SMX Sydney 2012 – Aidan Beanland – SEO Essentials for Web Migration

This is a summary of Aidan Beanland’s presentation at Search Marketing Expo / Online Marketer Conference held in Sydney 1-2 May 2012. Aidan Beanland at SMX Sydney 2012

Aidan Beanland is the SEO & Audience Optimisation Manager for Yahoo!7 in Australia. Aidan directs SEO operations for Australia and New Zealand and advises on international strategy for the Yahoo! network.

Aidan explains there are 3 phases to a successful web migration:

Phase 1 – Research / Strategy

What’s changing? Your migration situation could be any of the following:

  • Moving from one domain to another
  • Switching to a new Content Management System (CMS), creating new URLs
  • Significant changes to site content
  • Update to site’s Information Architecture
  • A new geographic audience
  • Merging one or more sites together
  • Changing your web host

…or a combination of these.

Aidan suggests asking the following questions prior to migration:

  • Why are you doing this? Content? CMS? Design? Acquisition? CEO says so? Be clear about your objectives.
  • Does this NEED to happen? Really?
  • What can be migrated separately? Know the roadmap and any dependencies.
  • Will this cause new SEO challenges? AJAX, Flash, poor information architecture?
  • What enhancements can be included?
  • Are you aware of the risks? Really?
  • Who’s idea was it? Make sure responsibility is clear.

Phase 2 – Planning / Benchmarking

Before migration, Aidan recommends taking benchmark stats so that you can check these again after migration. During the month before migration, record these stats:

  • Click Through Rates, average search positions, external/internal links, content keywords via Google webmaster tools
  • Top search referral keywords, conversions from SEO by keyword phrase/URL
  • Engagement metrics (bounce rate, session length, PVs/visit, etc)
  • Top referring URLs
  • Geographic locations of visitors
  • Search engine referrals (note seasonal variations)

SEO Migration Task List

Determine your ‘money pages’:
• The most search engine referrals
• Highest link equity (page authority, root links, link diversity)
• Best conversions

Split search engine referrals keyword phrases into three buckets:
1. Brand terms
2. Competitive ‘head’ terms
3. Long tail terms

Rank check your top 50/100 referring search queries and take note. Record your most common internal search queries.

Planning Task List

  • Check new domain and/or host IP has no *ghosts*.
  • Ensure new domain WHOIS entry is correct (same as current if possible)
  • Put the new domain live with a holding page linking to the current site
  • Ensure current and new domains are verified in Google Webmaster Tools
  • Replace absolute with relative links
  • Evaluate new site wireframes/mock-ups and incorporate SEO requirements
  • Retain (and improve) internal link structure if possible
  • Crawl old site to generate a URL list
  • Inform registered users that a new site is coming

301 Redirect Task List

  • List most important current URLs and corresponding new URLs
  • Set up 1-1 redirects for all key SEO (and other traffic source) pages
  • For less important pages create redirect rules, e.g. Capture descriptive words from old URL to return a search listing on those words
  • 301 redirect old sitemap.xml files to their new location

New Site Final Task List

  • Put the staging site behind IP restriction AND/OR Password protect
  • robots.txt disallow
  • Crawl the new site (using Xenu or similar). Looks for the usual culprits:
    – 404s
    – Incorrect redirects (don’t forget images and files like PDFs!)
    – Dupe/missing page titles & descriptions
    – High click depth
    – Large/slow pages
    – Non-canonical URLs/content
    – Use old site URLs as a crawl list to check redirects are working
  • Set up a 301 redirect s/sheet so tech team has a clear map of instructions
  • Stress test! Can it handle the load?
  • Set up Google Alerts for something unique to your new pages so you know as soon as your new pages are in the index

Phase 3 – Migration

10 First Steps:
1. Remove robots.txt and/or password/IP restriction
2. Lower your DNS TTL (time to live) to ~5 mins/300s then update DNS setting
to new host IP
3. Verify new site in Google Webmaster Tools
4. Use Google’s ‘Change of Address’ tool
5. Re-crawl to check for errors
6. Submit new XML sitemap(s)
7. Check indexation (site: ) and sitemaps in GWT
8. Keep both sites live until ALL users are now going to new site
9. Inform your users and your industry – PR opportunity?
10. Update external links

Next steps:

Redirect old pages to new pages in stages, suggests Aidan. Splitting the migration process into manageable chunks allows for rollbacks and better cause/effect troubleshooting.

An example:
1. Migrate to new host – wait ~1 week
2. Redirect site to a new domain – wait until traffic stabilises
3. Migrate content (one section/directory of the site at a time) – wait several
weeks

Phase 4 – Monitoring

Some things to keep tracking after the migration:

  • Use the old site URL list as a crawl list to check redirects are still working
  • Check sitemap indexation & crawl errors/volume in Google Webmaster Tools
  • Remember to check rankings for other search engine gTLDs if your business relates to other countries
  • Check referrers to your 404 page. Use this to fix broken links (on and off-site)
  • Check internal search queries – have they changed from the old version? Use this to enhance navigation
  • Canonicalisation? Are all pages consistently with or without out www.? https://?
  • Keep ownership of the old domain! Indefinitely! Maintain redirects
  • Monitor key business goals
  • Tidy up broken links – return a 404 or 301 to logical equivalent
  • Regain site links if they got removed
  • Update & add external links – contact webmasters, may be chance to improve them or add more. Prioritise by value (SEO and navigational)
  • Backfill any organic traffic slump with PPC traffic
  • Ask your loyal users for feedback on their experience of the new site
  • Update your local listing entries (e.g. Google Places), if necessary
  • Flush out old links. Point links to these from an indexed but low value page to force recognition of the 301 redirect.
  • If things go really wrong – roll back!

Site Migration Dos and Don’ts

  • Don’t do it! (or at least don’t switch everything at once)
  • Don’t get excited when referrals increase immediately after launch – this can happen when old + new URLs are indexed and appear together in SERP, or when Google ‘tests’ new domains for CTR and engagement.
  • Don’t blanket redirect all old pages to your new home page
  • Don’t let your old domain lapse
  • Do hold your ground and be patient. You’ve explained the risks and time-frame to the business (right?).
  • Do update your most valuable links – Don’t rely on the 301 passing on link juice in full or quickly
  • Do be prepared for a roller coaster ride! Traffic can fluctuate, some things don’t work as expected, sometimes a post-switch site can perform more strongly than you’d hoped.

Good luck!

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