The ‘migration myth’ is the belief that companies are automatically going to lose traffic and revenue in the site migration process.

Luckily, this myth doesn't have to be any more than that, if you remember these five important points, extolled by Jon Earnshaw, the CTO of PI Datametrics, at Search Leeds 2016.

1. SEO should be involved from the start

Without SEO, all other aspects of a site migration are pointless.

Often, companies assume that it can be ‘tagged on’ at the end, or pages can be SEO’ed in isolation.

However, this assumption is far from the truth.

SEO must be involved in all touchpoints, and most importantly, implemented by somebody who is experienced in doing so.

The chart shows daily top positions for this brand over a range of search terms. A drop-off occurs after migration.

2. Remember redirects and mapping

As Jon said during his talk, redirects are the bread and butter of a site migration. But it’s surprising how many companies fail to take action beforehand – and this includes crawling sites, checking for old subdomains and thoroughly testing in each phase.

The consequences of not doing this is that, post-migration, old pages will still be indexed.

In turn, it will take very a long time to recover lost authority.

The original domain outranks the new domain after migration because redirects have not been put in place.

3. Utilise data

Data analysis is necessary to ensure a smooth migration. But like SEO, it's vital to utilise it before the project begins. 

Pre-migration, the performance of a site should be thoroughly examined and challenged.

What are the current issues? Who are the biggest competitors?

By determining the answers to these questions, there's a greater chance of solving problems along the way.

4. Find an owner

Like any major project, it is important for one person to be responsible.

But more than this, Jon insists that as well as authority, the person should be empowered enough to see decisions through – even in the face of resistance.

For example, if a different department insists that a loss of traffic is expected, it’s easy to fall back into believing the ‘migration myth’.

Strong leadership is needed in order to convince others that another outcome is possible.

Opinion is split over the loss of traffic expected from a site migration. Strong leadership can reduce this.

5. Keep the staging site from getting out

Lastly, Jon emphasised the importance of the staging site not getting out, suggesting that the robots exclusion standard, or robots.txt, only blocks crawling and doesn't always prevent results from appearing (see this old explanation from Yoast about how to more reliably prevent your site from appearing in search).

He also highlighted that brief coexistence of old and new domains can happen, and that it’s certainly not something to be afraid of.

For four or five days, sites can exist in positions one and two on SERPs before one drops out.

Original and new sites can briefly coexist and both maintain rankings.

Nikki Gilliland

Published 3 August, 2016 by Nikki Gilliland @ Econsultancy

Nikki is a Writer at Econsultancy. You can follow her on Twitter or connect via LinkedIn.

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Comments (5)

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Kieran Fox, Head of Online at TheatrePeople.com

Great post, thanks. How long would you expect the post-migration dip to last in an average case? We are now 7 weeks in and have seen some recovery but some of the top keywords that we were in position #1 for before, we haven't quite regained.

over 1 year ago

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Jon Earnshaw, CTO at Pi Datametrics

Hey Kieran - the lengthy of any dip will depend upon a number of factors including the nature of the migration (platform, domain, sub domain to domain, consolidation etc.) and whether all the elements in this list were followed such as the redirects. Also to what extent was structure and URLs changed? If you could let me know a few more details I could take a look for you. Apologies if I'm slow to respond - I'm currently canoeing in the Lake District :)

over 1 year ago

James OSullivan

James OSullivan, E-commerce and Digital Marketing Manager at OSDM

Putting SEO front and centre of the migration is critical. Remember Ryanair's relaunch back in 2014 which was covered here on Econsultancy https://econsultancy.com/blog/64706-is-ryanair-s-url-restructure-to-blame-for-its-massive-drop-in-search-rankings/

I think big brands like Ryanair can underestimate or ignore the importance of a SEO due diligence as C executives may think their brand is strong enough to carry them through a migration without traffic loss.

As part of any site redesign it's crucial to map out your Information Architecture of your new site and how it stacks up against the old site. I find that putting in the hard work by manually checking each and every URL with high traffic + search equity certainly pays off in the end. Also as part of migration plan to offset any drop in traffic, a full marketing strategy should be put in place to close the gap, especially paid search campaigns with a strong content marketing plan.

over 1 year ago

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Mikhail Turalenka, Senior PHP Developer at ScienceSoft

I think the ‘migration myth’ is rooted in the lack of attention to small but important details from the start. Keeping SEO equity is a crucial and challenging task. To minimize the drop in organic search traffic, it’s important to do a lot of research beforehand, including SEO audit, site crawling, and inbound link analysis.
One more dangerous stretch of road is accurate content migration. Quite often it requires a combination of the automated and manual approach to carefully migrate content created using WYSIWYG editors. Pure automated migration can result in the loss of formatting or HTML chunks evident on the page. You can find more information about it in our blog entry here: https://www.scnsoft.com/blog/3-big-challenges-of-web-content-migration

over 1 year ago

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Brian Thompson, Project Manager at Itransition

Worrying about losing traffic can be justified. There are great companies which are wide-known over the whole world, so if they'll migrate their site with losing keyword positions in search engines they will not lose traffic. But what about small business which is known by the separate group of people and try to achieve more traffic to their product?
There are so-called "failed projects" which lose clients after trying to renovate their current business strategy. You can read more here: https://www.itransition.com/blog/failed-projects-how-to-learn-and-grow-from-business-mistakes/.
You must build your goals clearly and reach them. Maybe if you lose traffic after your site migration all you need is to look again at your SEO company, maybe it has some holes.
And if we want to destroy "migration myth" we must take a look at our business strategy before and do it.

8 months ago

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