The Ignite Visibility team has handled hundreds of website transfers, so we know a thing or two about how to avoid big drops in traffic, revenue and leads. In this blog, we tell you what you need to know.
There are 1,161,444, 177 total websites online right now, that we know about (not including the dark net here :), and all of those will need to be upgraded at some point.
Website transfers are risky business, especially for well established and well ranking websites. I know, I have transferred hundreds of websites at this point.
Some little, and some with millions of URLs. Some local sites and some large international sites.
Moving your website can cause a significant drop in organic traffic with a difficult recovery process and there are some very important things you need to do to pull it off right.
Hiring a professional can really help reduce risk. Doing a transfer the wrong way can result in losing everything you have worked so hard for. Trust me, I have seen them go wrong, even for huge multi-million dollar corporations. The details matter so much. In fact, often we get called after a website transfer goes wrong and we become the emergency squad to clean up the wreck.
Watch a video about drops in website traffic.
It is important to keep in mind, a website transfer can mean changing domains, upgrading a CMS, merging domains or subdomains or just doing a redesign. In this post we are speaking generally about website transfers and not a specific type.
Transfer All Optimized Content
Transferring content from one location to another is challenging as there are many aspects that may go wrong. A SEO firm is capable of completing the process according to Google’s guidelines to prevent redirect issues, 404 errors, missed content, blocked content, duplicate content, (insert about 50 other things here), etc. Plus, they will ensure search engines understand that your content has permanently moved using Google’s recommended 301 redirects. If you are changing address, make sure you use the change of address tool.
This is probably the most important point of a transfer, you need to make sure everything on the checklist makes it to the new site, design or CMS. I have worked for a decade to compile the perfect list for this. It includes things like.
- url structure
- rel canonical
- sitemap xml, html, image, video, news
- viewport meta tag
A good SEO company will make sure this gets done right. The full website transfer checklist is something we offer to clients who sign up.
Keeping Things in Scope
During a transfer, an agency can and should analyze and resolve any issues that don’t abide by Google’s algorithms or recommendations. Also, it is always nice when you are able to improve optimization during a transfer process. That can results in gaining traffic, opposed to losing it. However, in some cases you might not want to complicate the process because transfers can take time and resources. In a lot of cases when I am doing a transfer we decide to “not add any additional optimization” until the transfer is complete. This can make the transfer process a lot smoother and give us some fun SEO items to work on once we are done. This decision really depends on the size of the site, the CMS or technology being worked with, the timeline and resources.
Create Mobile Optimized Site
With mobile searches now exceeding that of PC, your website needs to be mobile optimized and support a responsive design (or subdomain or directory structure mobile site, these are OK too) to survive in today’s world. Responsive design is really the best option at this point, especially with the mobile-first update coming soon. Google wants companies to move away from these other methods.
Watch a video about the mobile-first update.
Google takes a website’s mobile capabilities very seriously, which are even used as a ranking factor. Websites not equipped with mobile optimization to support all mobile devices and sites lacking mobile functions won’t rank well. A SEO firm will ensure your website remains in compliance to meet Google’s mobile ranking signals, meets mobile configuration, and supports mobile optimization. With a well mobile optimized site, you’ll boost your sales significantly.
Lose Less Traffic and Even Gain Some
Traffic loss is one of the biggest challenges you’ll face when transferring your site (that is, referring site traffic, organic traffic, direct traffic, email traffic, it is all up in the air if you mess up). However, by placing your site in reputable hands, traffic loss will be minimal and you may even gain some ground when the new site goes live. If you do it right, you’re likely to gain more traffic as your content will be optimized, your keyword strategy will be reexamined, URL structure will be perfected and a comprehensive 301 redirect mapping strategy will be performed (that is if you change URLs, hopefully you wont need to do this). Another thing to keep in mind, when you launch your new site you will get a fresh crawl and index by Google. You want to make sure you put your best foot forward here, as it will establish your search engine rankings.
Correct Redirect Usage
When permanently transferring a site, Google recommends 301 redirects are used. With 301 redirects, very little link juice will be lost. In fact, when performed correctly nearly 99 percent of your link juice should transfer over as broken links and duplicate content are eliminated while Google is notified of the changes. A SEO firm will work to ensure that links maintain their authority during the move, instead of having to start over from scratch. It should be noted that as a first step, they will try to maintain your URL structure. That is always the best option. Redirects are a secondary option. They will also look for potential new URL issues, such as filters, search URLs, etc. that create thin content.
Fix Site Speed for Performance
Properly Converting Website
Websites that are ready to convert are proven to have twice as many sales than those that aren’t. With 96 percent of your website visitors not ready to make a purchase at the initial time of visiting your site, your website needs to turn those window shoppers into actual buyers. A firm will use testing methods to ensure your site is set up and ready to begin producing conversions for a higher ROI (think Crazy Egg, Optimizely, Google Content Experiments, and just general user testing and industry insight). This is a big deal! Just because you update your website design or add a mobile site, does not mean it will convert better. In many cases, it does not. That is why it is nice to use a company that does some conversion rate testing before you go live. Recently, we worked with a website who had launched a banner that was too large on every page. It killed their conversions 80%! We were able to identify this issue and fix it for them.
Watch a video on conversion rate optimization.
Also, do not forget about https. So many times I see an https site accidentally go live and the online company doesn’t even know about it. If you are switching to https, that requires an entirely different blog post to be read…
Watch a video on HTTPS.
Install Google Analytics and Webmaster Tools
Google Analytics and Webmaster Tools are necessary resources when running a website (also Bing Webmaster Tools). Without the two, you’re essentially walking around blind when trying to reach your site’s maximum performance. With Google Analytics, you’ll view comprehensive reports regarding the performance of your website to make necessary changes, while Webmaster Tools allows you to effectively communicate with Google to identify issues that need resolved. Webmaster Tools provides verification to permit an authorization to represent the site; thus, allowing you to retrieve more actionable data. You can also block your site from search or only have it show in certain countries. You need control over it.
Once installed by an SEO agency, utilize them to their full power to ensure top website performance. One more thing to note, you also need a ranking tracking tool when doing a transfer, so make sure you have that in place. That will help you determine any URL drops that need to be fixed.
We generally do the following.
- Run Screaming Frog
- Run Deep Crawl
- Match up every element from the old site to the new site
- Tell you exactly what has not been transferred over
- Help you get your new site to 100%
- Then go above any beyond, by making sure the performance (site speed, CRO, etc.) is in line
Transfer Scheme Data
Transferring scheme data correctly can be tricky, but not for an SEO agency who has worked with it before. Whether you need to transfer schema for local, reviews, products, breadcrumbs, people, etc, a sophisticated firm can make sure it is done. Do not forget to use the structured data testing tool when you are done to ensure everything is correct.
Image and Video Optimization
A good company will make sure your images and videos are transferred to the correct location in the appropriate size and resolution, while successfully optimized. Optimized images are directly proven to increase the page views of content by as much as 94 percent. Your Alt tags and file names will be optimized to be indexed accordingly by Google to be ranked. In addition, captions, descriptions, surrounding text, title, links, image site maps, and more will all be covered to prevent any damage to SEO.
Watch a video about image optimization.
Full Website Transfer
To maintain your SEO value (and really the entire traffic value of your website), you need to hire a company to help with the website transfer. In most cases, you would hire an SEO company like us because they will take into account the stringent technical requirements needed to keep traffic levels up.
When moving a site, you don’t want to mess around trying to do it yourself or cut corners by hiring a low-rate firm. I hope this post was useful! Good luck with the transfer! Contact us with questions.
- “How to Move Your Content to a New Location” Google’s Webmaster Central Blog
- “Change Page URLs with 301 Redirects” Google Webmaster Help
- “Best Practices when Moving Your Site” Google’s Webmaster Central Blog