What is Website Migration and How Does it Impact SEO?
Has your once cutting-edge website lost some of its shine? You’re not alone. Even the best websites require frequent updates to keep them looking sharp and running smoothly. Have you ever thought about what happens to your hard-earned website ranking when you start playing around with what’s under the hood? It’s something worth thinking about.
Whether it’s moving to a new host or a complete website overhaul, most major website upgrades require what’s known as website migration. What is migration, you may ask? Well, that depends on who you ask.
Website Migration Sounds Familiar, But What Does It Mean?
Odds are you’ve heard the term migration as it relates to web design. Even then it can be challenging to nail down a precise definition because immigration means different things to different people.
An SEO professional might tell you that migration is any significant changes to your site that will impact its visibility on search engines. A web developer would likely give you a more technical answer describing migration as the process of physically moving your website from one place to another. In reality, both answers are correct. Migration entails any action that would require a redirect from old pages to new ones whether that’s a new page on an existing site or a new website in a new place.
Okay, Fair Enough but How Will Migration Effect SEO?
Anytime you make changes to your website, there is the potential for something to go wrong and website migration is a significant transformation that should not be taken lightly. Aside from the technical process of moving data successfully from one place to another, migration risk primarily relates to negative impacts on your SEO. Issues like re-directs, lost meta information, broken links, slow loading, and improper URL structure could undermine your SEO and significantly impact your all-important SERP ranking.
That Seems Horrible; Why Would Anyone Ever Want to Migrate a Website?
Ultimately, website migrations are done out of necessity and not desire. If your website is performing well but could use a mini makeover to freshen it up, you wouldn’t want to embark upon a full migration as website migration is reserved for cases where there is no better option. Reasons you might migrate your website include:
- Your website has outgrown its web hosting
- Changing your CMS or e-commerce platform
- Changing your domain name or URLs
- A website redesign that will consist of changes to your site’s architecture (this is different than simply making minor changes to your design aesthetic)
Alone, any of these scenarios would require a website migration but if you are already considering one significant change then you will probably redesign parts or all of your website simultaneously.
Is There a Way to Migrate Without Tanking SEO?
There is no guaranteed perfect way to migrate a website as even the most experienced web developers run into hiccups. But there are steps that you can take to help ease migration migraines.
1. Create a URL Map
When you’re migrating to a new website and don’t want to lose your authority and ranking, you need to tell search engines where you’ve gone.
A URL map is essential if you make changes to your site’s URLs. This map will make it easier to match your “old” content to its new website counterpart and create the all-important redirects that will tell Google where it needs to go. The matches don’t have to be perfect but the context should be substantially similar.
Failing to implement functioning redirects is like a gut punch to your SEO. Not only do you risk users may land on pages that are no longer there and the dreaded 404 error, but you’ll be losing all the history, backlinks, and authority you spent countless hours working to build.
2. Record your Benchmarks
Your analytical data is extremely valuable. It gives you essential details on page performance and visitor behaviour and when you move, you want to ensure you still have access to it.
Analytical data is often lost during migration therefore it’s good to record your current benchmark data now so you have something to compare with after you migrate. It’s not uncommon for rankings to take a hit right after migrating and your past analytical data can help identify problem areas in your new website.
3. Backup Your Old Site
Regular website backups are essential, but no more so than when you are packing and moving to a new website. Your website backup is like your insurance policy. If anything goes wrong with the migration or the new website, you can always temporarily fall back on your old website.
5. Carefully Consider Your New Site’s Structure and Navigation
Your website structure is the foundation of your future SEO. Failure to get it right at the organizational level will negatively impact everything you do after that. Whatever format you choose, make sure it is structured neatly as your website grows, so will the amount of content. The more cluttered your site becomes, the more difficult it is for users and browsers to find the information they may be looking for.
4. Test Before you Go Live
Launching a new website is exciting, but before you start welcoming web traffic, you need to test your product in a safe online testing environment. Ensure to check every page, file, and play around with the navigation to ensure the functionality of your new site. Only once your website has passed its final inspection should you proceed with migrating the old data.
Migrating Your Website: A Little Short-Term Pain for Long Term Gain
Few people would even attempt to claim that website migration isn’t without risk, however, the benefits of migrating an outdated or poorly functioning website far outweigh the costs even if it comes with a temporary dip in your ranking.
With the right web developers on your side, website migration is nothing to fear!