Web Migration Trauma
Imagine you are a seasoned heart / lung transplant surgeon. Doing ONE MORE transplant, despite the life-saving miracle it creates for the patient, is “routine” for you. Now imagine you need to do something similar in TRAUMATIC scale to your website – migrate to a new server or platform.
You will migrate a site a handful of times IN YOUR CAREER. And each of those moves will be fraught with danger. “Migration” is when you change your website’s location or the platform serving it. Migration is INEVITABLE and TRAUMATIC.
This Curagami post shares 5 tips we developed as a Marketing Director working for Atlantic BT, one of the largest web development agencies in the southeast (in Raleigh, NC). One of the FEW places you can do as many website migrations as a seasoned surgeon is working for a web dev agency like ABT. When Atlantic BT picks up business sites often need to be MOVED to their servers, thus the need to transplant heart and lung before any other work can commence.
Five Website Migration Tips:
- Up Your PPC Spend.
- Tighten Your Site Maps & create SILO based maps (advanced).
- 301 never 302 and Watch Webmaster Tools like a hawk for 404 Page Not Found.
- Create highly social & shareable content like contests and games.
- Know your 80:20 Rule and creating supporting content BEFORE the migration.
Website Migration Tip: Increase PPC Spend
You stand to lose 30% to 40% of your traffic due to dropped links, pages being in the wrong place or, and this is the worst one, new “spider traps” created by your new platform. Spider traps are like search spider Roach Motels – search spiders go IN, but they never come out. Spider traps can happen for a million reasons. If you are introducing a responsive design and don’t know what you are doing (or your designers and backend programmers don’t) your site may invite spiders into a roach motel.
You KNOW your site is experiencing a trap when you see initially slow and steady decline in position, and yes this is one of the few times we suggest using position. Your site isn’t showing up as much as your traffic is declining. Slow can become exponential as we’ve experienced, so if you see a steady erosion after taking all 5 of these steps your code is probably trapping the spider.
There are tools that will spider your site like Google. We’ve used Screaming Frog and found it helpful. There are other tools that will tell you there’s a problem and where you are losing steam (SpyFu, Majestic SEO, Moz.com, RavenTools). If you see slow and steady decline despite taking the 5 steps outlined here your code is probably at fault.
Three months before your migration increase your PPC spend. Even if increasing your PPC reduces your ROAS (Return On Ad Spend), let your short term ROAS suffer to protect your long-term asset – the site. If you build traffic UP 30% and then lose 30% you are even and can recover from a position of strength (always a better idea).
Our ROAS was $3 dollars for every $1 spent. When we migrated I lowered ROAS to $2 to $1 for three months prior to the move and for a month after.
Your email marketing can be another big ally to protect your site. I didn’t put email marketing on the list because your list is a crown jewel. Risk it at your peril. If you are in a “all-in” HOUSE ON FIRE migration you may need to toss your email list into the fire to shore up your traffic and site heuristics (time on site, pages viewed, bounce rate), but list fatigue (losing subscribers) can make such an emergency gesture costly in the long term.
Create a contests with voting stage. People who want to win will drive traffic into your site to win. BEWARE SPAM is rampant on any contest like this so use good anti-spam techniques up to and possibly including capcha.
Website Migration Tip: Site Maps
If your site map sucks the time to fix it is BEFORE a migration. I’m a big believer in Bruce Clay’s Siloing ideas. if you are lucky enough to have fighter pilot SEOs and programmers who know how to create silo site maps your migration has a powerful helper. Submit those maps DAILY during migration.
And make sure you submit to BING too. During a migration you are TRAFFIC AGNOSTIC. This means you need TRAFFIC and don’t care all that much about its source. That doesn’t mean to JUNK UP your traffic, but including BING when you never have before is a great way to shore up your Google slide (if there is any).
“Shoring up the Google slide,” is the name of the game.
Your site maps can provide an alternative “crawl”, so if you are trapping the spider you may not feel that pain UNTIL you lower your site map submission frequency. Watch your keys like a hawk on a wire waiting for dinner. ANY weakness needs a response.
Your goal should be to GAIN during a migration.
Hard, but not impossible if you do all five steps outlined here. If you DON’T know how to create silo-based site maps I might or might not risk it during migration. I would risk learning how to install silo site-maps IF your front end engineers are as good as Chris Davis (Iron Yard professor). I would trust Chris to read the Clay link above and create those maps better than they’ve ever been created.
If your front end engineers aren’t “A” level talent I wouldn’t add fuel to your migration fire by doing silo maps poorly.
Create silo site-maps for your post migration website. Risk (of messing up) is high, but so is potential reward and you are scrambling the deck anyway. NOT for the faint of heart or for slow moving teams who can’t make changes on the fly.
Website Migration Tip: 301 never 302
302 “temporary” redirects were KILLED by SEO spammers back in the day. Programmers read tags and want to do what they say. 302 is a legitimate tag with a clear definition, but use is SPOILED by those who’ve gone before. Programmers think of a migration as a “temporary” thing. NOPE, a migration is a PERMANENT thing and you should avoid 302’s like the plague.
During one of the migrations of a site my team and I KILLED ourselves to rank (read my No ASP .Net Storefront post on Curagmi for more about the PAIN of SEO in that ecosystem).
NEVER and we mean NEVER let your programmers use OR “institute” a 302. When we were given our “migration tool” from our programmers to watch our webmaster tools reports and redirect broken links the tool generated 302 links and months of PAIN as a result.
If you want to take a risk during migration do what we did for Moon-Audio.com and change your URLs to be consistent with page title, naming and description meta. Risky but worth it if you know what you are doing. Moon is +40% after our move so that risk (along with about 5 others) are paying off (knocking on wood as I type).
Website Migration Tip: Contests & Games
COMMUNITY is a magical thing. Community can protect you from migration blues, so ENGAGE customers, ask for help and appreciate those who advocate and share your site, mission and movement. Get your best supporters and new customers competing.
Here is the contest sequence we’ve used with success in the past:
- Outline The Contest & Ask For Entries With A Deadline (6 weeks max).
- Cull applicants to “semi-finalists” and create “horse races” between them.
- Highest vote counts = become finalists.
- Finalists are judged by a panel of “experts” (i.e. not you) and prizes awarded.
We don’t use vote totals to award prizes since SPAM runs rampant. Better to have a filter to run off the spammers and a panel you trust to award final prizes. Panel members provide a new marketing dimension too (if they are branded, even if they aren’t be sure to include picture and biographies of “judges”).
The missing note above is to DEFINE your Contest Criteria. Be SPECIFIC about who will win and why. If criteria are loose people see your contest as a scam. During one of our contests we had to remove spam blocks lowering vote counts.
Predictably we got flames saying the contest was a scam. I wrote a note about removing the sapm (by hand in a spreadsheet) and the community calmed down. Next time I would be pro-active and write that note as a friendly reminder of the contest terms which clearly stated NO scripted votes. Finding scripted votes we worked hard to remove them to insure the contest was fair and lived by the rules.
Lesson learned. Don’t get flamed. Tell your community about anything that you, as the contest supervisor, have to do to insure fairness and you INCREASE legitimacy and trust.
Web Migration Tip: 80:20 Rule
20% (or less) of your pages control 80% of your rank, traffic, money and subscription. KNOW THOSE PAGES and 301 them VERY CAREFULLY. Pages with RANK (use PageRankChecker a free tool to check) need to be redirected to their new location.
While you can treat pages with 0 rank a tad more roughly I wouldn’t DELETE them.
The proper way to change a page on your website, say for a product you don’t sell now, is to remove the product from its blood supply (site navigation), include a link to similar content somewhere else on your site and, after 3 – 6 months, remove the pages.
Removing pages BEFORE you “decay the rank” puts your Google Model in jeopardy. Cut ’em off, watch their rank decline and then kill ’em. Websites are ADDITIVE environments. NEVER remove a page with rank since doing so angers the Google Gods. And we’ve seen and experienced angry Google Gods and trust us you want to SKIP that experience if at all possible.
Didn’t include this website migration tip, but migration is so much easier when you have a seasoned migration team. Literally a MILLION things can go wrong, but we’ve seen these kinds of things break most often and most horribly:
- Forms – forms crash during migration in disproportionately high numbers.
- Social widgets – any widget may need a reset depending on how and what you migrate.
- Shopping Carts – check this FIRST and place orders on all kinds of rarely ordered things.
- Meta Data – If you have rank be sure to USE existing page meata-data on your new pages too.
- Style Sheets – if you are using CSS, and if you are not shame on you, your CSS can blow up during migration.
- Internal Linking – spiders depend on your linking to know what you are about, but it can go haywire during migration (why site-maps are so important).
We could go on, but you get the idea. Changing your Domain Name Servers (DNS) is a trauma. FIND seasoned migration experts to help. Our company, Curagami, helps with migration frequently. We aren’t taking on new agency clients right now, but we are always up to help with migration since it is something we can design and then hand over and advise. If that sounds like YOU do most of the work you got it (lol).