Calmer period from a business point of view.
- Lower workload to free up time in case of worries.
- Less frequentation of the site.
Most failed migrations and significant traffic losses come from poorly planned or non-existent redesigns . Many companies put a new site online, without worrying about SEO, and only addressing the subject once significant loss of visits has been observed.
During any redesign and migration project, the SEO specialist must be able to formulate his requirements and wishes . There are often points of friction with the technical teams who do not always evaluate the requests at their fair value. This is where coordination between all professionals is important. Developers, marketers and SEOs must be able to work in harmony and intelligence.
Evaluate the chosen technologies and CMS
Some technologies can be blocking for SEO, and some CMS more or less suitable for SEO purposes. The SEO manager must therefore have the freedom to dictate his needs and requirements on this subject .
Audit content and identify the most important pages
During a migration, it is important to know what content is affected . Use all the SEO tools and analytics software at your disposal to make a complete inventory of all the content on your site.
Evaluate the KPIs of each page of your site and identify the best performing pages. The best performing pages are the ones that generate the most revenue and conversions and the most traffic.
It is essential to know if these pages will still exist afterwards and if they will be moved, consolidated or even deleted. You will need this information later when writing your redirect plan.
Create a referral plan
If you can't keep the same URLs, it's imperative that you set up 301 redirects correctly . It is therefore necessary to create a redirection plan by listing all the old pages, and to define which will be the new destination pages of the initial content. This must be applied whether the site changes its domain name or not.
You probably already have redirects in place on your existing site . If you don't migrate them, it can have a serious negative impact on your bottom line.
It is necessary to always redirect old URLs to the most relevant new URLs, instead of just redirecting them to the new homepage.
Test if your plan's redirects are actually implemented and working properly.
Pointing old pages to new ones will ensure that your pages will be indexed faster.
Some of the best WordPress plugins handle redirects and errors very well.
Update internal links
Changes in content structure and URLs can upset your internal linking . It is therefore important to ensure the continuity of this internal linking by modifying the URLS if necessary in order to preserve your traffic.
Change canonical URLs
Update canonical tags to new version of domain . It is recommended to use absolute URLs. This is a great time to fix any canonical tags that were wrong on your old site, before migrating to your new site.
Create a private test environment
It is recommended that you work with a separate environment where you perform your tests . For a website migration to go smoothly, it's essential that you have a separate environment from the production environment where you can populate content, test, and prepare for final launch.
When your test site is 100% operational, the final launch can take place. In the meantime, it is important to keep this environment private and not indexable by Google.
Prepare a paid Google Ads campaign
In order to ensure the transition, it may be appropriate to create advertising campaigns on Google Ads in order to redirect visitors to the right site. This is particularly used during a name change or to ensure the transition on the most important keywords for the company.
Test the site as a whole and solve the last problems
During the pre-migration tests, problems will always be detected . It's important to triage any issues that arise and determine if they're blocking the release or if they can be fixed post-launch. Be pragmatic and keep in mind the goals you set at the start of the project.
Create an optimized 404 page
During major redesigns, it is likely that some pages will have 404 errors . In order not to lose your visitors, create optimized 404 pages, inviting Internet users to continue their navigations towards valid pages.
The launch and monitoring of natural referencing
D-day has arrived , you are about to launch your new site on which you have been working for weeks or months. The checks were carried out extensively. The launch is approaching.
Test the pages of the site and the most important pages
It is important to check if the site in general and the most important pages are operational.
Check that the 301 rules are correctly implemented. Keep an eye on your status codes: 301, 404, 500…
Perform a crawl and log analysis of your site to identify errors not visible to the eye.
Test the robots.txt
Prepare the robots.txt file to upload to the new version of the domain when the site launches, replicating the existing directives to point to your new URLs.
Create the new sitemap
Generate a new XML sitemap with the new URLs and new site structure. Upload the new XML sitemap to your Google Search Console property once the site is live.
Notify Google of address change
If you change your domain name, it is important via the Search Console to notify Google of the change of address of your site via the dedicated function.
Have the most important backlinks modified
Contact sites linking to your old site to update their links to the new site . This reduces loading time for your visitors, conveys more link value and, in the case of a new brand, helps increase its visibility.
Also change the links on social networks, directories...
Keep control of the old domain name
The old domain name must be redirected to the new one . It is important to keep it as long as it will receive backlinks in order to transfer its popularity to the new site without risking seeing it decrease.
Monitor traffic, rankings and KPIs
Monitor your SEO KPIs to make sure the new site is performing well.
Part of the monitoring consists in checking the number of indexed pages for the old site (the number must decrease) and the new one (the number increases) in order to see that the taking into account of the new domain is effective.
Also monitor all the other important indicators with the appropriate tool: traffic, positions, conversions, indexing…
Compare charging speeds
Compare the performance in terms of loading speed of your new site with the old one . You will need to ensure that your site migration has not had a negative impact on your site speed and that crawlers will be able to index it quickly.
To facilitate the operations, go for a walk on the side of Swan
One of the main challenges of a migration is to reduce the time required in terms of preparation and implementation.
Not only because it is expensive, but also because the longer it is spread over time, the greater the risk of missing critical points and therefore degrading the SEO quality of the migrated website.
To overcome this problem, there is a tool that allows you to frame and automate several stages of the migration of a website: https://www.swan.tools .
The advantage of this tool is that it allows you to collect all the data needed to create a plan:
- Visible URLs of the site.
- URLs generating traffic.
- Urls receiving backlinks.
The urls can be imported there either by crawl, or by API, or by manual import. Where the tool then really saves time is in the automatic generation of the redirection plan and post-migration tests.
A French tool to test to facilitate operations and avoid errors that could have negative consequences on your visibility.
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