Today we have a guest post from Cheech Foo of Ignite Search. He’s picked a great subject about the science of migrating websites so that you keep your existing “juice”. I’m not a developer of websites, but even I could understand the principles and steps involved! Apologies to those readers that already know this sort of stuff.
Cheech and I first crossed paths in 2016 when he contacted me to see if I could assist his client in acquiring a particular domain name. I’m pleased to say that was a successful exercise; and we’ve kept in touch since.
Bio: Cheech has been involved in digital marketing for over 8 years, having worked for some of the largest brands in Australia. He enjoys helping businesses and organisations significantly increase their search visibility, traffic and conversions.
He currently runs Ignite Search, a high performance SEO/Digital Marketing agency, focusing primarily on Search Engine Optimisation as well as Paid Search, Conversion Rate Optimisation, Analytics Optimisation and Social Media Optimisation. Based in Perth, Cheech and his team consults for companies in Australia and across the Asia Pacific region.
How to preserve PageRank (for SEO) during the domain migration process
Author: Cheech Foo
Although Search Engine Optimisation is becoming more well understood within the wider community, there are still a few pitfalls that people fall into when approaching SEO.
One of them is the notion that SEO is always an afterthought when designing a new website, where really it SEO needs to be implemented in conjunction with the website. This is to ensure a well optimised structure from the get go.
Now, the other major pitfall, one that is closely related to domains in general, is the importance of SEO as it relates to website migration.
Website migration can come into play in many situations.
Here are some hypothetical examples:
- ABCD is rebranding to OPQ, has just bought a new domain and are thinking to move the site from www.abcd.com.au across to a new domain called www.opq.com.au
- A business has a website e.g. www.wesellallpetfood.com.au but is spinning off a section of the company into its own brand (and thus domain) i.e. www.wesellonlydogfood.com.au.
- A subsidiary branch of the business is closing down and they need to migrate their content e.g. www.widgetprintingperth.com.au to the headquarter site at www.widgetprintingglobal.com.
One of the biggest SEO mistakes that businesses make when creating a new website under a different domain name is to just turn off the old site. The key is creating something called 301 redirects, to transfer the PageRank – aka the value that is currently residing in your site (what provides the current search visibility for your website).
Please see below the three scenarios in which a redirect will occur during a domain migration.
In this article, we are going to teach you how to properly redirect old to new landing pages using 301 redirects (a permanent form of a redirect).
Firstly: What is a 301 Redirect and why do we have to use them?
Before we start, it’s important to understand what a 301 redirect is. Simply put, it is a type of HTTP status code that indicated to the Google spider that this page has been permanently moved to another URL or web address. There are many types of redirects, but 301s are preferred due to the key word ‘permanent’, meaning that if used, the value of those pages, termed PageRank, will be transferred across to the new URL.
Now, for those who have been following this aspect of SEO a little more closely, there was a recent article that came out saying that all types of 3xx redirects now do not lose any PageRank value. As best practices, we continue to urge you to still maintain the use of 301s where possible, until such findings are conclusively proven in practice and given time to mature.
Step 1: Create a list of the Origin URLs.
Always start with the list of origin URLs. In this example, it will be ilovecats.com.au and ilovedogs.com.au.
Create a spreadsheet and just list all the URLs that you want to redirect from.
Hint: To help with the creation of the origin URL list, you can utilise website crawling software such as Xenu (free), Screaming Frog (paid) and Deep Crawl (paid). This is particularly effective when you are migrating entire domains.
Following the example above, below is an example of origin URLs.
Step 2: Create a list of the Destination URLs.
Next, you will want to now assign a corresponding destination URL to each origin URL. Remember, you have a many to one (multiple origin URLs pointing) but not the opposite.
To choose which URL you would like to redirect to, just follow the simple rule: Always redirect to the most relevant page. For example, if we are redirecting the URL ilovecats.com.au to ilovepets.com.au, then we would ideally want to redirect it to the landing page for cats within ilovepets.com.au.
See below the completed destination URL column:
Now, let’s say that for the origin domains, we no longer have a cats or a dog page for some reason. Therefore the most relevant page now would likely be just ilovepets.com.au. In which case, the sheet would look more like:
- It is important from an SEO point of view to make sure that there is a corresponding landing page for products/services, no matter how granular, in order to ensure that your search visibility for those terms will not be negatively impacted.
- If you have a large site and want to be selective in your redirections, then always focus on your 80/20s, meaning the 20% of links that have 80% of the value. Value = pages which contribute to high search visibility.
- For the remaining URLs that do not mapped, we recommend a blanket URL map to the homepage e.g. For all other URLs not listed in this sheet, please redirect them to ilovepets.com.au.
Step 3: Switch on the 301 redirect when the new domain/s go live
Once the date and time of the switch is set, then when the time comes and the new domain is switched on, then the 301s should be activated and kept active for a minimum of 3 months or longer where possible.
Step 4: Test 301 Redirects for any errors post-live
Now that the migration is complete and the 301s are switched on, it’s time to test the URLs to see if they are indeed working as intended.
To do that, we recommend to install the Fenix SEO Chrome extension and use the Bulk Links Display tool to open up all the URLs. Then, observe the icon at the top or go to the HTTP Header Status and it will indicate whether or not there is a 301 in place.
If there isn’t then you need investigate and rectify the issue.
Step 5: Watch the traffic and ranking levels of the origin and the destination domains.
The hard part is done, so take a big sigh of relief! Now, the next order of business is watching the performance of the domains closely post-live.
The main migration metrics you need to monitor are:
1. Traffic levels
a. The traffic levels on origin domains should be decreasing, while on the destination domains it should be increasing
b. If there is residual traffic on the origin site after a week, investigate the pages in question and apply 301s where necessary
2. Indexation levels
Using webmaster tools, monitor the indexation level of the origin and the destination domain. Again, the amount of indexed pages on origin domains should be decreasing, while on the destination domains it should be increasing
3. Search Visibility AKA Rankings
a. Make sure that the pre-live you run a comprehensive search visibility report. When you are post-live, we recommend to run a ranking report every day if possible.
b. The search visibility on origin domains should be decreasing, while on the destination domains it should be increasing
i. Depending on how frequent your origin domain is getting crawled, you will expect this to happen over the next 7-14 days (this applies to the other metrics too
ii. If you are still noticing origin URLs ranking where they shouldn’t be say in 4 or 6 weeks, then investigate it and see if there is anything that needs to be rectified.
Step 6: The domain redirection is complete!
If you manage to complete all of the above, then you have successfully completed a migration using 301 redirects! Congratulations! It is quite an involved process, but the importance cannot be overstated.
We hope that this has given you a good walkthrough on how to protect and transfer PageRank when migrating websites. Thanks for reading!
If you have any questions or comments on the above, I would welcome them.
Cheech Foo – 4th January 2016