The 6 Most Common Site Migration Mistakes (& How to Avoid Them!)
It’s been months of work. Countless meetings discussing colors, layouts, navigation bars, and URL structures. You’ve realized that you really do have strong feelings on hamburger menus, and you’ve strained your eyes from poring over a sea of mockups.
Suddenly, the end is in sight. Your new website is ready to go live. This is the moment of truth.
Working in SEO, I’ve learned that few events cause as many problems for a business as launching a new site does. Your new site may increase user engagement and your conversion rate, but if you ignore SEO considerations you’ll often see a drop in your SERP rankings and organic traffic.
Trust me, better user experience won’t help you if no one can find your site in the first place.
Taking the time to consider the SEO implications of a website redesign before you launch can sidestep many of the headaches that commonly accompany launching a new site. Read on to learn the six most common website redesign SEO mistakes and how to avoid them.
1) Facilitate communication between developers and SEO analysts
This is the most important tip of all. So many problems that emerge with a new site launch could have been easily solved if there was better communication between the SEO analyst and the web developer.
A quick call to touch base on simple things like how redirects will be implemented, if the URL structure is changing, and whether metadata will stay consistent can save you tons of headaches further down the road.
2) Double-check your tracking codes
For a lot of businesses, tracking isn’t something they really think about. It’s easy to just put the Google Analytics code up on the website and never think about it again.
In time, lots of people learn to take their Google Analytics data for granted. It’s a sad phenomenon. There’s nothing more disappointing than launching a new site, heading over to Analytics to check your traffic numbers, and seeing a sad 0 staring back at you.
Fortunately, it’s a tragedy that’s easy to avoid. Just make sure that you have the Google Analytics tracking code implemented into the universal <head> section of your site. The exact way to accomplish this will vary by website, but your developer will know what to do.
You may be tempted to create a new Google Analytics property for your new site – don’t. Use the same UA code that was on your old site; it’ll allow you to easily compare your old site to the new site. This will give you a better idea of what’s working and what isn’t.
3) Don’t change your URL structure if you don’t have to
When redesigning a site, it can be tempting to change your URL structure. New site, new addresses right? This usually isn’t necessary.
Unless you’re completely rehauling the layout of your site, you’re better off keeping your current URLs. The reason you want to avoid changing your URL structure has to do with the way Google views redirects.
Let’s say that you have a section of your website that brings in a lot of traffic: http://www.example.com/traffic. When you launch your new site, you trim down some of the content on the page and launch it with the new URL: www.example.com/more-traffic.
In order to prevent any confusion, you set up a permanent 301 redirect from www.example.com/traffic to http://www.example.com/more-traffic. Over the next few weeks, you begin to see a lot less traffic headed to your page. What happened?
You lost some of your link equity. One of the ranking factors that Google considers is the authority of a page–a measure calculated by the number of external links and the age of the domain and page.
When Google crawls through a redirect, they compare the original page to the new page to ensure that you aren’t misleading users. Based on the degree of similarity between the two pages, Google will afford the new page a portion of the original page’s domain authority.
But there’s a catch. Even a redirect page with the exact same content will only garner about 85% of the domain authority of the original page.
While this particular point has been an issue of contention in the SEO world, a recent test from Wayfair SEO confirmed what we’ve long suspected: there’s a cost to 301 redirects. Avoid them when you can.
For this reason, it’s best to avoid creating new URLs if you can help it. However, when it comes to a major site redesign, sometimes it just can’t be helped. If that’s the case, look to the next tip.
4) Take the time to do a page-to-page redirect
In the event that you do have to change your URL structure, it’s essential that you set up your redirects correctly.
The path of least resistance is to set up a redirect from all your old URLs to your new homepage. Don’t do this. It’ll hurt your site.
Instead, take the time to match every old URL with its closest page on the new site. The process of matching similar content between your old and new site might feel a little tedious, but it will pay huge SEO dividends. It allows you to pass on most of the page authority of your original pages while providing a more seamless user experience for returning visitors.
If you didn’t backup your site before you launched, don’t stress. There is still a way for you to compare the content on the old site to the new site. Simply visit the internet archive. This tool allows you to view a URL as it was indexed months or even years ago.
5) Be careful with your content
Single-page sites are all the rage in the world of website design right now, but that doesn’t mean they’re great for SEO. It’s good to try and simplify your site, but indiscriminately cutting content-heavy pages can have negative repercussions for your search engine rankings.
Before you decide to cut a page from your new site or to drastically reduce its content, make sure that it’s not one of your top landing pages in Google Analytics. If a page has a history of bringing in non-branded visitors to your site, it’s worth preserving or even expanding the content.
Before you plan the layout of your new website, make sure you understand what your most valuable pages are and build around them–your traffic report will thank you.
6) Make sure your content is crawlable
Oftentimes when a developer is working on a site, they’ll configure the pages so that they can’t be crawled. This makes sense during the construction process. After all, you don’t want someone accidentally discovering your site while it’s still in the works.
However, once the site goes live you’ll want to make sure that the developer remembered to turn off this setting. Otherwise, your pages will not get indexed and you’ll see a precipitous drop in your organic search traffic.
If you’re noticing pages that should be ranking (such as your homepage) aren’t after a website launch, then do a quick check.
Open your homepage, right-click anywhere on the page, and select “view page source.” This will open the raw HTML for the page. From here do a quick CTRL+F search for “NOINDEX.”
If you find a line of code that includes “NOINDEX,” then the page is telling Google crawl bots not to index the page. No wonder you’re not showing up! Simply remove the snippet of code ASAP and the page will begin to show up in the organic search results.
Don’t worry, be happy about your new site
So there you have it. We’re not all doom-and-gloom about your new site; it’s going to be awesome. Just keep these simple tips in mind, communicate with your resident SEO guru, and you should be able to enjoy your new website without any Analytics-induced panics.
Have a tip that didn’t make the list? Or a website redesign horror story? I know you’ve all got them. Tweet them to us at @Perfect_Search!
For more SEO expertise, check out some of my other posts. Find out how to successfully set up event goals on your site here. And if you’re diving into schema, check out my introduction to microdata markup.