SEO Friendly Migrations – Tea Time SEO

Last week we had the pleasure of inviting Kim Dewe, Joanna Lewis and Kristina Azarenko to join us at Tea Time SEO, to share their insights on how to migrate a site without losing traffic and rankings. Kim went into further detail and has expanded on her seo friendly migration tips below:

Kim Dewe’s SEO Migration Tips:

While the term ‘migration’ is used to broadly represent a website’s transition from one state to another, whether that be a simple HTTPS migration or a complete domain overhaul, a migration is perhaps one of the most complex and time-intensive tasks an SEO may be involved with. At Blue Array, while we relish any opportunity to get involved with technical SEO intricacies our our agency’s clients, we believe that project management skills are the crux of a successful migration.

Project Management skills are non-negotiable

Project management provides SEO’s with an opportunity to plan for Murphy’s Law. The foundation of Blue Array’s migration planning is an exhaustive checklist which we’ve been evolving over several years’. It covers elements from technical, analytics, backlinks and keywords and with over 100 items to be checked at pre-migration, staging website and post-migration phases (or at a more granular level requirements, design, implementation, verification and maintenance phases), you could say it’s fairly comprehensive! The nature of these checks are very similar to that of an SEO audit, though performed at a much more fastidious level with the goal of ultimate extreme diligence (as drummed into us by John Mueller!).

Not only does the checklist outline the sequence of tasks to be performed, it also allows us to be crystal clear about dependencies of items and what is required from all aspects of SEO, many of which might not have been considered by other collaborators. Unless you’re performing the role of both the developer and the SEO on a migration project, it’s often the case that many SEO tasks rely on the implementation of development tasks.

For example: 

  • On an agreed date pre-launch, we ask for a freeze of any code changes or content additions prior to migration by developers so we can perform our pre-migration checks without interference. This task is dependent on agreement from development. 
  • At the staging website phase, we ask that the staging website is password protected and that Blue Array is granted access for crawling. This task is again dependent on actions typically performed by development.

Expanding the migration checklist into a Gantt chart is the best method of visualising and communicating timeframes in a way that can be easily understood by other project stakeholders. For our own benefit, it can also be hugely useful for managing cross-functional tasks. If you’re the sole owner of the Gantt chart, it’s very likely that items will be marked as “done” when they pass SEO checks; though it’s worthwhile also ensuring that this measure of “done” is consistent across the team. In other words, because a migration often operates sequentially where the flow of tasks is linear, the SEO should be the gatekeeper of whether a task is complete (though this may sound idealistic to some).

This comes to my final point on this tip and that is the importance of communication of your migration plans throughout the course of the project. It goes without saying that an SEO cannot be a silent observer during a migration. We’re required to be proactive and astute though ultimately, despite our efforts a team that fails to communicate effectively will be asynchronous in their efforts, often leading to a point of failure. Try using the simple 80/20 rule: Spend 80% of your time “doing” migration tasks but the other 20% communicating to the project team. 

Good project management will help you mitigate risk, uncertainty and keep your migration project on track. In summary, create a comprehensive migration checklist, organise it accordingly and communicate a lot! 

Don’t forgo monitoring

Website monitoring is a consistent task throughout a migration – and it should be highlighted as such on your Gantt chart. No matter what existing reporting you may already have set-up, it’s best practice to create separate reporting which specifically monitors key metrics which are likely to be impacted during a migration.

From Google Analytics and Search Console, some key metrics are: 

  • Organic sessions
  • Time on page
  • Impressions
  • Conversions
  • Pagespeed

One of the best features of Data Studio is its blend mode which depending on the type of migration you’re doing can be useful for pulling multiple datasets together. This is something we utilised during a multi-million page, multiple-domain consolidation project which proved to be useful for overseeing the changes across multiple Google Analytics properties in a single chart.

While beneficially, Data Studio can be used for scheduled updates to connected data, it will also connect to a multitude of resources you may need. Amongst Data Studio, I also recommend AWR for keyword monitoring, Uptime Robot for simply tracking uptime/downtime and Content King for real-time crawling. 

As a general rule, for any migration we typically predict a variance of 20% traffic fluctuation. While this depends heavily on the type of migration being performed, we always prepare our clients for some level of loss before a full recovery. Often we’ll direct clients to account for a temporary traffic loss with PPC. On the other hand, sometimes a website can benefit from URL migrations due to double indexation which we’ve also seen. 

While often a migration is viewed as an opportunity to completely overhaul every aspect of a website; it’s best practice to stagger tasks in phases as opposed to trying to do everything at once! Not only does this allow us to diagnose potential issues quickly, it also provides an opportunity for ‘roll-back’ during a riskier migration.

In summary, despite planning for Murphy’s Law, migrations come with unprecedented risks at every corner and it’s critical that appropriate monitoring is prepared, in hand with good project management.

Bonus migration tip: 

Educate yourself on the tech stack before the migration begins.  For example, what CMS are they using, are javascript frameworks in the new build, what’s the CDN, etc. Understanding the tech stack equally helps you provide better informed recommendations but will help eliminate any communication issues. 

Thank you Kim for sharing some insights. If you missed the episode, watch the session below, view the presentation on slideshare and watch the other Tea Time SEOs on our YouTube channel.

Image Credit: Photo by Gaelle Marcel on Unsplash

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