SEO & Website Migrations: How to Have a Smooth Transition – #seslon
The final session of the day looked at SEO & Website Migrations and how to ensure a smooth transition. There are a lot of common mistakes that happen when websites migrate during redesigns but there are ways that these mistakes can be easily avoided.
In this session, the two speakers walk through key points that need to be considered during website migrations.
Daniel Patmore, Search Marketing Manager, Argos
Shari Thurow, Founder & SEO Director, Omni Marketing Interactive
Shari Thurrow, Omni Marketing Interactive
Shari generously shared her experiences of a painful sounding site migration in a competitive car insurance field, bringing together three sites in three months, with a new CMS, new domain name and new company name.
Repeatedly she noted that the three month time slot allocated for the project meant working on this to the exclusion of all else, and was really not enough to do things properly. They had to take some managed risks, some of which did – and didn’t – pay off.
Post migration, rankings improved, page views increased, qualified search engine traffic increased, but Thurrow admits this was unexpected. Many migrations need time for re-indexing and reassessment of content. The larger the site, the longer this can take.
The success, she argues, was down to the fact that the new site was better for users. And users are the most important factor. Search engines are trying to deliver the content that’s best for the user, ergo designing for the user is the single most important thing.
SEO professionals should be concerned with: labelling the website content so that it is easy to find; organizing and connecting website content so that it is easy to find; ensuring search engines have access to desired content; and ensuring search engines don’t have access to undesirable content.
She points to ‘Morville’s Facets of the User Experience’, which indicate that sites should be usable, useful, valuable, desirable, accessible credible, and most importantly for an SEO audience, findable. Link development and social signals are a vital part of any site development.
For her, website usability is about effectiveness, efficiency, learnability, memorability user satisfaction and – importantly – error prevention.
The searcher’s goals should be first and foremost, imaging what the user might want and planning their journey. That doesn’t mean organising by the way a company is organised: in the case of the migration Thurrow was sharing, users identify themselves by their own characteristics (gender, age, place or corporate fleet insurance etc) rather than by product type.
The project migration itself was shared through a calendar. Crawl errors were searched for, and people given somewhere to go other than a 404 wherever possible. All in all, the site was given a great makeover in terms of usability for both search engines and people.
Thurrow’s advice is to keep both old and new sites live in the first instance, waiting untilo the new site is verified before switching off the old one.
Her 10 point plan was summarised as follows:
- Perform site audit to determine “better” website elements.
- Create & maintain a migration calendar.
- Improve URL structure.
- Check and verify internal links and labels.
- Remove/manage all duplicate content.
- Implement and verify 301 redirects.
- 404 non‐existent content.
- Maintain all sites until search engines pick up new domain/URLs.
- Improve quality link development.
- Have realistic expectations.
Dan Patmore, Argos
Patmore echoed the people challenges referred to by Thurrow, but was far more pragmatic. The changes to the Argos site were being imposed through internal changes, and he wanted his team to be part of the discussions and have a place at the table to ensure that things went well.
That meant a lot of internal education, patience and playing nice, putting users first.
Their approach was to take what was already good and preserve it and use the opportunity to make everything else better – sitemaps, internal links, code, content, etc.
They ran impact scenarios internally to show the effect of any planned changes, but even so, the people issues were bigger than the technical challenges.
It was always going to be hard – things change on a seasonal basis on a multi-product site like Argos, so when 55% of keywords fell off, they had to be conscious that there were external as well as internal factors at play, but use the data to react.
Planning was key, developing a plan that allowed them to react quickly to changes and challenges. Interestingly, they had the chance to run some usability test, asking people where they would go to find certain items and react to that data.
Like Thurrow they chose to offer navigation by audience type rather than product type, an approach that doubled conversion rates.
Patmore showed which terms lost and won. In all honesty, whilst there were ups and downs, most seemed to have improved or to have stayed not a million miles from where they were. He wasn’t claiming a phenomenal success, but given the size of the site before they started and the complexity, to have gained overall and in some areas, notably, I think he should be.