Q and A: How Do I Prepare for a Large Site Migration?

QuestionHi Kalena

I work for a medium sized hospitality chain (in the marketing dept) and our leading chain of hotels is about to undergo a brand change. I’ve just found out that management has approved a full domain name change for each of these hotels and scheduled it with our IT department to happen next month. My General Manager bought the domain name without consulting IT or marketing.

I’m freaking out a little because I’ve been given the task of making sure the change goes smoothly and doesn’t impact our Google rankings or traffic, which I’ve spent years building up. There are 3 different regional hotel properties that will be affected and the content will be transferred over to a single domain! What should I expect? Is there anything I can do to make the transition go smoothly?

Regards
Belinda

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Hi Belinda

Oh boy, I don’t envy you. Yes, you are right to be freaking out – at least a little. Site migrations are a royal pain in the you know where and can result in masses of lost traffic and lost search engine rankings.

By the sound of things, your site migration will be complicated by the fact that there are multiple domains shifting to a single domain. Now before you start hyperventilating, there are some things you can do in preperation:

1) Read this terrific presentation about site migration by Aidan Beanland of Yahoo and then read it again. Create a plan for your own migration situation.

2) Go spend some time with the IT department. Hopefully you get on well with them because you’ll be spending a lot of time talking to them over the next few months. Provide them with a copy of Aidan’s guide so they know what to expect. You’ll need to find out their strategy for the roll-out, including pre-switch benchmarking, 301 redirect integration and testing, specific dates for content transfer, the big switch and final DNS propagation.

3) Consider shifting the content of each individual hotel into distinct region-based sub-domains on the new site e.g. Dallas.HotelBrand.com, Austin.HotelBrand, Houston.HotelBrand rather than trying to combine all content into a single site. This way, you can optimize the sub-domains as distinctive sites and retain the location-related Google rankings you have spent so long building up. If you can prove large traffic losses will occur if you don’t do this (and they will!), it should be easy to get IT and management onside.

4) Take an active role in the pre-migration benchmarking process, particularly in relation to site analytics, most popular content and search engine rankings. Ensure your company keep ownership of the old domains and keep all sites live until the new domain has fully propagated.

5) Be prepared with other online/offline marketing activities to promote the hotels in case of sudden traffic loss.

6) Make sure your manager and stakeholders know what is within/beyond your control! Make it very clear what can go wrong during the move and protect yourself by warning them ahead of time of the potential negative outcomes.

Good Luck!

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Q and A: How do I get started with Google Webmaster Tools?

QuestionHello Kalena

I’ve just take over the role of Online Marketing Manager for our company but I am learning on the job. I’ve got a very basic understanding of SEO and I know AdWords ok, but my focus is really social marketing, Facebook in particular.

The person I am taking over from left suddenly and I don’t have any of her files or records, so I am basically starting from scratch. My boss has asked me to do a full site assessment by next week!

My colleague suggested I start by finding out how many of our sitemap pages we have listed in Google. Now I have heard you can do this using Google Webmaster Tools, but to be honest, I’ve never used it. I’m a bit embarrassed actually, because I know I should have been using it before now, but I’ve never really had to.

Can you recommend a tutorial online somewhere about how to use Webmaster Tools, or perhaps give me a quick overview for getting started?

Thanks
Aaron

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Hello Aaron

Your colleague has given you some good advice about Google Webmaster Tools. That is definitely the best place to start. Get your site verified in Webmaster Tools and then grab the sitemap URL for your site and upload it via the console.

In terms of a tutorial, this Beginner’s Guide to Using Google Webmaster Tools is probably your best bet. There is also Google’s own Webmaster Tools documentation to help you out.

Once you’ve got the feel for the console, you can generate lots of reports that will help you put together a full site audit for your boss. Have fun!

Kalena

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Q and A: Does Ask.com Accept XML Sitemaps?

QuestionHi Kalena

I have uploaded my XML sitemap to Google, Yahoo and more recently Bing, thanks to your blog post about the Bing Webmaster Center.

However, I’m wondering if Ask.com accept XML sitemaps and if so, how do I upload mine to Ask?

thanks
Georgia

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Hello Georgia

Yes, Ask.com DO support XML Sitemap submissions. Here’s a blurb about it from their Webmaster Help area:

“Yes, Ask.com supports the open-format Sitemaps protocol. Once you have prepared a sitemap for your site, add the sitemap auto-discovery directive to robots.txt, or submit the sitemap file directly to us via the ping URL”

The ping URL is as follows:

http://submissions.ask.com/ping?sitemap=http%3A//www.yoursite.com/sitemap.xml

To add your sitemap to your robots.txt file, simply include this line:

Sitemap: http://www.yoursite.com/sitemap.xml

Actually it’s not just Ask that supports the addition of sitemaps in robots.txt. Did you know that both Google and Yahoo also support that method of sitemap delivery?

You can either submit your sitemap via the search engine’s appropriate submission interface (e.g. Google Webmaster Tools, Yahoo Site Explorer, Bing Webmaster Center) or specify your sitemap location in your robots.txt file as per the above instructions.

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Q and A: How important is domain canonicalization to SEO?

QuestionHi Kalena

I use a company that “specializes” in mortgage sites and hosting. Since I am in the process of applying everything I am learning, I saw fit to have my site graded by one of the many online tools available.

The tool showed that my site is coming up for both the www and non www versions of my domain. When I enquired with my host about doing a 301 for my domain to one version, they said

“There is nothing we or you can reset on the Xsites as this is beyond anything we have control over. We do not support any of this nor have the capability for any one else to have it”.

How much is it going to hurt me in SEO if I don’t get this fixed like the site grader suggested?

Alex

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Hi Alex

What you’re referring to here is domain canonicalization.

Search engines can sometimes index both www and non www versions of your domain, creating duplicate content headaches for you and also link popularity dilution. Therefore, it’s best for SEO purposes if you can stick with one version of your domain and make sure all links point to that version. The www version is my recommendation because most sites will link to you using that version anyway.

Judging by the response you got from your hosts, it sounds like they’re not familiar with the issue of domain canonicalization, which is concerning. If your site host won’t allow you to use a 301 to create a conditional redirect to your preferred version, you probably need to get a new host!

Alternatively, you can use the Canonical Link Element. You can also specify your preferred URL version in Google Webmaster Tools.

My blog post Does the canonicalization of my URL impact my search engine rankings? might also be of interest.

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An Overview of Bing Webmaster Center

Hands up those of you who have verified your sites with Google Webmaster Tools? Ok, good. Now keep your hands up if you’ve done the same for Yahoo Site Explorer? Hmmm a few hands dropped then.

Now keep your hands up if you’ve verified your site with Bing Webmaster Center? Oh dear.

Seems quite a few webmasters are concentrating on Google and forgetting about the other major search engines. If you want to understand how search engines interact with your site and find potential issues before they impact your traffic, you really need to verify your site and sitemaps with the big 3 and monitor your stats regularly.

Most people are familiar with Google Webmaster Tools and Yahoo Site Explorer, but today I want to give you a brief overview of Bing Webmaster Center.

To add a site to Bing Webmaster Center, simply login to your Bing account (or create a new one) and then type in a URL and a sitemap if you have one. You will be prompted to verify your site via either a meta verification tag you place in your home page header, or an XML file that you upload to your server.

Once you’ve verified your first site, you’ll see a dashboard that looks quite similar to Google Webmaster Tools, with the following tabs:

  • Summary – lists the date Bing last crawled your site, the number of indexed pages, your domain score and the top 5 pages of your site.
  • Profile – lists your URL, the verification process you used and the email address associated with your site.
  • Crawl Issues – lists any issues Bing discovered while crawling and indexing your site, such as 404 errors, malware infections and long dynamic URLs.
  • Backlinks – lists which webpages (including your own) are linking to your site.
  • Outbound Links – lists the web pages your site is linking to.
  • Keywords – allows you to see how your pages are performing in search results for specific keywords.
  • Sitemaps – provides various ways for you to notify MSNBot of new sitemaps or when you change an existing sitemap.

The following additional tools are available when you’re logged into Webmaster Center:

  • Robots.txt validator
  • HTTP verifier
  • Keyword research tool

So don’t ignore Bing Webmaster Center. Remember that Google is NOT the Internet.

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