When is the right time to start an SEO migration project?
As a leading website migration agency, we have handled a significant number of migrations in all shapes and sizes over the last 3 years. One of the most common queries that marketing managers and heads of marketing always have when commissioning us to commence with the website migration project is “when is the best time to start a migration project?”.
The reason for asking this question is that most marketing managers appreciate the importance of having a specific set of migration experts handling their project, but because they have little experience of migrations directly and don’t know whats involved, there is uncertainty as to when to start a migration project, inside a broader website build/redesign/update project.
A website migration project is always a sub project stream that sits within a broader website project.
For a variety of reasons, you are going to relaunch your website. It could be that you are going to put the business through a rebrand. You could be changing the backend CMS, or you could simply be looking to improve the front end user experience to increase conversions. Your organisation might be operating in global markets, and you may have a goal to centralise your business website all onto one .com domain, with multiple CCTlds that you want to migrate into a single Gtld. You could also be consolidating a microsite into your main business website, to centralise your marketing efforts and user journey.
There are many different reasons for wanting to migrate and launch an improved website experience.
Typically, your initial core focus is the website project itself. You will talk to your marketing executives and team about the project objectives, you will draft in your development resource, and you will commence with the initial phases of the project.
A typical website project has many phases in which the website progress. A website migration project runs in tandem, and in between these broader milestones.
Whether your at the wireframing phase, or the testing phase of the website project, there will be a requirement from a migration perspective too. That is, if you want to ensure you retain your SEO rankings, traffic, and subsequent leads/sales.
Having a website project schedule with key milestones will help your SEO agency to integrate their stages within your project
When engaging with a client on a website migration project, we do not always get a website project schedule as one doesn’t exist and the project is allowed to naturally flow. The challenge with this is that its harder for a website migration agency to integrate themselves within the project at the times integration and migration effort is required.
Its therefore highly recommended that as the overall marketing stakeholder, you have an overwebsite website project schedule setup and worked toward with all of your project team. Our website project schedule template is used by many of our clients and allows marketing managers to have a clear road ahead, whilst keeping developers, designers, and other team members on track too with their progress. A project is less likely to wander, and most importantly, from an SEO migration perspective, a website migration agency such as POLARIS can easily integrate themselves into your project.
Typically the phases we would highly recommend you set milestone deadlines for are:
|Website Project Commencement date|
|Staging Site Release Date - MVP|
|Code Freeze Date|
|Content Freeze Date|
|Nav & IA Freeze Date|
|Testing Start Date|
|SEO Sign off Date|
|Testing End Date|
|Website Go Live Date|
By ensuring the above milestone dates are identified, you will give everyone a better chance to deliver a project within a timeframe that fits the business and marketing strategy for the current period, and also allow everyone to work in synergy as the project progresses.
Could your web developers handle your website migration?
It is a very natural first step to revert to your web developers with regards to taking on the responsibility of a website migration. Developers are building the new website, they are technically minded professionals, they will be in the code bases – surely they will know the ins and outs of an SEO migration process and be able to take it on – right?
Developers will tell you they can handle the SEO migration – this is not always the case.
Whilst a developer may be aware of the most obvious elements within a website migration process, they will typically only refer to 301 redirects as the main deliverable in an SEO migration process. This is not the case.
Its also important to be aware and remember that a developers primary goal and objective will be to deliver the new website as per your agreed requirements. This is their primary goal. If you have an agreed project schedule, and part way through you ask about SEO and migration processes, they may add some time and effort into their process (if there isn’t already time allocated) but it will not be an exhaustive, complete initiative, and you could most certainly still loose performance.
Having a separate website migration team dedicated to the retention of your SEO performance is the only sure fire way to guarantee minimal loss of performance on changeover.
By having a dedicated, separately responsible team that are owners of your SEO performance, you will ensure that there is no compromise of priority or conflict of interest, because you have separate stakeholders for code development and SEO retention.
If your businesses website receives less than 5,000 visits per month from organic traffic, and you have a web development team of 3 or less people working on your new website, you will easily be able to integrate a website migration partner into your project.
If you have a large scale website, receiving over 20,000 visits per month, with a full development team behind the new website project, you will still be able to integrate a migration partner into you project and workflows, however the sooner you do this the better. Ideally, you would integrate a website migration agency as soon as you decide to relaunch a new website.
We have just taken on a migration project for a B2B technology company, and whilst the project has only just kicked off, we have been in conversation with the head of marketing for 6 months. The head of marketing in this organisation was particularly savvy as she contacted POLARIS and set the scene from the offset.
Start conversions with an SEO Migration Agency as soon as you know you are going to launch a new website.
“Our project hasn’t started yet, we are about to kick off soon, but I know we haven’t got the expertise in house to manage the migration side of things. I know we need an expert on this to make sure we don’t lose our traffic.”
There are many key areas of a correctly executed migration, starting with user journey analysis at the very initial stages of a website project.
A well thought out, and risk mitigating migration process is one which has been tried, tested, and applied hundreds of times before. There is a very specific approach and order of auditing, conclusion setting and migrating of equity that must be followed to ensure success.
Only an expert website migration agency will be able to offer the experience, systems, tools and (established) processes that can be implemented within your project.
At POLARIS, we follow a 3 phase migration process, segmenting our service out across
- Pre migration works
- In migration works
- Post migration works
The initial Pre migration works are arguably the most critical works to ensure your SEO rankings, traffic, leads and sales are retained through migration. During the pre migration works, we analyse various aspects of potential change within your new website. Analysing the website architecture, the landing pages, and even your content are all aspects that could positively or negatively impact your SEO performance when launching your new website.
If you have passed the initial phases of your website project, and draft a website migration expert into your project after you’ve confirmed these elements of your new website, then it could be too late and you may not want to go backwards in the project to review these areas. By this point, you will not be able to take full advantage of an expert led migration strategy for your business, and will only be able to implement “light touch” and “low impact” changes to your website.
Our website project has already started, and we are well into the development phase – is it too late to get an SEO website migration agency involved?
If you are well into your project, and you are now realising that you want a separate stake holder to handle your SEO migration, do not panic. You can still integrate an expert into your project. The biggest risk in going through a migration is not having an SEO migration partner involved. Even if you are fully up and running in the project, an SEO migration expert will be able to evaluate risk and then communicate with you on how to best proceed. If you are in this position, be prepared to extend the timeframe of your project, to accommodate website migration processes within your project.
Also be ready to be told that there are some critical issues with the new website, that need to be dealt with if you are to retain your SEO performance. This is extremely important.
We were handling a migration project for a large gift experience company. Getting into the project, we reviewed the information architecture for the website, and realised that there were some high performing landing pages missing from the proposed new architecture. At this early phase of the website project, it was easy to adapt this and have them included, however the development agency and internal marketing team did not produce the pages in the staging site later on in the project.
We evaluated the site, and determined that they had still been missed out, and then pushed very hard to get the business to accommodate our need. On this occasion, the client listened, and integrated our recommendations. Thanks to our ability to own SEO and direct the marketing team and development agency, we retained the SEO performance of the website. If we had not done this, this would have been a very different outcome.
We are only a few weeks away from launching our new website, im concerned my developers haven’t focused enough on the migration – what do I do?
If you are close to the changeover stage of your project, you are nearing the “In migration” phase of the project. By this point, your website will largely have been built, with code bases nearing completion, and developers likely focusing on adding final functionality and soon moving onto testing. An SEO migration partner can come in, evaluate the risk and communicate an expected level of loss or retention to you by carrying out an analysis, and pick up the project from the IN migration phase.
It is better to manage expectation with an expert migration evaluation than to launch a new website blind. It could save you your job.
Getting a website migration agency to evaluate and report on the potential performance of the new website versus the old is still highly valuable in the broader equation. With this insight, you can go into a launch knowing what a potential outcome might be. If there is going to be a loss in performance, you can potentially work with your SEO migration agency to put a post launch plan together to quickly try and implement some changes that will retain some performance otherwise lost in changeover.
How long is it before Google could lose our website rankings once the new website is launched?
Search engines such as Google and Bing will evaluate your new website with a matter of hours and days after it has been relaunched. Depending on the reason for launching a new website, there are different types of notifications that need to be made to search engines to tell them about the change your domain name has gone through.
If you get an SEO migration agency involved, they will be able to help you plan a post migration strategy to try and retain performance, although this can sometimes be difficult depending on what the cause for decline is. If your website architecture, or new landing pages are going to result in a loss in performance, then this could be a significant amount of effort required after the website has launched. This needs to be considered and whilst this would cause some uncomfortable conversations internally, it is better to act and save performance than not act and see a significant drop.
Generally speaking, search engines will start to reindex with a matter of days, and any post migration works need to be implemented quickly within 2 weeks of changeover to try to minimize SEO performance losses.
Googles index is updated in realtime, and search engine crawlers are constantly evaluating your website and changes to your domain. It is not ideal to have to implement a post migration “rescue” strategy, but it is unfortunately a very real situation that has to be dealt with.