Here is a high-stakes SEO question: how to migrate to a new site without losing traffic? Indeed, site migration is a useful but delicate maneuver. It is useful because it allows for a change in the form or hosting of the site. We all know that to survive on the internet, we must adapt.
However, it is also a delicate maneuver from an SEO standpoint: one must make room for the novelty of the newly created site while simultaneously capitalizing on the benefits of the patiently conducted SEO work on the old site.
It is therefore preferable to take the time to meticulously switch from the old site to the new one, and not to give in too quickly to the temptation of a “tabula rasa” or a hasty “let’s start everything from scratch.”
To help you capitalize on the previous content creation and SEO work on the old site while enjoying the benefits of the new site, we will explain step-by-step in this article how to migrate to a new site without losing traffic.
1. Site migration: a technical and rigorous process
We talk about “site migration” when moving from site A to site B. We then take either all or part of the pages from the old version before establishing a correspondence between each page of the two versions. But before going further and explaining the successive steps of site migration, let’s take a look at the reasons for migrating a website!
First, one may want to migrate a site because they are changing servers. Nowadays, more and more businesses (including SMEs) choose a dedicated server to secure their data or even obtain additional features such as a company intranet.
Next, one may consider site migration because they are changing the domain name. This desire to change names often occurs during a shift in marketing strategy or when the original company changes hands. Sometimes, it’s also an opportunity to merge several sites into one to better centralize information and traffic.
One may consider site migration to access better technology. For example, we think of “responsive design,” which allows your site to display optimally regardless of the screen type (all sizes of smartphones, tablets, computers). This also refers to access to the https protocol, which is gradually becoming widespread.
The latter is indeed on its way to becoming essential for your site’s health. Keep in mind that the absence of an https protocol is frowned upon by both internet users and crawl robots.
Whether it’s a matter of changing the domain name, server, or seeking access to more advantageous technology, site migration remains a high-stakes SEO operation.
We will now detail the steps to follow for successful site migration without traffic loss.
2. Steps for site migration
To avoid traffic loss, site migration must follow specific and, for some, quite technical steps.
First, you will need to create a sitemap, a plan showing your website’s architecture in an XML file. It should include all URLs and HTML tags.
Don’t forget the meta descriptions, which are important for the attractiveness of each site page and its positioning in search results.
Creating this sitemap is an opportunity to take stock, not only globally but especially for each page and each page type of your website. It is about assessing a “skills balance” in terms of raw traffic and more refined data such as the number of shares or the click rate on a particular part of the site. Don’t neglect this crucial step: it serves to determine what to keep, modify, or delete for the future site.
Next, it is time to retrieve all your content. Be thorough and organized by sorting content by both page content and content type (text, image, sound, etc.). Additionally, creating content takes time, skills, and money: ensure that no content slips through the cracks during this step.
To finish, it is important to match each old page with each new one: this is called redirection. It should be done as closely as possible to the first version of the page: this way, you maintain the traffic provided by users of the previous site and the benefits of the SEO work done with Google.
Once this step is completed, consider crawling your old site. The goal? Identify and correct any potential 404 errors as quickly as possible.
After this detailed work, verify the proper correspondence between the structures of the two sites. Once done, perform this correspondence work again, but this time with the URLs.
At this point in the process, you have completed the most tedious part: the preparation phase. Next comes the critical moment when you will make your redirections operational.
Two options are possible:
- Via an htaccess file
- Via a plugin
You can create an htaccess file, a kind of matrix that will be read first by the web server. This is a somewhat long and technical possibility, but your CMS can also offer the option to use a plugin (as is the case with WordPress), which shortens and simplifies this step even more.
To complete this launch, consider crawling both sites for a new verification and hunt down any 404 errors.
Finally, some time later, perform the symmetrical operation of the initial assessment made at the beginning when creating a sitemap.
Examine the SEO positioning of the new pages and the old ones to compare them. This is a fruitful step, especially if you are required to justify the profitability of the site migration you just carried out.
3. Three mistakes to avoid
To complete this step-by-step roadmap, we have identified three mistakes to avoid when migrating to a new site without losing traffic.
The number one mistake to avoid is leaving 404 errors. We’ve mentioned this several times throughout the different steps of the migration process.
Why is this so important? Because a user who encounters a 404 error will have a bad impression of your site. Internet time is extremely short, as you know: this user is likely to visit the competitor’s page that opens the fastest.
Imagine that this user had previously bookmarked this page on your site, and then encounters a 404 error. They believed they could refer to your page as often as necessary but now feel frustrated and abandoned!
Always keep in mind how data and emotion are connected in SEO…
Copying/pasting your old site
The second mistake to avoid is recreating the same site identically.
Indeed, in the minds of users from the previous site, it would seem like a “all that for this?” situation. They expected improvements related to the site migration and will be greatly disappointed, resulting in a significant loss of traffic.
Merging too many pages
The third mistake would be attempting to merge too many pages. This would disrupt the correspondence between the two site structures.
Can you still merge two old pages into one new one? The answer is yes: migrating a site also involves change, otherwise there is no point in doing it! However, you must be careful not to do this on too large a scale, as it may harm the smooth flow between the two versions of the site.
4. The benefits of a site migration
Sure, the process of migrating a site is fraught with challenges. There are many possible mistakes, and the steps can be tedious. However, the potential rewards are well worth the effort. Let us explain.
At the time of the switch and for some time afterward, there is a risk of experiencing a drop in traffic. Why? On one hand, because users need time to get used to the new site; on the other hand, because spybots will take longer to crawl your new site.
But if the migration is done correctly, the traffic recovery will not take long and will often surpass the figures of the old site. Why? Because the site migration preparation was an opportunity for a thorough SEO audit of the site. This is a fantastic chance for renewal!
You can improve the site’s usability through the known recipe of good internal linking and an efficient breadcrumb trail. But to go further, consider examining your site’s depth. The general rule is not to go beyond four levels. This same global rule for site architecture also applies within your articles, where it is recommended in HTML language not to go further than H4 tags.
It is clear that site migration is a high-stakes SEO process, which can either positively or negatively affect the ranking of the new version of your site. To optimize the benefits of this migration, it is crucial to follow each key step closely.