How To Migrate Your Website In 7 Steps
by Josien - 25 Apr, 2020
A new design, extensions or new functionality. There can be several reasons to give a website a “big” update. An update that affects search engine visibility and thus traffic to the website when:
The content on the website changed and / or
The addresses of the pages on the new website change.
In this case, we want to neatly leave a moving message for visitors and search engines on the old website.
Why is a move important? How do you gain insight into the consequences of a move in advance? And how do you limit any negative side effects? You will find answers to these questions in this article. We start with an explanation of the importance of a move, then we explain in 7 steps how a move can be prepared and executed for SEO, where you gain insight into all possible risks in advance.
Why is a move important?
To properly understand the importance of a move, first a brief explanation of how a search engine works. A search engine works in three steps:
Like a spider in a spider web, Google follows all links on the internet with a program. This program is called the Googlebot.
Pages that Google encounters “in this spider web” are stored in a large bin with other internet pages: The index. Google stores all visible data of a page. An important element to find a page later is the address, the URL.
To show a search engine user the most relevant result as quickly as possible, Google uses a complex algorithm to sort the pages in the index. This algorithm is not important for now.
Once in a while the Googlebot returns to a page that is known in the index. This to check if something has changed, maybe there is new information? Or does the page no longer exist? This keeps the Google index up to date. If a page disappears, or the address (url) of a page changes, the Googlebot can no longer find the page stored in the index. Google removes this page from the database, so that the page is no longer shown in the search results. If there are large numbers of pages on the website whose URL has changed, this also has major consequences for the traffic from Google to the website: Traffic from search engines is decreasing.
We have seen an example of this in the past, for example with the Algemeen Dagblad. That is why when you change a page’s address on your website, you always want to notify the postman (Google) of a moving message from your website.
In addition, it is also very neat for other websites that have placed a link to your website. The link will continue to work when you forward the old address to the new address.
Moving away; Good preparation is half the job
Maybe your website only has 10 pages? Or a thousand? Or more? By following this step-by-step plan, you will gain insight into the consequences of a possible move:
Mapping current URLs;
Mapping new URLs;
The moving plan;
Monitoring and adjusting;
If you follow these steps carefully, you will have insight into the possible negative consequences and you can also limit these to a minimum.
Step 1: Baseline measurement, analysis of traffic and positions
In order to determine afterwards whether there is no “damage” after the move, you naturally want to know what the current results are. Answer the following two questions:
What is the current traffic from search engines to the website?
What are the current positions on relevant keywords?
Step 2: Current URLs of your website
Then you start working on the removal plan. Start with an overview of all current URLs of the website. These will be forwarded to the new URLs of the website when the new website is launched. Use the following resources to create this overview:
Web Analysis data
A crawler is a piece of software that, like the Googlebot, visits and stores all URLs of the website. There is software available that you can install on your computer. For example: Xenu Link Sleuth, Integrity for Mac, or Screaming Frog’s SEO Spider Tool.
The end result is an overview of all current URLs on your website. But this does not yet give you insight into the value of a URL.
Web Analysis Data
To determine this value use web analysis data. Collect an overview of pages with:
more than 10 page views in the past month.
landing pages for search engine traffic.
landing pages for traffic from referring websites.
And save this information in, for example, Excel with the corresponding values (the number of page views and visitors). You already have a better understanding of which URLs in your website make an important contribution to traffic to the website.
From search engine optimization we would also like to know which pages have many incoming links. Inbound links are an important part of SEO and we don’t want these pages to be lost.
Collect all incoming links and check which pages these links refer to. Use the software from SEOmoz (Open Site Explorer) or MajesticSEO for this
Besides mapping all old URLs, the aim of this step is also to gain insight into which pages are the most important. A page that gets a lot of traffic from a search engine, or for example has a link from a website such as De Telegraaf, is of course more important than a page that has not received any visitors in the past month. Save the overview in Excel, for example, or use the following Google Document (tip: this document is largely already set up for you).
Step 3: New URLs
Make an overview of all new URLs in the website. In order to do this, it is important that all content has already been transferred to a test environment. A tool can then be used for this, such as the aforementioned Xenu Link Sleuth, Integrity or SEO Spider Frog. Save all URLs again in, for example, an Excel document.
Step 4: The removal plan
The move plan consists of an overview of old URLs that are forwarded to the new URLs of the website. In principle, all old URLs are forwarded, but this is not always possible, or there is not always a new page for it, for example when a part of the website expires.
With the earlier analysis, we have made clear which old URLs are the most important. We also have a number of ‘moving rules’ for different situations:
Situation 1: Page persists and gets a new URL
Forward the old URL with a 301 redirect to the new URL
Situation 2: The page disappears
Forward the old URL with a 301 redirect to the most relevant page, or the parent page of the old URL, or the home page.
Situation 3: The page never existed, no longer exists, but it has inbound links and / or traffic.
Forward the old URL with a 301 redirect to the parent page of the old URL. Is this unknown? Forward the old URL to the homepage.
Now link all new URLs to the old URLs in the document you are using. This overview then serves as input for the developer to implement the redirects when the website is launched.
Step 5: Testing redirects
Before the new website is launched, we will test the removal plan on a test environment. Make sure that the developer of the new website has implemented all redirects as created in the previous step.
Then, using a crawler like SEO Spider Frog, Integrity, or Xenu Link Sleuth, test which status code returns the old URLs, and whether the new page referenced is the correct page.
The desired result is that all old URLs return a 301 redirect status code, with the correct new URL.
Step 6: The move
Are the test results satisfactory? Then everything is ready for the move. Have all the redirects put live by the developer immediately when launching the website.
Step 7: Monitoring
Keep an eye on the results for the first few days after the move. View the following information, among others:
Traffic from search engines.
The positions in search engines with the associated indexed URLs.
Any report in Google Webmaster Tools.
Log files from the server, check any error messages you see in this.
The positions with associated indexed URLs show to what extent Google has taken up the move. Any errors that Google encounters can be found in Google Webmaster Tools and the log files can provide insight into the crawling behavior of the Googlebot.
Compare this information with the information from the zero measurement to check whether everything is going well.
Ideally, you would like to have everything forwarded to the new address when you move house. And in many cases this is also possible, especially if you already had everything in order in the old situation.
In practice, we regularly see that in the old situation not everything is in order. In this case, we would at least want to have most and the most important mail forwarded. By following these steps, you know exactly where you stand and what the risks are and you can make informed choices.
Overview of used tools:
Integrity for Mac
Xenu Link Sleuth
SEO Spider from Screaming Frog
Google Webmaster Tools
Open Site Explorer
Web Analytics Package (eg Google Analytics)
Server Log Files
Redirection: Migration tool for website using WordPress,