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Upgrading a website shouldn’t affect your SEO traffic

21 July 2011 BY

UpgradeOne of the key misconceptions from website owners’ is that a website re-launch will cause a temporary, or permanent, drop in SEO traffic as the search engines switch to the new URLs. In my opinion the search engines have got far better at ensuring the migration from the old to the new website is far more seamless than before. There are, however, many areas that you need to ensure are 100% to ensure uninterrupted service.

I recently ran a migration project for a key client of MediaVision’s where we had improved organic traffic by over 600% in the last two years. Clearly the client was concerned that the traffic from organic search would drop as it was a key lead generator for their business and would definitely affect their bottom line. What was very pleasing was that not only did we preserve the current rankings but by using the strategy below we actually increased non-brand SEO traffic by 23% month on month.

The steps we took:

1) Get pedantic about your 301s
I can’t emphasise this enough, in order to not lose your traffic you need to understand every page type that is generating traffic and how that maps to the new site. In the clients’ case this meant analysing 120,000 pages and 230,000 backlinks. We wrote a custom tool to test these URLs against the test domain to highlight any multiple 301s, 404s or 500 errors. We then inspected these and sent the logs back to the development agency to ensure that every eventuality was covered. All links were initially scoured from MajesticSEO and then custom validated to ensure the link was still active. All of these went through the same process.

Issues we ran into:

  • The URLs were mixed case and the developers didn’t enforce which were being used
  • The original effort to 301 included port parameters in the redirect URLs
  • The developers were using 302 redirects a lot as this is the default from the Response.Redirect() directive in C#
  • There was a great deal of multiple 301ing going on which loses a great deal of link juice
  • New modules changed the original 301 issues so we set the tool up on a schedule to send daily reports of invalid URLs, this helped the development agency see the impact of one area on another

2) Evaluate your content
A new website is often the perfect time to revisit the priority of the lead generation efforts from the clients’ point of view. We inserted ourselves into the loop of content loading to ensure that we had an up-to-date keyword dig for every service and the content was correctly optimised and page titles and tags were too. This was a fairly seamless effort between us and IT and went far smoother than expected. The results though have meant an uplift of 120% in the lead generation from SEO for key services that used to be buried in the old information architecture.

3) Triple check your trophy phrases
The trophy phrases were mostly content targeted however I wasn’t going to put these in the development agency’s hands. We set up 301 redirects with IIS SEO toolkit which was actually pretty awesome. We tested these again with the 301 tool to make sure that they were perfect.

4) Put your foot down
A lot of the time the development agency was pushing ahead to meet deadlines that were slipping constantly. I had to make myself very unpopular to both the client and development agency to insist that all the above was perfect before we switched over. Luckily we had achieved a great deal of traffic through SEO efforts and they obviously wanted to ensure we didn’t put this at risk however I had to be the gatekeeper constantly to ensure that when we went live it was perfect.

I am sure there are other experiences and tricks out there so please share these in the comments below!

AUTHORED BY:
h

Louis Venter is the founding director and CEO of MediaVision, a Search Engine Marketing (SEM) company specialising in all areas of search. His particular interests are organic search marketing, paid search marketing, conversion strategy and online PR.
  • http://www.greatwebsitesblog.com Barry Adams

    Great post Louis. Certainly with the right preparations a website upgrade shouldn’t have a negative impact.

    However when the upgrade also involves a change in domain name, things are not so straightforward…. We recently put live a new website for a client, and we did all our homework and ticked all the boxes. 301-redirects on all URLs, Webmaster Tools domain move submitted, the whole lot.

    But the moment the new domain name replaced the old one in Google’s SERPs, traffic dipped. Branded search traffic was maintained, but the site’s long tail performance plummeted.

    Having eliminated all other possible causes, the only conclusion I can draw is that the new doman – being fresh and lacking any history – has no authority built up to be able to rank well on long tail searches, despite all the 301 redirects we implemented. Domain authority apparently doesn’t migrate very easily.

  • http://www.mediavisioninteractive.com Louis Venter

    Thanks for the comment Barry, you’re 100% right, I don’t think a lot of site based metrics migrate across! It would be interesting to hear any opinions on if people have managed to do that and how they achieved it.

    Did you use the site migration tool in WMT? Not that i am expecting that to make a lot of difference but i expect that could be best way of migrating those over it if I were Google and I had any common sense :)

    • http://www.greatwebsitesblog.com Barry Adams

      Yeah we did the whole WMT migration thing – validated both domains and after the switch we told WMT that we moved domains. Don’t think it actually helped any at all, to be honest.

  • http://reussirpermis.com comment réussir son permis

    Thank you a lot for the tips, the 301 redirects are obviously fundamentals.

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