Why SEO should be at the heart of your migration

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Why SEO should be at the heart of your migration

I’m here today to talk to you about why SEO should be at the heart of your migration, or any migration. Now, my role in RocketMill for the last seven years has been finding the right client partnerships, which means I’m on the front line when we receive inquiries.

I have to have a little rant. It becomes very frustrating when a client carries out a migration – so they might launch a new website – we get called afterwards, when their organic traffic absolutely tanks. So, we’re called in panic when actually we should be part of the project or their internal team should be part of the project from the very beginning.

What is a migration?

So, I just want to explain what I mean when I talk about the word ‘migration’. It could be a re-platform, so you might be moving from Magento, for example, to a new version of Magento, you might be moving to Sitecore. If it’s a service based site, you might be going from WordPress to Umbraco. You could simply be moving domains. You could be merging two different sites. Or simply, you might be moving or developing a new website.

The one thing I’m not going to be covering today is the migration from HTTP to HTTPS. There is a resource on our website if you do want to look at that, which is very important. Sometime in the near future, you will be seeing on Google Chrome, you will be seeing, if you’re accessing an unsecure site, you will see a red pop-up. So that is very important.

Will a site migration cause organic traffic to dip?

But I just want to talk about a little myth. Now, often people expect to lose a lot of organic traffic. They expect it when they’re migrating. Now, this could be the case if you’ve got thousands or hundreds of thousands of pages. Google will have to recrawl those pages, and you might see a slight dip, but actually it should be seen as an opportunity to grow your traffic. In a lot of cases you don’t actually see a dip if this is carried out correctly.

Case study: Enterprise rent-a-car & Avis

So, I’ve chosen two very relevant examples. We’ve Enterprise rent-a-car and Avis. Both global car hire brands. Turn over tens of billions of pounds. So, you can understand how important their site’s going to be.

The reason why I’ve chosen these two sites or two companies, is they both carried out migrations at very similar times, and they both went to Adobe Experience Manager. So similar timings and the same platform.

This is a graph from Searchmetrics, which shows both of their organic search visibility. Now, you can see, they’ve migrated at a similar time, and Enterprise put SEO at the heart of their migration. They put it as part of the planning, and you can see the difference. It is so important that you start considering this from the beginning of any migration plan.

The migration process

I’m just going to talk to you a little bit about the process. We’ve broken down the process into three stages:

    • The preparation, so before
    • Staging server,
    • Then post-launch.

Now, I’m not a technical SEO expert, so I’m not going to go into huge detail. I’m going to cover this at a top level. My aim of this presentation is for you to understand why it should be put at the heart of any migrations, so at the beginning.


So, preparation. Benchmark performance, this should seem obvious, but actually, what are your ambitions for this migration? Is it to improve user experience? Is it to increase organic traffic? Do you just want the traffic to remain steady? Understand that, so when it actually comes to the post-migration you can understand, was the migration a success?

This is one part that’s really important because it allows a bit of a reset. So, actually, audit and crawl all of your content. Look at your analytics, what is getting traffic? What isn’t getting traffic? You may have content on your site that talks about you in ways that aren’t relevant anymore, or even services you don’t provide. So what content should stay? What needs to be reworked? What needs to be migrated? If it’s a page that might have, for example, be referenced a lot across the web but is no longer relevant to you, then where are you going to 301 that page to? The nearest relevant page. So, make sure you’ve got a proper plan and understand what you’re going to migrate and why.


One part that’s quite important, I’ve separated this, is if you’re designing a new site, let your SEO team, your content team, your SEO partners where it’s an agency, let them see these designs, let them see the wireframes. Is their content above the fold? Is the site structure looking correct?

Also, technical requirements, they’re going to have very specific technical requirements that are needed for the new site. It helps if they feed in before you get to development.

Interesting stat here, and this is another point of why it’s so important to get this from the beginning. If you’re getting that input before you’ve actually gone into development, it is going to save you a lot of time and cost. There’s no point getting a site on a staging server and then sending it over for SEO recommendations and doing all of that work in reverse. You can save a lot of time, a lot of revenue, you can be far more efficient, and also the input of the technical SEO team are going to have an impact on user experience, they’re going to help the overall site to improve. So it’s important to do it from the beginning.

Staging server

Moving on to staging server. So you’ve actually coded the website, it’s on a staging server. Let the SEO team have access, let them carry out a full technical audit, and make sure their recommendations are properly taken into account and implemented.

Furthermore, redirects are crucial in the part of any SEO project. So check the redirects, make sure they’re working accurately and done properly.


Moving on to launch, arguably the most important part. Now, make sure you have support on-hand, in-house, and from your agency. You may think it’s ludicrous, but it has happened – people choose to launch on a Friday, a Friday afternoon. Why would you do that when people possibly are not going to be on hand for the weekend? And, if they are, you’ve probably ruined their weekend!

You do live implementation checks. Now, there’s software out there that is disaster prevention even. Now, that is really important for developers. When you’ve got huge sites of thousands or hundreds of thousands of pages that are constantly being worked on, it’s very difficult for a human to notice if anything’s been changed by accident from a technical SEO perspective. So, for example, if a developer’s creating a new page or doing a little bit of work to a page and meta descriptions get removed, canonicals have a problem, this software will notify you on the minute. Sorry, each day it will notify you, so you can just protect your site. So, there’s things like this to consider, and there’s a lot of software out there that actually does that.

Why a one-off SEO audit isn’t enough

Moreover, one thing that actually is not relevant to migrations but I thought it’s important for this presentation. Because, again, with my experience, it’s something that we’re constantly asked.

A lot of brands talk to agencies about carrying out technical SEO audits, and they might do them every six months, every year. Now, it’s good that their site’s being looked at from a fresh perspective, from an external perspective. The challenge with that, and I’ll give you an example, we work with a lot of publishers, we work with IDG Publishing on a regular basis from a technical perspective. If, for example, we did an audit for them and then Google released AMP, so accelerated mobile pages, a month afterwards, then we wouldn’t be able to actually…Of course, we’re going to approach them and talk to them, but we wouldn’t have spotted that at that point, which is why when you do an audit, it’s important to have a proper road map.

So, look at your critical issues, look at what are quick wins, what are larger projects? And work with someone on an ongoing basis so you can constantly re-prioritise. Google changes quicker now and search engines change quicker than they ever have done, and new things are released, voice becoming more important. So, you need to keep your finger on the pulse and re-prioritise accordingly, which is really important. Thanks very much.