What is migration?
En migration is a significant change to a website that can affect the visibility of the website in search engines (in the Danish market, especially Google with a market share of around 95 %). Often, migration involves major changes to the technical platform, structure, content and layout of a website. In concrete terms, a migration may include, for example:
- new development and redesign of website
- merging two websites
- change or upgrade of CMS system
- change of domain name and change from HTTP to HTTPS
- major changes to web address structure
- major content changes
A migration can turn a website from a visual disaster into a work of art, but it can also make your website invisible in search engines if not done properly. Below are some general guidelines for migrating a website. To a free copy of our migration book for a detailed and updated guide.
Migration and search engine optimisation
Google's positioning of a website is, according to Google itself, based on more than 200 different rating criteria. Each of these criteria tells Google something about how relevant the website is to a given search and how high in the search results it should be positioned.
The criteria are divided into four areas: technology, content, links and user signals. Migration can affect each of these four areas in different ways, both negatively and positively:
- Technology is the foundation of your website. The prerequisite for successful SEO work is that there are no technical errors and inadequacies on the website that reduce the quality of the website and prevent Google from indexing the website.
- The content of your website determines which searches (keywords and search phrases) Google shows your website on. If Google can't understand the content, and if the content isn't aligned with your target audience's search habits, your website won't show up.
- Links from other websites to your website determine how high your website ranks in search results. A link can be seen as a recommendation of your website, and links therefore give Google a strong indication of how good and trustworthy the website is.
- User signals are the behaviour of users on your website. If users are highly engaged when they visit your website, this is a signal to Google that your website is of high quality and relevant to users for the given search.
A myth about new websites
We often encounter the myth that "SEO comes with a good website". The assumption is that if you have hired expensive web developers to create a website, then of course the website is search engine optimised. This is wrong, both because some web developers don't understand SEO, and because SEO is not something that can be done by web developers alone - they can work with technology, but not with other areas.
In fact, we're seeing more and more often that even major web agencies developing new websites are making a number of basic SEO mistakes that can have major consequences for the new website's visibility on Google. That's why it's important to always consider SEO in the development process.
Wrong migration has big consequences
When migrating a website, don't underestimate the risk of a significant drop in visibility in Google search results and therefore a significant drop in visitor traffic. A drop can last anywhere from a few weeks to several months, depending on the scale and cause of the problem, and in the worst case it can take years to regain previous visibility and visitor numbers.
According to a study by FDIH 8 out of 10 Danes start a planned purchase by searching for information on Google. In other words, a drop in search results can have a big impact on the bottom line. Typically, the so-called generic keywordsa website loses visibility on. They are - unlike branded keywords - searches that do not contain a company name, i.e. searches where the user has not decided where to buy the good or service.
Fortunately, migration can also have a significantly more positive outcome. At best, it is possible not only to maintain visibility and visitor traffic, but to increase it significantly - provided that the migration is planned and executed in the best possible way. Below we show two concrete examples of a migration with very different outcomes.
When a migration goes wrong
The first example of a migration is from an online marketing agency, which we have chosen to anonymise here. In February 2020, they changed their domain name from .dk to .com and redeveloped their website at the same time. The existing website (blue graph) was decommissioned and therefore naturally lost all visibility, but six months after the migration the new website (yellow graph) has only achieved almost 10 % of the visibility that the old website had:
The main reason for the loss of visibility is that much of the existing content was not carried over to the new website; 21 service pages became 4 and an entire blog section was dropped. The example shows the importance of having a well thought-out content strategy when migrating a website - or at least just keeping the content you have.
When a migration goes well
The next example of a migration is our own website. We relaunched and redesigned the website in July 2020, and because our starting point was frankly nothing to brag about, our goal was not just to maintain visibility and visitor traffic, but to increase it significantly. We had two basic SEO strategies during the migration:
- One strategy was to improve the technical foundation of the site. The old website had become heavy and slow, and a thorough clean-up of the underlying code was needed.
- The second strategy was to restructure and rewrite the website's content based on a mapping of the target audience's search habits in order to increase the visibility of the content.
The results speak for themselves. The site's visibility on Google tripled over a two-month period after the migration, and the site's visibility continues to increase today:
The two examples above focus on the impact of migration on the visibility of the website in search engines. If the migration involves a redesign of the website, the user behaviour on the website and thus the conversion rate may also be affected. This is a very important metric, for example, a doubling of visitor traffic is worth nothing if the conversion rate is halved! A visual boost to the website does not mean a boost to conversion rates.
Finally, migration may have an impact on data collection through the website. For example, data may be collected via tools such as Google Analytics, Adobe Analytics, Google Search Console, Facebook Pixel and LinkedIn Insight Tag, and if tracking codes etc. are not set up correctly on the new website, a lot of valuable data will be lost.
Migration is a multidisciplinary task that cannot be handled by an IT department alone - the tasks are too many and too diverse. It is therefore important to delegate tasks to the right people with the right skills. Successful migration in a large enterprise can involve staff and consultants at many levels, including:
- Leader. Defines the direction and overall framework for migration.
- Project Manager. Plan, organise, manage and evaluate the migration.
- Web Developer. Develops the website and handles the migration itself.
- Graphic Designer. Design the visual interface of the website.
- Optimises user interaction with the website.
- Text author. Writes search engine optimised content for the website.
- Web Editor. Publish new pages and content on the website.
- System Administrator. Ensure the operation of the IT systems during the migration.
- Data specialist. Ensures correct data collection and data flow during migration.
- Marketing Officer. Manage external communication about the migration.
- Lawyer. Evaluates the new website from a legal perspective.
- SEO specialist. Ensures maintenance of website visibility on Google.
Use the overview above to assess whether you have the right people with the right skills to manage the migration. There may be several people assigned to each role, and the same person may perform several roles. The latter is typically the case in smaller companies and where the migration is low complexity and therefore simple to implement.
It is important that everyone involved in the process knows their role, overall objectives, sub-objectives, success criteria, deadline and the resources allocated to the tasks. The focus of this book is on maintaining the visibility of the website on Google, and therefore there will be several of the above areas that we only touch on briefly in our presentation.
The role of the SEO specialist during the migration
When we as SEO agency helps a company through a migration, we advise both internal and external key stakeholders on how to transfer the SEO value from the current website to the new one, so that the website's visibility and traffic are maintained at a minimum.
In addition to the consultancy, we provide a series of recommendations and analyses to ensure that the new website is developed optimally in terms of SEO, while highlighting errors and inadequacies on the new website that need to be corrected either before or after the migration.
Throughout the migration, we're in close dialogue with managers, web developers and copywriters in particular, because they play a crucial role in the site's visibility on Google. Our advice can also be directed at other key people in the company - for example, graphic designers and data specialists - depending on the scope and type of migration.
Migration of content
Content is crucial for the visibility of the website on Google, so it is important that relevant content from the existing website is at least maintained and, if possible, expanded and optimised based on keyword analysis. Relevant content in this context is defined as content that has gained a significant number of visitors from Google over a 12-month period. How high a number of visitors is significant is up to you to decide.
If you remove pages with visitor traffic, it goes without saying that you will lose that traffic on the new website. It may sound very obvious, but we often see companies removing large chunks of content on a website, without regard to the content's visitor traffic from Google.
Although some content should be preserved during migration, it is rarely possible to avoid the need to make significant changes to existing content. These changes may include, for example, moving content, adapting content and deleting content. Below we have described a number of recommendations for such types of content changes.
This book is not a general guide to search engine optimisation. Therefore, you will not find guidance on how to do a keyword analysis or guidance on search engine optimization of content here. For more knowledge on this, we recommend our SEO book, where these two areas are described in great depth: inboundcph.dk/giveaways/seo-book/.
If the structure of the new website is different from the old website, there will most likely be some content that you need to move to a different location, i.e. to a different URL. In general, moving a page has no (or minimal) impact on SEO, as long as a redirect is set up from the old to the new page.
The redirect ensures that visitors are automatically redirected from the old to the new web address. In practice, redirection is done by means of a so-called 301 redirect, which the technical manager of the website is typically responsible for implementing (see Chapter 4). In some cases, redirects can also be implemented by the content managers via the CMS system of the website.
It may be a good idea to write down which pages have been moved to a new URL. This will help the website's technical manager to set up the correct redirects later (see chapter 4). The site's technical manager can also identify the pages that have moved using his tools, so it is not critical if your list of moved pages is not complete.
Remember to fix internal links to the pages that move location. These can be menu links, text links in breadcrumbs, image links and button links. Although redirection ensures that users are sent to the right page in all circumstances, redirection takes time and thus degrades the user experience, and at the same time redirection can have a negative impact on SEO.
Adaptation of content
The way content is written, including the use of relevant keywords in the page title (also called title tag), page description (also called meta description), headers and body text, has a major impact on the visibility of the page on Google. Changing a page's content can therefore have a major impact on its visibility on Google, in both negative and positive terms.
If you, as a content customizer, have knowledge of SEO (or have an SEO specialist on the sidelines as an advisor) and adapt the content based on a keyword analysis, content customization is almost always an SEO advantage. If the opposite is the case, there is a real risk that content customisation has a negative impact on the visibility of the site.
In short, copywriters should be careful to remove relevant keywords from page titles, page descriptions, headlines and body copy - and they should be careful to shorten content, which should preferably be longer than the content of the top-ranked competitors on Google on their corresponding pages. If these tips are followed, you'll rarely go wrong.
You can map the content of competitors' pages by doing a relevant search on Google and manually counting the number of words on the top-ranked pages. You can also use a browser plugin such as SEOquake to automatically count the number of words. However, be aware that SEOquake sometimes fails to count words from the source code.
Content merging involves merging two or more pages into one page. There can be many good reasons for doing this, for example you want to bring all relevant content together on the same page so that users can find the information they need more easily.
When merging pages, you should keep the page that has had the most visitors from Google over a 12-month period, if possible. This means moving content from the other pages to the page with the most visitors, and then setting up a redirect from the now-defunct pages to the preserved page (see 'Moving content' on previous page).
The prerequisite for good SEO results is that the merged pages deal with the same topic. If you have several pages on exactly the same topic on your website, the pages are competing internally with each other to be visible on Google, and so a merge can actually have a very positive effect.
If you merge disparate content, the effect is likely to be negative. This is partly because Google prefers thematically distinct pages, and partly because users are more likely to click through to a page if it matches their search exactly. Therefore, merging 'sofas' and 'coffee tables' on one page, for example, is problematic.
If you are in doubt about whether two pages are suitable for merging, you can do a search for the pages' subject on Google. For example, if you search for 'car insurance' and 'car insurance young people' on Google, you will quickly notice that the pages appear in the search results are very different. These two topics are therefore not suitable for merging.
Adding content to the website is almost always positive from an SEO perspective, whether it is adding new pages or adding content to existing pages. The amount of content on each page affects both the visibility of the page on Google and the number of keywords the page is visible on. The more content you have on a page, the higher the visibility typically is.
However, the content is only valuable if it is written based on keyword analysis or if you are absolutely sure that it is a topic your target audience is searching for. It is also a prerequisite that the content is search engine optimised based on the keywords used in the keyword analysis or the keywords you otherwise know your target audience uses on Google.
If you write content without taking into account the search habits of your target audience and without using keywords in the right way in the page title, page description, headings and body text, you risk wasting your efforts. In that case, the content will most likely not gain visibility on Google. However, the content may still be relevant to the users of the website.
Deleting content from the website is almost always negative from an SEO perspective, whether it is deleting entire pages or parts of their content. The amount of content on each page affects both the visibility of the page on Google and the number of keywords the page is visible for. The less content you have on a page, the less visibility it typically has.
However, the deletion is only negative if the page has visibility on Google and has obtained a significant number of visitors from Google. How high a number of visitors is significant is up to you to decide. The page's visitor numbers can be seen in Google Search Console or in Google Analytics (in which case you need to create an organic traffic segment to see only traffic from Google).
It is important that you measure the number of visits over a period of 12 whole months. There may be relevant pages that only get traffic in certain periods - for example Christmas-related pages - and you lose that knowledge if you only look at traffic from, say, the last month. If you delete pages with visitor traffic, it goes without saying that you will lose that traffic on the new website.
When you delete a page, you should ensure as far as possible that users who try to access the page are redirected to another relevant page. This is particularly important if the page has inbound links from other websites (which can be mapped using a tool such as Ahrefs.com), in which case you redirect the link value to the other page.
If there is no relevant page to redirect to, you should display an error page instead, pointing out that the page no longer exists. Technically, the page should return a 410 error code telling Google that the page has been deleted. Remember to remove internal links to the deleted pages. These can be menu links, text links in breadcrumbs, image links and button links.
The migration process
Below is a more in-depth guide to migration:
When planning the relaunch of your website, your first task is to bring together the people who will develop your new website. This will typically be one or more project managers, graphic designers, UX designers, web developers, copywriters, account managers and system administrators. In some cases, you may also need one or more lawyers if you need a legal assessment of your new website.
The next step is to bring all the people involved together for a short meeting where you can share your questions, expectations and any concerns. It is important that everyone has their say and that everyone is given an equal opportunity to provide input into the process.
Write down any concerns and obstacles. That way you can plan how to deal with them at the next meeting. Migrating a website is a big job, so it's vital that cooperation between everyone involved runs smoothly.
The final step in the early planning phase is to choose a date for the launch of the new website. Often it is advantageous to launch the website in the middle of the week - Tuesday or Wednesday - because it allows you to solve any unforeseen problems on the following working days. In some cases, it may be advantageous to launch the new website during a holiday period, as any short-term downtime of the website will then only affect a few visitors.
Division of labour
The role of the project manager is to plan and coordinate the whole process and to keep everyone focused on the goal. It is therefore important that everyone has trust and confidence in the project manager.
The project manager should outline a timetable and set deadlines early in the process so that everyone knows how the process will work. In case of unforeseen challenges, the project manager should have a concrete action plan ready immediately. This way you are well prepared for possible delays and budget overruns.
The graphic designers create the visual identity of the company, and they should therefore regularly present their ideas and progress to key people in the company. This ensures that the website is visually consistent with the company's values and vision.
The designers' suggestions and ideas are of course important, but it is at least as important that the timeframe set in advance is respected. Therefore, the designers must be in constant dialogue with the web developers to ensure that the implementation of the design goes as planned.
Often the graphic designers or web developers take care of this task, but it is nevertheless a very important part of the process. Working on UX (user experience) has a huge impact on graphic design, web development and SEO (search engine optimisation). UX designers should therefore be in constant dialogue with graphic designers, web developers and SEO specialists to ensure that UX is considered in all processes.
Web development is obviously a very important part of a migration, and it is important that web developers are constantly in contact with everyone involved in the process. In this way, any concerns about the design and functionality of the site can be addressed on an ongoing basis. When meetings are held, web developers should actively contribute ideas and suggestions of value1.
A plan for the content of the new website is essential for a successful migration. Of course, the easiest way is to simply copy all the content from the old website to the new one, but in many cases it pays to spend time on content optimization. For example, based on SEO analysis and marketing strategies you can improve content on a number of parameters, boosting your company's digital visibility and conversion rate.
Remember to allow time for the production of audio files, videos, infographics and other interactive content for the website. This type of content typically takes significantly longer to produce than regular text.
It is important that the new website takes into account the company's internal and external relations. For this reason, it may be necessary, for example, to involve the company's account manager in the process. By setting expectations well in advance, you can avoid disappointment and last-minute panic2.
System administrators are responsible for the day-to-day functioning of the company's IT systems. System administrators therefore need to be kept up to date with the progress of the process and informed about the expected number of visitors to the new website, the need for security certificates and the expected peak traffic.
It may be necessary to involve one or more internal or external lawyers in the process if there is content on the new website that needs a legal assessment. This may be to ensure that the content does not infringe copyright law, or to ensure compliance with cookie law.
In most cases, it is necessary to build the new website from scratch, as it is rare that the old website can be reused to any great extent. It is therefore very important that you define and describe the structure of the new website.
Canonicalization is about making sure that each subpage on the website can only be called with one url3. If each subpage has several different urls, this can have negative consequences for the visibility of the website in search engines, and your company risks losing a number of valuable visitors.
You must therefore decide in advance whether your domain should be written with or without www (http://www.eksempel.dk or http://eksempel.dk). Once you have made a decision, you should pass it on to the person responsible for setting up the web server.
With a "Coming soon" page, you have the opportunity to create interest in your upcoming website and the opportunity to collect email addresses from interested visitors.
A "coming soon" page also has a number of SEO benefits, because a website will typically rank higher in search engines the longer it has been active. Finally, you have the opportunity to start link building at an early stage, because you can build links to the "Coming soon" page.
If you don't want your "Coming soon" page to be indexed by the search engines, you can use a robots nofollow tag4.
The url structure of your new website depends on how much of the old content you reuse. If you reuse all the content from the old website, you don't need to change the url structure. If you make major changes to the content, it is important that you redirect visitors from the old url addresses to the new url addresses using an htaccess redirect5.
In many cases, much of the content on the old website is not worth moving to the new website. For example:
- the content is no longer relevant
- the content has had very few visitors
- there are no external links to the content
- there is a similar content that converts better
- there is no specific purpose for this particular content
- the content does not fit into the menu structure of the new website.
You should make a list of what content needs to be deleted, what content needs to be moved to the new website, and what content needs to be improved before it is moved to the new website.
In some cases, it makes sense to shorten several old content pages and combine them into one new, good content page. Videos and infographics can be a great way to make content more palatable for your visitors.
If you or your copywriters make changes to the content, it's important that the UX designers are informed of the changes so they can adapt the site's layout accordingly.
By using schema.org markup, you make it easier for search engines to display relevant information from your website. Schema.org tags can be used, for example, to improve the visibility of:
In most cases, it is very easy to integrate these markups into the existing code, and it is therefore a task that web developers can quickly master.
Menu structure has a big impact on how your visitors move around the site and what content they focus on. It is therefore important that your new website has a simple, clear and easy-to-understand menu structure that guides your visitors to the most relevant content.
To get a better understanding of the effect of the menu structure, you can make use of user testing. You should also seek ongoing feedback from people in the company who are not part of the process. Be ready to change the menu structure if you see that it is not working optimally11.
Once you have a list of the content on the old website, you need to plan how to transfer the content to the new website. This plan typically involves copywriters, graphic designers, UX designers and web developers.
It is important that you also take into account the content to be deleted, as there will certainly be visitors who try to access old and non-existent content via an external link. Therefore, make sure to redirect all old URLs to new, existing URLs12. This way you avoid losing valuable visitors.
Once you have a list of the content on the new website, you should make sure that there is no duplicate content on the website. You can typically do this by comparing page titles, headings, targeted keywords and meta descriptions13.
Multiple simultaneous websites
You should continue to use the old website until the new website is fully developed. In practice, this means that you are managing two simultaneous websites - the old website is still handling traffic and visitors while the new website is under development.
Once you are in this phase, it is important that you have a plan for maintaining the old website. Just because you are developing a new website, it doesn't mean that the old website no longer needs to be updated. You still need to provide news, user support, etc. from the old website, and it is important that content updates from the old website are transferred to the new website.
As you approach the launch of your website, you need to have a detailed timetable with all important deadlines. That way, you'll be on target and prepared for any unforeseen challenges.
3 weeks before launch
Three weeks before the launch is the first important deadline:
The site design should be finished and implemented, and designers should no longer make suggestions and changes. At this point, web developers start to get busy and it will be very disruptive if further design changes are made.
2 weeks before launch
At this point, the nerves and worries will surely start to make an appearance. It's important to concentrate, stay focused on the goal and not let short-term challenges put you off. There is nothing abnormal about challenges and as long as they are short term, you will be fine.
The content should be ready and implemented on the new website by this time. This means that you no longer need to publish new content, either on the new website or on the old website. On the old website, you may want to announce that the new website will be launched in two weeks, in which case this will be your last content update before the launch.
Check your gut
Check that all people involved still feel positive and confident about the launch. The launch date should be realistic for all parties and not require an extraordinary amount of work. If there are some who don't think they can meet the deadline, you need to make a plan to overcome the obstacles. As a last resort, you may have to postpone the launch date.
The big SEO check
Now is the time for your SEO specialists to check the website - not only for problems, but also for opportunities. For example, SEO specialists can make suggestions for internal links, but at this late stage, page titles, meta tags and content should not be changed.
It is important to make a list of url redirects that are needed. These should of course be tested to make sure they work as they should14.
Control of load time is also crucial. The website should load immediately, and although the website may not be perfect yet, it should not take more than four seconds to load a page15.
Finally, ensure that an analytics tracking code is installed on the website and that a profile is created in Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools.
1 week before launch
This is the most daunting part of the whole process, because you only have seven days to complete all outstanding tasks.
The quality check of the website can now start and minor adjustments can be made to the website afterwards. For example, the front-end developers and copywriters can make minor corrections, but overall the website should be ready. System administrators will also need to adjust the TTL (Time To Live) of the site's DNS records16- TTL should be set to a maximum of one day.
Often, however, things don't go quite as smoothly as expected. Some features may not work optimally, and perfectionist web developers think the launch date should be postponed. In this case, it is crucial that you evaluate the situation and put in place a concrete action plan with the people involved. How important are any features that don't work optimally? Can and should the challenges be solved before the launch or can it wait until after the launch? These questions will determine whether or not you decide to postpone the launch date.
2 days before launch
At this point, all development of the new website must stop. There will of course be items on your checklist that are not completed, but these should be minor items that you can complete after launch.
It's time to check all the redirects that are set up. Get someone else to look through them, and get at least two system administrators to confirm that the redirects are concise and not causing instability in response time on the web server.
For example, you can use one of the following two services to check load times and potential problems: http://tools.pingdom.com/fpt/ or http://www.websiteoptimization.com/services/analyze/.
The day before the launch
If your new website is still not ready, now is your last chance to postpone the launch date. If you are ready for the launch, update your "Coming soon" page so that your visitors are aware that the new website is launching tomorrow.
The quality check of the website should be completed. Make a list of any tasks and bugs that need to be fixed after launch. Share the list with everyone involved and plan the corrections in order of priority.
At this point, your system administrators should set the TTL of the site's DNS records to the lowest possible17.
Now it's finally time to launch the new website. The excitement is released and many months of hard work are to be presented. You now need to make sure:
- the website is accessible outside the company's internal network connection
- that there are no internal links pointing to the old website.
- the analytics tracking code works18
- that all redirects work19
- Google knows your website has moved. Use the "Change of Address" feature in Google Search Console20
- robots.txt allows search engines to index your website21
- there is no noindex tag associated with your website
- that your error log does not show errors22
- the TTL of the site's DNS records are normal.
2 days after launch
Review the log files of the old website and check that visitor traffic has dropped to a minimum. If there is traffic on the old website, redirect it to the new website.
Make search engines aware that your old website is closed. This can be done by adding a noindex tag for the whole page or by adding a disallow tag to robots.txt.
30 days after launch
At this point, the old website should no longer have traffic. Check Google to make sure there are no old pages in the index. The old website should now forward all traffic to the new website.
Congratulations on your new website and a successful migration - well done!