The Most Common SEO Website Migration Mistakes

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In website development, there are two major projects. One is building a completely new website, and the other is website migration.

Without holding back, I would say - migration is even trickier.

Website owners focus on switching domain names (and branding), switching to a new platform, choosing new hosting providers, creating new website architecture, and of course - the new website design.

One area that gets neglected in the big move is almost always the search engine optimisation (SEO) part of the process. 

The SEO efforts get pushed aside as they are not as visible and don't seem as critical while rushing up to get the website live.

Neglecting SEO = plummeting rankings

But, the reality of neglecting SEO in the migration process comes back like a boomerang: rankings are plummeting, 404 pages are all over, organic traffic is down, and, of course - conversions are dropping.

The Most Common SEO Website Migration Mistakes

SEO isn’t a visible part of the migration, and it gets neglected often

To avoid that nightmare, you should have proper SEO migration planning broken down into three phases: before migration, during the launch and work after launch.

It doesn't make a huge difference which platform you're switching to if you're moving from Laravel to Shopify or WooCommerce to Magento. The only tip I would give you would be to have the SEO work under the same roof.

If you're switching to Magento, have the SEO team from the Magento development agency look into your migration.

Whatever you decide, don't neglect SEO during the migration and get caught in repeating the most common SEO migration mistakes.

The most common SEO migration mistakes 

1. Going live without redirects

Migrations usually end up with a lot of 404 pages. The main reason is a wrong redirect when the URL structure isn't closely looked into. 

To avoid that, collect all of the current URLs and the new URLs on the staging website, and merge them to create a redirect file.

This way all of the URLs are healthy and correctly optimised, directing users and linking juice to the proper pages. 

Even if URLs aren't changing, this step guarantees that all of them are functioning correctly.

2. Redirecting almost everything to the home page

When I see all the redirects going to the homepage, i can just hear this conversation:

A: "Where to redirect this as we're changing it?" 

B: "If you don't know, just redirect it to the homepage"

During the migration, many pages get deleted, and the category page is renamed, but redirecting everything to the homepage is just a sign of laziness that leads to bad results.

Links exist to connect similar content; that way, page authority is transferred. If you redirect everything to the homepage, your new pages aren't linked correctly. 

3. Indexing staging site or not indexing the new site

Google bots crawling a staging site means that your site could appear in the search results when it’s not finished yet.

Not only that. A neglected robots.txt file on staging most certainly means a neglected file on the new live site. 

This leads to two websites with exactly the same content - and the staging one has an advantage as it has already been indexed. 

During the migration, you should also be careful if you disallow indexing on the staging. The trick is to allow it on the new website so it can start ranking.

4. Not handling the XML sitemap correctly 

The XML sitemap is a roadmap for search engines; while going through it, search bots understand the structure and the content and index everything that's important to show up in the search results. 

4. Not handling the XML sitemap correctly

In Magento for example, there’s an easy way to generate a sitemap

Before launch, it should be updated in the Google Search Console so Google's alerted that something new is happening, and it should be properly crawled and indexed

5. Changing URLs. A lot

The scenario we see in our SEO team a lot: We prepare the redirect list, merge the old and the new - and somehow, again there are these 404 pages. And, they happened as the client decided to change the URL address. 

5. Changing URLs. A lot

The relative URLs are an important SEO factor. They should be user-friendly and short, and if there’s no need to change the, it’s better to leave them intact

If the old URL structure was poor, migration is the perfect time to freshen things up.If the URL structure was good then there’s really no need at all to change it, as rankings can be lost.

To point out here - the relative part of the URL address is as well an important ranking factor and should contain the keyword the page is trying to rank for.

Bottom line, changing URL without any need to, or any recording at all can seriously hurt rankings. 

6. Changing content. By a lot

Content is an essential ranking factor. If you completely change or reduce it a lot (which usually happens due to re-design), the rankings can drop.

It’s not only the word count, it’s also about the structure that you broke and keyword density. 

When changing content takes place during a website migration, that should most definitely be flagged for monitoring & the old version of content should be saved somewhere for backup.

If the rankings on a certain page drop massively, that’s a big alert to revert to the old content. And monitor again. 

7. Forgetting downloadable files

“Download the full guide” / “Here’s your cheat sheet” 

There were a lot of people on the old site downloading PDFs or sheets or maybe some other type of file. Anything, basically that’s not an HTML asset. And, on the new site, there’s nothing.

That’s another common mistake that happens during the website migration. 

The one thing you need to do to prevent this is to keep all of the names of the files exactly the same as it was on the old website. After that, you can redirect old PDFs to new HTML pages to keep the content indexed. 

8. Forgetting about backlinks

A strong backlink profile is a lot of work. It happens as a result of all of the marketing activities, pushing brand authority, and all of the people that are using the products and services.

Real people that want to include a brand in their content. Backlinks, also known as the off-page part of the SEO are a very valuable part of SEO efforts.

What happens to them during the website migration?  Well, the usual approach to backlinks is: "We'll redirect the backlinks". That’s not a wrong approach, but it's not the best possible scenario available.

The truth is, every time a redirect is created, a bit of that link authority dies; and the backlink profile gets weaker.

The best practice during the SEO migration is filtering out the most valuable backlinks, evaluating if there's a possibility to reach out to the author and simply asking them to change the backlink to the new domain. 

There’s already a connection with the author from the previous backlink, so there shouldn’t be a reason for not doing that 3-minute job. If you ask nicely, of course.

Don’t neglect - plan - check

If you read this, you’re already on the right side of things. The biggest mistake that’s done during website migration is not having an SEO strategy at all

All of the other mistakes, are a sign of ignorance and probably laziness.

Don’t neglect - plan - check

Detailed planning is crucial when migrating a website

A good SEO migration strategy has a detailed step-by-step three-phase plan: pre-launch, during launch and post-launch.

Pre-launch phase 

In the pre-launch phase, you’re preparing the turf. Create a redirect file with all of the current and new URLs, make a new XML sitemap and set up all of the tracking codes in Analytics and Google Tag Manager. 

During the launch phase

This is the part where you roll up the sleeves. It includes a full technical audit to check if everything is done right.

It also includes updating the XML sitemap and checking the robots.txt and .htaccess along with the Google Search Console check.

In this phase, it’s a good practice to check for 404 pages every three days, as this is the time when they could appear. 

Post-launch phase

The post-launch phase is a quality check phase, a to-do list of all that was planned. You should check all of the 301 redirects, URL indexing, sitemap indexing, site speed review, review keyword rankings and organic performance. 

If you’ve done everything right, the checkup should run smoothly.

Have a thorough plan to keep positions

Having a thorough SEO website migration plan, sticking to it and checking the work is vital to keeping the rankings intact. 

It’s not an easy task as there are a lot of things to consider, so you should really break the tasks down into the three phases mentioned. With an action plan, there’s not really room for mistakes like the most common ones listed

I would also say, they are the most common and most harmful ones. Like - not even indexing the new site or indexing the staging environment.

Rather than fixing things after the launch and pushing the SEO work aside, take the initiative while it’s the right time.

With a dedicated team that will work on it piece by piece website owners can be confident that nothing will ruin the visibility and authority of their online presence. 

About the author 

Peter Keszegh

Most people write this part in the third person but I won't. You're at the right place if you want to start or grow your online business. When I'm not busy scaling up my own or other people' businesses, you'll find me trying out new things and discovering new places. Connect with me on Facebook, just let me know how I can help.

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