Whether you’re making changes to your website, or moving it to an entirely new platform, if you haven’t redirected your key pages properly, you are unwittingly corroding your rank, traffic, and sales.
Bad or non-existent redirects are one of the most common mistakes that website owners make when launching a new website. All the hard work that was put into building up those pages basically goes down the drain.
The reason for creating a redirect is to prevent any loss of traffic to a given page by sending traffic from old URLs to your preferred or new URL.
If you’re an SEO professional or webmasters tasked with migrating a website and want to retain value of all your top performing pages (and avoid the detrimental aftermath of bad redirects), you need to know these pre-migration best practices and migration solutions for different scenarios, and also have a post-migration redirection plan
Pre-Migration Best Practices
It’s important to take a scientific approach to your migration. What would Einstein do?
Audit the entire site and list all the relevant pages on it. Thankfully, there’s a tool for that!
- Go to Google Webmaster Tools
- Click on the “Top Pages” tab in the “Search Queries” report
- Click on “Download chart data.” This will allow you to export all the information
This will provide you all of the basic Google Webmaster Tools stats of your most popular pages such as impressions, click-throughs, and position.
However, this isn’t a standalone solution and should be combined with other data extraction tools to paint the most accurate picture of your website’s standing.
SeoTools for Excel can be used to gather some other useful data, such as Google PageRank and Majestic SEO‘s can be used to identify external backlink data. The goal of this is to sort through the pages that are not ranked and don’t have backlinks. This will provide a better idea of what is popular on your site.
Once you’ve sorted through the data, you will be left with a shortened list of URLs. With this list you can now try to match your old URLs to the corresponding pages of your new site architecture. This is not an easy task.
Chances are you will find pages spilt into several new pages. Some pages will no longer exist. Others will no longer match with any of the new pages.
Migration Solutions for 3 Common Scenarios
Here are solutions to three common scenarios:
One on one equivalency between the old and new page: Direct Redirection.
301 redirects to:
Product or service page is discontinued.
- Option 1: Find a very close product page that would be an appropriate substitute.
- Option 2: Redirect to the sub-category of the product or service page.
301 redirects to
If you discontinued the product line or service you should redirect to the parent category. For example:
301 redirects to
In the case that there is no appropriate category and the page has no place anywhere on your new site then you let it die (404 no redirection).
It is important to make sure that you follow a plan like the one listed above. Redirecting pages to different or new categories will not bode well for your backlinks, which could lead to site penalizations.
Technical Details of a Redirection
In a word, redirections are “complicated.” While different servers have different mechanisms to handle redirection these are a few general guidelines to take into consideration:
- Handle redirections on the server level. This is cheaper than on the CMS level.
- Try to keep redirections to a minimum. A good ballpark figure would be 100. Anything more could require more infrastructure if you have a high amount of traffic.
- Use regular expressions for the redirections when you can. This should reduce the number of required redirections.
- Make sure you test your redirections as soon as possible – waiting too long could seriously harm your rankings and cause you to lose visitors.
- Use 301 redirects for site migrations. 302s indicate temporary redirects.
- Even with the best redirection plans, some pages might slip through the cracks. To cover all your bases you should create a user friendly 404 page. This could make a significant difference by retaining your customer base.
Hopefully your site comes out of a migration with just a few cuts and scrapes. There is the optional step of doing a ranking scan on your top keywords before the migration and a few days after the migration. This will let you assess any damages and allow you to gauge how long your road to recovery might be.
Post-Migration Redirection Plans
So you just realized that doing a redirection plan is really important but you’ve already gone through with a site migration. There’s no need to go into complete panic mode yet. Here’s what you can do.
It’s difficult to judge when a site will be indexed by Google, it could be days or a mere few hours. So it’s best to act fast.
- Look at your site analytics and find the top performing pages before the migration.
- If you’re a quick enough, you’ll be able to implement the redirections before Google indexes your new site.
You will probably lose some rankings. If your site is in a moderately competitive niche, you should be able to gain some ground in the rankings – don’t expect to jump back up to your previous positions though. If you’re in a highly competitive niche, you will have your work cut out for you.
Doomsday Redirection Plans
And finally, we must get to the worst case scenario. You’ve done a migration without a redirection plan in place and now Google has indexed your new site. It’s been a long time since you’ve checked out your Analytics and you just realized that your sales have plummeted and visits are down – way down.
What do you do if it’s too late?
- Curl up in a ball and cry. It sucks.
- Pull yourself together, mitigate your losses by trying to do the redirections, and save your link juice.
- Take a look at your backlink profile for dead links. Identify a list of good quality sites and start typing out some emails to get those broken links fixed with your new ones.
- You might have to head back to the drawing board. It’s probably time to get going on a link building campaign.
There are ways to recover from a botched CMS migration – even a site name migration. Hopefully you’ve read this before it’s too late!
Cristian Oana of nvi contributed to this post.