Website migration is a challenging process, and the stakes are high. It can grow a business if done correctly or harm your business if done incorrectly. There are too many examples of high-profile businesses that took a hit to their revenue and reputation after a failed migration. Even MySpace lost 50 million files during a 2019 migration, proving that your business size and expertise don’t guarantee success.
Some migrations assume they’ll preserve existing URLs and site structure so that existing bookmarks and page links will work on the new site. Other migrations dictate an entirely new structure with all new page URLs and internal links between pages. This latter choice sounds easier to build because everything is new and doesn’t rely on legacy pages, but — and this is a big BUT — your customers’ bookmarks, links from other sites and importantly, SEO value held by Google and other search engines will be lost and your firm’s rankings lowered. To avoid that disaster, you’ll have to redirect all the old site pages to the corresponding page on the new site. That redirection exercise becomes an important part of the project plan. To preserve link equity and SEO value following a company merger or site migration, watch out for these common mistakes.
1. Lack of Project Management
Site migration is an all-consuming endeavor that needs the support of a dedicated project manager. That means starting with a vision for the new site, an engaged sponsor, and a clear, widely shared project plan that details who is accountable for which tasks and by what deadline. It means compiling a complete site migration checklist with clear accountability and actions. It even means reminding everyone involved that there is a migration in process (obvious but true). This is particularly relevant when working with clients who might be under the impression that their site’s migration is just a simple tweak or redesign. A project manager can set the correct expectations, and collaborate with an SEO specialist to ensure a smooth process.
2. Not Allocating Enough Time for Testing
As with any significant IT project, it’s important to be overly generous with the time you allocate to migration. Step one involves creating a backup of the existing site in case you need to roll back. Then set clear milestones for each phase of the project, and allow plenty of time for sandbox testing prior to pushing the site live. If you skimp on those testing windows, you risk launching with bugs and errors that may hurt your site’s integrity and turn off customers. Even once the site has launched, allow sufficient post-launch testing time to identify any bugs or glitches that slipped through the cracks. Test, test and test again.
3. Incorrect Robot Access
Once the website migration process is underway, you don’t want search engine crawlers to show incomplete or transitioning pages in search engine results. Not only does this deliver a poor user experience, but it can also damage your SEO authority. Decide which pages you want search engine crawlers to access, and make sure you restrict access to the staging site. You should disallow access to the robots.txt file during migration. Obviously once the site is live you want to grant full access, so don’t forget to remove the disallow at launch.
4. Not Setting Up Redirects and Canonical Tags
Your users may not forgive a 404 error while you’re busy migrating content and domains. Likewise, search engines will punish duplicate content and missing URLs. Since site migration means your URLs are on the move, both redirects and canonical tags are critical. Maintain your SEO authority and preserve link equity by using a 301 permanent redirect.
Bear in mind that many older sites often have multiple redirects in place. Your aim is to find the shortest path with a clear, consistent process for forwarding. You can avoid duplicate content with canonical tags telling crawlers which page is the primary version. Look for any references to previous URLs in your code and ensure they are updated. (Don’t forget to renew your SSL certificates to prevent data breaches.)
5. Forgetting to Update Off-site References
Your website might be the focus of your business, but it is not the extent of your online presence. Wherever your original URL is registered off-site, you’ll need to update with the new version. Think social media profiles, business directories, email footers and so on. And finally, to help those users who regularly search for and link to your content, improve the visibility of your new site in search by submitting a fresh XML sitemap.