The following post is part of WTWH Media Marketing Lab’s ongoing blog series from MozCon 2017. You can find the full presentation here.
If you’ve ever been tasked with migrating a website to an entirely new domain, then you’re probably well-aware of the difficulties that accompany it. From keyword ranking fluctuations to seemingly endless back-end server work, site migration is no easy task. In her recent talk at MozCon 2017, Jayna Grassel, SEO Manager of DICK’s Sporting Goods, offered some insight from her experience with migrating her organization’s website.
Privy to the huge amount of the work they were about to endure, Grassel and her team of SEO’s and developers constructed a plan for migration 3 months before it was due to go live:
1. Start early and have a process
2. Preserve top traffic-driving pages
3. Use 1-to-1 redirects
4. Expect rankings to stabilize in 8-12 weeks
5. Monitor traffic to quantify performance
However, that may not have been the best strategy. Here’s what Grassel said their plan should have been:
1. SEO’s work comes last. Be patient.
2. Long-Tail pages can save or sabotage traffic
3. Redirects work, but redirect tools have limits
4. It will take 3 months for ranks to stabilize
5. Get specific, deep and detailed with reporting
Grassel offered some helpful advice based on her and her team’s findings when they finished migrating their site.
Have a Process, But Wait to Do the Work
SEO’s work should always be the last step in the process. In Grassel’s case, new pages were being created fast and often URLs were changing daily, and an incomplete product catalogue stifled their progress. When URLs are changing so quickly, redirect mapping can be extremely messy. Grassel says to wait until all URLs are finalized before any technical SEO is conducted.
Preserve Top Pages, But Don’t Neglect the Long Tail
Grassel and her team thought that it was important to focus on singular webpages that were driving large amounts of traffic. As they found out, 76% of their traffic was coming from pages with less than 200 visits a day. Additionally, 50,000 pages were receiving less than 10 visits a day. Grassel regrets focusing on the wrong pages, rather than focusing on the aggregate traffic of a variety of different long-tail pages.
1-to-1 Redirects Are Critical, But So Is the Process
During their migration, Grassel and her team submitted more than 120,000 1-to-1 redirects to preserve the site as best as possible. While this was the right strategy, they soon found out that all the redirects worked, but they neglected to test the limits of their redirect tools. As a result, their tools could not handle the volume and the scope of the project was consequently reduced merely 12 hours before the new site launch.
Ranks Will Fluctuate, But Expect Stability In 3 Months
Keyword ranking fluctuations are one of the biggest concerns during a site migration. Luckily for DICK’s Sporting Goods’ site, Google easily understood the new site – it just took 3 months for the ranks to stabilize. Technical SEO factors like canonical tags and sitemaps provided a foundation for stability, but Google kept old pages indexed for 100 days. Although there was a natural dip in rankings, 91% of the top 1,000 URLs retained their ranking post migration. Patience is key.
Analyze High-Level Reporting, But Get Specific to Find Problems
At a high level, post-migration traffic looked great. However, the true impact was seen at the division and page level. High level reporting is great, but it never provides a complete picture. Grassel says to “run through the wire…and then run some more” to understand your site’s metrics at a detailed level.
By learning from Grassel’s findings, any SEO can potentially mitigate damages to their site from a migration, which means time saved in the long run from attempting to regain prior traffic levels.
Jayna Grassel is a digital marketing strategist, entrepreneur and creative innovator who’s worked at a Fortune 500 Company and at a marketing agency doing SEO and digital strategy. She’s passionate about online marketing and search engine optimization.