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.