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Migrating to a new website platform can be a necessary step for businesses looking to scale up or embrace new technologies. However, website migrations come with considerable SEO risks.
Without proper SEO planning and execution, a platform migration can lead to a significant loss of organic traffic, revenue and market share.
Here are 12 common SEO pitfalls to avoid during a website platform migration.
1. Neglecting to create a migration plan
Like any major project, migrating to a new platform requires a well-thought-out execution plan. Whenever possible, SEOs should join the process early on, leaving ample time and opportunity to:
- Align with product and engineering.
- Map out technical and content requirements.
- Provide ongoing guidance and assistance with pre- and post-migration QA.
Every thorough migration plan should include a detailed checklist outlining all key areas of technical SEO, content, page speed and performance, analytics benchmarking and more.
2. Sloppy information architecture
Migration offers an opportunity for a reset. It is an excellent time to re-evaluate the overall SEO setup and explore any new opportunities for improvement around more fundamental areas, like information architecture, taxonomy and navigation.
A straightforward and intuitive information architecture is preferable to an outdated or convoluted one. However, any functional site navigation structure that drives organic traffic is an asset. Any changes should be rolled out gradually and cautiously, with close monitoring along the way.
A sudden overhaul will almost always come as a shock to the system. Changes to core navigation and browsing paths can impact user behavior and link equity distribution, causing:
- A shift in PageRank.
- A decrease in long-tail traffic.
- Fluctuations in keyword rankings and organic traffic.
The risks are especially pronounced for large, established sites with considerable organic market share in their respective niches.
Several years ago, a classifieds website considerably trimmed and simplified its category tree during a platform migration without realizing it was one of the primary drivers of organic traffic.
They lost nearly 40% of their SEO market share and have not yet recovered.
3. Overzealous content pruning
Many marketers use site migrations to review their content inventory for gaps, redundancies and outdated or irrelevant content.
Considerable content pruning tends to happen at this stage – in part, because it often seems easier to retire entire portals and blogs than to migrate them.
A thoughtful plan for updating, maintaining, consolidating and retiring content is far more advisable than overzealous content pruning that will almost certainly result in the deletion of valuable content and loss of traffic.
A periodic content inventory review is a good practice. It should be undertaken instead to avoid the buildup of abandoned and long-forgotten pages that are no longer supported or actively maintained.
4. Sloppy 301 redirects
Even a perfectly executed 301 redirection strategy won’t guarantee SEO parity pre- and post-migration, as some short-term traffic loss is almost guaranteed.
But sloppy 301 redirects, or the lack thereof, will result in permanent traffic losses.
Invest time and effort in 301 redirection mapping to preserve link equity and offer a smooth transition for users and search engines. This includes:
- Updating all internal links to the new URL structure.
- Removing any redirect chains.
5. Overlooking on-page SEO elements
Site redesign is an integral part of many website migrations.
Pair with UX and engineering teams to ensure that page layout follows a coherent structure and all core elements – titles, headings, breadcrumbs, metadata etc. – are present and properly labeled across all indexable page types and landing pages.
Pay special attention to components that contain structured markup and ensure that all key elements are preserved on the page and in HTML.
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6. Forgetting about mobile
Seven years after Google first announced its intent to shift to mobile-first Indexing, the project has finally been completed. And yet, a solid mobile experience remains an afterthought for many sites, especially those that primarily earn revenue from desktop users.
A lot can slip through the cracks during a major platform migration while all eyes and resources are on revenue-driving initiatives, with negative consequences for SEO.
Don’t forget to test rigorously on mobile, checking for mobile responsiveness and parity between key features and on-page elements. Pay especially close attention to internal linking on the mobile experience.
As Google predominantly uses the mobile version of a site’s content, crawled with the smartphone agent, for indexing and ranking, ensuring a well-optimized mobile experience is key to overall SEO success.
7. Slow page load times
Newer doesn’t always mean faster. Optimizing for page loading speed, user experience and Core Web Vitals metrics is both an art and a science that requires a deep understanding of page elements and their impact on performance.
A new design or framework will introduce new performance challenges. It can take months of dedicated effort to find and implement solutions, often through a series of incremental tweaks, optimization and testing.
As such, start optimizing early, long before the launch date. Encourage designers and engineers to think performance-first.
8. Crawlability and indexing bugs
Crawlability and indexing issues are some of the biggest SEO migration pitfalls.
Key page components or navigation elements become uncrawlable due to an oversight.
Entire directories or page types become accidentally disallowed in robots.txt, noindexed via directives, or bulk canonicalized to the home page.
Although this can occur anytime, it’s most likely to happen during or immediately following a significant migration when teams are busy squashing bugs and resolving other migration issues. It’s essential to keep a close eye here and monitor daily.
On large ecommerce marketplaces, bulk indexing bugs can be costly to the business. They can wipe out SEO traffic virtually overnight and will take weeks or months to recover lost traffic as Google recrawls, processes and re-indexes removed content.
9. Not setting up analytics and tracking
It’s essential to have these tools in place to monitor website performance and quickly address any issues.
Better yet, create custom dashboards that can help you compare performance metrics for critical areas of your site pre- and post-migration.
Specialized analytics dashboards can act as additional QA levers to help you spot and address potential issues early before they become huge problems.
Changes in taxonomy, content consolidation and pruning can affect user behavior, leading to fluctuations in engagement, conversion metrics, time on site and bounce rates.
For example, a decreased organic conversion rate for a particular page type might be fully expected if the page begins to receive a lot more pageviews and traffic for lower-intent head terms as a result of a content consolidation project.
10. Ignoring XML sitemaps
Up-to-date XML sitemaps can help speed up the discoverability, crawling and indexing of your new URLs.
Separate sitemaps created for each page type, content type or another criterion can help track the discovery rate and indexing of content by key segments, offering a more granular view.
11. Overlooking content that shouldn’t be indexed
SEOs focus so much on what to index that we might forget to ensure that non-indexable content stays out of search engine indices.
Aside from non-SEO URL parameters or sorting filters, this includes all kinds of restricted content:
- System folders.
- Order tracking pages.
- Parts of checkout flows.
- Other pages may contain sensitive user data and PII information not meant for the public eye.
Leaking of user data carries both considerable reputational and financial risks. SEOs should take every precaution to ensure that this does not occur.
12. Forgetting post-migration monitoring
Sometimes, things go wrong even when you’ve done everything right. Bugs slip unnoticed as developers and QA teams learn the ropes of a new platform.
It’s important to spot issues quickly when they arise. Just because migration is complete doesn’t mean that work is finished.
Close monitoring post-launch is essential for success, particularly:
- Regular crawls.
- Live production QA.
- Assessing key metrics and dashboards, including overall SEO impressions, rankings, CTR and visibility.
A proactive approach to SEO during website platform changes
Website platform migrations offer a chance to improve user experience, adopt new technologies and rejuvenate a brand’s online presence. But without meticulous planning and execution, there’s a risk of derailing SEO performance.
Being aware of – and avoiding – the pitfalls can ensure a smooth transition and maintain your performance.
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.