How to Migrate Your Website Without Destroying Your SEO

Like wildlife forced to flee from a hostile environment, there are times when a website needs to pack up and move. But migrating a website can be more complicated than a flock of birds flying to a new forest.

Many website owners have shared experiences where they have lost their SEO rankings, website traffic, conversions, and sales due to mistakes made during the migration process.

There are several migration types webmasters can experience, including migrating the site site to a new web domain, an updated design, or changing content management system (CMS). All of these are valid reasons for migrating your website, but all of the SEO rankings that your site has achieved in the past can be undone if your fail to configure your site’s SEO setup correctly.

Fortunately, Melbourne-based SEO agency Digital Next has provided the following recommendations so that you should be able to successfully migrate your website without the fear of losing your SEO rankings or traffic.

Don’t Neglect Your Redirects

If the URL structure of the website will change during the migration, it is essential that you have a 301 redirect strategy in place. 301 redirects tell the search engine that the old URL has move to a new address.

It will also take users that click on the old URL to the new one.

It’s important to minimize the amount of broken links to your site from external websites, because these links will be powering up your website’s rankings.

Ensure that prior to the website migration, you create a redirection strategy that will have the old URLs redirected to the new URLs for your website’s content. You can see an example in the table below.

Old URL New URL
http://www.example.com/index.html http://www.example.com/index.php
http://www.example.com/example1.html http://www.example.com/example-1.php
http://www.example.com/example2.html http://www.example.com/example-2.php

Most websites will allow you to implement the redirect changes via plugins or by using command codes for the server. One of the ways this is done is through the HTACCESS file, which is simply a file that lets you control the behavior of your site or a specific directory on your site.

Once the migration is complete, check your site for any broken links by using a crawling tool such as Xenu link sleuth (which can be downloaded for free here) or Screaming Frog (which has free and premium options that are available here).

As Google continues to index the site’s content, the Google search console will flag up any more broken links that may have been missed by the software or during the redirection process. It is important that you correct these redirects as soon as possible. You can see an example in the image below.

website errors after a migration

Include Domain Level Redirects

If you are migrating your website at the domain level, but the site’s structure and content remains the same, you can implement a domain level redirect.

To successfully implement this method, the URLs across the website must remain the same.  For example, let’s say you want to redirect http://example.com to http://www.example.com.

Remember our friend the HTACCESS file? It’s back again. You can quickly implement a domain level redirect by adding the following command to the HTACCESS file.


RewriteEngine on
RewriteCond %{HTTP_HOST} ^example.com [NC,OR]
RewriteCond %{HTTP_HOST} ^www.example.com [NC]
RewriteRule ^(.*)$ http://example.net/$1 [L,R=301,NC]

However, for servers that do not use an HTACCESS file, you will need to contact your hosting provider to find the specific redirection command.

Avoiding Duplicate Content

Many websites that undergo migrations tend to experience duplication issues, because the old web URLs still exist on the site. It’s also possible the pre-launch site that was on the staging server is being indexed by search engine crawlers.

By looking in the Google search console, you can identify duplicate meta titles and descriptions on your site.

avoiding duplicate content on your site

There’s also software, such as Copyscape, that you can use to find any content duplications that may have occurred from the site migration. Simply log onto Copyscape and upload the URLs from your website to see if it can find any traces of duplicate pages online.

Once they are flagged, you will need to take one of the following actions on page containing duplicate content:

  • Redirect the old URL to the new URL.
  • If the content sits on a staging platform, make sure it cannot be indexed by placing commands in the website’s Robots.txt File.
  • If the duplicated content needs to remain on the site, place canonical tags on the appropriate web pages and implement the correct URL attribution.

Avoid Redirect Loops

Redirect loops occur when a URL is redirected from one URL to another URL that is also being redirected, as in the example below:

http://example.com/index.html > http://example.com/index.php >http://www.example.com/index.php

Although redirect loops will get your traffic to the right place, they make for a less-than-ideal user experience. It’s better to redirect the URL to the final address and skip the middle destinations. So instead of the three URL process above, your redirect would look like this:
http://example.com/index.html >http://www.example.com/index.php

Keep Your Eye on Load Times

Sometimes the site migration can impact your site’s loading times, because files might be served from inefficient locations on the server.

It’s important that your site’s loading times aren’t affected too much by the change, as it will negatively impact the user experience, and consequently increase your site’s bounce rate and hurt its SEO ranking performance.

It’s ideal to have your web pages load in under two seconds.

You can use Pingdom Tools and Google’s PageSpeed Insights tool to identify any potential issues on the site.

pingdom website speed test

Don’t Break Up With Mobile

Mobile friendliness is an influencing component of Google’s algorithm. Sometimes, the migration process might affect the way the site displays on mobile devices such as smartphones or tablets. For example, the website’s theme might not be mobile responsive.

You can check for any issues by using Google’s PageSpeed Insights tool and address any technical issues from the site migration.

mobile optimization after a website migration

Monitor Content Indexing Carefully

Errors occur with the site not getting indexed because the site’s new URLs aren’t indexed by the search engine. If this occurs, you can submit the domain and the URLs to Google via the Google Search Console so that any new URLs can be found and indexed.

fetch as google data

Additionally, you can submit an XML sitemap in the Google Search Console so that the new URLs can be indexed quickly by Google.

You should also check for any URLs being blocked by the site’s robots.txt file.

blocked website content

By following these steps, you should be able to successfully migrate your website without affecting your SEO rankings. Make sure you keep an eye on your site’s organic search rankings and the amount of unique visitors from organic search. If you notice any declines, it is likely to be a result of the site migration and you should try to resolve any migration issues as soon as possible.

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Nathan Elly
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Nathan Elly


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