SEO migration checklist

Protect your organic rankings
When you’re investing in a new website, a key part of the process is protecting your organic rankings. If you’re bringing in a significant amount of traffic from search engines, careful thought needs to be put into how you migrate important content and pages across to your new site – so you don’t lose valuable traffic.

Redesigning and restructuring your website does carry a risk of impacting your SEO and your organic rankings temporarily. But the short-term hit you’ll take will likely be outweighed by the long-term gains you’ll get from investing in a more sustainable platform that’s a better reflection of your organisation. And if you do the migration correctly, you could even take the opportunity to improve your organic performance as well.

In this guide we’ll give you a checklist of steps to follow when it comes to migrating your website to a new one and having an overall positive impact on SEO.

Note: it’s always best to consult an expert who can advise about SEO migration when you’re investing in a new website to make sure everything’s done in line with best practices. Adaptable offer SEO audits and migration consultancy as part of our project processes.

The importance of proper SEO migration

As we’ve already touched on, migrating to a new site carries with it a risk of temporarily losing organic rankings and traffic – but if done correctly, you can minimise the impact of this and get back on track much quicker.

There are three key reasons why it’s vital to migrate your site properly with careful consideration given to SEO:

  • Protecting any existing rankings that are bringing traffic to your site
  • Identifying opportunities to improve rankings and/or target new search terms
  • If migration isn’t completed correctly, it’s harder to regain the rankings you had before, once Google has already indexed the changes to your site

Common mistakes with SEO migration

The most common and most dangerous mistake when it comes to SEO migration is not considering it at all. But there are some specific pitfalls we often see organisations fall into when it comes to new websites, SEO and migration.

1. Moving to a new domain

There are many reasons you might want to move your websites onto a new domain. It could be branding thing, an organisational structure thing, or perhaps you’re looking at multi-geography SEO and need a new domain to target different countries effectively.

Moving to a new domain brings additional challenges on top of a migration project. There is a lot to unpack within that, but the bottom line is you should move to a new domain with extreme caution. A fresh domain has no links, no authority, and therefore no SEO “goodwill” built into it. If a migration to a new domain is done incorrectly, you could stand to lose a significant amount of organic traffic. Even if it is done correctly, you will still see a medium to long-term impact that will be incredibly challenging to come back from.

2. Not redirecting old URLs

When you move to a new website, you are highly likely to have changes to the URLs and URL structures of key pages and sections. If you don’t redirect old URLs to new ones, not only will any links to those pages go to dead ends, it’ll also hurt your SEO. Search engines will continue (at least initially) to index the old URLs, so when a user searches for a relevant keyword and your page appears, they’ll get an error, which is obviously a poor user experience. At this stage you might also find that the page with the new URL and the page with the old one are competing against each other in the SERPs. Eventually search engines will figure out that content doesn’t exist any more and stop indexing it. At which point you’ve missed the opportunity to continue getting traffic to equivalent pages on your new site, and you’re essentially starting from square one.

3. The nuclear approach

Over the years, your website inevitably builds up a backlog of blog content, old pages, case studies and services that may or may not be relevant any more. A new website project is a tempting opportunity to nuke a lot of existing content and streamline everything. But this can lead to significant losses in traffic if you fail to consider what those pages are bringing in. Even if they’re no longer relevant or you’re changing your approach, it’s still vital to consider how you will migrate across to your new content – rather than simply scrapping everything and starting from scratch.

SEO migration steps

Now you know the importance of proper SEO migration for your new website, and the potential pitfalls of not considering it, let’s move on to the key step you need to take on the journey to a smooth transition with minimal disruption.

There are 5 key stages to complete: audit, plan, produce, implement and (post-)launch.

Step 1 - Audit

This is the stage where you take a look at where you are now – assess the current landscape, what you need to protect, what you can improve, and what you can afford to let go.

Four key areas should be audited:

 

Traffic

  • Which pages are bringing in traffic, more specifically organic traffic?
    • You can also identify which pages aren’t bringing in traffic so could be candidates to be removed, repurposed or improved
  • What are the key pages that visitors are hitting and engaging with?
  • Benchmark your traffic so you can keep track of your efforts and their impact post launching the new site

Keywords/rankings/SERPs appearance

  • Which keywords and phrases are you ranking well for?
  • Which keywords are bringing in relevant traffic?
  • Are there opportunities to improve rankings or target new keywords?
  • What type of content is ranking well? Is it the “right” kind of content?
    • I.e. is an old blog post ranking really well for a phrase that’s quite core to your organisation, and is there an opportunity to update it or migrate it to a more “permanent” page?
  • Similar to traffic, you should also benchmark your keyword rankings prior to the project

UberSuggest showing top keywords a site is ranking for

Content

  • What’s the user intent when they hit high performing content on your site?
  • Are you educating? Selling? Informing?
  • Which content needs to be replicated or repurposed on the new site?
  • What new content needs to be produced?

Competitors

  • How are competitors structuring their site and content?
  • What’s their approach to content? What are they targeting?
  • What can you take inspiration from/improve upon?
  • What are the gaps in terms of what you’re targeting vs what they are?
  • Are there areas where they’re underperforming that you can take advantage of?

Step 2 - Plan

Once you have all of the insight and information from the audit under your belt, then it’s time to use this to plan your migration and consider how your approach to SEO will influence your new website.

Site structure/sitemap

  • What pages will be on your site?
  • What will the hierarchy look like?
    • I.e. how will top level and sub level pages relate to each other, how will you group pages and content together?
  • How will the page hierarchy inform the URL structure?
    • Note best practice is matching your URL structure to your navigation/page hierarchy – so if for example Service A sits under Services, you would want the URL path to be /services/service-a/ to match

Content list

  • What content needs writing/producing?
    • What will it focus on/keyword will it target?
    • Who is producing the content?
  • Which content needs migrating across?
    • Who is migrating the content across and populating the new website?

Redirect mapping

  • Create a document which lists all of the page URLs which will cease to exist on the new site, and they should each be mapped to a new URL
    • If a page doesn’t have an equivalent on the new site, we’ve seen advice that you don’t redirect it, and that you leave it as 404, otherwise it could be confusing to users. We think the opposite is true, that if you can redirect the user to a top-level page they’ll be more likely to continue browsing your site, and it’s also better for the technical SEO health of your site to minimise 404s.

Example of a redirect mapping document

Design considerations

  • Ensure that the hierarchy of headings and body text is functional and usable for both design and SEO purposes
    • Best practice for SEO is to ensure headings are descending/hierarchical, and that you don’t have multiple H1s on a page. It’s a good idea to factor this in during the design phase.

Step 3 - produce

This stage of the process will usually take place during the development phase of your website. Whoever’s responsible for producing content for the new site will be preparing all of this so they can populate. There are some important SEO considerations at this stage.

Writing content

  • First and foremost content should be useful, helpful and valuable to your users – it should be content that they will want to read
  • You should also refer back to your content audit to make sure you know which phrase/keyword each page is targeting, and then optimise accordingly.

Meta titles and descriptions

  • Write optimised titles and descriptions for each page on the new site
    • Optimise titles for the keyword your targeting, descriptions for click-throughs
    • Ensure all are unique and that there are no duplicates
    • It’s fine if you want to copy over meta titles and descriptions from your previous site if they’re working well. You could grab all of your current titles and descriptions by using a tool like Screaming Frog.

Meta descriptions in the Screaming Frog SEO crawler tool

Step 4 - Implement

This is the point where you begin to bring all of your prepared work together on the development site. This stage brings together a bit of technical work with some good old content population to get everything ready to make the smooth transition.

Add content

  • Populate the site with new and migrated content, ensuring to consider elements like heading tags and interlinking

On-site optimisation

  • Add meta titles and descriptions
    • You’ll usually do this by utilising a plugin like Yoast, which enables you to do bulk updates so you don’t have to edit each page one-by-one
  • Configure Yoast/SEO plugin
    • Search appearance, e.g. indexing categories/archive pages
    • Generate an XML sitemap

Technical and tracking

  • Put redirects in place and test/verify
    • You can usually use a plugin for this
  • Ensure all relevant tracking codes are installed, e.g. Google Analytics

Step 5 - Post-launch

Once you’ve implemented and tested everything during the final stages of development, once your site’s been launched, it’s time to make sure everything has been implemented correctly and is working as expected post-launch.

On-site technical health

  • Perform a check/crawl with a tool like Screaming Frog
    • Identify any broken links or links to redirected pages that may have been missed in migrated content and fix them – it’s better to link to the final URL than one which is redirected
      Check again that all redirects are working as expected
  • Double-check that Google Analytics or whichever tracking platform you’re using is working correctly
  • Run a technical audit – using something like Lighthouse – to ensure your new site is performing as it should be

Search apperance

  • Ensure noindex and nofollow tags have been removed
  • Use Google Search Console to alert Google to your changes
    • Submit the XML sitemap
    • Use Search Console to crawl the homepage and any other key pages and submit for reindexing

SEO migration - proceed with caution

Hopefully we’ve highlighted throughout this guide the importance of pre-planning and preparation when it comes to migrating to a new website and SEO. Failing to consider your standing and performance on search engines before and after your new website launch could result in you losing significant amounts of traffic that could be difficult to recover.

Everything we’ve included in this checklist are vital steps to ensuring your content is migrated successfully across to your new website without having too much of an impact on your SEO. But it’s not an exhaustive list, and as we mentioned at the beginning of the guide, it’s always best to have an expert on hand to ensure everything goes as smoothly as possible.

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