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Migration Best Practices - SEOkomm 2018


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My talk from SEOkomm 2018 in Salzburg covering best practices on how to successfully naviate through the various types of migrations (protocal migrations, frontend migrations, etc.) from an SEO perspective - mainly focussing on all things tech.

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Migration Best Practices - SEOkomm 2018

  1. 1. Bastian Grimm, Peak Ace AG | @basgr Successfully relaunching your website // The tech edition Migration Best Practices
  2. 2. Get well soon, Theresa! I am just the replacement…
  3. 3. #1 Never change a running system!
  4. 4. Every (big) change brings (loads of) opportunity! But always keep in mind: the price tag for failure is immense! Risk Reward User acceptance “Once in a lifetime” opportunity Project complexity Greenfield project: question everything Resilience/freeze Best chance to really “get shit done” Interruption Opportunity to eliminate “legacy problems” Politics Usually more agile vs regular, daily business Performance Rethink RWD/dynamic serving, HTTPS, URL design, etc.
  5. 5. What is your goal for the migration? The right mindset is super, super important! I want to lose as little as possible!” – isn’t really the right goal for a migration!
  6. 6. Thorough documentation, in-depth definition of requirements and ongoing testing are essential! Be crazy about details
  7. 7. …from someone who has successfully done this type of work before. Ask for help…
  8. 8. #2 A lot of preparation
  9. 9. What should go, what can stay? Complete vs partial site move? Define your migration strategy
  10. 10. Pre-migration site health check & clean-up A properly optimised domain migrates easier and more efficiently. Getting your house in order before the move minimises the risk of losing rankings. ▪ Google Search Console: manual actions, server errors (DNS, 5XX response codes), mark-up validation errors (AMP,, rich cards), robots.txt ▪ Web crawl: internal redirects as well as redirect chains, broken URLs, and internal links ▪ Log files: broken URLs, suspicious status codes, crawler traps ▪ Algo issues? Relocating with Panda, Penguin & Co. makes very little sense
  11. 11. You will need an arsenal of tools! A lot depends on personal taste, but you’ll need at least one tool each for crawling, log file analysis as well as search intelligence – and yes, this costs money!
  12. 12. At a minimum: fix broken pages & broken internal linking
  13. 13. Figure out well in advance how to get access to all relevant server access logs, e.g., native access or using a SaaS solution. Get access to server logs
  14. 14. Gather all URLs including static assets #1 Must haves: log files, XML sitemaps as well as a full website crawl Extras: analytics (top ranking URLs and/or URLs generating the most traffic) Mode > List > Upload small domains large domains
  15. 15. Gather all URLs including static assets #2 Additionally: get the URLs that are strongly linked, bring a lot of traffic and/or have been shared the most, etc.
  16. 16. Switch to monitor your keyword rankings daily Check critical keywords daily to ensure you are only working with the most recent data.
  17. 17. Establishing a status quo performance benchmark Lighthouse (via Chrome DevTools) or provide relevant metrics. Important: don’t just test the homepage, but also category/product pages.
  18. 18. As a rule of thumb: 1-to-1 redirects from old to new! Prepare URL redirect mapping
  19. 19. Provide staging/test server Make sure the server is locked-down properly to ensure your content doesn’t get indexed in advance (i.a. duplicate content problems). Methodology Pros Cons noindex (meta tag/header) ▪ External tools can access without separate access rules ▪ URLs are definitely not indexed ▪ Indexing rules cannot fully be tested (all noindex) ▪ Waste of crawl budget robots.txt ▪ External tools can access without separate access rules ▪ No crawl budget is wasted ▪ Indexing rules cannot fully be tested (only with robots.txt override) ▪ If linked, test URLs may appear in the index (without title/metas). password secured (.htaccess) ▪ No crawl budget is wasted ▪ URLs are definitely not indexed ▪ Everything can be tested properly ▪ External tools must be able to handle password authentication. IP-based access ▪ No crawl budget is wasted ▪ URLs are definitely not indexed ▪ Everything can be tested properly ▪ External tools must be able to handle IP-based authentication. VPN ▪ Absolutely safe! ▪ So safe, only a few tools can handle it!
  20. 20. #3 Implement necessary changes
  21. 21. Migration types and their potential impact on SEO Often these types overlap – or multiple things are done at once. Inspired by @jonoalderson: Type Example Hosting migrations You’re changing hosting or CDN provider(s). You’re changing, adding, or removing server locations. You’re changing your tech stack/caching/lbs. Software migrations You’re changing CMS (or its version/plugins, etc.). You’re changing the language used to render the website. You’re merging platforms; e.g., a blog which operated on a separate domain. Domain migrations You’re changing the main domain of your website. You’re buying/adding new domains/subdomains to your ecosystem. You’re moving a website, or part of a website, between domains. Template migrations You’re changing the layout/structure/navigation of important pages. You’re adding or removing template components. You’re changing elements in your code, like title, canonical, or hreflang tags. … and there are more: ▪ design migrations ▪ strategy migrations ▪ content migrations ▪ protocol migrations ▪ etc.
  22. 22. Make it a granular, multi-step approach Doing everything at once will make debugging & rolling back an almost impossible task! Source:
  23. 23. Build your very own migration Q&A check-list Depending on what type of changes you’re undergoing, this needs to be adapted. Use Aleyda’s template for more inspiration: Canonical tags & other rel-alternate annotations Remember to annotate your dedicated mobile site and to adapt your RSS feeds Stage: Pre-migration Who? Bastian When? 23.05.18 Multilingual setup: customise hreflang target URLs Keep in mind: Various locations can be affected (e.g. head section, server headers, xml sitemaps) Stage: Pre-migration Who? Bastian When? 23.05.18 Update pel=next/prev pagination annotations Are you using Google´s recommendation for pagination? Stage: Pre-migration Who? Bastian When? 23.05.18 Update XML sitemaps Sitemap index file needs to be changed also, if you reference it in robots.txt Stage: Pre-migration Who? Bastian When? 23.05.18 Structured data update ( Update your mark-up references. Short annotations like “//“ don´t validate! Stage: Pre-migration Who? Bastian When? 23.05.18 Update CDN settings and resource hints Update requests for assets to CDNs & any resource hints (preconnect, dns-prefetch) Stage: Pre-migration Who? Bastian When? 23.05.18 Update HTTP header & customise cookie settings If applicable, customise X-Robots header tags. Use Chrome DevTools! Stage: Pre-migration Who? Bastian When? 23.05.18
  24. 24. Update internal links Simply relying on redirects is no migration strategy. Links to other internal URLs Links to internal video filesLinks to internal JavaScript files JS HTML Source code Links to internal image files Links to internal CSS files Links to internal web fonts
  25. 25. Update internal links (within JavaScript files) Simply relying on redirects is no migration strategy. JAVASCRIPT Files Links to other internal URLs Links to internal image files Links to internal CSS files
  26. 26. Update internal links (within CSS files) Simply relying on redirects is no migration strategy. CSS Files Links to internal web fontsLinks to internal image files Links to other internal URLs
  27. 27. Be careful with internal redirects! Avoid redirect chains: old URLs should lead directly to the corresponding new URL. Source: Redirect Chain Report via DeepCrawl
  28. 28. Tricky: don‘t miss “invisible“ HTTP headers! If in use: update X-Robots header tags accordingly. Use Chrome Dev. Tools to visualise! X-Robots rel-canonical using Apaches‘ .htaccess <Files theRequestedFile.pdf > Header add Link '; rel="canonical"' </Files> Other HTTP header variants: ▪ Link: <>; rel="alternate"; hreflang="de" ▪ Link: <>; rel="canonical" ▪ Link: <>; rel="dns-prefetch"
  29. 29. Everything updated? Side-by-side comparison crawl! Better safe than sorry: let’s test crawl the staging server and run a comparison to make sure all contents are 1:1 available:
  30. 30. #4 Work your search console
  31. 31. Create new properties & eventually merge them into a set For example, properties for HTTP and HTTPS with and without www = four domains If you use separate mobile domains, there are six domains in total! Prerequisites for a migration: ▪ No manual actions ▪ No significant amount of crawl errors (DNS, availability) ▪ No problems with the XML sitemaps ▪ Valid structured data/rich cards markup, no AMP and hreflang errors
  32. 32. Transfer disavow links file in time Especially for domains with a “questionable” link profile: GSC setup and disavow file transfer should be done approximately 48 hours before going live!
  33. 33. Set your preferred domain and (if necessary) crawl rate You don’t need to set the crawl rate, but, if you have done so previously, I would suggest transferring the original settings (for now).
  34. 34. Configure geo targeting for gTLDs Synchronise settings for handling URL parameters if necessary (i.e. for “.com” gTLDs).
  35. 35. Before you send to the index: test GSCs fetch & render Make sure Google includes and displays all requested components properly!
  36. 36. Test and re-submit all XML sitemaps Also: synchronise URL parameter settings, if you were using them or if you need them for your site’s functionality.
  37. 37. After all this preparation, all you need to do now is to "just" redirect URLs. 301 redirects all the things!
  38. 38. Even if, as some Googlers say, all redirects are equal… …all we did for this client was change the (chained) 302/307 to 301 redirects!
  39. 39. Note: it only works for domain migrations! Use the GSC “site move” feature
  40. 40. e.g. to won‘t work! The destination can‘t be a gTLD folder!
  41. 41. List crawl of old URLs & manual SERP checks Import old URLs, e.g., to ScreamingFrog (list mode), only 301s should appear here. Additional manual check of indexed URLs, e.g., via LinkClump add-on in Chrome. 1 2 3 4
  42. 42. The most common problem with migrations gone wrong? Missing or wrong redirects! Seriously: check your redirects
  43. 43. #5 Post migration to-do‘s
  44. 44. Focus on 4XX and 5XX status codes first, tackle those “live”! Log file, GSC & GA error monitoring
  45. 45. Re-test: no broken URLs (4/5XXer), tracking in place, correct metadata & other tags, indexing rules, etc. Complete crawl of the new domain
  46. 46. #1 Migration performance monitoring HTTP error status code monitoring (e.g., 40X for Googlebot & Bingbot)
  47. 47. #2 Migration performance monitoring HTTP redirects over time and split by user agent containing *bot*
  48. 48. #3 Migration performance monitoring Top crawled pages breakdown (daily & weekly)
  49. 49. All you need to know about log file auditing In case you just missed my session, here are the slides: More on SlideShare:
  50. 50. Test and apply an “if... then... logic” Based on your previously built Q&A checklist, make sure to double-check everything! IF you work internationally, then test hreflang tags/sitemap annotations. IF PPC ads are shown, then update and test the landing page URLs. IF Google news listings are available, then test the Google news sitemap. IF ratings (featured snippets) are available, then test mark-up. IF SSL is also used on other subdomains, then test these as well. etc.
  51. 51. AMP, structured data, and rich cards error monitoring
  52. 52. Google needs to recrawl ALL the relations, that takes time! Consider hreflang to be broken
  53. 53. Short-term peaks are completely normal, dramatic drops rather not! Keep an eye on the crawl frequency
  54. 54. Compare performances side-by-side HTTPs is usually a little bit slower (handshake etc.): compare your results. Clear goal: never slower than before (always use HTTP/2 when switching to HTTPs) Try it out:
  55. 55. Adjusting/revising external linking Not every link source needs to be updated; focus on the strongest domains (e.g. via LRT Power*Trust or Majestic Trust Flow). Source: Majestic
  56. 56. Re-crawling, recalculation & the inheritance of „trust“ may take a few weeks… First and foremost: be patient!
  57. 57. Especially for new URLs, two weeks are not enough: Source: […] it can take two weeks for some sites but for larger sites, it is more like three months, not even close to two weeks.
  58. 58. #6 Some tips to make your life easier
  59. 59. #1 Bulk testing all the things: mobile-friendliness Mobile-friendliness at scale: Check it out:
  60. 60. #2 Bulk testing all the things: hreflang tags Hreflang tags (in sitemaps) at scale: Check it out:
  61. 61. #3 Bulk testing all the things: redirects & other headers HTTP status codes (errors, redirects, etc.) at scale: Check it out:
  62. 62. #4 Simulate Googlebot for smartphones with JS-rendering ScreamingFrog can do that easily at scale; pay close attention to rendered output! Also pretty cool: Extract > Xpath > //head/link[@rel="amphtml"]/@href
  63. 63. #5 Don’t forget to redirect your images as well! When changing URLs/domains, make sure to implement redirect rules for images. Read the entire post:
  64. 64. #6 Move your robots.txt file When changing domains, make sure to transfer (the contents of) robots.txt!
  65. 65. #7 HTTP 503 is your friend Combine with “revisit-after” to throttle crawling; never use “noindex”/4XX instead! Source: Webmasters should return a 503 HTTP header for all the URLs participating in the blackout […] Googlebot's crawling rate will drop when it sees a spike in 503 […] as Googlebot is currently configured, it will halt all crawling of the site if the site’s robots.txt file returns a 503 status code for robots.txt.”
  66. 66. #8 GSC’s DNS verification can be pretty helpful No need to worry about missing meta tags; plus you can verify before deploying a site/frontend to a new domain – and it’s faster as well! More:
  67. 67. #9 Fix those redirect chains, especially on legacy sites… …as multiple requests waste valuable performance and crawl budget!
  68. 68. #10 Careful: JavaScript frameworks are still tricky Check out Bartosz‘ massive research on crawlability and indexability! Read more:
  69. 69. So in a nutshell… Whenever you perform migrations, make sure to: 01 Don‘t migrate legacy! Do a thorough health check and clean-up first – it‘ll be super hard to analyse errors later on. 02 Collect all the data necessary in advance! Make sure to fully understand your URL portfolio, crawl & GSC data etc. 03 Get access to server log files! As much as I love GSC, the data comes in delayed – and you need instant feedback on errors, etc. 04 Check your redirects, at least twice! Make sure to review your redirect mappings multiple times, ideally with another set of eyes. 05 Be patient & don‘t panic! Don‘t freak out, seriously. Sometimes things can just take a bit longer for Google to fully process (and to pass along signals).
  70. 70. We’re hiring! 30+ performance marketing jobs in Berlin! Come and say “hello” or apply via We look forward to talking to you! Always looking for talent! Check out
  71. 71. ALWAYS LOOKING FOR TALENT! CHECK OUT JOBS.PA.AG WINNER Bastian Grimm Slides? No problem: You want our migration checklist? e-mail us >