What is a website migration?
Many eCommerce sites will go through one website migration in their lifetime for one reason or another. A site migration occurs when a site receives substantial changes to it that can impact its search engine rankings & traffic. It typically involves the process of moving a website/URLs/platforms over to another, newer version, and (if done properly) is typically done to achieve more longer-term SEO success.
Why do eCommerce sites go through a migration?
There are many reasons for an eCommerce website to go through a site migration. These include but not limited to:
- A change in CMS/platform – Many brands may not be happy with the current platform their store is on, or they’ve just outgrown it and need a more powerful solution. Therefore, the act of moving the site & store from one platform to another is a form of site migration.
- HTTP to HTTPs – As more and more non-https websites are being flagged as “dangerous” sites, it’s more important than ever to now make sure you are trading on an HTTPs website. To move your site & URLs to HTTPS requires a migration.
- Change of domain – Perhaps you’ve rebranded, or you just don’t like your old URL and that’s completely fine. But to keep your existing SEO value, you’ll need to migrate all URLs and content to a new domain.
No matter the reason for migrating, you need to make sure you migrate as efficiently as possible to avoid a decline, but actually, to start achieving fast growth once you’ve migrated. See below for the SEO risks of migrating and how to make sure you avoid them:
What are some SEO migration horror stories and how to avoid them?
Declines In Rankings & Loss Of Organic Traffic
It is very common to see fluctuations in your rankings & traffic in the immediate aftermath of site migration. However, you don’t want these to continue for a long time, nor do you want there to be a steady decline over time. One of our clients in the past came to us because they migrated earlier in the year, only to approach us near the end of the year with over half the traffic they used to have.
Migrating from one domain to another holds a lot of risks primarily because the strength of the new domain is very likely not going to be as strong as the older one that you’re migrating from. This is due to backlinks and where they’re pointing to. This then impacts the authority of a domain which we know is a Google ranking factor, and as a result, this mixed with other poor migration planning can result in a decline on the new site.
We make sure that we put together detailed URL mapping documents for all of our eCommerce partners who go through a migration. The purpose of the URL mapping document is to tell Google what old URL we need to pass the value to a new one and a whole host of other important details such as:
- Which pages to lose/301 redirect
- Key pages to migrate
- Which URLs need to be promoted to the navigation
- Which URLs need more strength going to them and are more important
- Which new page matches to the old one
This mapping will then be the guide to help to implement the 301 redirects.
2. Internal Links Are Broken
A broken internal link is simply a link on one of your landing pages that just doesn’t work. A broken link will typically return a 404 error page to the user, some 404 pages are more interesting than others but generally, we don’t like 404 pages at all, no matter how many cats they have on them.
This happens because some historic pages may have not been mapped or redirected and some internal links within content may still be pointing to the old version of the URL rather than the new version.
We use Screaming Frog or Deepcrawl to check for broken links. Once you’ve identified the broken links, it’s just a case of redirecting them to their rightful new owner. If you don’t do this, not only will a user have a bad experience of your website and therefore never buy from you, but this is a bad practice that Google will penalise you for, meaning people won’t even find you in the first place.
But how do we avoid this in the first place, I hear you say?
Ultimately, it comes back again to an efficient URL mapping document. Of course, some URLs and links will always be missed and that’s okay, but as long as you find and manage the majority of them pre-migration, you’ll be ok.
3. Lower Conversion Rate
Your conversion rate can plummet after a site migration. There can be many reasons for this which include but not limited to:
- Doing a platform migration at the same time as redesigning your site – we’ve had a client do this in the past and it’s always hard to tell if it’s the platform or the design that’s impacted conversion rate
- Your form fill box has changed colour/looks different to before
- Your purchase process has new steps/layers add to it, e.g. a compulsory sign up process and more
- Your new pop up ad has become very intrusive
By using tools like Hotjar on your current/old domain prior to migrating, you can gain an understanding of how users currently engage with your website. Are they clicking on an ad pop up? Are they interacting with the form? Where are they dropping off?
Furthermore, you can look closer to home and make sure you set up effective Google Analytics event tracking to understand the user flow from finding you to purchasing from your store.
This will help because you’ll understand what’s currently working and what isn’t, so you can make data-informed decisions for your new migration rather than simply “what our designer thought would look cool”. You can also be more confident with A/B testing different designs/colours that you know your demographic have been proven to engage within the past.
4. Manual Actions & Unnatural Links
When you set up your Google Search Console account, you may see that you’ve been given a manual action against it which basically means that your site has been found to have unnatural links on it. One of our previous clients came to us with a whole list of manual actions in their Search Console which worried them – thankfully we helped solve these, but it’s much better to avoid them in the first place.
An unnatural link is what we call a “spammy link” and can come from low-authority, even malicious websites, that point back to your site and as a result Google has picked this up and doesn’t quite like your site being associated with it.
Before you migrate, you want to have some SEO specialists analyse your existing backlink report to find any spammy ones you don’t want to migrate over, and what these SEO specialists will do is disavow these bad links and then submit this to Google to avoid/rectify any manual actions.
Be careful when disavowing and have this done by professionals, as we’ve seen many people take it in their own hands and try and disavow themselves but accidentally disavow key, important links which has resulted in sharp declines.
5. Indexation problems
In general, the indexation count of your URLs will differ on your new, migrated domain than that of your previous, so don’t worry too much.
However, if your new site is not indexed at all (you can see this in Google Search Console), or if there is a HUGE difference in the indexation count, then you need to analyse what’s gone wrong.
This is quite a common issue we’ve seen with brands when they migrate to Magento with no SEO considerations at all, then it takes months to repair which is what we’re then brought on for (but we’d like to be involved before the migration preferably).
It’s important to analyse if there are more URLs being indexed due to content duplication, or perhaps even your old domain is still being indexed. You want Google to use its finite crawl budget on your key, money-making pages. But if there are thousands of new pages that you don’t need or want, you’re wasting its budget and Google will not like you for this.
First, you want to figure out if you have any indexation errors.
- Can look at the indexing status in Google Search Console
- Or even better, put your browser in Incognito Mode and go to Google, then search for “site:” with your domain. E.g. “site:statement.digital”
If your new site appears it’s indexed, if your old site appears, it’s also still indexed. So then you just need to de-index your old one.
If your new site does not appear when doing this, then check your robots.txt file and make sure it’s not blocking crawler access. You can find your robots.txt file by adding it to the end of your domain URL e.g. www.example.com/robots.txt
You can also use Google Search Console’s Robots.txt Tester to check if you can access important pages. You can then monitor the indexation process in Search Console too.