Whether you want to merge two pre-owned domains or move your brand to a new domain page, follow this site migration SEO checklist so that you don’t lose organic traffic along the way.
Conduct Risk Assessment
One of the main steps of creating a solid plan is to calculate the risks involved with migration. Google and other leading search engines process the updates and changes in its index for every new or merged website. In the best-case scenario, this may take time and may result in lost traffic. In the worst-case scenario, you may be liable for SEO penalties or receive little-to-no SEO benefits.
Determine The Stronger Domain Authority
Maintaining the stronger website and redirecting the weaker one is the best way to merge two websites. This will help you keep most of the rankings and traffic intact whilst annoying fewer visitors. Compare every domain’s pages, ranking keywords, root domains and determine the primary domain for the merger.
Utilise quality analytical data and compare factors like conversions, organic traffic, revenue and other valuable data.
Test With A Server
Test everything with a test server before commencing the migration progress. It’s important as you want to be able to determine any flaws that could harm the migration. Check the graphics, load speeds, pages, redirects and other factors to troubleshoot the errors and keep your migration on track. Performing a site migration will likely lead to errors and this can set the process back weeks.
Crawl The Site
Use a crawl tool like Screaming Frog to generate a comprehensive site URL list. This will provide solid information about every existing URL on your website. Record this data to discover any mistakenly removed URLs in the migrated website. Use this opportunity to find redirected links and crawl errors. Replace any link that points to a 404 page and renew every link that redirects to your website’s main page. You can simply export these URLs to a new Google sheet.
Mapping Existing URLs & New URLs
Another vital migration step is finding the corresponding URL on the current website with the new URLs that will be migrated. If two pages are similar, only one can be migrated to the final site. This will avoid duplicate content issues and improve the migrated page’s content. Map out new topic pages utilising analytical data and calculate their new navigation locations. This can be a technical process to identify high volume traffic keywords and so target url’s to match with your new url structure. Best to leave this for the SEO agency experts to help you.
Timing Is Key
You might be ready to expect some drops in the traffic and ranking for the migrated website. However, you can reduce the impact by choosing your slowest period to facilitate the site’s migration. Site migrations during holidays can be extremely damaging. Use Google Analytics to find your slowest website time, which is when traffic is the slowest, and plan your migration during these hours or days.
Maintain a record of your current website’s Google Analytics data. This will assist you in situations like traffic loss which will likely occur after migration. Simply perform a side-by-side comparison of the data from the new site and your old one in order to identify pages that lost traffic.
Identify top-linked pages utilising tools like Ahrefs and watch them closely after migration. If the traffic drops or is lost after migration, one of the reasons can be the unsuccessful authority transfer of these particular pages.
Create A Custom 404 Page
Ensure that your new 404 pages are linked to the site’s homepage in order to keep visitors on the site. This will allow visitors to easily navigate your new site and always find something valuable even their clicked page doesn’t exist. This will enhance user experience on your website and will reduce bounce rates and traffic loss.
Registering Google Search Console
Register the site’s Google Search Console profile under your existing Google account. You can include “http” and “https”, as well as “www” or “non-www” versions on every site. Verify that the new Google Search Console is prepared for the right version. You can later submit any new changes of the address into the console and utilise “fetch as Google” to have the changes indexed.
Create Robots.txt File
Create a new robots.txt file for your website after migration. This will assist you in determining the areas that Googlebot can and cannot crawl on your finalised site. This will help you to increase page rankings and reduce any traffic loss.
During Migration Checklist
Ensure Working With Tracking Software
Ensure that your new website’s Google Analytics or any other tracking software is working correctly and collecting data. Ensure that all redirected URLs and new URLs have an existing Google Analytics code and their metrics are tracked. This will provide a record of any changes in the historical data for later review.
Update Internal Links
You might be tempted to leave the internal links unchanged because they will eventually redirect to the new URLs. Avoiding the update of new internal links can reduce site performance and harm your PageRank. Perform a search and replace operation to update your website’s domain name without needing to change the folder structure.
Update XML Sitemap
Updating the XML sitemap can help Google recognise the migrated website’s content in its new location. All you have to do is update the XML sitemap to Google Search Console and add its link in the robot.txt file. This will help Google and other search engines authenticate any new URLs and their attributed content.
Submit Changes of Address to Google Search Console
Carefully submit address changes for the migrated website within your registered Google Search Console. This will make it far easier for Google to pinpoint the new location of the site domain’s content and index it accordingly. Skip this step if the domain isn’t working then talk to your digital marketing agency.
Missteps can occur during migration and this can result in issues like duplicate content. Track errors using Google Search Console and troubleshoot the problem. Pay special attention to crawl rate issues, HTML problems, sitemap file failure, 404 and 500 errors as well as other problems that may have arisen. Compare your current Google Analytics against the benchmarks recorded before migration. This way you can find out the real source of the error.
Perform An Architecture Audit
Upon completing migration, check the rest of the website navigation for errors and fix them. Some of the most common errors include removed disallow directives of robots.txt, duplicate content, slow site speed, disoriented mobile breadcrumbs as well as missing title tags and meta descriptions. This is an important step to crawl the new site again and compare its data to ensure the migration changes occurred as expected.
Re-Submit Link Disavow File
After completing the migration, every link will now point to the existing website instead of your old one. If the site experiences issues like bad links, the “disavow” file will stop search engines from linking the site with these bad links.
Essentially, you have to keep an eye on things and be ready for a dip in traffic once the migration is complete. If every step during the migration is completed correctly, you can expect to see traffic and rankings improve along with higher site authority.