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SEO Concerns When Migrating Your Website

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Often when you do a site-wide update of your design, your content and/or your site structure, it can affect your website’s rankings in search engines negatively. Facing a huge site update project myself, I recently spent some time doing research on how to prepare for a big site update and ensure your high rankings stay high. I wanted to share my findings with you here.

My research soon lead me to an article on the popular Dutch blog Marketingfacts.nl, providing a site migration checklist. The key takeaways from this article are:

  • Try to keep your URL’s the same. Use 301 redirects for URL’s that have to change and ensure you redirect all changed URL’s to the content’s new location.
  • Don’t change too much too quickly. If you do a redesign, content update and rebrand all in one, too many changes are happening and you’re likely to lose rankings on many keywords.
  • Don’t change your domain’s WhoIs information. A changed WhoIs can give search engines the impression your website has changed owners, and they could reset all your rankings across the board.

An article from Jennifer Osborne on SearchEnginePeople.com added several considerations:

  • Do a phased change-over: start with a small section of your site and evaluate, then proceed with the rest.
  • Keep your internal link structure in mind when doing a redesign. Internal link juice is important as it tells search engine spiders which pages on your site are important. Don’t divert attention from your key pages with a poor structure.
  • Track your web analytics and pay extra attention to 404 errors after the migration. This may indicate broken links, both internal and external, pointing to moved or deleted content.

Denver SEO adds the following point:

  • Expect to see your rankings drop regardless of your preparations. A 25 to 30 day drop in search engine rankings is normal before levels return to normal or better.

Of course we can’t skip Google’s own recommendations:

  • Add and verify your site on Google’s Webmaster Tools.
  • Update your submitted Sitemap XML file to reflect the updated site.
  • Keep track of crawling errors to detect 301 redirect problems and 404 errors.

And here are a few other tips I came across on various sites and blogs:

  • Create a custom 404 error page to try and minimize the impact of broken links.
  • If your site update is significant enough, publish a press release.
  • Use search engine marketing to supplement your (temporary) drop in rankings.
  • Update your robots.txt file to reflect any changes in off-limits content.

After this research I feel well-equipped to handle the SEO aspect of my own site migration project. If you have any further tips or ideas, please leave them in the comments.

{ 5 comments… add one }

  • Michael March 6, 2010, 4:02

    Hi Barry,

    Are there any concerns that you would have with a large site, 301 redirecting and duplicate content.

    For instance if you changed the URL structure, and put up new pages with the same content and these pages got indexed they would then have the same content as the old established pages. Would this cause any duplicate content issues while the old established pages waited to be crawled and the 301 picked up.

    Cheers,
    Michael.

  • Barry Adams March 8, 2010, 15:16

    Hi Michael,

    Personally I feel that the duplicate content issue is a bit overhyped and that it won’t have much impact on any site that produces its own content. Google’s penalties for duplicate content are aimed primarily at scrapers and aggregators that feed off of other sites’ content.

    I don’t think it’ll be an issue to have new pages with identical content as old pages on your site before the old pages are removed from the Google index. As long as you 301-redirect everything and have updated your sitemap.xml file, the search engines tend to catch on quickly and you should be fine.

    Cheers,
    Barry

  • Tobin Crenshaw November 7, 2010, 1:17

    Thanks for the article, I didn’t realize how much impact doing a site update had on SEO.

  • Matt June 21, 2011, 19:04

    Good advice on not changing the WhoIs information, I never thought of that. If you’re moving a site from one server to another are there server settings that need to be taken into consideration? My friend moved his site to a different server and the bots stopped crawling as much as they used to and his traffic went down 20%. I wonder what could have caused that, the site was exactly the same, just moved to a different hosting. Thanks – Matt

  • Barry Adams June 22, 2011, 8:51

    Hi Matt,

    It’s hard to answer that question without knowing many of the specifics. It might be that the new server had performance issues and thus Google wasn’t able to spider the site as quickly as usually, with all the potential negative repercussions that might have.

    Cheers,
    Barry

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