Q1 is a popular time for website migrations.
Refreshed from the festive break and fuelled by the rewarding ‘clean slate’ mentally of a New Year, we see many organisations turn their attention towards ‘bigger picture’ projects during this time – with new websites being a popular choice.
At Mackerel Media, this has certainly been the case for 2023. We’re currently supporting a number of web development projects for our clients, in sectors spanning real estate to payments systems and marketing technology.
As we reach the midpoint of Q1, and with a very gentle nod to Valentine’s Day 2023, we are reflecting on the biggest SEO ‘green flags’ we love to see for a successful website migration.
1. SEO involvement from day one
Launching a new website is exciting. You have complete creative freedom and a blank canvas to create a truly engaging user experience (UX), not to mention a chance to address all those pet peeves from your previous site.
While it can be tempting to jump straight in and treat SEO as an afterthought, this can be detrimental to your site’s overall performance. Effective SEO weaves through your entire website, from the initial sitemap and information architecture (IA) to page layout decisions and SEO style guides – did you know some sites aren’t even built with the capacity for editing titles and H1s?
Aside from offering guidance in the set-up and overall planning of your site, engaging an SEO expert early also allows you to:
- Maintain domain integrity, existing visibility, rankings and traffic acquisition, and ideally improve them
- Update and streamline existing content
- Revise the existing IA and sitemap to maximise any unrealised SEO opportunities
- Ensure all existing urls are redirected efficiently (we’ll come back to this shortly)
2. The right expectations
It’s a common misconception that a drop in organic site performance is to be expected from a website migration, but this couldn’t be farther from the truth. Done properly with effective SEO planning, site migrations are actually a chance to improve organic SEO growth by identifying content gaps, smoothing technical issues and enhancing site performance.
Put it this way – when looking at your analytics in the days, weeks and months after migration, it should be impossible to tell the exact date and time it took place…
3. A perfect date
Speaking of date and time, getting this right is another integral component of a successful website launch – and a huge green flag if we see it planned well.
Ideally, you should opt for a time where website traffic is low but when key team members are available to address any issues. For this reason, it’s generally best to avoid weekends and instead opt for weekdays (we always recommend Mondays and Tuesdays). Additionally, aiming for the afternoon/early evening allows a good amount of time to ensure everything is running smoothly before traffic picks up again in the morning.
4. Effective planning
The hallmark of any successful website migration is a comprehensive redirect plan. We mean it – this is the absolute bread and butter of a successful migration and a crucial step in ensuring SEO equity is maintained when the new site goes live.
This plan should start with a complete crawl of the website to collate all urls. From here, we recommend sorting by the highest performing pages, which is a prime opportunity to identify outdated or lower-performing content that’s in need of an upgrade.
Importantly, this process offers an opportunity to identify the content which is no longer bringing value to the site and remove it as part of the migration (we call this our sunset list). This list might include duplicate content, out of date content, or content that is directly competing in the SERPs. Weeding out these pages not only makes for a better user experience, but streamlines the size of the site for better technical performance.
Our top tips for an airtight redirect list:
- Start planning the list early, while the new site is still being built
- Prioritise 1:1 mapping – not only is redirecting to general category and homepages sloppy, but it makes for poor user experience too. Ensure all URLs are mapped to the correct locations (correct being the most relevant and/or similar to the original URL)
- Ensure all redirects are permanent, not temporary – we’re talking 301s over 302s
- Minimise change wherever possible – if it’s possible to keep the URLs of your blog and news the same, or similar, then do
- Always consider and include external platforms such as customer support and resource pages. These are often left behind in a migration and it can be surprising how much organic traffic they attract
- Ensure you have a custom 404 page setup to avoid losing customers if they land on a page that doesn’t exist
- Don’t forget to redirect internal links – while it can be tempting to leave links as they are in the knowledge that they’ll be taken care of by 301s, this can cause excessive site bloat. Use a tool like Screaming Frog to identify all internal links and update them to the new domain urls.
5. Consistent check-ins
The migration process doesn’t end when the new site is live – far from it. The days and weeks following site launch are crucial in ensuring everything is running optimally.
Using the preliminary site crawl as a benchmark, full crawls should be carried out consistently after migration – we recommend the day of launch, 24 hours after, 48 hours after, 72 hours after, 7 days after, 14 days and 28 days after. This not only allows your team to combat any issues, but allows you to ensure all redirects were set up correctly and that no URLs have been lost in the shuffle.
Alongside site crawls, this is also the period where you can start to monitor the site’s wider performance in Google Analytics and Google Search Console. As we said, if all has been done correctly, you shouldn’t see any drops, but you may start to see some improvements in visibility, traffic and organic ranking – true markers of a website migration done well.
Top tip: If you’re planning on updating to Google Analytics 4 and launching your site in the next four months, you’re in luck. A site migration offers the ideal opportunity to coincide the update with your site launch, to start fresh with a brand new and fresh configuration.
And that concludes our list of top SEO ‘green flags’ for an effective website migration. There are many more steps in the process, but these are some of the most important, and the ones we most often see overlooked. If you’re looking for more advice on maintaining your organic SEO performance during a website migration, upgrading to Google Analytics 4, or just about anything else related to technical SEO support and organic SEO growth, get in touch with Mackerel Media.