Site Migration and SEO: How to Fix Common Issues

23 August 2021
by Archie Williamson
5 mins
Site Migration and SEO: How to Fix Common Issues

Site migration is the process of making major changes to a site’s location, structure or design with the aim of successfully transferring search engine signals over to the updated site in order to maintain rankings and organic traffic.

The task of migrating to a new platform or site structure is already challenging in itself, however, with SEO added to the mix, it can be even more precarious. This is because a poor migration riddled with teething issues can lead to a notable drop off in key metrics such as clicks, traffic and conversions. 

There is a widely held theory that a site migration always leads to a decline in organic search traffic. Most industry experts believe it is almost impossible for the process not to have some sort of impact as Google needs time to make sense of the change. By implementing the right strategy and being aware of common problems and how to avoid them, you can make the transition with a minimum of upheaval.

Define nature of migration

Due to the fact that site migrations can take many forms, it’s important to outline exactly what you are doing beforehand so you can prepare for it accordingly. Types of migration include:

  • Site location changes such HTTP to HTTPS
  • Platform changes such as upgrading platform versions
  • Content changes in the form of consolidating pages or introducing new regions or languages
  • Structural changes related to navigation, internal linking or site hierarchy
  • UX and design changes across different devices

There are many reasons why a migration can run into problems. Poor strategising and planning, lacklustre testing and budget issues are chief among them. In terms of SEO, migrations need to consider the impact on search performance at every step. This means being meticulous in analysing how changes will affect target keywords, links, indexing, overall search visibility and more.

With a variety of on-page, off-page and technical factors having an impact on search performance, you need to plan a migration meticulously to ensure everything has been accounted for. Even small changes can negatively affect the page experience, for example, which can then hit user engagement and conversions.

Start with a website audit

You can establish a great base to work from by conducting a free website audit before you get started. This audit will create a report based on your current performance in search. You will have a complete overview of your domain authority, trust flow and organic traffic levels. From here, you can start planning for a site migration that keeps everything intact.

To prepare for a migration, you should also crawl your site and compile a complete list of URLs and save them so you have a backup to fall back on if something gets lost or goes wrong during the transition. This analysis will also identify any issues such as broken links, which you can address before you get started. You should also benchmark your search analytics, including the data from your audit so you can easily compare metrics post-migration.

What can cause issues with a migration?

Changing URL architecture

When migrating to a new site, all of your existing pages should be migrated over completely without any changes. You can do this more easily by compiling a spreadsheet with all current and new URLs. Problems can occur when removing pages, as Google may come to the conclusion that your site has changed, which can affect visibility in search.

Using the same URL architecture will also make the transition smoother for the same reasons. While you may want to update the architecture, trying to do this at the same time as a migration is risky. Keeping the architecture the same also makes it easier to implement redirects.

Changing internal linking structure

With there being so many moving parts during a migration, you need to keep as many elements stable as possible. This is true for internal linking. If possible, the overall structure should remain the same with little or no changes to menu navigation as Google uses this as a signal to understand how your site is laid out.

It is, however, important to update links so they point to the new site. It can be tempting to leave things unchanged and rely on redirects, but this can hamper the performance of your site and potentially affect your PageRank. PageRank is an algorithm used by Google to measure the “importance of web pages” based on links. Working with an agency that provides SEO services can also improve the quality of your links for content on your new site.

Duplicate content issues

When migrating, it is a good idea to self-canonicalise all of the new pages. This process, which is recommended by Google, will enable you to tell search engines what URLs you want to be the unique versions. Issues can still arise with duplicate content, which can dilute link equity and rankings. To avoid this happening, be consistent with your links, verify a single use of either HTTPS or HTTP, and be on the lookout for any URLs with multiple versions and act on them accordingly.

Technical issues

If your site migration is based around a new JavaScript framework, remember not to use JavaScript links during the process as Google will not crawl them and it can harm your internal links. You should also have pre-rendering in place, as relying on Google to do this can lead to all sorts of problems.

After you have migrated to a new site, it is time to crawl your site again to make sure there are no 404 or 301 errors. Adding the new sitemap to Google Search Console and then requesting that Google begin the process of crawling your old sitemap can speed up indexing, so it recognises the changes you have made. Finally, double and triple-check your redirects after launch so you can fix any issues as soon as possible.

Site migration might be a big change for your business, but it does not have to have a huge impact on your SEO. With the right plan and a careful transition, you can mitigate the risks and pick up where you left off.

Atlas SEO can help you to prepare your site for the changes and to continue publishing search-driven content that will improve your rankings after the migration. Contact us today to find out more about our services, which include website audits, content creation and outreach campaigns.


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