For anybody who runs a website, launching a new site can be a nerve-wracking time. A smooth transition between sites requires careful attention to many details, including ensuring that potential customers aren’t greeted with error pages during the transitional period and that SEO rankings and credentials are maintained for the new site. This blog post details some best practices for site migration.
The first thing to remember when launching a new site is to not delete the old one! Tweak the new site on development servers (blocking the search engine spiders) and only replace the original site once you are confident about the new version.
If you are not in control of the old site, or want to create a version on your computer for safety, then you can use website copying programmes such as HTTrack. This will create an offline version of the site which should work just like the real thing.
Alternatively you could use programmes like Xenu, which provides a report of all URLs and URIs. This is information worth keeping a copy of, to ensure that these resources are not lost when the new site launches.
Testing is an important part of launching a new site, and there are many different stages of testing, including user testing and broken link checking. There are many programmes available, such as Subversion, which track the changes they make, allowing for edits to be reverted if necessary. It’s important that web developers understand the concerns of a site owner, and what they are trying to achieve in the site migration.
It’s important that developers understand the overall strategy, as designers, account directors or developers could have easily made detrimental amendments to site content without realising the implications. If a particular piece of content is driving a large volume of natural search traffic from targeted keywords, developers need to understand that this is an important part of the business.
Set up a daily SEO report from analytics for natural search traffic, allowing you to monitor any significant flux in traffic, helping you to identify show-stopping problems as early as possible. You could also set up a daily ranking report for targeted keywords, allowing you to identify these issues even earlier. It could also be worth reviewing your backlinks, to identify the pages with the greatest links for your 301 redirects.
If URLs are to be changed, then contact webmasters who are sending links your way to see if they are prepared to edit the URL. While 301 redirects will work, they do have a dampening factor of around 10%, so it’s better to get the link text changed at source if possible.
Double check that the number of pages on the new site matches the number of pages on the old version. It should either be the same or greater, and maintaining all these pages is key to maintaining long tail keyword traffic.
Ensure that new pages include all the same SEO elements as the old site: title tags, h1s, keyword-rich URLs, keyword-rich domain etc.
The most important things to look at once the site has gone live, is that it is navigable by users, that it has a new, unique robots.txt file (not a duplicate from the development site) and that analytics code has been correctly implemented by ensuring that the UA code matches the profile code in analytics. You could also check analytics for traffic drops or surges, or use ranking software to check for fluctuations in rankings. This could help you identify problems at a much earlier stage, and give you enough time to find solutions.