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New website migration SEO checklist

Updated: Nov 18, 2019


Too often we are approached by business owners seeking answers as to why their web traffic has dropped dramatically on their newly launched website. Many have acquired a new website with the expectation of an increase in traffic and are surprised when the reverse occurs.

The realisation of a traffic loss normally occurs about 3 months following the launch of a new website. Its often quite challenging to remedy these losses quickly and in a short time period once the damage has been done.
This article sets out our recommendations and includes best practice SEO advice for mitigating the risk in migrating to a new website design.

Why does this happen with a new website?

Traffic loss is a risk associated with new websites and often occurs due to the web developer having insufficient understanding of SEO and the requirements to achieve a successful migration. It may also not have been included as part of the web developers scope or brief and this is quite common as it adds extra cost to the project.

The traffic drop is nearly always organic Google traffic and the most common reason for the reduction is because organic ranking pages have inadvertently been removed or placed on new url addressing on the new or revised website design. These once strong ranking pages are no longer live and will likely be reporting 404 errors and accordingly Google quickly pulls any ranking associated with these pages and thus the traffic flow to the website declines.

Changing the url address of web content is a bit like changing phone numbers – if you don’t set up a redirect or advise customers of your new number/content address, then no one will be able to call you/find your content.

The other common reason is the new website resides on a entirely new domain name and that the migration to the new domain was not properly managed. Changing to a new web host can also cause problems.

What can be done to remedy the problem?

Act as soon as you have identified that you have a problem, ideally engage a SEO expert to review the situation and advise your best course of action, otherwise get your web developer to:

  • Run a pre-launch organic landing page report in Google Analytics. This will provide a list of high ranking page URL’s and instruct your web developer to implement 301 redirects to the equivalent new pages. This should be done with some urgency.
  • Run a back link report to identify any links pointing at redundant URL’s. Endeavor to have these links updated to the correct addressing.
  • Review Google webmaster tools(GWMT) for any reported crawling and indexing issues and address these promptly.
  • Monitor Google webmaster tools regularly over the next few weeks for any newly reported issues.

Often the reality is that any damage to your organic traffic will take time to return, possibly 4 – 6 months following the launch and is best worked on, not just left unaddressed.

New website SEO migration checklist:

To avoid the risk in the first place, follow the guidelines below;

  1. If the new website architecture differs from the existing website, discuss the pro’s and con’s of this with your web developer/designer to ensure its optimal and that the SEO implications are understood.
  2. Run a organic landing page report in Google Analytics. This will identify a list of high ranking page URL’s that drive traffic and then instruct your web developer to implement 301 redirects to any new addressing.
  3. Ensure all main pages are correctly tuned for relevant keywords and that the page structures adhere to best practice. See our free SEO on page guidelines.
  4. Ideally the website should incorporate a mobile responsive browser for optimal rankings in mobile search.
  5. Discuss the load performance of the website with the developer and aim to achieve the best possible load performance.
  6. Request your developer to create a Dynamic Xml sitemap to be submitted to GWMT
  7. If the hosting environment is changing check that it located within the country of your target audience and that server response times are adequate

Changing to a new domain:

If you are changing your website to a new domain, then you should also:

  • Implement a permanent redirect at domain level off your old domain (in conjunction with your individual page redirects)
  • Leave the old website on the original domain live for 2-3 months before pulling down the old website.

It is recommended that you monitor the website closely in Google Search Console for the first month to stay alert to any issues requiring your attention.

Another point is to ensure that your web developer implements the same Google Analytics code as your previous website so you can maintain historical metrics and allowing you to compare relative performances between the new and old versions of the website.

If you are planning a new website, then we would recommend that you get some specialist SEO advice at the beginning of the planning and design stage. Your new website information architecture should be reviewed by an SEO expert before your developer starts building the website.

For more information and advice, please contact us for an initial SEO consultation.

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