Changing the name of the domain, or site migrations, as it is otherwise known, is a difficult and painful experience, both in terms of difficulty and its implications on the search results thereon. You need to have an extensive plan charted out before you begin with the procedure. So, if you’re thinking about it either because your company’s branding has changed or you are merging with another company, there a few things that can make this transition easier, and fruitful, by the time it all ends. Through a video recently published by Google, John Mueller offered some valuable inputs on site migrations and what you can do to ensure the process is smooth and successfully completed. In the beginning of the video, a question posed to John, asking what will be the risks of undergoing a site migration along with restructuring some of the site’s URLs. To which John answered, “Unfortunately, while this may at first sound like a small change within a website, it’s not that simple for search engines. In particular, search engines like Google store their index on a per-page basis. So if you change the address or the URL of a page, that page’s data has to be forwarded somehow, otherwise it gets lost. It doesn’t matter if you’re completely rebuilding a website or if you’re just removing a slash from the end of URLs. These are all essentially site moves.” He further went to offer some valuable tips on site migration.
Site Migration Tips from Google’s John Mueller
Have a comprehensive plan at the ready with probable jarring effects
It’s important to plan out the whole thing well in advance otherwise it can be a very troublesome experience. One way to go about it is split the two websites about to be merged into two sections and see if some of them can map out to each other. Isolate pages that can’t be moved or mapped to the new site; these pages should ideally lead to a 404 response. Muller also said that since these changes take time and have ranking effects, it’s also recommended to consider the timing of when you make the move.
List out all the New and Old URLs
Make a detailed list of all the URLs, new and old and put them in a spreadsheet. You can do so using Screaming Frog, a fast and advanced SEO site audit tool. It can be used to crawl both small and very large websites. So when after the new URLs are up and running with all the redirects in place, you can crosscheck your efforts by uploading the old list of URLs to Screaming Frog and it will start crawling. It will then show you which are redirecting to the new URLs, which are not, and which are showing a 404 code. Hereon, you can easily determine which of the old URLs didn’t cross over to the new site and whether some of them were repairable collateral damage that can later be mapped out to a new URL, making it all the more easier to manage contingencies efficiently. As Mueller said, this tip will help you track and check the changes afterwards.
Green Light the site migration
Mueller advised doing a thorough 301 redirect of all the old URLs to the new ones, and also update all internal mentions such as links, forms, structured data, sitemaps and the Robots.txt files.
Keep a close eye on all of it diligently
Mueller further went on to advice on the usage of Search Console to your advantage, stating, “Check all pages for the redirect. In Google’s search console report you should see a quick change for the most important pages and then a slower change as our systems reprocess the rest.”
Leave the redirects in place for at least a year
Websites that have links pointing to the old URLs of your website will take time before they are broken. For this reason, Mueller recommends by way of his experience to leave the redirects in place for at least a year. It may even be more than a year. He also warned that it could eventually take many months before you can correctly determine overall quality of the website, as even Google needs time in crawling and indexing and understating what the site is all about and where it should be placed in the SERP results. Unplanned or carelessly thought out site migrations can lead to a loss in site’s search presence as well as its brand value. But if all of it is properly planned and carefully executed, it can be a long albeit seamless experience where you regain all or even more than that was lost in transition. Happy Migrating! Source: Search Engine Journal