Why SEO Must Be an Essential Element of Your Site Migration – Here’s Why #243

Eric Enge and Matt Ruud on Why SEO Must Be an Essential Element of Your Site Migration

Site migration can be a daunting task for many SEOs, but it can also be done strategically. The site migration process can also offer an excellent opportunity to fix your website foundation.

In this episode of the award-winning Here’s Why digital marketing video series, Eric Enge and Matt Ruud share primary considerations from an SEO perspective that you need to have in site migration and opportunities you can take away during the process.

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Eric: Hey, everybody. Welcome back to another episode of “Here’s Why.” Today we have Matt Ruud with us. He’s our Organic Search Director here at Perficient and manages our SEO team. Matt has a tremendous amount of deep technical experience in SEO. Say hi, Matt.

Matt: Hello. Good to see you all.

Eric: Matt, collectively, our teams have helped so many different clients with migration projects. What are some of the primary considerations from an SEO perspective that you need to have in a site migration?

Matt: We usually engage with clients to address three primary concerns: mitigation, foundation, and growth. We need to mitigate traffic loss from an organic search perspective, we need to build a solid foundation for technical SEO advancement, and then we also have to have a path for growth. So, we need to know the keyword targets and the search areas where we want to increase visibility after the site has been launched.

Eric: All of those things are essential, I agree, but they’re very different in terms of how they’re accomplished. So, let’s start with the first one. How do you mitigate potential losses?

Matt: What we want to try to do is preserve signals and properly allocate the strengths that exist within the site. So, what we try to do is understand what the site ranks for right now and why it ranks that way. And if we’re able to preserve as much of that value as possible, we can carry it forward through an upgrade or a re-platform. We also want to understand any changes in the information architecture that may occur as part of the migration, and that’s where we really look at the allocation strength. So, we’re able to leverage different tools to model page rank flowing throughout the site to make sure it goes to the most important pages and the ones that we want users and searchers to reach.

Eric: So, organizations often use migrations or upgrades as a time to tackle what we’ll call “technical SEO debt,” or clean up the crap and mistakes from the past. Why is it such a good time to do that?

Matt: Every time you relaunch or move a platform or website, you have the opportunity to have a fresh start, to kind of take a fresh look at everything that’s been going on. There’s always cruft that’s accumulated over time. A lot of these websites will make decisions that have implications for years, and this is a chance to go back and undo some of those poor choices or redo some work that had to be done because of limitations from a technical standpoint.

We also see a lot of opportunity for cleanup, removing obstacles that may have previously existed. One of the places we focus a ton of attention is on faceted navigation and filtered navigation because we’re able to clean up duplicate or thin pages that are created as a result of that functionality. And if we’re able to give a much more streamlined path to those pages that actually matter, to both the search engines and the users, we see performance increase significantly.

At this time, it’s also the best opportunity to look at enhancements that maybe don’t exist at this time. So, adding in things like structured data, adding a shopping feed, in many cases, is something that’s now possible using a new platform or a new technology.

Eric: Yes, I really like the thing about faceted navigation because we see that as a problem on such a large percentage of the sites that we look at. And given that you’re re-platforming or migrating the site, you’re tinkering with all of that and the coding anyway, so it’s not really any extra development work. One of the other key things here, of course, is getting buy-in from the dev teams to do the work because now there’s this other party, this SEO team saying, “Well, you need to do this.” That can be challenging, but it’s really important to do a good job of helping them understand the benefits, of getting them to understand, “Look, you’re doing this migration or re-platform of your site for a reason, and that reason typically is to try to grow the business at some level.” So this is a good opportunity to do a little selling and get them on board that listening to you as the SEO is going to have a benefit for the value of their work. That’s kind of the way I think about that. So, what about the next thing — you mention growth. Why is this such a good time to focus on that as well?

Matt: As they say, “A goal without a plan is just a wish.” It really needs that foundation and roadmap behind it in order to actually get there and accomplish it. So, we recommend documenting where that growth should come from, and then working to integrate that into not only the migration but the overall marketing plan that’s going to surround the launch of the new website. If we are able to have a roadmap that lays out step-by-step rules and responsibilities for individuals from an SEO perspective, from a development perspective, from a marketing team perspective, that allows for those tasks to be accomplished at the right times in the right ways. We also want to make sure we have those key objectives called out in a way that allows that growth to happen organically or naturally.

When we look at site structure, there should be opportunities to take care of the immediate needs of the users and the search engines to target the appropriate traffic today, but allow for the addition of pages or elements, product lines, whatever it might be over time, to continue to grow the business and tackle those opportunities that are lingering on the peripheries. Finally, understand where the competition lies and what your distance is from you to them, and what it’s going to take to close that as quickly as possible. If you can start to say, “We need to build out more relevant content and tell our story more appropriately in a certain area,” you can account for that as the site comes together. You may not launch with those pages, but you know how you’re going to add them in the months and weeks following.

Eric: We’ve noticed that, when we do these migrations — and you and I have both seen this, our teams have seen this — sometimes there’s a dip in your traffic after you make all these site changes. Why is that, and what do you do about it?

Matt: That is where the search engines have to take some additional time to figure the site out. And if you think about the way that they process the information when they come and crawl, they render in the index’s site — it’s essentially hitting the reset button for them, as all of the signals have changed in terms of what happens within that website. The external links themselves may be passing through redirects, but they still exist and have some value coming in. But in terms of the distributed crawl path, the flow of page rank, and other signals that we’re sending to the search engines about what pages are about, and their level of importance, that all changed. So, everything has to be re-slotted, it has to be redetermined, and it has to be reranked.

Eric: It takes time, unfortunately. It’s not something they can do overnight. So, the same is true for all of the redirects that are hopefully in place, meaning that it takes a while for search engines to crawl through them and actually find how they are flowing into the old and new versions of the site and see that whole mapping transpire.

Matt: Yes, and one of the issues that we often notice is how the puzzle can kind of fall apart. There’s not always a one-to-one match. There are going to be pages that end up 404ing. There are going to be other pages where it’s a close fit but not an exact fit, and you run the risk of a soft 404, which sends a signal that can definitely confuse the search engines as well and cause somewhat of a dip. Those take time to process. I think we’ve noticed, over time, that the search engines have needed to see and crawl redirects a number of times before they will choose to respect them, as they’ve often been gamed and manipulated previously. So that adds another level of time to that kind of processing.

Eric: That’s right, and if things aren’t done right, you can expect that drop to become even more severe and problematic for you. It’s much easier to get things done right the first time. I always like to tell people, “You can do it right or you can do it over.” It’s such a common saying that everybody understands intuitively, and it’s absolutely true in the case of handling website migration.

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Eric Enge

Eric Enge is part of the Digital Marketing practice at Perficient. He designs studies and produces industry-related research to help prove, debunk, or evolve assumptions about digital marketing practices and their value. Eric is a writer, blogger, researcher, teacher, and keynote speaker and panelist at major industry conferences. Partnering with several other experts, Eric served as the lead author of The Art of SEO.

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