The Search Agency: Why do online marketers need to keep SEO in mind when approaching a website migration or redesign?
Mark: At least for the time being, humans, and search engines are dependent on URLs to find, interact and assign value to content on the Internet. This means that both a user’s experience and the SEO value accumulated by a website are to a large degree, tied to the URLs that make up the site.
What’s a URL? Think of it as the address of “something” on the Internet.
The key thing to remember about URLs is that they’re unique, unique as any mailing address, credit card, or phone number you’ve ever had. When you decide to change one of these three, you need to communicate that change out to the world right? And, what happens if you don’t? Things start to break right? Your mail stops showing up, your auto-bill pay fails, and your friends can’t reach you.
Well, the same kind of breakage can occur for visitors to your website after a migration if you don’t properly manage your URLs. You need to make sure that you communicate any URL changes you make out to the Internet and you do this through what are called “redirects.”
And keep in mind—time is of the essence. How long are visitors going to be interested in a webpage about breaking news, which breaks? Not long, right? Well search engines won’t be interested for long either, which means it can cost you SEO value and rankings as they drop your broken pages from their indexes.
The Search Agency: What are the three most essential SEO best practices online marketers need to keep in mind in planning their website redesign or website migration?
The first would be Priority URL Identification. In a perfect world, any URL which changes during a re-design/migration will be properly redirected to its new location. In the real world, sometimes this just isn’t possible— things happen and deadlines hit hard. But, you can build a solid foundation for success if you first identify Priority URLs ahead of time. If you’re forced to cut corners, cut old images URLs, cut old article URLs, cut anything else. This priority list can help you stay focused on the success of your re-design/migration and prevent you from becoming distracted by other items that can find their way into your development queue.
What constitutes a Priority URL? Well, it’s different for every business and every website. They can include obvious URLs like those for your top navigation and they can include URLs for those articles your company produced last year which happened to catch fire and go viral. Remember those two? They can include your highest Time on Site pages. You know which ones those are, right? It takes a good amount of effort to make a determination as to what constitutes a Priority URL, so plan accordingly and give yourself plenty of time pre-migration.
The second would be Redirect Testing. Before a re-design/migration you need to make sure you can correctly and cleanly redirect URLs as needed. You want to avoid producing multiple serial redirects; you want to avoid alternating between 301 and 302s. The typical best practice for migration redirects should be “one 301 per URL”.
The third would be Post-Migration Monitoring. Ever heard this before? “The best laid plans of mice and men often go astray”
Despite all your preparations and planning, unforeseen things can happen during and after a migration and that’s ok… as long as you’re prepared. Once your URL changes have gone live and your redirects are in place you need to make sure you’re monitoring website activity for an extended period of time. You need to make sure your live redirects are functioning as intended and you need to make sure the user experience is seamless and uninterrupted. A successful migration will usually have little effect on user experience.The period of time right after a redesign or migration is where small mistakes can blossom into a mushroom cloud of failure. Identifying and fast-fixing post migration issues should be the highest priority of your development team. And remember, time is of the essence.
The Search Agency: Moving away from website migration, what are some of your interests outside of the office?
Mark: If I’m not in front of a computer, I’m off reading. I’m not sure what changed inside my head over the last 5 years, but I’ve recently turned into a bookworm. I now have two fully stocked IKEA bookshelves in my house, which is kind of a big deal. I’m that guy who would have written his term paper on the X-tinction Agenda X-Men comic book series if he could have.
Recently, my oldest friend Nick recommended I read a few books by the author Joe Abercrombie. I got through each one in record time, and in my opinion, his “First Law” trilogy gives The Lord of the Rings a run for its money. Yeah, I went there. From its character development, intensity and humor, the books are a masterpiece of Fantasy writing. Check it out: