How to Successfully Migrate a Website Without Harming SEO [Checklist]

How to Successfully Migrate a Website Without Harming SEO [Checklist]

An outdated website won’t represent your brand well.

Web design experts recommend a site redesign every 2-3 years to keep up with web standards and design trends. This can often be accomplished with a simple facelift or re-skin. However, in some cases, you may be up against a site migration.

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The end result of a site migration may include a cleaner interface, a new or improved user experience, an easier editing experience, and more. However, the choice to migrate your website should not be taken lightly. If executed poorly, you could end up with status code errors, negatively impacted SEO performance, and even irritated website visitors.

Why might you migrate a website?

Here are the circumstances in which you might need a site migration over a simple redesign:

  • You need to move your site’s location from one server to another.
  • You are changing the CMS platform your site operates on.
  • You are changing your domain name or URLs.
  • You need to make major changes to your site’s architecture (not just aesthetics).

Website migrations can be done on your own or professionally. (For example, HubSpot offers migration services to customers switching to HubSpot’s CMS.)

If you’re considering a website migration, keep in mind that you must leave yourself time to prepare and execute. Migration specialists usually take about three weeks, so plan accordingly. Now, let’s get into the details of migrating a website.

Pre-Migration

1. Crawl the existing site.

A website crawler retrieves the URLs and markup on your site, “seeing” this information similarly to how Google would.

Performing a crawl gives you a starting point for your URL mapping (more on that later) as well as a list to refer to in case something gets lost in translation. You can crawl your website yourself with a third-party tool such as Screaming Frog.

2. Record your benchmarks.

In some cases, analytics data can get erased during a site migration, and this historical benchmarks can be valuable, so it’s best to retain it.

You should also take the time to review your analytics and ensure you know how visitors currently navigate the site and which pages are your most valuable. This context can help inform your redesign and site architecture decisions.

3. Map your URLs.

If you’re making major changes to the URLs on your site, you’ll need redirections in place to guide Google and your website users from your old URLs to your new URLs. 

  • From a usability standpoint, if a page no longer exists, you don’t want your users to get a 404 status code error. Instead, they should be guided to the page that has taken the old page’s place. 
  • Improper redirects can mean a big hit against your SEO. They tell search engines and visitors of your website that a page has changed, whether it’s been removed, or no longer exists. They also tell search engines what new pages have replaced old ones.
  • From an SEO perspective, you don’t want to lose all of the history, backlinks, and (in essence) “authority” that the old page built up. A redirect tells Google where to attribute those signals instead. 

To get redirects implemented, you must first strategize by mapping your URLs. This involves building a spreadsheet with two columns: one for the old URL and one for the corresponding new URL. 

Don’t be concerned if there aren’t “perfect” replacements for every piece of content. Just do the best you can to direct your users based on their original intent.

If you have tons of pages, manual mapping probably isn’t in the cards for you, so to save time, look for patterns in your URLs that can be redirected in groups or sections.

Existing redirects should be migrated as well. Try to keep as many existing redirects as possible to lessen the workload, and make sure your URLs are mapped before you test redirects, to make sure you have backups if you lose them.

For more information on how to update URLs, check out this article.

4. Make sure you’re retaining titles, meta descriptions, and HTML markup.

Recall that website migrations help with website organization. As such, pages should be uniform and contain the same information as they did before. To illustrate, if the HubSpot Marketing Blog underwent a site migration, the content and descriptions for each blog post would be the same, just look different.

You can always update or rewrite titles, meta descriptions, and HTML markup, but you should still ensure that each page includes the proper information. 

5. Try out the new build on a test server (aka sandbox).

Seeing mockups or testing in a local environment will not give you a full picture of the new site’s functionality and implementation. For a seamless transition, take it online for a test drive before the official migration.

6. Choose the right date for the migration.

Hiccups will happen no matter what, but you can minimize them by avoiding peak hours.

Day of Migration

7. Prepare to update your site’s DNS settings.

If you’re moving your site to a new server, part of the process will include “pointing” to the site’s new location. Coordinate with your web/IT team and/or your hosting providers (new and old) to accomplish this.

8. Launch.

Set up your forwarding redirects, unpublish, and implement.

If DNS changes were involved, the site may be down momentarily.

If you’re not switching servers or platforms, the migration should be nearly instantaneous.

9. Crawl the new site.

Once the new site is live, you can do a crawl to see if it has been migrated how you expected it to. One thing you want to look for is proper indexability and crawlability.

10. Identify and resolve missing and duplicate content.

Using the crawl report, see if you find any anomalies, including duplicate content or 404 errors and broken links. In addition, you should click around the new site and look for issues.

11. Check for redirect chains.

Now that your site has been migrated, you have a lot of new redirects on your hands. If redirects already existed, chains may have been created.

Here’s what I mean:

If you were already redirecting A to B, your migration may have added a redirect from B to C.

This creates a chain of redirects: A to B to C.

Redirect chains can slow your site down and impact performance. You can avoid this by breaking the chains, redirecting A to C and B to C.

12. Ensure Google Analytics and Google Search Console are implemented.

To avoid any gaps in data and reporting, these should be up and running the same day.

13. Mark the date in Analytics.

Google Analytics allows you to make “Annotations” of important dates or events. This can help you contextualize the data and measure performance pre-and post-migration (unless you opted for a new Analytics setup).

14. Submit sitemaps.

Once everything is up and running, ensure your XML site map has no errors. Then, you can submit the sitemap in Google Search Console to invite Google to crawl the new implementation.

Post-Migration

15. Monitor performance.

While temporary dips in traffic are common after a migration, you should still be keeping a pulse on your analytics to ensure nothing big was missed that could be affecting performance.

16. Run site audits.

Sometimes, third-party tools can find issues you didn’t know about. SEMrush’s site auditor is excellent in situations like this.

17. Update your platforms.

If you have ads running or other platforms that may be using old URLs, be sure to add fresh links.

18. Have publishers update backlinks.

If your redirects have been implemented correctly, you’ll still get traffic and authority from your backlinks. However, it’s still best practice to use the freshest URLs possible. With that in mind, reach out to the publishers of your highest value links to notify them of the swap.

Website migration can be a lengthy process, but it’s not impossible. With preparation, you can have a migration that’s successful and friendly with your existing SEO efforts. 

Editor’s note: This post was originally published in December 2019 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.

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11 Expert Tips on How to Successfully Grow and Scale Your Business

11 Expert Tips on How to Successfully Grow and Scale Your Business

Business growth is always exciting. Seeing your revenue, client base, workforce and market share expand is proof that your hard work and tireless efforts are paying off. Best of all, this is something that you can control, as long as you are putting in the necessary time, work, and effort.

While you may be eager to move your startup onward and upward, you shouldn’t forget about the potential negative impacts of scaling up. Expanding too quickly can mean biting off more than you can chew, and it’s easy for a business to collapse on itself if it cannot handle rapid growth.

Here’s what you need to keep in mind as you scale up if you want to avoid toppling your business, according to 11 members of Young Entrepreneur Council.

1. Do What You’re Best at and Outsource the Rest

As you scale your business, your highest priority is to identify what you do best in the company and then find someone who is even better than you to do that task. This will free up your time to focus on growing your company and not just working for it. For example, my strength is ranking websites so I hired someone I trust to implement my system and it’s saving me 80 hours per month.

Bryan Kesler, CPA Exam Guide

2. Invest in Talent Management Early

Too many startups hire for the present when they should be hiring people with the skills for 18 months into the future. Design roles for capable people to grow into. While a jack-of-all-trades talent seems valuable at the earliest stages, hiring experienced functional leaders is important during a startup’s growth phase. Lastly, turnover is inevitable so be prepared for this necessary reality.

Eddie Lou, Shiftgig

3. Implement Top-Notch Project Management Systems

As you scale and hire people, there will be more to manage and more minutiae will be created to account for the increase in projects and personnel. Having a project management system that can account for tracking projects at the macro level, as well as the minutiae of each project, is essential as you grow. Find a project management solution that is flexible, customizable and scalable.

Marcela De Vivo, Mulligan Funding

4. Make Sure Your Technology Can Grow With You

Make sure that your technology has the capability to scale with your business. For example, many e-commerce businesses find themselves needing to migrate from their current platform to a more robust solution in order to handle higher user and order volume. This is a complex process that can stunt a company’s current growth rate. To avoid this, select a platform built for scalability.

Duran Inci, Optimum7

5. Constantly Monitor Cash Flow

As you grow your business, you will be acquiring new obligations and spending more money. Make sure to constantly monitor your cash flow and P&L. New expenses are not directly proportional to the contracts you are getting. Contracts have different arrangements and payment schedules. I have seen a lot of companies grow really fast and end up failing for this reason.

Felipe Cornejo, Devsu LLC

6. Invest in Continuous Education

When I first launched AFS, we were a small company with an idea. As we expanded to a national player, we maintained the way we did things as a small company, and we didn’t adapt well. Once we instituted a continuous training and education program, we built teams that could adapt to growth and I found myself better equipped for the new challenges we faced as a larger organization.

Rahim Charania, American Fueling Systems

7. Build Your Internal Processes to Handle Scaling

Scaling a business is not necessarily about getting more sales or hiring more employees. If your internal processes aren’t built to handle more business, then you could be wasting money overstaffing due to repetitive tasks that can bottleneck the workflow — an error that could cost you in potential sales and revenue.

Codie Sanchez, Www.CodieSanchez.com

8. Have An Exit Strategy

When times are good, it can be deliriously satisfying to expand your business exponentially. However, it’s important to have a plan for when the money stops flowing in. Markets are unpredictable and can turn sour at any time. A bit of foresight and careful planning can ensure that your business survives a recession.

Bryce Welker, CPA Exam Guy

9. Improve Your Customer Service

Too many complaints can bring your business to a crashing halt. You can’t stop every complaint, but you can reduce them greatly by beefing up your customer service. Train staff to resolve complaints. Stay engaged on your social media pages where customers love to take out their frustrations. Reply and make them feel like they are a priority. Just replying can make a huge difference to customers.

Blair Thomas, eMerchantBroker

10. Prioritize Employee Career Development

To sustain high growth, a company needs to retain and attract the right people. One necessary tactic to employee retention and attraction is designing career growth within a company. Employees need to see themselves progressing as fast as your company — and there needs to be buy-in from both employer and employee on what that career development looks like so you can both grow together.

Brett Farmiloe, Markitors Website Development

11. Take a Slow and Steady Approach to Growth

It can be easy to get caught up in growing quickly, but I’ve seen a ton of businesses do that and then have to downsize immediately. It puts people out and isn’t a great way to build a solid reputation for your company. It’s important to take a step back, move slowly and really think about the next steps you’re taking to grow your business so you don’t get ahead of yourself.

John Hall, Influence & Co.

Grow Your Business, By Growing Your Personal Brand

Of the many different ways to grow your online business and brand, don’t forget about the importance of growing your personal brand in the process. This is especially true if you are the face of the brand. Through the power of social media, it’s extremely easy and effective to not only reach new audiences but to also rank higher in Google for personal names and brand names in the process. Be sure to try out this method, along with each of the recommended tips above for growing your brand or online business in 2018.

If you enjoyed this expert roundup, I recommend you also take a look at our previous ones on expert SEO tips and best tips for making money online.