Just saying the word migration can send the best SEO into a slight panic because website or blog migrations can be fantastic but they also come with a ton of risk factors you need to mitigate to ensure all your hard work pays off. How do you successfully migrate your blog?
When we say migration, it can mean different things. It can be moving a blog or website to a new website domain name which means the site gets all new URLs. It can be that the blog is being transferred from one back-end system to another, but the domain is staying the same (moving from SquareSpace to WordPress). It can be part of a rebrand and business name change. It can be done as part of a website refresh.
Long before you migrate, you’ll need to start the prep work to determine several things. You’ll want to do a content audit to see if there are any pages you should remove from the site. If you have old blog posts or content pages that see no traffic, you may not want to move them to the new website or blog, but you need to be able to make an educated decision. You'll want to review three things on every page before deciding whether it moves to the new site or not.
You need to look at all four data points to ensure you don’t decide to cut a page for one reason when you should keep it for another.
First, review your keyword rankings to see how your website is doing. How many rankings do you have in the top 10 positions? Which pages are ranking? Are the pages that are ranking the ones you want to have rank? Is there another page that you'd rather have ranked for a specific keyword? You can use any keyword ranking tool to track this information. There are some free ones and some paid. I use Moz Pro to track keyword rankings for myself and my clients, but you can use whatever you want. Search free keyword ranking tools if you don't have one you're using today.
Second, you want to review each page's web traffic to see which ones are popular and which ones aren't. Sometimes old blog posts still drive a lot of traffic, and that can be a great thing for your website or blog. You don't want to remove pages that get a lot of traffic. You can review the page or post's traffic information in your Google Analytics account. Go to the Site Content section and review page level traffic data for the past year minimum.
Third, you want to review the authority for each page
If you have a URL that’s got a high page authority (PA) due to strong incoming links, you’ll want to either keep the page or have the links modified and moved to another URL on the site. You can find out the authority of any page on your website or blog by using Open Site Explorer. Enter the URL in the search bar, and it will display PA for you. Page Authority is on a 1/100 scale with 100 being highest. If you have authority anywhere over 10, it's worth trying to preserve that in the migration.
The best way to preserve your page authority is via link modification. However, it's tricky because you must rely upon the webmaster of the linking site to complete this process. I recommend manual link modification outreach to only your highest authority pages. It's only necessary if you're removing the page from your site or changing the URL. If the URL is staying the same, you do not need to modify anything.
If link modification isn't possible, you can do a 301 redirect from the old URL to the new URL; this will protect most of the page's authority and transfer it to the new page. A link modification is an ideal solution, but it's not always possible.
Finally, you will want to look at your social analytics information to see if you have links on sites like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Pinterest that will need to be updated manually should you change the URL of the blog post or web page. These type changes can be very time consuming, but if you're getting a lot of traffic from those social channels, you don't want to lose it due to visitors getting 404 errors. A 404 error means the page isn't found on the website or blog and often, people will leave rather than look for the information on your site.
You’ll want to run content inventory and audit your site’s performance. Determine which pages are staying and which ones are going. Look at all the title tags and meta descriptions for the pages that you’re going to migrate. Are they all targeted appropriately or should you adjust your targeting now too? An easy way to run a crawl and gather this data is with Screaming Frog. They have free or paid versions available. The size of your site will determine whether you can use the free version. Screaming Frog will crawl your site as Google Bot and let you know what’s indexed and found in the search results. You can review your title tags and meta descriptions to ensure they abide by current best practices and aren’t truncating.
Take the time now and clean up any title tags or meta descriptions that truncate. Write new optimized Title Tags and Meta Descriptions for any that are on more than one page. Review your optimization to ensure the best-targeted keywords are on each page. If you feel some of the tags could be stronger, re-write them or outsource it to an agency that can manage the process for you.
Is your URL structure going to change when you migrate your blog? If so, you’re going to need to redirect ALL the URLs you decided to keep. This can be a big task but it’s manageable. The key is staying organized.
Take your Screaming Frog report and copy the URLs you have decided to keep on the new site. I find this the easiest to manage in Excel, but any spreadsheet tool will work. I like to copy/paste all the URLs that I want to keep on the left side and then note the re-direct URL on the right site on the same line. This way I can see what today’s URL is and what the future one will be. It’s crucial that you use 301 redirects to let Google know this is a permanent move from the old to the new location. A 301 will preserve your page authority as discussed above.
When you’re building a new site, it’s the perfect time to review things like your file naming conventions. Did you know the name of your image files is read by Google and can be helpful in your search rankings? It is.
Use dashes in between the words on your file name and include the most critical keywords in the file name. This naming convention helps Google understand what your image is and how it ties to the rest of the content on the page. Also, include ALT text for your file that tells what the picture is about but also includes appropriate targeted keywords.
Use Header Tags
Ensure each page on the new site has a unique H1 tag. This tag lets Google know what the page is about. It should be the focus keyword for the page. You can also use H2-H6 where appropriate to expand upon the sub-ideas on the page. H2 tags are used to separate thoughts or paragraphs that support the main concepts on the page. H3 tags are used to separate out the content within the H2 tag. You will seldom need H4-H6 tags.
Set up Analytics
Check to be sure you’ve got analytics code set up on the new site before you go live, so you have tracking information from day one. You’ll also want to establish a Google Search Console account so that you can follow any migration-related errors. There will be errors. It's a normal part of the migration process. Track and fix. Don't stress.
Submit a Sitemap to Google
Submit your XML sitemap through Google Search Console, so Google knows where to crawl your site. Check back to see what your indexation percentage is to make sure Google’s finding the information you’ve shared. Your indexation rate is the percent of URLs submitted vs. URLs indexed by Google. The closer your number is to 100% the better.
Check for any 404 errors
Those are URLs Google can’t find. They’re likely ones you had on the old site and didn’t migrate. Google says it doesn’t matter if you have 404 errors but personally, I don’t think it’s a good user experience, so I always recommend using a 301 redirect to the most appropriate page. If it’s a blog post that’s 404ed, then 301 redirect it to the blog homepage, etc.
Run a Baseline Report
Take a baseline report – track your traffic, orders, revenue, keyword rank, and the number of links to your site the day before the migration. This information tells you where you were before you went live with the new website or blog. You’ll want to track these same items for at least two weeks, if not a month or longer, post-migration. You can stop following when the numbers return to your pre-migration levels.
Migrating your blog or website doesn’t have to be scary. It just needs to be done in an orderly fashion and with plenty of prep work. There will almost always be migration-related issues; it’s up to you to find and address them promptly. Most sites will experience a slight decrease in performance right after migration, but you should see performance return to normal within a month in most cases. And never fear, I’ve seen websites with 1 million 404 errors (URLs not found) and they’ve still been OK once the issues were corrected.