If you are looking to migrate a website and are concerned about potential traffic drop implications, finding an SEO migration service to help guide you through each step is crucial.

As a service provider who has helped hundreds of sites migrate and preserve traffic, there are generally 3 main reasons why a website is undergoing a migration:

  • New Design
  • New Content
  • New Technology

In many cases, it is all the above.

Additionally, there are 3 main goals what companies or organizations are hoping to achieve with a website migration:

  • Enhance User Experience and Increase Conversion Rates
  • Brand Refresh and Visibility
  • Technology Savings, Cost Structures or Fees

It is important to understand your goals for a website migration and what it means to use SEO as a tool for helping. All the above factors need to be taken into consideration as each has their own way of impacting keywords that drive traffic to your site.

Understanding SEO’s Role for a Website Migration

Regardless of your goal or reason, the process for SEO’s role is the same. The main purpose of SEO is to generate Organic Search Traffic, specifically traffic that is relevant and helps convert either leads or sales. When it comes to migration strategy, the goal of SEO is to maintain the site’s current traffic, if not improve it.

The first step to achieving preserved or improved Organic Search Traffic during a migration is to make sure the entire marketing, development, and leadership team need are 100% clear on all the web pages that rank organically. At the end of the day, traffic that converts affects your business’ bottom line – which is what matters the most. This is important to establish because many on the business and design side view a new website from a branding perspective and are likely to delete pages crucial to the business.

It is crucial each pages’ rankings are crawled and sorted out for the entire team to see. It is imperative content, design and technology all be aware of what is at stake when it comes to website traffic. At Digital Symmetry, we guide you and your team through all this data as a first step and make sure everyone is on the same page.

To illustrate this point, think of a page that is called “Plumbing Service NYC.” This page mentions all the plumbing services offered and includes mention of NYC as its main service area. As a result, the page ranks well for “plumbing services in nyc” and other variants of this keyword. However, what happens if that company decides it wants to migrate to a larger home service offering and swaps out the focus of the page without realizing it ranked for such highly useful keywords? Or what happens when a new design is implemented and removes the H1 Header with a different piece of code? What happens if a new CMS is implemented that is drastically slower in responsiveness? To summarize simply, the results are likely to be devasting. All of these factors play into On Page SEO and Technical SEO success, and if ignored, often lead to decreased traffic.

SEO Migration Process

At Digital Symmetry, we have put together a simple guide that we apply with all our clients. The process of SEO for website migration is as follows:

  1. Crawl the website. Obtain a record of all URLs.
  2. Download all web pages by Organic Clicks and User Entrances from Google Search Console and Google Analytics.
  3. Check keyword rankings for all pages using tools such as SEMRush or Ahrefs. Cross reference these with all search terms found per each page in Google Search Console.
  4. Record and make note of all on page ranking factors. This includes Headers, Meta Titles, Meta Descriptions, On Page Content, Keyword usage and variances, hyperlinks, outbound links, reviews, images, and page speed.
  5. Download a backlink and referring domain report to showcase where the site is being featured in articles and obtaining references.
  6. Map out all of the Technical SEO strengths that cannot be lost, such as Breadcrumbs, site speed, XML and HTML files.
  7. Communicate with Design, Content, Development and Management to ensure top pages are included the in the website’s Silo, also known as Main Menu, or at least ensure they are not deleted.
  8. Bring all teams together to present data and coordinate next steps.

These 8 steps are simple, yet extremely effective albeit time consuming. But they are enough to cover all the basis for understanding what pages need to be migrated, and what aspects of those pages specifically need to be preserved.

Once this basis has been established, moving into phase 2 for the specific migration efforts are outlined below.

Types of Website Migrations

There are 3 main types of website migrations:

  1. Design
  2. Content
  3. Technology

Each and every one is unique and has a large number of factors to consider.

Design Migration – Launching with a New Website Design

If design is the main factor during your migration, then the following considerations are most important:

  • The new design does not change major SEO factors such as H1s, H2 outlines, on page content structure (unless it is really poor).
  • White Space is left to a minimal. That includes all the borders around the design skin. The search engines pick up excessive white space as a non-user friendly experience.
  • Main Menu is left the same or takes into consideration your best performing pages by traffic, revenue, leads and rankings. This is called Website Siloing or Menu Optimization.
  • Footer information is left the same or expands to include even more resourceful pages.
  • The DOM is not overly large and slow to load per Google Pagespeed Insight Scores. Many designers overload the DOM with images that are not in WebP format and with video that isn’t properly compressed.

A new website refresh is important and is recommended to do every 5-7 years in order to maintain good SEO per our research. However, the key elements mentioned above still remain important and should not be ignored. The goal of a new website design is to help support the brand, create a great UX and drive traffic.

When it comes to SEO and Design, the new site design also needs to appeal to robots crawling the site that don’t know anything beyond the data it spiders. This means a website needs to be extremely pragmatic with the information presented and layout text, images, and hierarchy as clearly as possible. An overly complicated design with uncompressed images and video, no headers, little on page content and no hierarchy of keywords is set to fail when it comes to SEO.

Content SEO Migration Considerations

When consulting with companies, we often find that not only do they want a new design overhaul, but they also want to redo content. While in many cases this is necessary, we actually recommend that a website separate a content and design migration into 2 phases unless the content is extremely poorly written and can be proved not to generate any traffic.

Regardless of whether this is possible for your company, here are the most successful ways to ensure content continues to rank for a content migration:

  • Page Content remains the same for best performing pages by rankings and organic traffic entrances.
  • Blog and Location URLs remain the same.
  • Google Business Profile (GBP) insertion onto Geo Pages is preserved.
  • Meta Titles are not changed and preserved, at least for best performing pages.
  • Make Sure all On Page Content is preserved unless the page is new or currently not ranking.

Additionally, the following are crucial for maintaining your website traffic for any content during a website migration:

  • Headers
  • URLs
  • On Page Content
  • Image Alt Text and Descriptions
  • GBP Listings (Great for pulling in off page data, trustworthiness, and authority.)
  • CTAs
  • Meta Titles
  • Meta Descriptions

Loss or change to any of these, specifically to high ranking pages, is likely to result in decreased traffic.

Technical Considerations for Migrating a Website

Before a site implements a new piece of technology onto a site live, such as a CMS, booking platform or new hosting, it should do many SEO related tests including:

  • Review The Valid Security Certificate (Prior To Launch) SSL/HTTPS
  • Update All External Plugins To Ensure They Are Https Compliant (Commenting, Widgets, Twitter, Facebook, Youtube, All Those Embeds)
  • Test Speed before Launch
  • Update Social Media if necessary (FB, IG, X, etc.)
  • Test GA, GA4 and GTM
  • Ensure any cross domain platforms or subdomains are cross firing across analytics and conversions properly.
  • Maintain old XML sitemap on site for at least 60 days.
  • HTML Sitemap Preservation
  • CMS Functionality
  • Canonicals
  • 404s
  • Hosting Support

It’s worth noting redirects are harmful for pages ranking well. When a URL changes it needs to reindex in Google. This can take several weeks, even months, and in the process a site usually loses traffic. In many cases, rankings drop and never fully recover. If a URL is ranking well, best not to change it.

Sites with large traffic amounts really need to take above points seriously. We have seen firsthand where websites have deleted key phrases and keywords responsible for driving large amounts of traffic. The website traffic drops as a result, sales go down and the organization is scrambling to figure out how to salvage the business. For sites with high traffic, following the points above cannot be overstated enough.

Precautions and Mistakes to Avoid

The biggest mistake made during a website migration is trying to achieve too many things at the same time. As mentioned above, we recommend design, content, or technology refresh be separated into 3 phrases. This reduces risk and helps understand what changes have the biggest impact either for best or worst.

The Unknowns

There are a number of weird scenarios we have seen occur throughout our years of migrations. Here are but a few meant to help illustrate all the items we take into consideration when it comes to consulting on a project:

Salesforce redirect limitations. If you have beyond 20,000 URL variations you may have limitations.

URL Changes. Some CMSs change the URL path when things such as an H1 are changed. We have seen major clients come to us for such issues only to find that a simple setting was causing massive drops in traffic.

Best Website Migration Practices for Any Effort

In summary, the way to approach any type of website migration effort, begins with the following steps:

  • Create Ranking Benchmarks
  • Create Traffic Benchmarks
  • Crawl Current Site And Record URLs
  • Export List Of Top Pages for Clicks or Sessions
  • Record All Current 301 Redirects
  • Download XML Sitemap
  • Record HTML Sitemap
  • Record Site Title and Meta Description

For a complete in depth look at all migration efforts and specific concerns for your website, please reach out to us via the contact us page.