Website Migrations Formula For Success = Repetition | POLARIS
Purposeful Practice Through Repetition Is Key To Become An SEO Migrations Expert
Website migration projects are tricky.
The SEO world is full of stories of migrations that were badly managed without an experienced SEO partner involved, resulting in significant losses of traffic affecting the profitability of a brands business. Not only this but when a migration does go wrong the effects can be devastating for the people involved; some marketing managers have lost their jobs, web developer agencies have been sued and competitors have taken the opportunity to step into the new gap resulting in the decline of a brands market share position.
The stats around project failure in business are even more damning – many are either over promised, under delivered, under resourced and expectations high with thoughts only about success usually defined at the start.
A migration isn’t one project it is many, all with different teams, work streams and forecasted outcomes (aligned towards each parties own goals). Depending on the type of migration (re-brand, re-platforming, URL change – category or sitewide) there are many points of project failure, caused by multiple moving parts (often re-designs/change of scope), with a number of agencies/third-parties involved over a long-time period.
With multiple projects and larger budgets, comes compounded risks with the chance of project failure increasing to 10 times more likely and potential to be late or missing key features. The usual area that takes the brunt of the failure – website performance.
When migrations don’t go according to plan the road back is long – once you are aware it can take 6-12 months to get back to your existing levels of traffic and some brands never get back there (depending on the type of migration – the re-brand/change of domain being one of the most riskiest). The primary reason for migrations to perform badly – not having an experienced SEO consultant involved from the start and with the most senior voice as project owner.
It is not uncommon for the business stakeholders to have this power – as often within a phase of work they are the HIPO (highest paid persons opinion) and their say matters the most (even in the face of evidence/data).
However, in migration projects SEO consultants should have full authority, as many times they are the most experienced individuals at migrations, their focus is laser guided on digital performance (mitigation of loss and growth), they have treaded all dangerous parts of this path already and they are many times some of the most analytical website operators in the technical sector.
But why are they the most experienced, what gives SEO consultants the right to command so much respect at the migration project table and why should teams listen to their advice – this all comes down to the fact that they are migration experts.
The term expert is adorned over multiple brands websites, sales and marketing communications – it has become an industry buzz word used to allude sector (subject matter) authority. There are thousands of SEO migration experts in the UK alone – they may in fact be experts, but not all are created equal. There is a simple way to analyse a true expert and that is by quantifying the term expertise.
10,000 hour rule
It is generally accepted that to be defined as an expert in a role, profession or sport the person has to complete 10,000 hours of “purposeful practice”. What that means – is doing something with the aim of optimising what you do to get better (not just doing something for 10,000 hours).
This process has its roots in Darwinian biological evolution – without delving too deep – survival of a species to adapt to its environment by trial and error. Just because expertise is quantified by time does not mean it is based on age it’s based on repetition of task with the aim to get better at doing said task. Therefore, although there are experts at all stages within a migration project – very little numbers of the stakeholder, web developers or in-house teams will have massed 10,000 hours doing migrations, even if they have their attention would likely have been focused on a specific area – most times not performance.
What does 10,000 hours look like in terms of years of practice. If you were to do a task 50hr task once a month for a year, that every time you did it you learnt and did it better for next time through a marginal gains approach over a 15-year period then that gets you close to the mark. That would mean completing that task 180 times. Only an SEO consultant agency with multiple experienced partners would be able to provide that level of expertise – in fact most senior SEO consultants will have done that number of their own.
By in large a senior level consultant will have managed migration projects through all level of complexities, different platforms, sectors and organisational hierarchies. The above validation offers the primary reason why SEO practitioners (or agencies) that have completed that number of repetitions of a task to be considered an authority within the migration project.
NB: I also don’t mean in-house SEO resource, web developers or freelancers (unless these people are agency trained). If they not have amassed 10,000 hours to let them manage the website migration affords the highest element of risk with your business sales and performance.
Attention, direction, and focus
Most parties within a migration project have different goals and priorities – this means they focus on what matters most to them. Stakeholders will be focused on time, quality and delivery. Developers are more focused on getting the project over the line, within the scope and specification – delivering a functional website as per signed off designs/spec. In-house marketing – just want to make sure the project is run efficiently, to inform the stakeholders and manage the external agencies. Not one of them focuses on risk alleviation, spotting the pitfalls and performance within search.
The above is a simplified-view approach and not all parties perform the same and I bet if everyone in a website project was surveyed they would all say “performance”. However, in our experience this is simply not the case. Parties focus on what matters most to them – which usually relates to them delivering in their KPI areas (functional website, on-budget, able to report up). There have been multiple studies done on attention, if you focus too much in one area you miss easy to spot events often unusual events happening. With this blinkered vision easy to stop migration issues such as; technical, site structure, content migration and missing key sections within your site can be avoided.
The above is the domain of the SEO consultant.
An experienced SEO’s attention will be on four key areas:
- Mitigation of known and expected risks based on current trajectory
- Full alignment and benchmark of baseline performance metrics
- Technical-excellence (crawl, indexing and UX)
- Post-migration reassurance and recovery
There is very rarely anything that comes up during a migration that an SEO consultant hasn’t dealt with before – also with access to other experienced team members within an agency there is often 3X the level of expertise and knowledge share.
The SEO team has an attention in those areas – the focus is not diluted, there are no blind spots in relation to the migration. With the other partners focusing on their areas this promotes a successful migration.
Many in-house teams lack the technical knowledge required around website projects. This is often outsourced to the web developer – who is often the technical lead on website projects. All matters relating to website coding, CMS integration and design based on signed-off templates – 100% should lie with the developer. However, anything that affects performance the SEO consultant should have an equal say.
Often in a website project a technical issue that could affect website performance may come up and the in-house marketing team have to make a decision and rely on their web developers to guide them correctly. However, very few web developers understand SEO and although their advice often strong in logic can be detrimental to a website’s performance. SEO teams are highly technical and as above (attention) focus solely on technical website elements that could affect performance. We are an extension to the in-house marketing function and therefore are consulted in the same way.
We can advise as part of the marketing team on the technical deployment put forward to solve the issue and see if it affects the websites performance. If the solution cannot be used then we can work together to create a better performance-led outcome.
What if there are internal IT stakeholders – surely they have the final say? Not always the case, IT directors, CTOs and internal IT teams will often be consulted as they are the guardians of tech in-house and although these teams are highly-skilled they may not be overly versed in SEO migrations. As tech experts they will understand SEO but usually only as much as we really understand server management/website security.
These parties are usually very logical from an architecture perspective but often many will disregard SEO in favour of a technical deployment that gets the results. This is why it is crucial for internal teams to involve an experienced senior technical SEO team, who can validate, collaborate and push back on any deployment from IT directors or web developer partners that would harm organic performance.
We have overcome your obstacles, not learning as we go
What is more important to you if you were an ecommerce brand? Taking advice from an SEO who has completed a handful of brochure website (less than 500 pages) WordPress migrations into the same domain or taking advice from an SEO consultant that has migrated ecommerce websites by re-platforming with over 20,000 products, millions of URLs into a new domain, rebranded and after migration experienced traffic loss oh and the ecommerce tracking is not working on launch? Who would you trust more?
Again the example above is pretty basic – but it serves to prove a point. People don’t want generic advice on a subject matter.
A company planning a migration moves through a decision making matrix:
People can read blogs, look through glorified “enhanced” case studies or even view generic lead-magnet sales copy on websites and most people start with an outcome to alleviate stress:
“I don’t want the website migration to affect sales performance (otherwise I will be blamed, which will make my week hell)”
However, that focus involves very little trajectory and planning. That outcome is focused on planning to mitigate performance loss – without knowing what factors could contribute to that (outside of rank declines and organic flatline in GA). This approach lacks underlying assumption planning and identifying the highest areas of performance risk – which you would only know if you have experienced first-hand these traumas.
This forward planning allows you to not have problem-led, stress filled conversations like the below statements:
- “my traffic is down 35% since migrating”
- “the cookie integration on my side has cut 60% of my sessions”
- “if we change the navigation – what revenue impact will this have on my eccomerce store”
- “a custom check-out funnel created as an SPA is not tracking in GA”
- “the SEO agency told us performance would dip, but its been 3 months”
- “the conversion rate on our new site for mobile users is down 55% since migrating”
- “we have dropped off Page 1 for our core ranked keywords since re-platforming”
These problems relate to real user cases most of the times after the event – all of these issues “make someone have a bad day”. If a brand is experiencing the above they don’t want to spend hours navigating the web (and ended up in dead-ends) to find a solution they need a pain reliver now. We have all “googled” illness symptoms, self diagnosed the worse case scenario, typified by angst and anxiety – which can affect your health and wellbeing. The better solution – go visit an expert. This is why medical consultants are considered experts, just like senior SEO consultants are regarded as migration experts. This is the same case as website migrations – if all you know are the symptoms, you can end up diagnosing something completely different to what actually is happening – which can affect your recovery trajectory.
Speak to an expert and prevent having bad days caused by an un-guided migration.
Summary of reasons why you need an expert SEO partner for your migration project
By now it should be crystal clear why navigating a migration without an experienced SEO partner would be a detrimental move professionally and could have lasting effects to your career. As detailed throughout, the SEO team have a level of performance attention and expertise that must be respected.
To help the business case these are some golden rules for achieving the best outcome for your website migration project (with an SEO partner engaged).
- Involve the SEO team very early (team integration) – from the RFP scoping session, deciding on the spec to the development of the wireframes or building the information architecture having the team in at this level is key.
- Follow all advice, let the SEO consultants guide you – the definition of a consultant is a person/s paid to provide expert advice based on their years of experience – heed their sage guidance let them navigate you through the migration maze.
- Pick an SEO partner with your specific sector, business size and platform experience – Firstly, don’t be afraid to ask for evidence and speak to the companies cited. Picking a partner based on sector and platform experience is an often-overlooked part of the due diligence process
- Dedicate the right level of resource, don’t cheap out – if you don’t you will either pay twice or pay double to fix (which may not always be possible)
- Make sure your SEO’s don’t just focus on mitigation of performance loss – your (and their) end goal must be on ensuring that your new website outperforms your old one – growth not loss prevention.
Migrate your website with confidence by partnering with POLARIS
If you are about to embark on a website migration project, and would like to find out more about our website migration or SEO services please get in touch for a discussion about your project on email@example.com
About the author
James Foote is the Technical Director at POLARIS. With nearly 20 years’ experience in the marketing industry, James has developed multi-award-winning digital campaigns for customer acquisition within multiple household name B2B and B2C sector brands. A keynote speaker and recognised expert within the SEO industry, James regularly provides insight pieces around technical SEO, migration strategy and campaign strategy, with featured articles in multiple sector-led publications. He is also a keen public speaker, speaking at industry events and regularly holding public and private workshop training to share his knowledge and experience.