This is a guest blog post by Optimising, the leading Melbourne SEO agency. They’ll give you some fantastic tips on how to migrate your site without hurting your SEO rankings. Enjoy!
So you’ve made the decision to move your site to the Shopify or Shopify Plus platform, but perhaps you’re asking yourselves - now what? In this blog, we’re going to discuss the importance of a good site migration and how you can cover your SEO bases.
A site migration is a little bit like getting a haircut. You want to plan and discuss what length your hair is getting cut to before you take out the scissors.
Too often we get contacted by someone who has attempted to migrate their site themselves, only to run into completely avoidable problems, (i.e. organic rankings plummeting)! If only they had come to us for assistance instead of attempting to DIY their move.
It’s much harder to fix a bad haircut after you’ve already started cutting. This is why we’re going to discuss some easy tasks you can do prior to clicking go on your site transition.
It is possible to successfully migrate a site without losing traffic or suffering any long term damage to your SEO. In fact, a good site migration can even lead to an improvement in SEO performance!
A well-executed transition will have your site up and running on your new CMS with minimal to no impact on your SEO. However, a bad migration can be disastrous for your site and business. From ending up with duplicate sites to your new site not getting indexed (i.e. not appearing in search engines results) to completely tanking your organic rankings, there are a lot of steps to follow when you change your CMS.
Before you switch your CMS over, we’d recommend you consider a few of the following tips to make sure you’ve covered your SEO bases.
We cannot stress this enough - have your URL changes mapped prior to migrating. Now, ideally, the majority of your pages from your old site will make it to your new site. Too drastic a change and Google may simply decide you’ve created a new site (which we don’t want!).
But what do you mean by mapping your URLs?
What we mean is that you should have a spreadsheet that shows what each URL will be on your new site. This serves two important purposes.
- It gives you the opportunity to ensure all the content you want to bring across from your old site has a place on your new one.
- It means you have a master list with all your URLs including the ones that will change.
Ideally, you won’t be changing your URLs. If on your current site your URL looks like www.yourdomain.com.au/product/black-shoes you want it to remain the same on the new site. But depending on the CMS, you may find that your URLs structure will change. If the default permalink was/product/black-shoes and the new site is/products/black-shoesyou’re going to want to know that.
When you change to a new site, your URLs for your product pages, collections or FAQ pages may change. You should know what will change if you’ve done your mapping as described above. From here you can set up a 301 redirect file. This tells search engines that X page has permanently moved to Y page.
The easiest way to set this up is as a .htaccess file. After you’ve set it up, get at least one other set of eyes on it to review it for any errors.
Screaming Frog has a paid subscription, but you can crawl up to 500 URLs for free. You can do this to make sure you have a list of all the URLs from your original site so that nothing gets lost in the transition.
You can also use Screaming Frog to identify any orphan pages. These are URLs that aren’t linked to anywhere on your site. These pages are much harder for search engines to find. If they are meant to function as landing pages, linking them will strengthen your SEO strategy.
An advantage of doing a site migration is it can also be an opportunity to dig into what is or isn’t working for your site. You may realise you need to consolidate multiple pages that are competing against each other for the same organic traffic, or you may identify where you need to expand your content.
Just remember, major content changes can have a big impact on your sites organic visibility, so if in doubt, slow and steady wins the race. If you aren’t 100% sure, just keep the page and make a note - you can always come back to it on the new site and update it later.
While a site migration shouldn’t have any effect on your site’s performance, we would always recommend migrating during a slower period. Particularly for those in a seasonal business, migrating during a slow period is always better. If you are attempting the migration yourself, you really don’t want to be doing it during your peak traffic time. It’s much more stressful.
You’ll want to go through the site and update any internal URLs that have changed, such as a product link in a blog post. Technically if you’ve done your redirects correctly, your internal links will still function, but you still want to be updating these HTML links to the correct and up to date URL.
Depending on how many, you may want to speak to a developer about doing a search and replace operation. Otherwise, you can identify and replace them manually by using your Screaming Frog file.
A good 404 page should enable users to easily move from the page to something useful. Whether it’s a strong CTA, or perhaps a search functionality, don’t waste this opportunity to connect with your customers.
You can use a program like Ahrefs to identify which sites have linked to you and which have the strongest rankings. Make a list, and then (particularly for those of you changing your domain name) get in touch and ask them to update your URL. This will help Google recognise the change. Depending on how many backlinks your site has, it may be worth only doing this for your top backlinks as it is quite time-consuming.
Migrations are a big deal. If you give them the attention they deserve and ensure you have covered all your bases, you should enjoy a relatively seamless and painless transition to your brand new website!
While this article certainly is only a starting point of the steps for a successful site migration, we hope you’ve found it useful! It is completely possible to have a pain free migration - as long as you know what you’re doing.