Redesigning your website to a new platform or changing your brand name without losing any of your website traffic or ranking might be a risky task that, if not done correctly, you might end up losing whatever efforts you have gained over the years.
Recently, I have completed a huge website migration project that had the most complicated website structure.
The challenge was to move the website to the new domain, migrate the entire content to a new CMS, change the structure, but most importantly, not lose the the website organic traffic or SEO ranking.
If you have a similar project, keep on reading to get the step by step guide that will help you accomplish your project successfully.
Step 1 – Things To Consider Before Redesigning
Changing your website domain name
Your company is changing its name, so you asked your IT ops to purchase a new domain name already owned by another company! There is work to do here.
You will need to verify the history of that domain. Who owned it? Was is reported as spam? Is it indexed by Google (just use a simple brand search for that domain).
If all is good, check the backlinks coming to that domain. Do you need to clean that later on?
Once the acquisition is completed, you will need to place a 302 redirect to your current website until you’re done with your website re-design.
Decide on locale for multi-regional websites
The website I worked had a presence in many regions, so you will have to decide whether you will go with a cultured domain (.ca / .com / .co.uk) or you will use sub-folder.
This approach is based on the business needs, so you might need to discuss this decision with different stakeholders within your organization.
My personal preference is country-coded folders for the following reasons:
Makes use of existing strong domain authority
Minimizes maintenance costs over time
All content is easily managed in a single place
Tagging and Google Analytics can be implemented with no extra work
Integration points are streamlined through a single domain
You can read more about cultured domains here
Understand the business requirements
This is a crucial step that will affect your SEO efforts in terms of website structure.
I will not go deeper into this step as it needs a dedicated post on its own.
Step 2 – Freeze Content Uploads
This step is usually overlooked by many SEOs.
Before proceeding with any further steps, it is very important to freeze any new content upload.
You will have to make sure that all content writers are aware of the freeze date. If necessary, you can allow minimal content upload activities for critical information.
In that case, content editors must keep track of the URLs they have added post the freeze date.
Step 3 – Crawl Your Website
Now, do a full website crawl
You can do that with the help Screaming Frog
Start by entering your root domain and make sure to set your crawler to crawl all sub-domains and folders.
Depending on your website size and the number of pages, it might take some time to finish crawling all the pages
List your pages
Done? Perfect. Now you will have a list of all the URLs you have on your website.
Before proceeding further, I strongly suggest to save the crawl and give it a date and call it “Original-Crawl-[day-month-year]”. This file will be your reference in case anything goes wrong later on.
You can export the crawl to an excel file or Google Sheets.
Create a copy of this file and call it “Website Crawl for editing – [day-month-year]”
Now you have a huge list of URLs that you can start working on.
I call it content inventory.
Step 4 – Filter your URLs
Identify 404, 400 and 500 pages
Start by checking all 404 / 410 / 500 pages that you won’t need anymore. Go ahead and delete those from the list. If you need to keep any of these pages, makes sure to repair it for future redirection.
Use the filtering and sorting option to facilitate the job.
Identify 301 and 302 redirects
You might have had previous legacy redirections, in that case, you should find 301 / 302 redirects.
For the 301, check where those URLs point to. You should see them twice in your list.
If you see them listed twice, you can remove the 301s safely.
For 302 URLs, you will have to decide where you will want to point those URLs later on. Paste those in the separate list.
Note: Screaming Frog crawls website by following internal links. If there is a section on the website that is isolated, you might not see the pages on the crawl.
Step 5 – Check backlinks
After you’re done with your content audit, you will need to check pages that have earned link juice. It is crucial to include those pages in your migration plan.
Basically, those pages are the ones that will boost your new domain authority.
For that we will need to use one of the following tools:
Both will extract the pages that have the most weight in terms of backlinks. On the side menu of Ahrefs, you will have to go to:
Pages >> Best by links
You will get a list like this one
Sort by UR. Pages with UR more than 50 are you top priority pages.
Don’t base your decision on the UR only. You will have to check whether the content itself is relevant to your business needs regardless to the backlinks or page power.
I can’t stress enough on the importance of correctly redirecting those pages and testing them several times prior to launch.
Step 6 – Identify Content & SEO Issues
What you need to look for
Using the earlier crawl saved file, check your website for issues and errors. You will find the information of every page listed by columns.
Here is a list of items that you would have to check:
- Page titles over 512 pixels
- Duplicate page titles
- Missing page titles
- Missing H1 tags
- Missing meta descriptions
- Duplicate meta descriptions
- Duplicate H1 tags
- Multiple H1 tags
- Canonical tags
- Hreflang tags used for regional websites
- Broken internal/external links
- Missing Image alt text
Now you head over to Google Search Console and check the following:
- XML sitemap – Whether it is in place or missing.
- Robots.txt – Do you have any blocked pages?
- Check the number of indexed pages.
You will also need to check the following:
- Site speed and performance (here’s a tool to check)
- URL structure (website structure)
- Bread crumbs
Step 7 – Audit Your Content
Next you have to check the quality of the content aside from the problems mentioned earlier.
You need to know which page you will be migrating and which you have to delete.
Ask yourself, are there 2 pages that can be merged for a deeper, more comprehensive content quality?
If you don’t have the time to go through all the content pages, that’s fine. You can migrate parts of the website at a time. Here is a video by Matt Cutts talking about migrating parts of the website at a time
Step 8 – Create your new page
Once you decided on the content to migrate, you can do a keyword research per page and then rewrite your content for better user experience.
Now it is time to start writing your content. Every time you create a new page on the new CMS, make sure to add it to your file to its corresponding legacy URL.
Don’t forget to add the redirect code.
Step 9 – Crawl your dev site
Crawling your created redirects list:
Copy the column of your newly created URLs and paste it in a text file.
Change the crawl mode in screaming frog to List Mode .
Upload your list and start the crawl.
The next step is once your developers finalized the development of the new website, you will need to check all the pages and make sure they are working fine.
Follow the same steps mentioned in Step 3.
Get all the new links listed on a new excel file and check it for more errors (page title, meta description, etc…)
Step 10: Crawl your test redirects
If you have a staging server, you will be able to apply this step. Basically, what you need to do is test whether you have all the redirects in place or if you have a wrong redirect.
After you’ve given the redirects file (Step 8), ask your developers to apply it on a testing environment.
This step allows you to identify any 404s. Usually, those links got mistyped, so you will need to double check them.
If you see status code 404, it means that the new page doesn’t exist. So we’ll need to do one of two things:
- This URL is not created so you will need to include it on the test server.
- Correctly redirect the old URL to the new URL.
Step 11: Analyse your Google rankings
Once your website is live, it is important to keep a close eye on the situation.
You can read more about that in this post: 10 Analytics SEO Hacks by the awesome Matthew Woodard
- Your page’s’ rankings
- Your organic traffic
- The number of indexed pages
- Errors on webmaster tool
Make sure to identify and communicate all errors with your dev team as soon as they are found in order to avoid losing traffic.
Step 12: Train your team
You might consider giving a basic SEO training to members of your team that will work on your website in the future.
Make sure to include all your content writers.
Cover Google best practices and let them that only by creating user engaging content, that the website will stay on the top results.
Give me your feedback
Do you think I missed something in that process? Do you think there is a better way that you recommend?
Let me know your thoughts.