How to migrate your website without killing off your traffic

Saturday, September 13, 2014
Grant Whiteside

The website migration is one of the most overlooked hurdles that will leave businesses struggling to survive to reach their business goals for the year. I have never heard of a sales director ever predict a drop in revenue because they were migrating to a new web platform, yet I’ve lost count of the times I’ve seen it happen. A website migration; moving from one platform to another, is one of the key reasons why so many businesses suffer from a drop in sales, conversions, leads or traffic.

It’s a fact of life that websites must provide a good engaging user experience whilst allowing for search engines to be able to index and hopefully rank your content with enough visibility so people will see your listings and click through to your pages.

With a greater demand for responsive design to reach and engage with mobile and tablet users, and a greater expectation from management teams to gather customer and visitor data to provide the correct segmented content to assist conversions. The race is on to create a more seamless flow between advertising content and converting to sales.

This is where the skill set of a digital marketing agency that has an expertise in the the technical and tactical elements of SEO as well as strategic elements of marketing and content strategy and measurement is needed. Currently it seems as if there is a never ending stream of brands looking to update the web platforms, which means that the number of businesses that will inevitably suffer a drop of sales, conversions, leads or traffic is on the rise.

Step 1. Measurement
Record the number of pages that are indexed by Google / Bing etc. Measure your current web site traffic, month on month, year on year, by the search engine, social media channel, referral source and by each device. Understand which pages are key parts of the user experience that drive conversions.

Understand what each goal is and what it means to the business outcomes (normally financial revenue). Each goal should have some Key Performance Indicator that indicates either success or failure (brochure requests, call inquiries, case studies etc). Set up some Critical Success Factors that identify the potential success or failure of each KPI (search or referral or direct traffic, new visitors, more pages viewed for longer, reduced bounce rates etc).

You should now have a record of each URL, the traffic it drives, where the traffic comes from, how it attributes to making conversions and how did it get that traffic and page authority in the 1st place. This will also include knowing how your internal linking and navigation works. The outcome will be a prioritised list of all the pages that you know are an integral part of the marketing, user journey or conversion process. These are the digital assets of your business that currently keep it alive.

Step 2. Research
What is it you’re missing? Do you have enough content? Are you creating enough conversations after people engage with your content? A website migration is a good time to fix all those on page SEO elements and get a content strategy in place from some good keyword research and your previous measurement exercises. If you’re suffering from not knowing the ‘not provided’ search terms then get in contact with a digital marketing agency that knows what they’re talking about; this is not rocket science!

Competitor research is also a great exercise to go through. Identify 5 branded competitors and 5 specific keyword competitors for each keyword (or content) group and understand where they reach your audience group and what they’re doing to get there. Perhaps you may learn something that you can incorporate into your new design.

Step 3. Implementation
Great! We now have done our measurement, analysis and research pieces and if there are opportunities to help reach your goals, they would have been identified and planned into your new web build.

Create a spreadsheet with every URL of your current website on one column and add a secondary column with the corresponding new URL’s.

This is what we’ll call your redirection list. Every URL will need to be permanently redirected using a 301 HTTP Status Code. It will pass on most of the age trust and authority gathered from the original page (but some of this authority will degrade in time).

If you have duplicate versions of a web page (same content on a different URL, or variant of the URL) on your old website, then these should be 301 redirected to the ONE version of the page that you want to index and promote on the search engines.

If you have pages on the old website that are no longer relevant (possibly they may be time sensitive) then 301 redirect them to a relevant page on the new website. Take into consideration what part they played in the user journey or how they attributed to passing on link value to pages that rank well in search engines.

If you have some great links that drive good referral traffic or they provide good trust and citation flow to them, the 301 redirect will work, but it will degrade in time. Consider getting in contact with the website that gave you that link and ask them if they’ll update to the new URL, they may even oblige.

The best way of getting a website updated on a search engine is to set up an XML site map, this means that every new URL can be automatically be updated. Consider using specialist image and video site maps if these are regularly updated or an integral part of the user / engagement process.

Updating Google and Bing Webmaster Tools and getting the website through their verification process is a great way of knowing what pages are crawled, indexed and what organic search traffic you are receiving.

This should take you nicely back to Step 1; Measurement. Record the number of pages that are now indexed by Google / Bing etc. Measure your current web site traffic, using the same base line metrics as before. A website migration and getting all those pages ranking well and driving traffic takes time; always longer than expected. In the process you’ll probably find pages that you want links removed from and all sorts of best practice SEO issues that your web developers cannot deliver, because they build websites not marketing strategies.

It’s a process that needs done from time to time. Try using a best practice SEO Site Audit check list and a Backlink Audit and Competitor Audit before you dive in!; you may find them essential tools you use for your web build or website migration project. If you would like to download the website migration checklist, subscribe to our email list on the contact us page, drop us a note with a request and we will send you a link.