Successful site migration in SEO

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Successful site migration in SEO

Migrating a website is a cumbersome and complex operation. In order not to harm the natural reference, several steps are essential.

The migration of a website entails major changes. This takes into account changes in URL, architecture, design, CMS or host, content merging, domain name change, and migration to https. So many changes that can change the positioning of pages in the SERPs. As John Mueller, webmaster trend analyst at Google, noted at the beginning of the year: search engines like Google store their index page by page. If you change the address or URL of a page, the data on that page must be sent somehow or it will be lost.” So this site migration must be done correctly in order not to lose and even gain seats. Here are several steps to help you with this task.

Prepare to migrate

Before performing the site migration, the definition of clear objectives in SEO should allow to prepare the roadmap. “The redesign has two main objectives: not to lose business/traffic/customers and to improve the site,” summarizes Mathieu Chapon, founder of Peak Ace.

Once the objectives are set, the planning makes it possible to know when, how and to whom the different tasks are assigned. When migrating sites, different stakeholders can intervene: project manager, developer, SEO expert, web editor, web marketer

At the SEO level, SEOs can provide developers with sitemaps to report to Google, structured data, expected page load times, performance in terms of Core Web Vitals, structure of URLs… “We can write the SEO part of the specs that communicated to the agencies approached during the tender, to select the actor who can meet our challenges,” says Mathieu Chapon.

“Bringing together” the old and the new site

By listing the content of the old site, you know what can be kept, but not only: “An audit of the existing site also allows to address the points of improvement that should not be left out during the redesign project” Mathieu notes. Capon.

Make sure you have a full list of URLs from the old site so nothing is lost during the migration. For this, for example, it is necessary to crawl your old site. “I’m creating a panel of URLs,” explains Julien Renotte, who doubles as development engineer and in-house SEO ref at MeteoConsult/LaChaineMeteo. “I can use log analysis tools like OnCrawl, Botify and other tools like Google Search Console, Google Analytics, Adwords, even the old application code. To that I add the “classics”: index.html, index.php, robots.txt, sitemaps .xml… I generally end up with a set of patterns, which gives me a simplified view. Don’t forget anything in Google’s index, with the commands site:my-domain or site:my-domain/pattern.”

There is also a delicate step, which consists of “merging” the old and the new site. An Excel sheet can be used to list old URLs and new URLs. You must choose URLs that are the same; and pages that will be merged with similar existing pages. The main pages of your site will of course need to be restored. These are the ones with good KPIs or even good backlinks. A study on SEMRush or Ahrefs is recommended to better identify them.

Avoid 301 redirects from the old site to the new site’s homepage, or multiply 404 codes

At this stage, one of the pitfalls Julien Renotte must avoid is multiplying the 301 redirects from the old site to the home page of the new site, or multiplying the 404 codes. business choices that don’t match an SEO choice. Pages are often deleted and for simplicity, redirects to the homepage (soft404) or return a 404.” For him, there are more “SEO-friendly” solutions. For example, during the migration process, it is advisable to remove all links that remove or replace pointers to 404 pages. It is better to update the links pointing to the redirected pages so that they point directly to the last page. This prevents redirect chains. It may be a good idea to fix orphaned pages track by linking to it.

Also make sure that the canonical tags are properly implemented on the new site. This makes it clearer to Google that it’s in place. To avoid the problem of duplicate content, you can also indicate in the .htaccess file redirection rules that a single version of the page is accessible.

Test the new website

The new site is often worked on in a separate test environment. “If possible, I ask for a safe pre-production. This is the future environment on which I will test my entire panel,” explains Julien Renotte.

The tests on the new site are run on the test server before the site launch. “The revenue stages (a method of testing and verifying the website before putting it online), in the dev version (the computer recipe), pre-production and production are often done with crawling tools such as Screaming Frog or Oncrawl. The goal is to get a complete picture of the site’s crawl. This period entails many exchanges with all teams working on the project to achieve the desired level of optimization,” explains Mathieu Chapon. “Only the Core Web Vitals performance tests should be taken with a grain of salt for the environment. production,” he adds. “Indeed, these don’t often reproduce the same performance as in production.”

After the site is online, testing continues. Julien Renotte explains: “From D-Day I analyze all reports of 4** or 5** codes with Kibana, a live logging tool. I check that nothing has slipped through. I repeat these analyzes on Day 0, D1, D3, D7 and D15”. At the netlinking level, “at D+1, it’s a matter of correcting one’s own sites’ links so as not to add redirects to all of the group’s backlinks.”

Meanwhile, after launching the site, Mathieu Chapon checks three elements to assess the success of the migration. “First it’s about doing a post-go-live crawl and recipe to make sure all the optimizations are in place on the site. We’re checking that the migration doesn’t have the systems on board, to avoid any pre-production indexing or crawling. Next, it is necessary to check that the redirection plan is applied as a whole.Finally, it is necessary to check the visibility curve, the traffic, the indexing of the new site and the positions a few days after the migration to understand. whether the site has maintained its pre-switch indicators, or even whether it is increasing.” For example, if traffic drops, you can compare the Search Console data of your new site with that of your old one. Goal: Know exactly which pages have lost traffic.

It is also advisable to keep the old site for a while, to know the content, the call-to-action buttons or the metadata that you had on the old environment. You can move it to a subdomain and block its way to search engines.

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