You have spent months building your new website. But ‘going live’ isn’t quite as simple as pressing one button.

Web Designer Depot have produced a great guide called ‘How to stop SEO disasters during website migration’. Read the full version on their website or have a scan of the main points below.

Website migrations are, broadly, defined as

  • changing or moving domains
  • structural website changes
  • changing the content management system
  • redesigning the website completely
  • making significant content changes
  • moving from HTTP to HTTPS

Before you start your migration, you should think about

  • what is your strategy?
  • who is going to be involved in the project?
  • what professional help do you need, for example, SEO, UX or content consultants?
  • how is the design going to look and work?
  • who is going to test the different aspects of the website to make sure everything works?
  • who is going to fix the (inevitable) bugs and problems
  • when is the best / quietest time of the year to make the changes without affecting the majority of your customers?

Before you start your website rebuild

  • Crawl all URLs using tools like Screaming Frog SEO Spider and Sitebulb
  • Compile a list of all the URLs and add traffic performance (visits, bounce rates, exit rates, conversion) to use as a benchmark post-launch;
  • Eliminate any duplicate/low-quality contents by redirects or improving them;
  • Check for broken links;
  • Check for broken pages;
  • Make sure all the relevant pages are accessible to search engines;
  • Make sure all the pages are accessible to humans (blind users, mobile users, browser compatibility).
  • Compile the list of the new URLs.
  • Plan out your new URL structures and site hierarchy/architecture.
  • Carry out keyword research for every single page.
  • Compile a list of your top keywords and note their rankings.
  • Update or create new content for the new pages and include relevant keywords.
  • Map out the 301 redirects from old to new URLs (and avoid redirect chains) in a spreadsheet.
  • Identify and compile a list of your most important backlinks.
  • Measure the page speed using tools like GTmetrix and org.
  • Set-up the new social media profiles if you are rebranding the name.
  • Register and configure the new domain in Google Search Console.
  • Carry out usability testing to prevent bad experiences from happening on the new site.
  • Plan your relaunch campaign – “hey we launched a new website” should happen soon after the launch rather than later. Who can help you with that? Current customers/clients/suppliers/bloggers/PRs etc.

During the Redesign

  • Block development site with meta noindex tag or robots.txt to prevent duplication issues on Google.
  • Make sure web analytics are implemented and tested on all pages.
  • Publish the new URLs and content on the development site.
  • Add/update title tags, meta description and alt texts to new pages.
  • Add Google Tag Manager.
  • Add any necessary retargeting and remarketing codes e.g. Facebook Pixels and Google Remarketing.
  • Set up and verify your new Google Search Console account.
  • Remove or update internal links which are pointing to broken or removed pages.
  • Update your XML sitemaps and have it ready to submit on Google Search Console.
  • Update all canonical tags and self-canonicalize all new pages.
  • Update all internal links.
  • Update your robots.txt.
  • Create a custom 404 page.
  • Crawl the site and verify that all 301 redirects are working.
  • Add the schema to create rich snippets opportunities.
  • Add Open Graph fields for further rich media experience.
  • Ask the relevant stakeholders to help with testing.
  • When nearing the relaunch, attempt to organise usability testing for the small amount of traffic or by using focus groups to iron out any issues.
  • Ensure the site is compatible on most popular browsers and mobile devices.
  • Ensure the site is accessible to visually-impaired users.

After the Relaunch

  • Submit a change of address via Google Search Console.
  • Submit new XML sitemap.
  • Update all social media bios with new URLs.
  • Crawl the new site and check that the redirects are working, all internal and external links are working, and fix any 404 pages.
  • Crawl the list of URLs that you have extracted originally and verify their redirects.
  • Add annotations on Google Analytics to make sure you know when the site has relaunched and subsequent changes.
  • Update backlinks with new URLs by contacting those who have linked to you.
  • Continuously monitor the web traffic, engagement and conversion as well as page speed.
  • Test the mobile-friendliness of your site using the Mobile Usability feature of Google Search Console.
  • Benchmark those performance metrics against the old site.
  • Reach to the authoritative sites that link to you and ask them to update the link to the new site.
  • Monitor the indexed page count via Google Search Console and using the site: search on Google.
  • Monitor your search rankings over time.
  • Keep control of the old domain just in case of any issues.
  • Organise new usability testing of the new site.
  • Launch your relaunch campaign.
David Hodder - Search Engine Optimisation Banner