SEO migration strategies when updating your website

SEO migration strategies when updating your website

Improve your website’s organic search rankings with search engine optimization and a migration strategy to ensure your website drives high-value traffic.

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The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in a significant increase in online shopping trends and digital interactions. As a result, many businesses owners are now updating, customizing and relaunching their digital channels. As it is more critical than ever to maximize rankings on Search Engine Results Pages (SERPS), Deloitte is highlighting a strategy that is often overlooked; the importance of SEO when migrating or making changes to a website.

Relaunching or refreshing your website?

Your website’s success depends on search engine optimization (SEO)

A strong web presence is a must-have in today’s business landscape. Given that your website is often the first point of contact with prospective customers, you want it to make a good impression. For this reason, it needs to be modern, up-to-date, and full of fresh content—which means that, in general, you’ll need to overhaul, refresh, or relaunch your website every few years.

That said, a website migration is no small undertaking. Any organization that’s embarked on such a journey understands the vast amount of work that goes into it, which ranges from writing the code, conducting development work, and refining the user experience, as well as crafting the content and designing the right look and feel. It involves a large team—programmers, content developers, designers, user experience experts, and marketers, not to mention the ultimate stakeholders. Each brings their own goals, motives, and thought processes to the journey.

Given the vast number of cooks in the kitchen, it’s understandable that, in many medium- to large-sized organizations, some things can fall through the cracks. Too often, however, it’s search engine optimization (SEO) principles and best practices that get short shrift—leaving many companies with stellar websites that nobody can find.

Fortunately, there are ways to relaunch a website without losing traffic or visibility, and that starts with a robust website migration strategy Univation connects you to the knowledge, insights, solutions and services that will help your business grow and thrive through every milestone.

Are you looking for ways to migrate your website without losing your audience, your ranking, or your customers?

Why new websites suffer from lost SEO rankings

The premise behind SEO isn’t incredibly complex. Every single day, people across the internet are using search engines to find answers to their pressing questions, and your company’s goal is to end up on the top of that list of relevant answers. The longer your website exists, the more questions it inevitably answers—and search engine algorithms are ultimately able to determine how important, or not important, your pages are, relative to somebody’s search.

When you relaunch or migrate a website, however, all that history is erased—you’re basically unhooking yourself from the entire SEO legacy you’ve established. Anyone who’s bookmarked your site or linked to it through their blog loses their connection when the old pages are discontinued and new ones are created. This inevitably causes your page rankings to drop, along with your traffic and audience.

Your website ranking is about to take a hit

Essentially, embarking on a website migration without an SEO migration strategy is like moving to a new house across town and not telling anyone where you’re going. As an example, let’s imagine you own a personal care products company. On your website, you have a category called “shampoos” where all of your haircare products are listed. Then, you update your website and, though you’re still selling shampoos, you’ve decided it’s better to name the category “haircare products.” Suddenly, every beauty blogger linking to their favourite shampoo on your site— every directory, every magazine review—is now sending its readers to a broken link, because you’ve changed the actual address of those pages.

On top of that, any tools responsible for monitoring your site and keeping searches up-to-date—like Google Search Console or Bing Webmaster Tools—can’t find you, because they don’t know you’ve redone your website. Additionally, all of your organization’s web analytics—the legacy information that has helped you determine your site’s most popular pages, sales, visits, and subscribers—has also disappeared. Suddenly, you’ve lost traffic, information, and potentially sales as well.

How a website migration strategy works

A website migration strategy helps you overcome these challenges by making sure every person searching for an old web page is redirected to a new one. It allows you to preserve your search engine history and maintain your old analytics data so you can build upon the success of your old site while giving it a very necessary upgrade.

To do this, however, you need to follow four important steps:

Step 1: Know where you’re starting from

Before you can chart a path forward, you need to assess your current state. From a web migration perspective, this means you have to know the URLs of all your pages, what they do, where they are, and most importantly, what they mean. Every page on a website has a unique address and when you update a site, those addresses change. By developing a full inventory of every single page, you can craft a detailed hierarchy plan that lets you map all your old addresses to a new page on your new website.

Step 2: Redirect, redirect, redirect

The website mapping process involves creating a plan to redirect each old page to a new page. Essentially, this means that each page uncovered in your current state analysis must now be coded in such a way that visitors automatically end up at the correct new page—and avoid the dreaded “Page Not Found” notification. At this point, it’s common for pages to get missed, which is why you need access to state-of-the-art website crawlers or bots that can scour your site to make sure there are no broken links.

Step 3: Get the word out

Once your pages are appropriately mapped, it’s important to update all your tools so the search engines can find you and you can tell the internet you still exist. Ideally, you would have identified all your Google Tag Manager (GTM) tags, triggers, and variables during the mapping process, allowing you to easily update, create, and eliminate information when a working site is available. Once that’s done, you’d then download the current GTM setup.

Step 4: Map your analytics

The last thing you want is to lose the valuable insight you gleaned from your old site’s data analytics, which provide critical information about how your visitors interact with you, contact you, and make purchases. For this reason, you must take strides to map out all tracking codes, events, goal objectives, and reports—and make sure they’re all updated to align with the new site. This is also a good time to evaluate who has access to your analytics and whether some users can be deleted from the list. Additionally, you may want to add or delete certain accounts, such as a Facebook or an e-commerce account.

The dos and don’ts of website migration

Understandably, an effective SEO migration can be a lot for one company to handle. Often, organizations simply don’t have the necessary resources to commit to what is often a lengthy endeavour, perhaps four to six weeks or more. In other cases, the know-how may be lacking, putting companies unwittingly at risk of losing their traffic, bookmarks, and rankings.

To avoid these pitfalls, your company will need either the internal expertise or an external provider with proven strategies for identifying and rectifying SEO challenges. This includes the ability to go through an entire website, click on all the links, and pull data from every page—specifically, each page’s address, page title, description, and tags. It also means having the capacity to store that information in a sufficiently large and secure database, and leverage it to organize a clear migration strategy—one designed to ensure that no valuable information is lost and no traffic drops off.

The SEO migration of a large telecommunications company

For a glimpse into how you can craft and execute an effective SEO migration strategy, take a look at the following case study:

One of Canada’s largest telecom companies was updating the branding surrounding its most active product. It was a major overhaul that would inevitably involve the reinvention of the product’s name. Given the size of this undertaking, the company had no choice but to completely revamp its website—a move that was going to introduce a significant amount of risk.

As a result, the company was hesitant to embark on such a website migration on its own. Without the appropriate in-house expertise, there was a chance the company could suffer from a major decline in organic traffic. And since the product was bringing in hundreds of thousands of unique visitors to the company’s site each month—and it played an integral role in the company’s success —there was a lot at stake. In light of this, the company understandably wanted to mitigate these associated risks as much as possible, and it decided an external provider was the best way to go.

Because website migration support requires the use of proprietary information—such as source code, data, and analytics—this company wasn’t prepared to hand over the reins to just anyone. It wanted a partner with a long-standing track record, experience in the web migration space, and a stellar reputation. After looking at a few options in the marketplace, the company decided to go with Deloitte.

Deloitte sat down with the company well ahead of the production of the new website to understand the company’s goals and challenges. Then, using SEO best practices, Deloitte designed a complete SEO migration strategy and implemented it over the following six weeks.

In the first three weeks of the project, Deloitte’s SEO migration team conducted a current state analysis—sending bots to crawl the website and ensure all subdomains, domains, URLs, images, and videos were accounted for and adequately mapped out. Next, we determined which URLs should be updated, added, or removed—as well as whether existing URL structures should be renamed for clarity purposes.

The Deloitte team then backed up all old web pages and databases and created the necessary website redirect files, based on the previously completed URL mapping. Following that, the team worked to ensure each page was effectively indexed for Google and other search engines, that the 301 redirect file worked properly, and that all links to old pages were updated.

During this same period, Deloitte also made sure existing site analytics information was accounted for and preserved. The team sat down with stakeholders and identified all existing analytics filters, goals, events, and reports—including custom reports—and mapped the old onto the new. The team also went through all existing users, goals, profiles, and social links to determine if they were still relevant or if new ones needed to be added.

Finally, Deloitte mapped out all tags, triggers, and variables within Google Tag Manager, removed all outdated or irrelevant items, and created new ones where necessary. When the SEO migration team was finished, and the site was up and running, it submitted updated site maps to Google and Bing.

The company’s website ended up relaunching with absolutely no impact on organic traffic. All redirects functioned properly, and Deloitte stayed on to monitor, diagnose, and immediately address any post-launch issues over the following 12 months.

While the company’s traffic was protected, the SEO migration strategy and subsequent support allowed it to realize many more benefits as well. By following SEO best practices, the company was able to ensure that all new content had the strongest keywords and phrases possible, each page had unique title tags, and the entire site was thematically relevant.

Moving forward, the company plans to implement an SEO maintenance strategy to ensure the website continues to provide relevant answers to those who are searching. Deloitte will continue to work with this company to regularly analyze the website and conduct forensics on it, and provide the company with information on what needs to change to support its efforts to gain a higher SEO ranking.

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