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 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:
– 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
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.
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
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.