SEO Friendly Site & Content Migration Best Practices

This article will explain what some important things to consider are when it comes to migrating a large website or even merging several large websites together into a new site. This article is written primarily with a SEO focus (How can this be done in a search engine friendly manner?) But also has many implications in terms of user experience and conversions. In short, this involves two major steps, firstly structuring the new site, and secondly properly creating a redirection map between the old site(s) and the new one.

Phase #1: Structuring the site

The first consideration is to understand how the new website will be structured around the specific content the site will contain. If it is a new website based off an old website or several old websites then those older website’s content will need to be catered for and brought to order in some kind of logical manner.

A new website structure has three major inputs that come together to create the final product, namely:

  1. The catalogue of products and / or services that your company offers
  2. The current content and structure of your old website(s) as a starting point
  3. Keyword research done to determine what products and services people search for in your niche and how they tend to search (what phrases they use and how people’s minds structure information in general)

Creating a new site architecture is really a kind of engineering effort; it is “constrained design”. Each of these will be explained briefly in terms of how they tie into the final product.

Input #1: Your product / service catalogue

Although it is assumed that your current website probably addresses this, it’s often the case that your products or services could be structured better in a new website, notwithstanding the current structure of your old website(s). This step involves exhaustively listing your products or services out and looking for the optimal way to bring order to them. Here are some brief examples of how this could look:

  1. We offer training courses, and we offer them in several states, so we will structure our website by state/course
  2. We offer a huge selection of rugs, and we will structure them around design, with filters to change dimension or colour.
  3. We offer a huge selection of rugs, and we will structure them according to use, for example hall runners, bedroom, outdoor, etc.
  4. We offer a massive catalogue of haberdashery products, and will organise them by class (bindings & fastenings, buttons, kits, elastics) and then have filters to futher organise them by price, brand or colour.

As you can tell by example 2, there are often multiple ways of logically structuring information, but frequently one alternative is optimal and easier for users and search engines, but this highly depends on what your exact offering is. Choosing which way is optimal often relates to input #3 (what users are searching for)

Input #2: The current content of websites

Leaving aside your product catalogue (which is likely structured in some way on your current site) another consideration is the rest of your site content. What about the “about us” page? What about FAQ pages and do you have any blog articles? If you do have blog articles, how can they logically be organised into categories that represent the interests of your audience? Terms and condition pages? General information pages?

And if there are multiple sites, all of these sites’ content catered for? Have they all been brought together into one cohesive structure?

Input #3: Keyword research

Keyword research is a great way to identify the types of words users use when searching for your products and services. It can also help you to more fully identify the optimal site structure for your website. Often keywords that people use give insight into how they logically sort information in their minds which yields additional considerations in terms of your website structure.

Once all three of these areas has been considered, it’s good to construct a really thorough document that maps out each major segment of the website and what type of search this segment targets. Not all categories or pages on a website are necessarily keyword targeted (some of them are just logical or structural in order to better organise other areas that are keyword targeted)

Phase #2: 301 Redirects

Once the skeleton of the website has been planned out (the site structure) it’s important to move on to the meat. Imagine if everyone in a suburb moved address on the same day without leaving any forwarding address for the postman — the postman would likely be very confused when he comes to deliver his parcels. Similarly, if you just migrate a website without redirecting each individual URL properly, Google will revisit those URLs (the one’s it grew to “know and trust”) and find them gone, it then drops those pages from its index and has to start again in terms of assigning relevance and authority to your webpages. Effectively your major pages (except the homepage since most of the URL of your homepage is not changed) would not rank at that point while Google takes its time to figure out where everything went. Often it would take ages for your site to recover.

Redirects are critical for several reasons:

  1. As already mentioned, Google has a cache of your site and if it finds all of those pages 404ing it will not rank them well.
  2. Those pages you have on old URL’s may have backlinks going to them which are lost if not 301 redirected properly. This means A) Google will not pass the authority (sometimes called “link juice”) on to those pages, causing the new ones to not rank as well and B) if users follow those links (from external websites) they will have a bad user experience by hitting 404 pages.
  3. If by chance, any user has bookmarked a page aside from your homepage, when they return to it, it will 404, giving them a bad user experience.

It is for this reason that we emphasise: every single page on your old website(s) should be properly redirected to either 1) The new corresponding page on the new website structure or 2) the “next best thing” (like the closest category page) on the new site. Failing to do so may have very negative effects on the search engine performance of a website.

Content auditing

While a new site is being structured, built and redirected, it’s often a good time to audit the on page copy of the website in order to look for ways it could be improved. Often merging several websites together into a newer one yields this opportunity as a byproduct. Since you’re launching a new website — take the time to consider: can this copy be improved in any way? Is it complete enough? Does it anticipate user questions and ask them before they’ve even been asked?

Conclusion

When migrating a website it’s really important to consider all of these factors and construct a proper 301 redirect map. If you are getting an SEO agency to do the website migration it’s important to ensure that they’ve considered the picture from all of these angles. In E-Web Marketing we’ve seen situations where this was not done properly by an external SEO provider and it lead to a dramatic damage to a website in terms of its search engine performance.

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