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The importance of search engine optimisation in a website migration project

Website migration is one of the most critical projects a digital organization can undertake. Poor decision-making often leads to a dramatic drop in traffic and, ultimately, loss of sales. And it can happen quickly! Regardless of whether the purpose of the migration is to move between technical platforms, update URL or content structure, or any other reason, the process is bristling with pitfalls. Not knowing what those pitfalls are increasing the risk of falling into them.

The graph below shows a real example of how organic visibility crashed after website migration – a situation which very likely prompted a number of emergency meetings and put pressure on digital departments. Loss of traffic or revenue, in particular, tends to make company management react quickly.

As many websites are using new technical solutions, there is an increased demand for the right knowledge to ensure that content is available to Google. This is true when a new website is launched, but is even more important during the migration of an existing website with already generated visibility and organic traffic.

The most common reasons behind failed migrations is a lack of insight into how Google reads content, or SEO skill being brought into the project far too late. The old truth that migration always leads to a loss of traffic and visibility simply is not true – with the correct skill set and planning it can be done without any significant decrease.

It is not uncommon to hear the argument “let’s launch it now, and sort the rest out later”. The problem is that it often takes a couple of days for visibility to plummet while recovering can take months – even when problems are addressed immediately. To avoid this scenario, a clear migration plan with mapping of both the old and the new site structure is needed. Any pages that cannot be found are pages potentially lost from Google’s search results, and this could ultimately lead to lost revenue.

In addition to mapping, several other aspects of a migration need to be addressed to ensure that Google can read the content. There are several skilled web agencies that master the basics of SEO but, as with any profession, only reading up on how a process should work is difficult. A large part of the recommendations we provide are based on experience and our own tests – it is a matter of keeping up, as the rules of the game are constantly changing.

One of the most common discussions between developers and SEOs is based around the vexed question of whether Google can read JavaScript or not. The problem arises when Google officially says that they can, without specifying any requirements. In reality, the answer is more complex than a simple ’yes’ or ’no’. The technology exists, but for a website to actually be indexed high demands are placed on both website and search engine.

Websites completely built in JavaScript require more time and energy to crawl than an equivalent website built in HTML, since all code needs to be compiled before links can be followed. HTML, on the other hand, is read from the top down, which makes it possible to follow links to other pages and crawling pages in parallel.

This is only one example of Google statements that do not offer the complete picture. Another popular example is international sites, where Google on several occasions has claimed that it does not matter if different language versions sit in different domains, subdomains or subfolders, although a range of independent studies clearly shows otherwise. Again, it is difficult to find a clear answer, especially if you lack the scepticism towards Google’s statements which a few years of experience in the business brings.

These are some of the pitfalls which can be encountered, and no two migration projects are the same. Chances are that each individual project needs a completely unique plan, outlining why the migration is undertaken, between which platforms the move will be made, the timings involved, which department should perform critical tasks, and generally how the project should be managed from start to finish.

Most companies would never appoint an auditor or tax lawyer who has acquired their knowledge by Googling. We all know that experience is required to master a specialist field, or things could soon turn out very expensive. So why make this mistake when it comes to your website – especially if organic traffic represents an important part of company turnover?



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