The Basics of a Site Migration Project – Commonly Asked Questions by Marketing Managers
It’s October, Halloween is upon us and during this time of year it is not just the ghouls, goblins and witches that are causing sleepless nights for marketing managers – its website migrations.
These events have caused many a ghostly visage on the face of marketing teams and are highly regarded as one of the most stressful changes a business can go through.
The fear of migrations, is a fear of the unknown – many internal teams have never encountered one before, the project is usually left in the hands of marketing managers and heads of departments who within this space are often out of their depth. Some teams are supported by their IT practitioners or web editors but often these individuals have not been through many of these before and just like the marketing team are learning as they go.
The learn as you go approach for migrations will not work as there is so much misinformation out there, just like medical advice the advice stems from “you are going to die” to “it’s just a cold, self medicate” - it all depends what you search for and what your context is.
Web advice lacks situational factors and this can give you false hope or sleepless nights.
Further instilling working with SEO migration experts is key, but before that stage you as a marketing manager may have a myriad of questions, you may want to engage an SEO to help you but you don’t know how to approach a redirect from a re-brand. This is why we are here, to help you navigate the murky waters of migrations, give you the support you need to arm yourself with the right knowledge to find the right partner.
We understand this, members of the team have worked client side as marketing managers, and we know the pressure you are under to make the right decision – therefore we have decided to ask our migration experts to answer the 10 most common questions asked by marketing managers planning a migration.
But first, let us introduce you to the experts.
James, a technical-first consultant having advised on thousands of migrations over the past 20 years and has more than completed the 10,000 hours expert status within this field. From complex global multi-site consolidation projects, to multi-million-pound business re-brands and has been brought in as a consultant to oversee SEO agency migrations and fix migrations “when they have gone wrong” to recover not only to their pre-migration state but also grow their organic traffic during the post-recovery. James knows migrations.
Amo Sokhi, an SEO Consultant in London has been migrating sites for over 10 years. Stemming from a technical background, Amo has first handily managed site migration projects from inception to final performance, delivering exceptional results to clients in many sectors.
For Amo, the most exciting part of a site migration is the opportunity analysis and rectification works conducted Pre migration. Finding opportunities that will ensure existing performance retention or also increase performance on changeover is a big win for Amo, and he likes seeing them implemented and then celebrate them post migration through data led reports.
What is a site migration?
A site migration is an event that happens to a website when it is going through some element of change. This can be something as trivial as a re-categorisation all the way up to a significant change such as a re-brand or re-platform with a new domain. At each of these stages, website URLs change – if this happens then you need a site migration SEO strategy to mitigate traffic loss and ensure your potential customers are able to navigate through to your website pages.
What is a redirect?
Simply put. A redirect is a mechanism using a URL redirection to navigate visitors of old URLs to the new destination page. Commonly the one used in migrations is a 301 permanent redirect (preferred over the temporary 302) – it acts as a transition point to move users from old URLs within the search results, campaign pages or anywhere else the old URL exists to the new URL.
Redirects are crucial for SEO migrations, with the output being a redirect mapping document (old pages to new pages) handed over to developers to ensure all pages resolve to the correct place. Without this you are left in a sea of broken pages, 500 and 404 status areas – which seriously affect your performance, customer experience and market share/site visibility.
NB: Make sure that you also update all of your GA goals to the new URLs otherwise you may encounter loss of conversions and attribution issues for channel performance.
What's the most important part of a site migration?
A difficult question to answer as all parts of the process are key. You need a pre-phase to ensure the website is built in accordance to the current sites performance, gather all URLs and map to make sure the pages transition and a post-phase to monitor performance after benchmarking at the start, tweaking further if required once the new site settles in.
However, I believe the part that is often overlooked is server management. To many SEOs/marketing professionals this is an alien environment – most times we don’t get involved as its managed by the developers, but in some circumstances there is no developer or the developer used is not aware what to do. Then we need to get involved to support the project.
This is often the area where “Things can go quickly wrong” and if you do not have a developer partner with this expertise – even the best SEO migrations, done by top practitioners can fall flat.
As we always say in SEO – even if you have the best creative campaigns and digital PR teams working on the brand, this means nothing if the website cannot be indexed and fails to load.
Oh and also a project plan mapped out to go-live (you would be very surprised how often we see these do not exist).
Who do I need to get involved in a site migration project?
With migration projects such as re-brands/re-platforms everyone wants to get involved; you end up having stakeholders from multiple departments wanting to have their say and ensure their area gets the right level of attention. This is the classic 80:20 pareto rule you end up having 80% of the team there for consideration but do not add anything to the project.
We would rather focus on the core 20 – who needs to be in this team? Depends on company and project size however at bare minimum all sized enterprises need the following; SEO migration expert (not in name, in project completions), website developer (experience in server/host management), project manager and marketing manager (usually the person the website migration falls on).
We would always state that during the project a RACI should be created that can identify all the stages of the migration project aligned towards all of the members with their level of involvement set to make sure only the core team are involved in the decisions, whereas the other stakeholders can take more of an informed position.
When should we start a site migration project?
Whenever your business needs a refresh or uplift that would create a significant change. For category URL changes, this is technically a migration but with awareness and education this can be handled in-house. Larger website transition projects require a full migration team as the risk outweighs the ignorance in bliss approach.
Websites should go through these change overs every 5-8 years to maintain their competitive advantage and to ensure their website looks fresh. Technology, web experiences and customers expectations change with new competition entrants it is essential you “stand out, not blend in”. This means that most marketing managers will have to go through at least one during their time at a company – so you need to make sure you choose the right partner who can not only guide you but alleviate any stresses that come up (and they do!) during the project.
So you should start a migration project once every 5 years minimum, when your business is about to go through a significant change and finally make sure you pick the right time.
Do not plan a migration to go live during your busiest trading period, in fact you need to work back from that time, add 3-months and then you have your go-live date. Then bearing in mind it can take 3-6 months to build your website with core team, before that source the right partners (1-2 months). You should work towards a 12-month project timeline with most projects. Some will be faster, some slower but always work back from your core trading period as you want your site to be “firing on all cylinders” come that date (not still being worked on!).
Can our web developers handle a site migration?
Web developers may be able to handle 1 or 2 technical aspects of a site migration process, but developers cannot handle a complete site migration project because there are other critical stages that sit outside of web development and therefore require a totally different skill set. Therefore, your web developers would not be able to handle a site migration for you, and you should consult and find a qualified, expert partner to handle the entire process from end to end. Usually, your web developers will liaise with your site migration partner, and help to complete specific technical aspects of a site migration, such as integrating the 301 redirects, or moving the new website from a staging (test) environment to a live environment.
What is Google Search Console and why do I need it?
Google Search Console, previously called “webmaster tools” is a tool from Google that allows marketing managers and website owners to see how their website is performing, particularly from a search engine health perspective, directly from Google. Google Search Console differs to Google Analytics, because Google Analytics reports on how users are behaving on your website. Google Search Console reports on how your website is behaving and performing, on the internet.
How much does a site migration project cost?
A site migration projects cost depends on how much effort is needed to migrate your website. If you are the marketing manager of a global ecommerce website, operating in multiple markets, then you will need a project team and sufficient hours to ensure your new website launches smoothly in every market. If you are the marketing manager of a B2B professional services website in the UK, your need may not be as significant, and the majority of time and effort you require will be focused on your product/service pages that get the most traffic and drive the most enquiries for your business. Our projects start from £6,758.69 + vat.
Why do I need a site migration project?
If you are a marketing manager, or similarly responsible for the launch of a new website for your business, you need an expert partner to help you identify, plan and execute a site migration project for 2 key reasons.
- To ensure your existing marketing performance is maintained, not just through SEO, but all channels (including PPC, Email, etc too)
- To maximise the investment you are making into the new website itself, by engineering it to grow and perform even better on launch
Without a migration partner, you don’t have an external stakeholder that outright owns the responsibility of ensuring your marketing performance is sustained, and there could be ambiguity as to who is responsible for the performance if it does drop. It could be you that’s ultimately response, or your development agency, and this is not really very fair as you or your development agency are likely not experienced and equipped to be responsible for the retention of traffic, leads, and sales.
This is the reason why you need a site migration project, every time you launch a new website.
Can I use a plugin to migrate our website?
Technically you may be able to use a plugin or a series of plugins to help with the launch of a new website, replacing an old website, however this is no comparative solution to having a team of experts with years of experience carrying out your site migration.
The easiest way to evaluate whether you should invest into a site migration project with an agency is to asses the possible damage and losses your business could suffer if your website is launched badly. How much traffic could you lose? How much could business decline due to a loss of leads or sales? Look at this potential loss, and then you will know how much you need an experience partner to be responsible and manage you through the change over successfully.