Chapter 1 - Planning and Strategy from start to finish

In a migration, planning and having a strategy is equally important as knowing what you need to do from a technical point of view. Planning can be even more crucial in a large organization where the developer team is often not in the same location as the project manager/project owner responsible for the website. For this reason, the ideal situation is for an SEO to be included from the beginning of the project. 

Below are 5 tips that will help SEOs better plan their migration: 

Tip 1: Plan your migration based on the project plan (where possible)

If an SEO is involved in a migration, there is a good chance that this is because it’s a complex website migration which implies a new server, CMS, design, content and URLs. In a perfect world, you would migrate one step at a time, but most of the time, everything happens at once. That’s why it’s important to plan as much as possible to minimize the risk. It’s not just the SEO who needs to plan, but also the person responsible for the new website. This will result in a project planning (see image below).

By looking at the planning, an SEO can see when developers are working on a project and define when the SEO jobs cross the developers’ work. The two most crucial moments in the project planning are the tech set-up and the go-live. 

  1. Tech set-up: If an SEO wants to influence the technology or define some basic requirements, they should do so when the tech set-up discussions are still open. Once the tech set-up is defined, it’s difficult to change it. The tech set-up, as said before, could imply requirements such as asking for server-side rendering for JavaScript framework such as Vue.js or more basic requirements such as ensuring that the client can write their own title tags if they wish. For example, if you use Contentful (which is not a CMS) to ensure that a client can write their own title tags, you need a bit of development. 
  2. Go-live: There are some obvious reasons that explain why it’s important to know when a website goes live, such as knowing when the job needs to be delivered. Nevertheless, there are some less obvious reasons, such as knowing when it’s the right time to test everything with developers and knowing when it’s possible to ask for some more changes. The closer developers and POs/project managers are to the go-live, the more they feel the pressure and less time they will probably dedicate to SEO issues. That’s why it’s important to test everything in advance and not on the day before the go-live. 

While the two previous steps are fundamental for an SEO, it’s also important to plan when to test. The more tests done on the staging website, the less the risk of discovering a problem during the go-live. Some things such as the redirection map need to be tested with the support of the development team, so it’s important to also plan the dependencies.

Sara Moccand-Sayegh

SEO specialist at Liip

Sara Moccand-Sayegh is an SEO specialist at Liip, a web & mobile development agency and Holacracy in Switzerland. She is the co-host of #SEOnerdSwitzerland Meetup and a big fan of taking technical classes but skipping the theory. Sara is also a mum of two, who often manage to show up on screen while she works and last month she gave in & subscribed to Nextflix, causing a drop in her night productivity.

Watch our Tea Time SEO session here:

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Tip 2: Make sure you know which devs are on the project

Whenever an SEO starts working on a project, the first thing to do is to know who the developers are and what their specialization is (front/back). 

This is important for several reasons: 

  1. When an SEO migrates a website, they will open several tickets for the devs. If developers know the SEO and know why the SEO opened a ticket, then they will help push the ticket and implement it. 
  2. During the migration, SEOs may have an “uh-oh” moment, and sometimes that can happen in the days after migrating the website. As a result, SEOs need to act as fast as possible to correct the problem and for SEOs, the people who can make the difference between success and failure are devs. Developers will have many other problems to fix the days after the migration so their time is extremely precious. Nevertheless, if the SEO responsible has a good relationship with the devs, they will probably work extra hours to help the SEOs fix the problem.

Tip 3: Plan your go-live in a period with low traffic

Migrating a website comes with the risk of losing traffic for a certain amount of time (1-2 weeks). If it’s over a month, then it’s highly possible that it’s a definitive loss of traffic. As a result, it’s a good idea to not migrate the website during a high-traffic period. For example, an e-commerce website that sells luxury watches should not migrate around Christmas (October-December).

Tip 4: Break down your migration into 4 steps

When migrating a website there are a lot of things to do and the best thing is to have an Excel spreadsheet or any other support with all the tasks listed. To make sure that everything is done at the right time, it’s even better to break down the Excel into the 4 migration steps and define the task for each of these steps: 

  • Preparation, 
  • Test in staging, 
  • Go-live, 
  • Follow-up after go-live

The image below shows a visual example of how an SEO could break down the steps.

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Tip 5: Before defining the destination URL in the redirection map, wait to have the staging URL

SEO wishes to redirect and the final destination URLs. The risk is that SEOs rush too early in defining the destination URLs and as a result, they need to change them again.

Part of the planning is to decide when the final destination URLs should be defined. If they are defined too early without having them on staging and just by “deduction”, there are two risks that SEOs could encounter: 

  1. It’s not uncommon that the content team does not redefine the content and the new URLs until 2 weeks before the go-live. 
  2. Some CMS have special rules for the URLs. For example, Drupal by default will eliminate all articles. 
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