How to Use a Website Migration as an Opportunity to Maintain & Tune Up SEO Performance

When your client needs a website migration, talking through the process feels a little like planning a real-life move to a new home. No one feels especially excited about packing up and relocating everything they value, and there’s a lot that can go wrong. You have to account for a lot of details to get the move right. But the benefits of moving your valuables to a better place are what make the entire complicated process worthwhile.

Whether your client’s website migration constitutes a move to another hosting service, an upgraded CMS, or a whole new platform, the process carries an element of risk. You need to manage both the infrastructure of your client’s site and its content with equal levels of care. Otherwise, the migration could introduce broken links, duplicate content, or a whole host of issues. Even worse, your client could lose the hard-won SEO rankings they’ve established over the years.

However, if you plan correctly, a site migration doesn’t just offer the chance to secure a better, more reliable platform. By leveraging a few key steps, you can optimize their re-platformed site and raise their search engine rankings to new heights.

To return to the moving analogy, a website migration is a little like finding the right places for all your furniture in a new home before you get there. With the right amount of planning and know-how, you can ensure your clients see the most benefits from a migration experience.

Two Approaches to a Site Migration Impact Risk Levels for Clients

Whether your client needs a site migration to update their branding, centralize their digital properties, or escape an outdated CMS, their digital business depends on a successful migration. But before you or your web development partner can start planning, you face a fork in the road.

One way is a seemingly more straightforward path that involves keeping your client’s existing site running while you migrate a duplicate version to its new home. Then, once everything is in the right place, you redirect all its traffic to the new site. This “flip-a-switch” migration is less complex, but it also carries more risk. If any links, tags, or site features are broken, your team must scramble to make repairs to avoid impacting SEO performance.

Alternatively, you can offer a more iterative approach that prioritizes the parts of the site that are of greatest importance. This kind of piecemeal approach also allows your client to keep publishing without interruption as your team migrates sections of their site. Plus, as the migration progresses, you can check the performance of the site and its SEO ranking to resolve any issues as they arise.

The downside? Iterative migrations are far more complex and expensive to carry out. While larger clients with special publishing needs like a huge media brand will value the flexibility of an iterative approach, smaller firms may find the additional costs a deal-breaker.

Key Checkpoints to Ensure an SEO-Friendly Website Migration

Every business recognizes the value of their site ranking highly on search engines. But the migration process involves so many moving parts that SEO can be overlooked. To both retain and even improve search performance, you should factor in the following steps in a website migration.

Perform a Site Audit to Establish SEO Goals for the Migration

In planning a client’s website migration, you should clarify their objectives. Are some parts of the site performing exceptionally well? Those pages should be viewed closely to ensure their rankings are protected. Conversely, legacy pages that are performing poorly or are otherwise out of date may not need to be part of the migration to a new site.

You should evaluate all aspects of your client’s website rankings from the beginning. For one, setting a baseline will help you identify potential issues with their current website that a migration should address. Plus, these benchmarks will provide useful KPIs for your team to measure the new site’s performance against once the migration is complete.

Address Site Performance & Page Experience Prior to Migration to Avoid Negative SEO Implications

In both iterative and “flip-a-switch” migration approaches, you should incorporate best practices to improve SEO and site performance each step of the way. As of 2020, Google began including page experience signals into its search rankings. The faster your client’s migrated site loads, the higher it will rank on results pages. Identifying and addressing areas of the site with slower load times early will help mitigate potential SEO problems later.

As you plan your client’s migration, you can run scripts that search for potential issues such as oversized site images that aren’t responsive to different devices or pages missing meta tag information. Once these issues are identified, you can resolve them before they are moved to the new site.

Evaluate Site Architecture and Content Structure

You should thoroughly examine details such as directory structures, URL aliases, and internal links on your client’s current site pages. Each internal link should use the full URL for the corresponding page and not rely on a redirect to prevent potential errors. Making sure each link on the site will function as expected on the new site will allow both users and search engines to find the content they expect on your client’s site.

Additionally, if your client’s migration involves merging multiple sites into one, your team should ensure any duplicate content, such as syndicated features, are tagged with the correct canonical URL. Identifying potential SEO issues like these should be incorporated into your agency’s strategy from the start rather than planning to put out fires after the migration.

A Right-Fit CMS Is Key to Improved SEO Performance, Editorial Experience, and Website UX

For many clients, an upgraded CMS is a prime motivation for a migration project. Upgrading a website from Drupal 8 to 9 is often relatively straightforward. However, the transition from Drupal 7 to a newer version of the platform requires enough developer labor that it can be as complex an undertaking as switching to WordPress.

To recommend the right CMS for your clients, you should factor in the technical expertise of their content team and the potential platform features that will best serve their digital priorities. A modern CMS won’t just provide an improved editorial experience; it will also allow your clients to manage critical, SEO-enhancing page elements such as titles, URLs, and meta-tag details. Plus, applying semantic markup such as H1 tags along with helpful CMS plugins like Yoast and AccessiBe will encourage your client to incorporate best practices into their CMS.

Providing a more inclusive, readable, and positive experience for all users should be the goal for every website migration. However, the importance of the implementation process can’t be overstated. You can have all the right tools to boost SEO performance for your client’s website. But if what’s output to the front-end experience isn’t thoughtfully built, the site’s performance and SEO ranking will suffer.

Identifying potential issues with your client’s content early will ensure any issues that are impacting their site’s SEO performance won’t follow them to their new home. With proper planning, you can ensure any migration will leave their site — and their business — in a better position than before.