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How to Build a Successful Website Migration Strategy

Migrating to a new website can be a daunting task. Follow these five steps to preserve your existing SEO value and traffic.

Executing a rebrand can be a painstakingly difficult process, with numerous stakeholders, competing points of view and countless decisions to be made. While the new name, messaging and logo design tend to get most of the attention, your new website is arguably the most critical component of your rebrand’s success. 

Unfortunately, executing a rebrand isn’t as easy as slapping your new name and shiny logo on the site and calling it a day. Completing a domain migration in a way that preserves existing SEO value is a somewhat complicated and tedious process—but it’s well worth the effort to preserve the traffic you’ve worked so hard to earn. 

If you’re actively in the rebranding process and/or planning for one in the near future, we’ve compiled a short list of the most important things to consider along the way.  

Make a plan with a clear SEO migration timeline

Website migrations are complicated projects that require support from multiple departments across the organization. Avoid last-minute rushing and mistakes by laying out a clear plan, and keep these recommendations in mind:

  • Select a point person or small team. These are the folks who will manage the project and own key deliverables. Input from others is great, but a small execution team is key in staying on track.
  • Involve all key internal stakeholders early and often. It’s important to get critical feedback from marketing, sales, content and brand teams. 
  • Notify all marketing agencies you work with. Your marketing partners can offer valuable support where relevant.
  • Benchmark performance. Gauge 6 to 12 months of relevant metrics from the existing site. This is highly specific to each organization, but at a minimum, be sure to notate traffic levels (all sources and organic), quality metrics (duration, pages per session, etc.), and impression and click data from Google Search Console.
  • Bake in at least a week for rigorous testing. Check links, animations, various browsers, etc., to ensure a consistent user experience. For added support, make a copy of the site and block it from Google to avoid duplicate content risks. This will allow you to play in a safe sandbox without disrupting existing UX.

Decide what existing content will be moved to the new site 

Perform a quick content audit prior to migration to determine what existing content will be moved over and what URLs will be left behind. This is first and foremost a branding exercise. What older legacy content no longer reflects new messaging and the vision of the brand? This is a great starting point for determining what content you may not migrate over, but keep in mind that some of that content could have substantial SEO value. Redirecting those URLs is the best way to preserve that value without making the content user-facing. More on that later!

Layer in quantitative analysis by analyzing 12 to 18 months of page view data to determine which content gets the most (and least) visibility. Not only will this show you which content is most valuable in driving traffic and conversions, but it will also help you identify the key topics that resonate most with your audience so that you can build upon them in the future. .

Create a URL redirect map

Now you need to make a clear redirect plan. The 301 redirect is the best for SEO performance because it permanently relocates the original URL to the new—preserving as much of the historical equity as possible.

Prior to launch, you need to decide the following for each URL on your current website:

  1. If the original URL is staying as is, redirect the original URL to the new domain. Example: www.olddomain.com/blog/best-post/ would 301 redirect to www.newdomain/com/blog/best-post/
  2. If the original URL isn’t staying, but you want to preserve its value, you need to determine which topically relevant active page to redirect it to. Example: www.olddomain.com/blog/good-post/ would 301 redirect to www.newdomain/com/blog/topically-relevant-post/
  3.  If the original URL is not coming over to the new site because it is entirely irrelevant, simply remove the page from your CMS and sitemap.  

Ensuring mobile friendliness and general performance 

If it’s been a while since you’ve updated your website, it’s best to brush up on the ever-changing best practices for site design. First, the importance of a mobile-friendly design has become increasingly critical to your marketing performance. With the introduction of Core Web Vitals in the summer of 2021, Google further committed to prioritizing user experience—rewarding websites that create fast, secure and consistent browsing experiences, regardless of the device visitors may be using. 

To succeed in this environment, here are a few recommendations to consider in your new build/migration:

  • Create a responsive design. The design should calibrate loading in real time based on the device each individual visitor is using. This is fairly standard in most CMS platforms today, but be sure to prioritize mobile-friendliness in any custom builds that occur throughout the project.
  • Minify large JavaScript files and limit third-party tool usage. There are some unavoidable tools in a modern marketing stack (e.g., Google Tag Manager) that marketers must deploy to gain insight at the cost of speed. However, third-party tools can drastically decrease page load speed, so we recommend using them as sparingly as possible. If tools like chatbots, and heatmapping/behavioral analytics platforms are required, just ensure that they are only implemented on the specific URLs that absolutely need them. 
  • Implement a “lazy loading” scheme. This should load images and other media at the precise moment that users arrive at that specific section of a page—rather than slowing page speed by loading all page elements at once. 
  • Explore the use of newer compression-friendly image formats. Such formats include JPEG 2000 or WebP. Or you can optimize image sizes in their current formats to increase speed. 

Redirect your high-authority backlinks

Aside from on-page technical factors and quality content, backlinks are one of Google’s most important ranking factors. In theory, if your 301 redirects are set up properly, the backlinks pointing to them will automatically direct traffic to the new version of the page. 

While this approach will preserve the vast majority of the existing value of your backlinks, we recommend directly reaching out to the publications/site owners of your top 10-15% backlinks (measured using authority metrics) to manually change the backlink to the new URL. 

There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to a rebrand, but the domain migration portion of the process is absolutely critical to the project’s success. The smartypants at Look Left Marketing have navigated many of these projects, so please reach out if you need a trusted partner to help guide you through your rebrand. 

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SEO
branding
website migration
SEO optimization

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