There are several factors that need to be taken into consideration when launching a new website. A change to a website’s structure, if done incorrectly, can damage search visibility and cause a loss in traffic. Certain kinds of issues can render your website invisible to the search engines, making it less likely to rank well and provide a great user experience.
We’ve collated a list of the most important considerations when migrating your website.
1. Migrating from http to https
In an attempt to make the web safer, in 2014 Google offered a ranking boost to websites that switch to https. This wasn’t entirely true, and you may have experienced a dip in traffic first before you saw the increase, but this should no longer be the case. Previously 301 redirects resulted in around a 15% loss of PageRank so webmasters weren’t willing to trade a tiny rankings boost for the 15% loss in link equity they would experience by 301 redirecting their entire site. In February, this seems to be the reason why Google’s John Mueller announced that no PageRank is lost for 301 or 302 redirects from HTTP to HTTPS.
Switching to https:// is executed using 301 (permanent) redirects passing an URL’s link equity to its new destination.
- 301 redirect HTTP URL versions to their HTTPS equivalents site wide.
- Ensure all internal links point to HTTPS URLs.
- Set preferred domain in Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools.
- Update the sitemap with HTTPS URLSs.
- Update canonical tags – point them to HTTPS URL versions.
- Update Google Analytics profile.
- Update Social media profiles with your new domain URL.
- Use 302 redirects.
- Ignore the sitemap, canonical and Google/Bing Search console.
Having both the HTTPS and HTTP versions live, even with canonical tags in place, can cause link dilution. It also allows users to see both site versions in search engine rankings, sharing them and linking to them which isn’t best practise, especially if you aren’t trying to achieve higher rankings – links will pass the juice to http pages instead of https.
2. Migrating to new site architecture
Changing your website’s look and feel every few years and making it more user friendly is good practice. However, before you decide to remove the ‘unimportant’ pages, take a step back and analyse your website’s traffic and user journey. You may find that pages you thought weren’t important are popular, are ranking well and have a lot of websites linking to them. You can find this information in Google Analytics. Change the date to the last 6 months, go to Behaviour – All pages and/or Landing Pages. Looking at metrics such as number of sessions (or entrances), unique visitors, time on page, number of conversions and conversion rate, new visitors and returning visitors is a good start and should paint a good picture.
- Analyse traffic to current landing pages.
- Take note of the pages that equate for a lot of traffic and conversions.
- Include them in new site’s architecture.
- Update internal links on these pages once the new site is live.
- Look for on page improvements.
- Never assume! – content that may not be valuable to you, may be important to a big number of your visitors
We now have two ways we can add a tracking code to your website – by adding Google Analytics tracking code to the <head> of every page of your site or by adding Google Tag Manager code to the <body> of the every page.
You have to choose which method you prefer as having both will result in double reporting.
Google Tag Manager is a container tag, so in theory only the GTM tag should be implemented directly on the site, and then all the other tags, including Google Analytics, should be placed within GTM. There are some exceptions - like DC Storm for instance, where the tags are more difficult to implement in GTM or conflict.
The implementation of GTM is something to be careful of.
If tags already exist on the site, the migration should be done in stages:
- Add the GTM tag on site, don't remove any of the existing tags from the site
- Add the existing tags into GTM, make sure they fire, publish tags
- Comment out the tags from the site
- Check everything is working as previously
- Remove other tags from the site, from now on GTM will be the main container and nothing should be placed directly on site anymore.
- Add the GTM tracking code to the staging site
- Add tags and test if they fire
- Publish tags
- Test on the live site
- Use add Google Tag Manager and Google Analytics/Adwords Tracking code at the same time, either go with GTM option or add Google Analytics and Google Adwords code.
Incorrect redirects implementation can cause duplicate content and different version of the same page being indexed.
Why is getting this right important? Each website has a limited crawling budget available. The more URLs your website has, the more of them need to be crawled (and indexed). If you have various versions of the same page live, Google will attempt to crawl all of them. You will soon run out of crawling allowance leaving some of the important pages you want indexed, and ranking high, out. Also, as previously mentioned you want to avoid online audience seeing, sharing and linking to different versions of the same page.
To avoid duplication, you need to choose a preferred domain. At Adido, out preferred domain is https://www.adido-digital.co.uk/ meaning that other versions of this domain had been 301 redirected to this URL.
http://www.adido-digital.co.uk/, www.adido-digital.co.uk/ and https://adido-digital.co.uk/ resolve in https://www.adido-digital.co.uk/.
- Do a 'site:' search.
- Check how many pages are returned? Are they the same? (The most authoritative pages will show first).
- Check if the number of organic landing pages in Google Analytics match with the number of results in a site: search.
- Compare it against your sitemap.
- Use https://httpstatus.io/ for HTTP status header checker.
- Immediately report any duplications to your dev team.
- Leave them to ‘sort themselves out’ – it won’t happen.
- Forget to check your indexed pages every month.
Before website migration:
- Crawl the site (using Xenu or Screaming Frog) and compile a full list of all the URLs on the current site.
- Compile a list of all the URLs planned for the new site.
- Map each individual URL from the current site to new site URLs individually, ready for 301redirects implementation. Don’t forget subdomains!
- Ensure the new URLs are search friendly, don’t include any special characters, spaces, include keywords and ‘describe’ the page well.
- Benchmark the current website’s rankings to measure progress throughout the migration.
- Benchmark organic traffic levels (including visits, bounce rates, conversions) per page on the current website – you can use your monthly report for this.
- Using Kerboo, MajesticSEO or Google Search Console Identify the most authoritative links in the site’s backlink profile to be switched to the new URLs once the new website is live.
- Register and configure the new domain in Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools.
Implementing the migration:
- Depending on your web build process, either provide your developers with a full list of redirects or implement them yourself.
- Make sure the staging site is blocked in tobots.txt file and isn’t being indexed. Failure to do so can cause duplication issues as Google will be able to index the content on your staging site as well as live content.
- Once the content has been added, check that all pages return 200 status code and all internal links have been updated and directed to the correct pages.
- Once 301 redirects have been added, verify the redirects are working as expected and no 302 redirects are being used.
- Check if canonical tags have been updated.
- Check if the new sitemap has been generated, it contains URLs to all pages you want indexed and include change frequency.
- Add Google Analytics or Google Tag Manager’ code to the new website and test.
- Add ALT tags to your images to help them rank in search engines.
- Map out PPC ads structure with new URLs.
- Check for any redirect chains. Google stops crawling URLs with more than 5 redirects.
- Ensure custom 404 pages is used.
- Add Schema code help the search engines return more informative results for your users.
- Open Graph and Twitter tags promote integration between Facebook/Twitter and other websites by allowing them to become rich “graph” objects with the same functionality as other Facebook/Twitter objects. Consider adding these too especially if your business has a big social media presence.
- Check image optimisation such as image size to display size / image compression / Etags.
When the new site is live:
- If you URL has changed, you need to inform Google that the site has moved through the “change of address” option in the old domains account in Google Search Console.
- In the Webmaster Tools account of the new domain, go to “Crawl” > ”Fetch as Google” and crawl the homepage and main category pages on the new site as Google. As this is done click “submit to index”.
- Submit the sitemap of the new domain to Google via Search Console and update robots.txt file.
- Change the URLs in your social sharing buttons so the share counts are carried over to the new website.
- Contact the site owners’ of the most valuable links you identified before site migration and ask them to update the destination of the link. This way you ensure that the maximum possible amount of PageRank or link equity is passed through the link.
- Update PPC ads with new URLs to your PPC landing pages.
- Test robots.txt file.
- Review site crawl for issues i.e. duplicate content / server response issues.
- Review quality of site content i.e. blank pages / low volume of content / duplicate content indexing.
- Check all onsite forms to make sure they are working.
- Run Google Mobile Friendly test.
- Run a Bing Mobile Friendly test
- Ensure key assets are crawlable to mobile bots including '.css' / '.js' files.
After website migration:
- Crawl the site and check for any broken links/pages.
- Check at least twice a week for crawl errors in the Google Search Console account of the new domain for at least the first month after the migration has taken place.
- Check indexation of both the new and old domains in Search Console and using a site: search in Google for reference.
- Compare your old and new ranking reports to ensure your organic visibility is maintained.
- Monitor your organic traffic volumes, on site engagement, and on site search behaviour on various devices to ensure your new site is still receiving traffic and user can navigate it without issues.
- Continue updating external links that go to the old domain.
If in doubt, call in the experts!