In the most recent episode of RankUp, our SEO podcast, hosts Ben and Edd interview senior SEO strategist Ian Humphreys. The 10th episode in the series focuses on Ian’s area of expertise – site migrations.
The podcast was a topical session, making the most of Ian’s specialist knowledge and giving him the opportunity to share his interesting insights gathered as a result of working in the industry for over 10 years. Ben brings in real-life experiences from his own client accounts, gleaning on Ian’s expert opinion to advise the best solutions for some of his own challenges.
To get the full scoop you’ll have to listen to the full podcast, but here are some of Ian’s key tips:
Tip 1: Understanding what a site migration is
Ian explains how this differs on a case by case basis. It usually starts with a client wanting to achieve a certain goal, like updating their website site structure or going through a rebranding exercise. It could be that the CMS they are currently using doesn’t support their digital activity and therefore needs changing.
Typically, there are three different types of site migration, each with different reasons behind them:
A front-end migration, which is content or design focused.
A domain migration, where a client needs to change to a different domain or to consolidate a number of domains into one property, they may be rebranding for example.
A back-end migration, necessary when a client wishes to move to a different CMS.
It’s important to note that no matter what type of site migration is to be carried out, SEO considerations must be acknowledged in order to minimise the potential risk of loss to traffic and revenue. Every migration and the risks involved differ.
Tip 2: Knowing when to go ahead with a site migration and when not to
Ian would recommend a site migration if your website is fundamentally affecting the way your business is functioning. For example, if your website is offering a poor user experience that’s leading to a negative impact on sales, you may want to consider redesigning front-end elements of your website to improve user experience. If the content on your website is not performing or it’s against search engine guidelines, then it would be practical to consider investigating a new front end design or layout. For businesses that are rebranding or have been acquired by another business, a domain migration or consolidation exercise would also be recommended.
If the reason a client is considering a site migration is that they don’t like the way their website looks, Ian would strongly advise against investigating this decision further first. He goes on to explain that whilst many processes are put in place to mitigate risk, the chance of losing revenue or website traffic is still a possibility. A site migration should not be selected as a solution to fix something that’s based on an opinion. Site migrations should be based on an adequate amount of data and are to be carefully considered by clients.
At this point in the episode, Ben presented Ian with a real-life challenge he’s experiencing with a current client. He explains that he’s been going back and forth with his client on whether or not to proceed with a front-end redesign. Ben questions whether he should wait until there is a crying need for a site migration or whether he should take a more proactive approach. Tune in at 11:43 minutes to hear more!
Tip 3: How to manage your involvement in the project and communicate between different parties
Site migrations have so many different parties involved from across the business. It’s about educating everyone on the process that needs to happen, how long it’s going to take you and the actual impact it’s going to have. Involve all parties on a call and keep everyone up to date.
In some instances, short turnarounds are expected with tight deadlines to work towards and it’s not always possible to push back deadlines. Where this is the case, prioritise! If the launch is a week away, accept that you may not get everything done in time and shift focus to tasks that can be done now to achieve the biggest impact. Decide which tasks can be carried out post-launch.
A common issue is that individuals work in silo. Keep in contact with all parties involved through regular catch up calls and share feedback throughout the process to prevent and solve issues early on. Have a centralised activity log to give everyone complete visibility of the tasks at hand and ensure everyone is working against the same timeline. Some useful tools that can help with this include Trello, Teamwork and G Suite.
Edd adds that a good starting point for teams to understand what other teams need to focus on is by following Impression’s site migration checklist. This is a good tool to show just how many considerations come in to play for a successful site migration! This checklist aims to fill in the gaps and assist with the auditing process. There are so many intricate details, there’s no way one person can memorise everything and do a thorough job themselves.
Tip 4: Being aware of some of the common SEO pitfalls of site migration
Ian explains that there a quite a few, but here are 3 of the most common site migration issues:
- Pushing a staging website live without updating any of the specific directives for the search engines. This will prevent crawling tools from crawling your website and will result in pages being dropped out of the index!
- Skewed page speed. If you test page speed in the staging environment it may look good, but be warned, it will not paint a true picture without the addition of the various CRO scripts you’re yet to add. Add your scripts when you’re testing in the staging environment to give a true view of your page speed and obtain correct readings.
- Changing too much at once. Don’t do it! You’re opening yourself up to too much risk, take on a staged approach instead. Ian advises focusing on the front-end and back-end changes first before making drastic changes to your site structure. The final stage would be handling the domain migration.
Tip 5: Recommended SEO tools for a site migration
Invest in good crawling software, Ian advises using DeepCrawl. Edd agrees that crawling software would be his number one tool to recommend as well. He also highly recommends a link management tool such as Ahrefs or Majestic to help you understand where your big external backlinks are.
Tip 6: Recovering from a drop in rankings following a migration
The first step is to work out the reasons why rankings have dropped. Use tools such as Google Analytics and Search Console to compare your website traffic pre-launch vs post launch and to help you identify which URLs have been affected. Once you have identified the cause, you can choose the best solution.