josh 09/1/2016

Switching Property Management Software – SEO Website Migration

So you are switching software. Did you think about SEO in consideration of the migration? Do you have a migration plan to prevent loss in organic SEO traffic? If not and you are engaged in SEO – you could be setting yourself up for a disaster, especially if you are switching CMS platforms. Doing this incorrectly could result in your website being ranked worse than your previous site, and sometimes it won’t even be ranked at all. By following the 30 steps listed below, you can streamline the changes you are making to your website:

Planning The Migration

You already have some of the planning for a site migration completed – you know what keywords you rank for and which ones are specifically driving traffic to your site.

Make sure to include everything you’ve built with your new site, as you don’t know how important the stuff you have is until you try leaving it out:

1) Build a sitemap of your new website – list your pages hierarchically (images, videos and other assets).
2) Assemble a list of all the URLs currently on your site. To do this either crawl the site, extract the information from the CMS, or export URLs receiving traffic from Analytics. Its helpful to scrape your website’s URLs using tools like ScreamingFrog. Ensure you add these into a well-organized Excel document. Make note of the URLs you are using for PPC campaigns; if you don’t set up redirects on these URLs, it could cause them to send users to broken links and ruin your Quality Score.
3) Go through each URL from the current site and individually map it to the new site URLs, ensuring to implement 301 redirects. In your Excel it could be as simple as column A = Old URL and column B = New URL to 301.
4) Ensure you are tracking many keywords prior to migration to benchmark the current websites rankings and measure the progress throughout the migration.
5) Its always good to track current bounce rate / time-on-page for your most popular pages.
6) Enter the new website into Google Search Console (Google Webmaster Tools)
7) Develop a XML Sitemap for the new domain. Don’t upload this into Google Console sitemap section until you go live, just get it ready.

Implementing the Migration

Instead of just waiting for your site to go live, go through your site and test a few things to make sure the migration is going smoothly.

1)For ALL your URLS from the old to the new domain, set up and test the 301 redirects at the page level. To make this easier, use crawlers.
2)In order to prevent the staging site from being indexed, password protect the new domain and block all the crawlers in the robot.txt file. If possible, use meta=”noindex” tags. Not doing this can cause some serious problems. Google could accidentally index content on your staging site in addition to live content,  or worse, Google could read the content on your staging site before your live site, which in turn would cause some serious ranking issues. Be extra careful in this step!!!!
3)Publish updated content to the new domain. If you’re on WordPress, this is cake; there are exporting features built in.
4)Remove the password protection required to edit content on the new site.
5)On the page level, begin implementing 301 redirects from the old to new domain.
6)Crawl the list of redirects using ScreamingFrog SEO Tool to ensure that they are working. This is a good way just to double check.
7)Disable the disallow rule in the robots.txt file, so search engines are allowed to crawl the new site. This is important or you could potentially lose rankings for a while.
8)Via the Search Console, submit the sitemap of the new domain to Google.

Monitoring the Migration Progress (Please don’t set it and forget it)

Make sure to be aware of all your data after a migration. Spotting an issue before it gets too serious makes it a lot easier to fix.

1)For at least the first month after the migration, keep checking Google Search Console every day for 404 crawl errors. These are important to fix with 301 redirects.
2)To ensure that the 301 redirects are still working, crawl the old URLs once or twice per week for the first month.
3)Verify that your organic visibility is maintained by checking the benchmark rankings mentioned above. One really great tool for this is called Authority Labs. You can track Local, Organic, and Mobile rankings!
4)Look over your new organic traffic volume and how visitors are behaving on your site to make sure that your new sites is performing as well as your old one and users are finding what they need. Sometimes moving or redesigning the site can cause issues in the user experience. It could be smart to install tools like InspectLet to track user flow / engagement.

PPC In A Site Migration

Since AdWords doesn’t redirect to a URL, if you are changing the web address, you will need to create some new ads. The URL that is being displayed HAS to match the final URL. Don’t forget to update your tracking codes, either. Once you have updated URLs and codes, give it a test run and make sure everything is running as it should be. We also recommend reading our article about tracking success in Google Analytics.

Losing a Piece Of History

Change is good, but sometimes it takes a while to adjust to it. So even if you have been consistently practicing SEO and CRO, you cannot know for sure how new users, and more importantly Google, are going to respond to your website. Expect to see a decline in performance at first while users and Google become more familiar with your site;  we know it sucks, but just be patient and try not to freak out. Google takes forever sometimes to make changes—react ONLY once you’re sure there is a problem.

If you took all the necessary steps needed for a successful site migration, all you might need is a little bit of time, so everyone can realize how amazing your new design is—BUT be sure not to do a full site migration during peak season for your management company. Rather, do it during a time where business is slower for you.