Website Migration SEO Best Practices Checklist

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Website Migration SEO Best Practices Checklist

  1. 1. (C4) Digital C4 - Marketing Agency Website Migration SEO Best Practices Checklist Phase One – Pre Migration 1 Digital C4 LLC - World HQ 4804 NW Bethany Blvd, STE i2140 Portland, Oregon 97229 503.351.8995
  2. 2. (C4) Digital C4 - Marketing Agency Ascertaining SEO Objectives: The decision to migrate a site can be made for multiple reasons, but regardless, the core objective always is to achieve far better visibility with minimal effort. It is a good practice to ascertain the SEO objective while planning the migration, since these objectives will decide the focus elements in the overall SEO plan during migration. Typical objectives include: • Minimizing traffic loss • Minimizing ranking drops • Key rankings maintenance • Head traffic maintenance • Covering additional keywords • Eliminating non-performers /undesired / change focus With these objectives in mind, SEO migration best practices include: URL Structure and Navigation SEO Best Practice #1 Keep the URLs and navigation the same, to the extent possible, for the old website and the new one. Oftentimes a new design triggers a new navigation - adding or removing categories and subcategories, merging or splitting categories and subcategories, adding or removing rollovers or other features. Be sure to check the URL implications of any navigation change very carefully. Copy all of the URLs in the header navigation and all the URLs in the side navigation and compare the list with the URLs produced on the development site for the header and side navigation. If there’s a large degree of change, expect a similarly large degree of risk to the SEO performance of the site. Push to keep the same URL structure and be sure to implement 301 redirects where you can’t, to preserve as much link popularity as possible. Ways to do it… URL`s should be pre re-written by: • In simpler static sites this can be done by keeping the directory structure, categories and page names the same as the older site • In complex websites where the URL is dynamically generated, one should try to create the best matching URL by following (Same Directory/Category/Page Name) principle. For example, if a site has a sweater category page before and after the redesign or migration, and the purpose of that page will remain relatively constant, then the platform’s new URL of http://www.abcclothing.com/sweater-x147gh?cid=43 should be able to be rewritten to the pre-migration URL of http://www.abcclothing.com/sweaters/ 2 Digital C4 LLC - World HQ 4804 NW Bethany Blvd, STE i2140 Portland, Oregon 97229 503.351.8995
  3. 3. (C4) Digital C4 - Marketing Agency SEO Best Practice #2 Create One to One Match Basis 301 permanent redirects for changed/converted URL`s Ways to do it… • Utilize .htaccess for apache web servers, to reply with a 301 redirect and new location of page, to all incoming request for the old URL`s. • Once all the URL`s have been redirected, there should be a check performed to evaluate if two different URL`s are pointing to the same content. Avoid: Writing a common redirect for some or all changed/ non existing pages, and never create a redirect which sends the older URL`s which are now not found to one same page. SEO Best Practice #3 For the pagination or filtered or sorted content use breadcrumbs and define canonical tag Ways to do it… • Sometimes filtering and sorting can generate duplicate content; for these issues [ rel="canonical"] should be defined to suggest to the crawler the version of such pockets of duplicate content are treated as original and one. Avoid: Using 301 redirect for such cases, as they are not good from a human usability perspective. For example, placing a 301 redirect on a URL that sorts the products on a category page so that products are shown by price would result in the user simply ending up on the default sweater page again without the sorting as they requested. That would be bad usability. Meta Data Check SEO Best Practice #4 Selectively Tweak the Meta sets to achieve wider search coverage while maintaining the existing performance. Ways to do it… • Segregate the URL`s set based on their existing performance on the search engine results pages; say we have 100 pages, out of those 30 were ranking in the top ten already for some of the target keywords, 3 Digital C4 LLC - World HQ 4804 NW Bethany Blvd, STE i2140 Portland, Oregon 97229 503.351.8995
  4. 4. (C4) Digital C4 - Marketing Agency another 20 in the top 100 and the remaining 50 not at all, we can create these three groups of URLs and treat them as follows: o The 30 URL`s which are performing well should be left intact, replicating exactly as were in the old website. o The 20 which were having the most potential to climb up should be tweaked partially, since they may have been aiding the top performing pages. o The remaining 50 URL`s can have entirely fresh Meta data written, so as to create additional opportunity to rank for some more keywords. If templates have changed and/or for the complex migration projects, ensure that every template has a default title tag formula associated with it. For example, a category page might have the formula “{Category Name}, Men’s Clothing | MyBestSite.com.” The formulas will ensure that every page has an acceptable title tag at launch, but of course the formulaic title tags should be overwritten with manual optimization for the more valuable or important pages. Note: The aforementioned process depends upon the overall keyword strategy and existing performance; for a site already ranking good for all target keywords, unless it is required to change the keywords themselves, the rule of thumb is to have a “stay intact” policy for Meta implementation. Content & Other Media Objects SEO Best Practice #5 Retain the in body/ content beauty marks For websites that are established and are information oriented it is recommended to retain the consistency of the information architecture. At the page level, the feel should resemble the old one, since it’s a basis of good performance, thus it is recommended to keep the bullets, headings and emphasis as similar as possible. SEO Best Practice #6 Images and Other objects should be placed at roughly the same location and should contain the same ALT/TITLE/Description All the objects (images /PDF /PPT /Multimedia) is indexed by Google and it has a value to the page content, thus It is recommended to keep the already optimized objects intact and provide SEO to those not yet optimized. Ways to do it… • Generate an excel sheet of all images and objects with their respective current alt/Meta data • Analyze the availability of alt attributes /title attributes/license attributes and other embedded object information and mark those which are already implemented 4 Digital C4 LLC - World HQ 4804 NW Bethany Blvd, STE i2140 Portland, Oregon 97229 503.351.8995
  5. 5. (C4) Digital C4 - Marketing Agency • Those with missing alt and other attributes should be filled with new ones as per the overall keyword strategy Sitemaps & Robots SEO Best Practice #7 Don’t delete the old XML sitemap the day new website is up and live Keep the old XML sitemap in place for a week or so to ensure that the robots get pointed to the old URLs; they’ll see the 301 redirects, and will pass the link juice to the new URLs and de-index the old URLs. SEO Best Practice #8 Create and upload the New sitemap only after you see the new pages have been indexed by Google A week after the launch of the site, check Google’s cache date to be sure that the site has been crawled since the launch and then post the new XML sitemap with the new URLs. Google this phrase: “cache:www.myfaksite.com” to read the cache date and time. Ways to do it… • Generate a new sitemap for Google in XML format • Generate a text sitemap for Yahoo/Bing and some older search engines in txt format and name the file “URLlist.txt” • If you would like the resources other than text content to be indexed by the search engines, create “ROR” sitemap, which is needed to inform search engine about other objects found on the page • Submit the sitemap to the search engines using the webmaster dashboards, after uploading them in the root folder of your website SEO Best Practice #9 Don’t block the old URL`s in robots.txt It is recommended that the old URLs not be blocked by a robots.txt disallow directive, or a Meta robots noindex tag, so that the 301 redirect or rel=canonical can be found. 5 Digital C4 LLC - World HQ 4804 NW Bethany Blvd, STE i2140 Portland, Oregon 97229 503.351.8995
  6. 6. (C4) Digital C4 - Marketing Agency Links evaluation SEO Best Practice #10 It’s likely that not all the requests can be covered by a 301 redirect so implement a 404 error page. Ensure that a friendly 404 page is in place to help users who have accidentally stumbled upon an error page reorient themselves and continue their browsing with as little disruption as possible. The 404 page also needs to return a 404 server header code, not a 200 OK server header code. The 404 code tells search engines that that page is gone and needs to be de-indexed. Ideally all pages will be covered with a 301 redirect so that the search engines don’t encounter any 404s, but mistakes do happen. Ways to do it… • Run a broken link report, by using any good broken link checker tool such as “IIS seo toolkit” by Microsoft. • List such broken links in an Excel sheet and: o Remove references of non-existing object/pages from internal site and sitemaps o For the moved /renamed /changed object and resource, implement a 301 redirect • Create a custom 404 Error page in any html editor and define it through the .htaccess file; in Drupal you can configure from within the Dashboard • The custom 404 Error page can have Google`s “Enhance 404 pages” widget which is a search box and similar page recommendation widget from Google. [link to widget] SEO Best Practice #11 Let the less important pages go away. Over the course of the life of a website, it may be that some links still exit on third party websites which point to content which is obsolete (like some very old news / fact / calendar /spam content etc.). During site migration, it presents a good opportunity to get rid of this obsolete content and keep the website fresh and updated. Ways to do it… • See the content performance reports, and list the least performing and old content pages • Run inbound link checker tool to reveal backlinks from external sites to these unimportant pages • Create a 301 redirect for all such incoming requests to match the updated information, for example somebody looking for link to “annual holiday calendar” from some third party site should be redirected to the updated calendar page • For the pages removed entirely, a good practice would be to reflect the changes in new sitemap 6 Digital C4 LLC - World HQ 4804 NW Bethany Blvd, STE i2140 Portland, Oregon 97229 503.351.8995
  7. 7. (C4) Digital C4 - Marketing Agency Analytics / Webmaster setup SEO Best Practice #12 Verify that all tracking tools are in place from the very start Make sure Google analytics and Google Webmaster Tools are implemented and verified for the entire site the way it was, and it should be done in parallel to the migration. The principle being - The sooner, the better! Ways to do it… • The template file from the initial start should contain the necessary tracking script, so the moment they are live, they are being tracked. If the old site is live and up during the migration process, it is advisable to create a new tracking property with some changed name in analytics, and that should be used for tracking moving forward • For the event and page level tracking it should be done as they are being implemented; i.e. when they were being setup /created • A good idea would be to create an excel sheet mapping the old URL and corresponding new url`s to facilitate any comparison at the content performance level Avoid: Using the same analytics code within the pages which are still not live, in the case the old site is already live to avoid duplicate tracking. Appendix: Site Migration & SEO Useful Tools Some of the following tools would be very handy during the migration process, for different reasons. Crawler applications IIS SEO toolkit (free) Xenu Link Sleuth (free) Analog X Link Examiner (free) Screaming Frog (paid) Integrity (For MAC - free) Scraper applications Scraper Extension for Chrome Scrapebox (paid) Link Intelligence software 7 Digital C4 LLC - World HQ 4804 NW Bethany Blvd, STE i2140 Portland, Oregon 97229 503.351.8995
  8. 8. (C4) Digital C4 - Marketing Agency Open Site Explorer (free & paid) Majestic SEO (free & paid) HTTP Analyzers HTTP Fox (Firefox) Live HTTP Headers (Firefox) IP checkers Show IP (Firefox) WorldIP (Firefox) Website IP (Chrome) Link checkers Simple Links Counter (Firefox) Check My Links (Chrome) Monitoring tools Uptime Robot (monitors domains for downtime) Robotto (monitors robots.txt) Rank checkers Google Global (Chrome) SEO SERP (Chrome) SEO Book Rank Checker (Firefox) Site performance analysis Yslow (Firefox) Page Speed (for Firefox) Page Speed (for Chrome) 8 Digital C4 LLC - World HQ 4804 NW Bethany Blvd, STE i2140 Portland, Oregon 97229 503.351.8995

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