SEO: Website Migration Types and Pitfalls

Site migration can be a daunting task and the whole project can be prone to errors as it involves multiple different disciplines. From SEO to website developers and everything in between needed to develop a new website. 

One of the most crucial parts of a website project is going live and migration from the old site to the new site. You don’t want to miss anything to avoid getting penalized by Google. 

Site Migration Explained

Site migration can mean, depending on who you ask, slightly different things. Generally, it can mean a change in or of a website where there are major changes to location, CMS (content management platform), structure, content, design or user experience. 

All of the changes mentioned before tend to have a major impact to search engine traffic and visibility in search engines. Loss of traffic resulting from site migration can lead to serious loss of traffic and in relation to revenue from which it can take weeks of several months to recover. 

The thing to remember: Site migration can often lead to temporary loss of traffic but quickly gaining more traffic. Sometimes, however, the effect is immediate growth of traffic

The web is full of examples where things have gone awry in the most horrific sense. Let us focus on doing site migration right, shall we?

Types of Site Migration

There are many different types of site migrations or partial site migrations. You can generally put them under the following categories: site location, platform, content, structural and UX & performance changes. More of that in the picture below.

Types of Site Migrations - SEO

You can also have any combination of the above which can make it quite complex in some situations. 

Protocol change is when you move from HTTP to HTTPS but honestly, it is rather weird if your site isn’t on HTTPS already.

Subdomain or subfolder change can be for example when the mobile site sits on different URLs and there is a decision to make it responsive and making URLs uniformed.

Domain name change is quite common and occurs when you are doing rebranding for example.

Top-level domain change happens often when business launch an international website but these days they are often done from under the same domain. Variations exist of course.

Site structure change when there are bigger changes to the site’s architecture which affects internal linking and the whole URL structure. 

Replatforming is when you are changing your CMS to a different one. For a simpler website these aren’t happening that often but for example, an eCommerce website has a lot of URLs which can encounter technical limitations when moving from Magento to Shopify. 

Content migrations can have a huge impact on a site’s organic visibility. It can be anything from consolidation, pruning or rewrites. The scale is what matters here but making sure you don’t have any loose ends is a great practice to have. 

Mobile setup changes if you are enabling AMP, PWA (more of progressive web apps in this blog post) or an app. As these can be huge changes it is always good to have a plan in place what to do when you are launching these.

Structural changes are when navigation, taxonomy or user journey is experiencing changes which also affects to internal linking. 

Site redesigns like major design changes which affect the look and feel of a website. It can often include impactful changes in media, code and content. 

Hybrid migrations are when there are many things changing. These always increase the difficulty and risk. However, sometimes the risk is worth the reward in the end. 

Site Migration Pitfalls

Site migrations are different but there exist few common reasons for failures when doing a site migration.

Reasons Site Migration Fails - SEO

Poor strategy is for example when you have unclear and/or unrealistic objectives. Having objectives which you can measure will bring much more order to the launch and set up for launch. It will also clarify the resources needed for the project. 

Poor planning can cause the launch to be hectic as a lot of ad hoc stuff piles up suddenly with errors and loss of traffic. Creating a detailed plan might seem redundant but will help you cover all aspects of the site migration or at least miss less of them. 

Lack of SEO/UX expertise is a recipe for disaster. If you don’t know what you are doing you should ask for a consultation. Sometimes it’s good to ask external consultation to avoid any pitfalls in the project. Better safe than sorry!

Lack of resources or budget can be a sign of disaster and long nights for you. However, when you have a detailed plan with time estimations and skills you have a way higher chance of succeeding. Try to include a buffer of 20% into the resources budget compared to what you think the project will need. 

Late involvement as these projects can take longer and involving support in terms of resources or skills too late is always risky. Important steps might have been skipped or ignored creating more work for the whole project which can be tight of resources. 

Lack of testing can bring major critical faults when you bring the site to live which testing would have identified earlier. A bad website experience can be quite damaging for your brand so better reserve some resources and time for testing. 

Slow bug fixing is bad. No matter how you look at it. However, some bugs are bigger than they originally seem.

Conclusion

I hope this blog post has shed some light into what you need to take into account when doing a partial or full site migration. There are a lot of things to consider when doing a site migration and a lot of it starts from early in the planning process. To make sure you have needed resources inhouse or externals working for you.

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