President of Internet Marketing at 9thCO, a Canadian digital agency focused on B2B lead gen as well as ecommerce development and marketing.
Have you decided to modernize your website by moving to a new CMS platform? Or suppose your company has acquired another business and you’re now merging websites. You’re not changing anything that major and your brands are recognizable, so there shouldn’t be any issues, right?
But then it happens. A drop in search engine rankings. Your organic traffic nosedives. Your pipeline suddenly shrinks. And now, sales are down. Suddenly you’re left with a terrifying problem: You need to start from scratch.
A common trap many businesses fall into while making changes to their website is not having a migration strategy in place.
In this article, I’ll address the risks your business is exposed to during a website migration and provide you with more insight into what you can do to protect your business. The end result of any website migration should be a seamless transition with minimal interruptions to services, little to no downtime and minimal loss of traffic.
What is a website migration?
In its simplest definition, a website migration refers to any substantial changes made to a website that can affect its visibility. These changes can include moving platforms, changing domain names, a design refresh, navigation changes or any UX updates.
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Depending on the size of your business, it’s best to have a plan in place anywhere from three to 12 months before the scheduled event. Below are just a handful of issues you could find yourself struggling with if a plan isn’t carefully thought out.
SEO is the process of improving your website’s code, content and authority in order to increase brand visibility in a search engine. Did you know that it’s not uncommon to lose a lot of organic search traffic following a major website update or migration?
Many people don’t realize how much domain authority they’ve built up over the years. It takes a lot of time and effort to achieve top rankings. Without a website migration strategy in place, this can mean all that brand equity disappears, irrevocably.
What would you do if all the key performance indicators (KPIs) you report on were suddenly deeply in the red? This is a horrifying reality that’s common during website migrations if they aren’t carefully accounted for in the transition. This can damage sales, relationships with stakeholders, advertising costs and even trust in your brand.
User experience (UX) is a factor many businesses don’t take into consideration when planning a migration. If unexpected changes occur or there are major errors, clients and customers can be negatively impacted. Having a bad end-user experience on a website (despite what seems to be an overall nicer aesthetic) can mean loss of revenue and even damage to your reputation.
Having a website migration strategy reduces the above risks and unforeseen challenges. Below is an overview of some of the steps to consider while planning a migration.
Document your pre-migration metrics.
Take stock of your organic engagement and conversion metrics in order to have benchmarks before the migration takes place. Remember, there’s a strong chance this data can be lost. And once it’s gone, it’s gone!
Evaluate your migration approach.
There are typically two different migration approaches:
• Partial migration: This is recommended for websites that perform well organically and may not want to fully migrate all pages, potentially losing an established web presence.
• Full migration: This is recommended for websites that don’t have substantial organic performance and full migration won’t negatively impact the brand.
Determine page preservation and consolidation.
Decide which pages can be merged into an existing page, consolidated together, preserved or deleted based on organic traffic data.
Create a redirect map.
You have to create a redirect map that shows the new destination of each page on your website, and this takes time. Consider the new consolidated, preserved or deleted pages in the above step.
Once these pre-migration steps have been approved by you and your team, you then have to actually implement the changes. And even after the update has been made, the process isn’t over. Keeping a constant eye on your website post-migration is important and requires diligence.
Below is a handy overview of what you’ll need to do before and after a website migration.
• Take stock of the risks and growth opportunities of migration.
• Set realistic goals, including scope and budget.
• Carve out a timeline and choose dates to execute the migration, preferably during a time of low traffic.
• Identify priority pages, ranking them in terms of inbound traffic, rankings contribution to leads/sales or importance to the brand.
• Make note of your current rankings and top keywords so you can compare post-migration metrics.
• Ensure that all legacy pages have been saved.
• Check pages for unoptimized headings and body copy.
• Review internal links, ensuring that pages are not linking to legacy or orphaned pages.
• Confirm that all tracking and Data Layer components are functional, meaning that your analytics tagging is in place and tracking pageviews, conversions and events as intended.
• Check redirects against your defined redirect map to ensure nothing was missed.
• Check search engine crawling on both desktop and mobile.
• Review Search Console to diagnose errors and help speed up indexing.
• Regularly check reports to monitor any changes.
• Look out for usability issues or errors.
• Review pages that are getting low traffic for further optimization.
A website migration is something that needs to be planned with immense detail and careful consideration. It’s a complicated process, and the risks to your brand’s name and business services are high.
If you’re already thinking about taking on this challenge, you have a long road ahead of you. Remember to plan, plan, plan and then plan some more. Good luck, and may the force be with you!
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Author: Justin Cook, Forbes Councils Member