What is an SEO migration?
First of all, you should note that many different types of migration are possible for a website. A migration is the fact of moving an existing website to a new domain name or a new platform. An SEO migration is doing the same thing while making SEO optimisations and avoiding negative impacts on organic search!
You can face an SEO migration for different reasons:
- when you want to switch your http website to the more secure https protocol (this can also be an opportunity to optimize your content),
- when changing CMS (Content Management System),
- when changing server, hosting solution,
- when there is a change of address (domain name, subdomain, TLD, etc.)
What to do before the migration?
First of all you must of course have a website in pre-production where you will introduce all the desired changes and thus test if they work.
Obviously, the pre-production site must be accessible only internally, search engines or Internet users must not be able to access it. To do so, use the restriction by password, by IP address and/or add this code on the website:
<meta name=”robots” content=”noindex, nofollow”>
Needless to say, if you observe the expected results during the pre-production phase, then the rest of the operations should go smoothly…
The steps before SEO migration are very important: they allow you to better understand the change and to be ready for D-day. Here are the ones we think are important:
Prepare the tree structure of your website
If your goal is to restructure your website, refurbish it or change the graphics, it is important to rethink its tree structure.
Take stock of your services, and your products: are they all highlighted on your website? Aren’t there some pages that are ultimately useless or even obsolete?
The idea is to prepare a plan to be able to move forward serenely.
Think about the content
Now that you have determined the structure of your website, you will need to write the pages or update the existing content.
Use the keywords found on the tools mentioned above to write your content, they will help search engines such as Google to understand your pages and structure them.
Optimise your SEO
Once the pages and content are created, check that all SEO recommendations are taken into account. We will name a few but you can read our article on How to optimise your blog articles for SEO? for more details.
☑️ Make sure your site is compatible with mobile devices, as Google’s bots mostly crawl on mobile sites and so do users!
☑️ Canonical tags are important to avoid duplicate content, they indicate which is the main page to take into account. They should be placed in the head of your code:
<link rel=”canonical” href=”https://www.netim.com/fr” />
☑️ When your site exists in several languages, integrate the hreflang tag throughout your website. This way, the engines will see that your pages exist in another version or versions. Example:
<link rel=”alternate” href=”https://www.netim.com/fr” hreflang=”fr” />
<link rel=”alternate” href=”https://www.netim.com/en” hreflang=”en” />
<link rel=”alternate” href=”https://www.netim.com/en” hreflang=”x-default” />
The x-default is used to indicate which version of the website should be displayed by default in case of language regions not explicitly declared.
☑️ An increasingly important element for search engines and especially Internet users is the performance of the website. Are your pages responding quickly? There are many free and paid tools that allow you to check certain metrics (Google Search Console, Lighthouse, GTmetrix, etc.).
☑️ Related to the performance of your website, make sure that your visuals are not too heavy and that they all have alt attributes that allow people with disabilities and search engines to understand the content of the visual.
☑️ The Hn tags allow you to structure the content of the page by putting titles and sub-parts … The H1 tag corresponds to the most important title, it can be a product category (SSL Certificate), the title of an article (How to … ?) …
The ideal page structure: Hn tags in the right order
☑️ The Title and meta description are displayed in the SERP (Search Engine Result Page) of search engines. These are the elements that the engines will read first to position the websites, but Internet users will also read this information before clicking on a particular website.
It is therefore important to respond correctly to requests within this title. The meta description can be used to convince the Internet user by insisting, for example, on the services that you offer, the extra thing compared to your competitors…
☑️ Add structured data to your pages. This is a piece of code to be integrated so that search engines can understand the content and structure of your pages and thus better display the results on the SERP. There are several: Organization, Product, Recipes, Review …
You will find the format to use and examples on Schema.org and you can test your code on Google’s free tool: Rich Results Test.
☑️ Optimise the internal linkage as well as the anchors (text on the links), the idea is to highlight your most important pages on the other pages of your website. As far as anchors are concerned, forget about the “click here” call to action which does not bring anything interesting, but prefers expressions directly related to your link.
Crawl your website
An SEO migration without a crawl is not possible! Once your site seems finished and optimised, program a crawl with the tool of your choice (Botify, Oncrawl, Screaming Frog, etc.). The crawl allows you to analyse the whole of your site by browsing it with the help of robots. The tool will be able to find any 404 pages, duplicates, missing titles or H1s, 301 or 302 redirects within the website.
Once you have identified the errors, you can proceed to the correction.
Develop a redirection plan
Once the previous steps have been completed, it is time to draw up the redirection plan! You must list all the urls of your old website without exception. Then choose which page you want to redirect them to. For example, the old home page of your company to the new one.
They will then be integrated into an .htaccess file allowing to manage the functionalities of a web server (redirections, access restriction to an IP address…).
Redirects must be set to 301 (permanent redirect). Here is an example of a line to be integrated into this file:
RewriteRule ^netim.fr$ https://www.netim.com/fr/ [R=301,L]
Don’t forget to update all internal links, coming from other websites or from your social media to avoid redirects or 404 pages as much as possible.
Remember to make a backup
Make a backup of your website in case you go back.
Update the Sitemaps file
If your URLs have changed, it is important to update or redo your sitemaps file. You can then send it to Google via the Search Console.
Schedule the migration
It is important to schedule the migration in advance, choose a date when the key people for the migration are present. Choose the beginning of the week in case of a major patch to be implemented, and avoid the Friday before the weekend. Ideally, choose times when traffic is low to minimise disruption to your customers.
Also have a checklist so you don’t forget anything on D-day.
If you change your hosting or CMS, remember to update the TTL (Time To Live) in the zone file of your domain name. This indicates the time that a DNS resolver (your ISP’s for example) will have to wait before coming back to query the zone to find out if the information it has cached needs to be updated.
Without this manipulation, you would have to wait for a propagation delay (generally 24 to 48 hours depending on the registrar) before your domain name points to your new hosting and/or CMS.
What to do during the migration?
D-day has arrived, congratulations! Now it’s time for migration! 🎉Think of putting your website in maintenance (503 code) with your dedicated message so that the robots and Internet users can understand what is happening.
Simply create a page returning the HTTP 503 code “Service Unavailable” with the following line of code to be included in the header:
header(‘HTTP/1.1 503 Service Temporarily Unavailable’)
Then you will have to point all the pages of the website to this maintenance page thanks to a URL rewriting rule under Apache. If you use a CMS you will have a maintenance mode that takes care of everything!
Once the migration is complete, take your checklist and make all the necessary verifications. Are all the SEO points set up correctly? Do the links work? Is the navigation smooth?
Then launch a crawl using your favourite tool to check if there are errors or not, check by hand if your redirects are working, if there have been any omissions … You can use your redirection plan or launch a search for your old website on Google with the “site:” indicator in front. Then click on some or all of the links to check that these famous 301s are programmed.
In the case of an error, be reactive in the implementation of corrections to avoid putting a slightly shaky website online.
You can now remove password or IP restrictions and switch your pages to Index, the SEO migration is now complete!
What to do after the migration?
Most of the work has been done!
Before going any further, remember to set up your tools again, especially if you have changed your domain name. Notify Google, via Google Search Console, that your domain has changed (in settings > change of address).
It is now important to check that everything is running smoothly, so here are some tips:
☑️ Check in Google Search Console that the old domain is gradually de-indexing and conversely that the indexing of the new website is increasing.
Example of indexed pages of an old site, they decrease
Example of pages waiting to be indexed on a new site, the pages are increasing, which is a good sign!
☑️ Also in Google Search Console, track impressions and click-through rates in the performance tab. You can also follow the evolution of your average positions. As with indexing, the curves should be descending for the old site and ascending for the new one.
☑️ Also monitor your traffic via your tool (Google Analytics, AT Internet …).
☑️ In your position tracking tool, compare your old data with the new data. Are your positions stable? If you lose, do they go back up?
☑️ Check that your robots.txt file is correctly integrated and written.
☑️ Warn your customers of the change so that they are not surprised.
☑️ Update your most important backlinks by contacting the relevant people.
If you follow all these tips, your migration should go smoothly. Losses of positions may occur, but nothing catastrophic or irrecoverable.
To summarise this article, see our infographic with the key points above on SEO migration: