Robert Beerworth Team : Web Strategy Tags : SEO Common Sense User Experience Featured

The importance of website migration

Robert Beerworth Team : Web Strategy Tags : SEO Common Sense User Experience Featured

In almost every website and digital strategy presentation I have given in at least the past five years, I have always set aside time to discuss website migration and its importance to the success of the future website.

What continues to worry me, presentation after presentation, is that I feel as if I am the only one that has considered or worried about the issue.


What is website migration?

In the good old days of the web, you could pretty much do anything online without penalty.

There was nothing there to penalise you.

Analytics were scant and rarely read by clients and so even if there was a penalty, nobody knew about it.

And users had no useful mechanisms for complaining about new websites and the change so businesses had no feedback. And probably didn’t care back then even if there was feedback.

Times have changed.

Website migration is a broad topic that essentially covers introducing a new website or website function, especially if an existing website or website function is changed.

In the good old days, you merely dropped your old website and replaced it with the new.

Ditto a new or upgraded piece of functionality.

Out with the old, in with the new.


Except today there is penalty

Migrating a new website (or piece of website functionality or content) needs careful consideration and planning.

Quite arguably, it is the greatest risk in a modern website project and one that needs focus across the gamut of web skills.

Let me try and explain.


1. SEO

For most businesses, achieving good rankings in search is an important part of their online business.

Nobody knows why Google does the things it does, though over time, many businesses find a balance that works and achieve good rankings and therefore (good) traffic.

A new website disrupts this considerably.

Your content changes, your design changes, your architecture changes and your technology changes.

This is a big hit and a huge risk.

Even if you’re doing ‘best practice’ and improving your content, website speed and so forth, you are taking quite a gamble, however calculated you think it is.

My experience is that an improved website will get re-indexed well by Google, though get some advice, especially if maintaining position 1 in Google is critical to you. Look at your analytics, try and understand what is going on and working and plan page by page what can remain and what needs to change.


2. 301s

I have written about 301s before, so I’ll be brief.

Failing to migrate the existing pages in your website to the pages in your new website will turn Google against you. Big time.

If you leave old and unaccounted pages in Google’s index and do not tell it how to handle the, Google will repay the favour by stopping sending traffic to you.

Google's goal is to deliver the best experience possible to its users and a 'Page not found' experience is the worst.

Every page on your website needs to be accounted for, however old and irrelevant they might be to you.

Even PDFs, images and other files in Google’s index.

Old pages can be consolidated; hundreds of old and irrelevant news articles can be pointed to the same news landing page. Google doesn’t care, as long as each page is handled.

You will quite literally go back to the dark ages if this is not well managed.

And planning is only half the effort.

My experience is that no matter how hard you try and map your existing website and map it to new pages, Google (and users) will know more than you can discover.

Monitor incredibly closely your 404s immediately after launch and immediately (and manually) point them to the new page/pages via 301s.

Seriously, dark ages if you get this wrong.


3. Users hate change

Website users are the worst.

They hate change and they complain about everything, even if you have made life better for them.

And I’m talking external users of your website and internal users of your website (e.g. sales teams and partners).

Get buy in early. Get it often.

Strategies can vary and potentially, you leave the older version of the website going whilst users can adapt.

I dislike my previous suggestion because it is a sort of bury your head in the sand approach, though talk to users early, get their feedback, implement and communicate more broadly.

The calls and social media zings will be far lessened.


This is risk minimisation 101

Nobody builds a new hospital, transfers the patients without warning and burns the old one down.

Sure, websites aren’t hospitals, though Google are the taxies that know only the old hospital (unless you tell them the new and help them get there)...

And users are the patients screaming from the old to the new, more focused on complaining that they can't find the new bathrooms rather than the fact that the new bathrooms have marble floors and chrome showerheads.

Website migration sucks though better to get it as best you can than lose the effort and goodwill you built in the old website.