Site Migration at The Internet Conference

by Jim April 13, 2016

Welcome back Rankers! I’m sitting here in Chennai, India, all dressed up in my wedding outfit which I’ll be in trouble for wearing early if I get caught. We’re over here to attend the wedding of one of our team, Vandi. It’s a wonderful place and we’ve seen so much already, we’re having a ball and it’s all very exciting.
This week I’m covering site migration. “Oh no, not that old chestnut, Jim,” I hear you cry. Now I’m aware I’ve covered it before and we did a successful webinar on it last year, which many of you didn’t see. The reason for approaching it again is due to the upcoming Internet Conference (formerly known as PeSA) which is by far the best eCommerce conference in the country. I’ve been to all of them I think, for six or seven years now, and we’ve been exhibiting for the past three.
The difference with this conference compared to other digital, Internet, or quite frankly any other conference I’ve been to, is the incredible community feeling that surrounds it. Everybody there is willing to network, share ideas and help one another. It has a great feeling of catching up with old friends (I think I qualify as the ‘oldest’ friend in the pack), and I highly recommend attending if you can. It’s in Queensland, on the Gold Coast at the end of May. May 25th-27th.
The organiser, Phil Leahy, does an excellent job every year of finding awesome speakers, and this year is no exception. There’s some great overseas talent appearing alongside local speakers. Tony Nash will be talking conversions, Gary Wheelhouse from Harvey Norman, Gabby Leibovich, Paul Greenberg from the National Online Retailers Association, Grant Arnott from power retailer, Click Frenzy. So if you are in eCommerce, and I stress this to all my clients, you have to get to this conference. Even if you attend just to network, because what you will learn from the people there you will not learn anywhere else. It’s truly invaluable.

Avoid The Site Migration Pitfalls

So I’ll be doing a spot on site migration at the Internet Conference this year. As I said earlier, many people missed our webinar on the subject last year so I thought I’d go over it once more.
The subject has arisen in the office recently with our National Sales Manager approaching me with the question, “Why do web developers do this Jim? Why do they push new sites live and not have all the SEO in place for the migration?” Well in our experience, and there are always exceptions to the rule, the people who we see are often the ones with problems. Nine times out of ten, the web developer has simply ignored the SEO elements on the existing site, causing the rankings to drop overnight.
I’ll give you a couple of slides to illustrate my point, but I’ll cover it more in-depth at the conference. A simple rule to remember is the bigger the site, the tougher the migration.
You may be transitioning from a WordPress, WooCommerce installation to a Magento site. Now that is a massive change, especially for Google, as the entire system is changing. There are specifics you need to check before you push a new site live. Checking your index is imperative. Identify existing problems on your current site before you go live with a new site, as you will need to remove those problems.
You need to remove any index problems from your existing site before a new site goes live. The reason for this is that if you push a new site live and the old problems still exist, such as duplicate content, you are failing to create a solid foundation. You won’t know if the problems you find on the new site can be attributed to the new site, or just existing problems carried over.

Clean Up Your Index First

A major problem we see with developers is not being able to mirror ranking elements. By that, I mean simple things like page titles. You want to be able to take your existing page titles and recreate them on the new site. If you rank well for those then that is a good thing to do. If the rankings on your existing site weren’t great, then I would recommend examining the reasons why before you migrate to a new site. Transferring to a new site isn’t going to miraculously improve rankings if you’ve failed to fix underlying problems first.
So mirror your existing SEO elements. Page titles, URL structures, heading tag structures. Navigation structure is an element often overlooked. It’s important as it tells Google what you think is important on your site. Therefore, you may have some pages high in the navigation structure that may be getting decent traffic because Google sees that they are important to the site. If you then go and change the navigation structure, you remove some of that authority by removing internal linking, and you will find rankings will drop.

The Migration Process Essentials

Map all of your existing URLs on your old, existing site. Do this by utilising tools such as Screaming Frog, Xenu, and Integrity. All of those URLs will need 301 redirects to the new URLs. Thankfully, web developers are getting better, but most of them still don’t do that. It’s very important because if you fail to do it, you’ll be out of the index anywhere from two weeks to a month. Not good.
You won’t be found as Google will see your new site as broken as it knows all about those old URLs and you’ve just blown them all away and not told them where to redirect. Google will assume your site is broken until it gradually recrawls. The bigger the site, the bigger the problem due to the extended crawl time.
Once you’ve completed the pre-live checks and the redirects are ready, upload them to your server. (Most web developers will know how) Then ensure your new site has relative linking, not absolute linking, inside the site. The reason you need to do that is that sometimes on a staging site the web developer will push it live, leaving the staging site URLs in place. Get a new site map and upload it to Google Search Console, making sure you have Googlebot access to every page on the site. Then run Screaming Frog over it all once again to ensure it’s error free and not creating duplication errors.
Those my friends are the basics of a site migration. There’s a whole lot more to it than that, and if you come to hear me at The Internet Conference, we can discuss it further. Hope to see you there. Bye from India!

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