Even if you started off with a good host, the requirements of your website might warrant a website migration as your website’s popularity soars.
Webmasters learn along the way. Some delve into creating and managing websites with no prior knowledge and while they learn the ins and outs of their website and its needs they realize the importance of a good host. Or you might only want to redesign your website and not replatform to a new web hosting service.
Website redesigning is mainly done to integrate superior mobile viewing and browsing experience, embed social media, to give the website a facelift, and to introduce new features and models.
And while website redesigning isn’t as convoluted and layered as site navigation, it still requires extended effort and there possibly could be some down time. The bad news however, is that in both redesigning and migration, your website ranking could drop; steeply.
SEO-wise a website redesign and migration isn’t a good move. Everything from on-page optimization to link-building can get affected. Months of SEO work can go down the drain.
So let’s see how to migrate a website without damaging its SEO.
Website Migration Checklist
Examine Current site metrics
Stock up on detailed baseline reports for what your site’s metrics looks like now.
Alexa is a free web-based tool you can use to get the basic metrics.
From where your website rank on SERPs to which of your keywords are bringing in most traffic to the number of unique visitors and backlinks, you need these figures as a benchmark for the new website.
During and after the process, your best aim would be to keep the figures intact. And then post launching the new website you improve on this.
Lay Down Fundamental Objectives
When it comes to strategizing SEO for website navigation, you need to be clear on what you want. Do you want to maintain current website ranking or is head traffic maintenance your primary goal.
Armed with one or a few basic objectives you can easily modify your current SEO framework during the time it’d take for your website to be redesigned or navigated.
Chalk Out a Thorough and Practical Plan
Right from how much down time there would be to the time the entire process would take.
Weigh the right site structure. Take into account what could go wrong. And also what are the technical and practical limitations of your choices. Every website has its own requirements and there’s no one-size-fits-all, which is why you need to find what works for your website.
All about URLs
This is the part you need to pay the utmost attention to. Even if you try your best to maintain a chunk of your old URLs, a lot of your web pages would be mapped to the new location. And that’s true for not just website navigation but also redesigning.
If there’s one key aspect on your site navigation SEO checklist, it is the 301 redirect.
301 redirect is indispensable when you cannot keep the original URL structure. 301’ing your URL’s will direct from your older web pages to new ones while safely passing PageRank.
From Google’s Webmasters’ blog:
It’s important to redirect all users and bots that visit your old content location to the new content location using 301 redirects. To highlight the relationship between the two locations, make sure that each old URL points to the new URL that hosts similar content. If you’re unable to use 301 redirects, you may want to consider using cross domain canonicals for search engines instead.
But What About 302s?
302s are a temporary solution and from an SEO point of view, they do not help at all. In fact, since search engines don’t treat them consistently your website ranking could drop dangerously low.
It’s 301 redirects that you should pay utmost attention to.
Optimize 404 Pages
Be prepared for a lot of 404 pages. In fact, creating a 404 page goes beyond being a creative standard response tool and can be a great marketing tool.
That cute kitten picture saying ‘oops page not found’ is gold but what about the rest of the page?
Take a cue from Starbucks that provide some useful information on their 404 page.
Optimize your 404 pages put links directing to other pages of your website.
So if xyz.com shows a 404 page, they can click on xyz.com/home.
Notify Google of the Change
If you don’t have a Webmaster’s account, you should get one, like yesterday.
Aside of being a great way to be verified as site owner and getting an insight into click through rates and other figures, you can also inform search engines (both Bing and Google provide Webmasters tools) navigation request and get valuable inputs into how website navigation works.
Do not Cancel Your Current Hosting Plan
So many webmasters make this mistake. Once they decide that they are going to move hosts, they immediately call up their existing web hosting company to cancel their plan.
Most web hosting company would immediately terminate your membership so you only have to pay a prorated amount for hosting during the period of usage.
This means that whatever valuable data, your site metrics, links there was in connection with your website everything is wiped clean.
Even if you were able to salvage the important parts, there’s another reason to not do it.
Think of it from your visitor’s perspective. When faced with an ‘Under construction’ or ‘Be back soon’ message for too long on your old website, they’d scoot to your competitor’s website.
Don’t take down your old website even when you have launched the new one. Your new website is still in its infancy and there are a lot of things you need to test tweak and iron out.
Great Time to Examine Keyword Strategy
Since you are in the middle of shuffling things around, this is a good time to reexamine what your keyword strategy is doing for you.
If your major short and long tailed keywords are fetching the kind of traffic you want, stick with it or you can completely revamp your keyword strategy and focus on the currently potent ones
And remember it makes sense to get an SEO audit done to understand what your website lacks, what are its strengths and based on which you can devise and during navigation and post-launch strategies.