Last year one of my biggest clients decided to re-platform, which was both exciting and bit scary. The reason it was scary was that we decided to migrate the internationalisation of the website from 114 subdomains to a subfolder strategy to consolidate the link equity under a single site.
This scale of redirection was more than a little daunting and I would like to share the approach and the results for those that may be planning a similar migration.
The first step in any redirection strategy is to collate all your links and landing pages into a single document and de-dupe. I tend to keep the traffic included in the sheet as it allows you to identify any pitfalls later on with high traffic pages that don’t have a new home. It’s essential to use as many sources as possible.
We used Majestic, Ahrefs and the landing pages from Google Analytics from the last 3 years. The reason we went so far back in GA was to highlight old redirects from previous link reclamation to try and make it as clean as possible.
Once done, we compared the top pages to the new information architecture to make sure there were no obvious traffic droppers. We highlighted a few and some were taken on board and some were decided to let go. This allowed us to set the expectation that there may be a drop in traffic from these page template but since they didn’t generate leads it shouldn’t affect the enquiry count.
Once the preparation phase was complete we identified we had 4 individual redirect projects to complete:
1) Programmatic Redirects from subdomain to subfolder
This project involved specification of programmatic redirects from the dynamic page templates on the old technology on the subdomains to the new technology on the subfolders. These were distributed to cover all major cities and towns across the globe which made up a significant portion of the enquiry pool so it was essential to get this right.
2) Programmatic redirects from the old to new tech platform
This project involved specification of programmatic redirects from the old platform on the .com to the new platform on the .com. This was also really important as the UK (the old target for the .com) was a key market which delivered a great deal of revenue for them.
3) Static redirects from subdomain to subfolder
Redirecting the static content from the subdomain to new tech on the subfolders. This will be less impactful from an enquiry and revenue point of view but was essential to make sure it was as clean as possible.
4) Static redirects from the old to new tech platform
Redirecting the static content from the old to the new platform on the .com. This was essential to map the old static content to the new to make sure the transition was as seamless as possible.
As luck would have it, each project relied on different technology and different people to deliver. We created detailed specifications for each project, with flat files of the expected redirects and examples of them working. We also created a redirect testing crawler and config files so that the development agency can test the redirects as they deliver them in their test environments. It saved a whole lot of time to-ing and fro-ing which really helps in the long run.
Meetings, Meetings and more meetings
With so many people involved it was really important to get everyone on the same page. We had detailed meetings for all parties to go through the specifications and ask questions. The more examples you provide in the beginning the fewer questions arise.
Timelines are clearly critical too and defining the roll out strategy and go live day was very important to make sure the actual live date goes as smoothly as possible. Having a clear go live procedure in place helped make everyone aware of exactly what needed to happen when for a smooth go-live.
Creating Testing Scripts
Once we had everyone on the same page we created test scripts for us to run as the different tech was delivered by the tech partners. I will share a test config file with the app I wrote at the end of this post, I hope it’s useful J.
This allows us to test thousands of redirects at a time and provide detailed logs of which are and aren’t working. We often provide this to the tech partner to run themselves but in this case the inner control freak in me decided to do that myself.
WMT Configuration and Roll Out
A week before the launch we created physical subfolders for the new tech and uploaded into the old hosting environment. This allowed us to create the webmaster tools/search console account for each subfolder and geo-target them accordingly. We also unlinked the geo targeting on the root .com. The reason we did this was to reduce the amount of activity on go live day and to make sure the containers were ready for the new site deployment.
Pre live checks
On the day of launch we checked the following again:
- Robots – making sure the new site wasn’t disallowing anything
- Redirects – we re-ran all redirects on the staging platform to make 100% sure
- Crawl – we ran the crawler on pre live again ( this was done almost daily in the lead up with the other SEO testing activity)
Roll out strategy
Each member had their own roll out strategy but the go live checks were as follows. I’m happy to say it went live without a hitch 🙂
- Recheck Robots
- Confirm GA is tracking
- Check redirects – again
- Crawl Live
- Uri Valets on key pages to make 100% sure – we picked up a few things here so well worth the test
- Site speed tests
I wanted to give people the opportunity to use the crawler which I have made available for download here. It is a windows command-line application which is really easy to configure. I hope it helps!
I was pretty worried about the speed of the index changing and the short answer is some moved really quickly and some took a bit longer. Overall the site took 4 weeks to migrate across where we experienced a 10-12% drop in search traffic during the transition. Once the transition was complete we saw a 25% jump in search traffic and that has remained consistent since the redirection. We saw very good growth in key markets during that time.
All in all I am super happy with the results of the project and hope it helped those of you which are planning similar migrations in the future. Feel free to ping me on @louisventer if you need any advice.