SEO Migration Strategy that will Save Your Rankings

Part 1 of a 3 part series.

There is a lot to think about when redesigning an existing website. Project activities include; budget planning, milestones, and new content development. One of the most important tasks is to ensure that any existing search engine rankings or marketing efforts are not undone during the redesign process.

Thus, you’ll want an experienced SEO to prepare a thorough migration strategy to maintain maintain site traffic and preserve rankings. Failure to prepare and execute a migration strategy can crush your search engine rankings, traffic — as shown in the traffic data above — and revenue.

To properly plan your SEO migration, you need to think of everything that may go wrong and define requirements to help ensure everything goes smoothly.

Since every site is unique, there is no typical migration strategy, but the information below will serve as a guide for your migration.


Information gathering — a.k.a. discovery — is where everything begins.

Start by collecting passwords, access to automated marketing tools, Bing Webmaster Tools, and Google services such as Analytics, Adwords and Webmaster Tools.

Also determine contact information for stakeholders, decision makers and technical staff. Understanding the decision making process and obtaining the appropriate permission to contact third parties on behalf of the client/site may also be useful.

Pro Tip: Use evernote, or google docs, to start documenting information about the migration.

Baseline information

Take time to see what parts of the site are performing well in SEO and others areas that are struggling. Free services such as Google Analytics and Webmaster Tools will give you reams of valuable information.

At a minimum, take note of the following metrics on the existing site:

  • high ranking pages
  • average daily traffic
  • pageviews

Metrics like click-through rates, time on site, average page views per visitor and conversions are to be noted as well.

Pro Tip: Use the 90-10 rule for URLs. Note the URLs that account for 90% of your traffic. We’ll discuss this in depth in Part 2 of this series.

Clean up your existing website

When content is being migrated it’s best to have everything in working order before you begin. Tools will include a sitemap generator, link checking software, and access to Google and Bing webmaster tools.

Begin by running a link check. Xenu's Link Sleuth is a handy, free app for Windows that will let you check that there are no broken links on your website. There are many configuration options you can adjust and test for your individual preferences, but in its simplest form, perform the following:

  • Run Xenu Link Sleuth
  • Find broken internal links on the website
  • Investigate problems
  • Update links that have errors
  • Run the tool until all internal errors have been updated
Mac users will want to try Integrity to check for broken links, but the workflow is identical.

You should also check your site's health by using Google Webmaster tools. For example:

  • Check for existing 404 errors
  • Export and make note of any errors or health issues
  • Implement best practices using a 301

Update your Sitemap

The Sitemap is probably the single most important piece of information you'll need for executing your strategy. Here are guidelines for your sitemap:

  • Be sure to use the Sitemap XML format (most sitemap tools take care of this for you)
  • Keep your sitemap below 50,000 URLs
  • Do not include parameters (eg: should be

Once you complete cleaning up errors on the existing website, update your sitemap. If you do not have an existing sitemap you must create one, tools like can be very helpful.

Pro Tip: Online crawlers such as this this Sitemap Generator respect browser sessions. Be sure to LOG OUT of your website before using them.

Once the basic errors fixed and the sitemap is current, it’s time to organize and make an action plan for migration.

Pro Tip: While fixing errors on your site, monitor SEO metrics for any unexpected consequences on traffic and rankings.

Communicate your SEO migration strategy

In Part 2 of this series, we’ll go into the details of implementing the SEO migration strategy. But before you get to that, schedule a meeting to discuss the plan.

It’s an SEO’s job to communicate technical requirements, set expectations and ask questions that will impact SEO migration. Be sure to prepare an agenda that will include a summary of the discovery phase.

This meeting needs to include anyone involved in managing or maintaining the website, its content and it’s marketing. Project managers, designers, developers, copywriters, marketeers and administrators need all be involved.

This is also a good time to ask questions such as:

  • How much data loss will incur during launch?
  • How can we limit downtime during launch?
  • What are the technical restrictions we will encounter?

Coming up...

Part 2 of this series will include a step-by-step timeline of events to deploy your strategy during the site redesign process.

If you have additional tips that can be implemented in the discovery phase, please leave a comment below and I’ll update this post.

Last modified on Apr182013
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