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Four common risks to SEO during migrations – and how to mitigate them

One of the most common concerns clients have during website replatforming and migrations is what impact the project could have on their hard-earned SEO authority and traffic. Thankfully, with careful planning, it’s not as scary as you’d think.

Picture of Luminary employee, Shayna smiling at the camera with a black background.

By Shayna Burns, 25 May 20225 minute read

It’s true that migrations can be a tumultuous time for SEO. Changes to content, URLs, SEO tags, information architecture and the code base can impact your organic search performance – and when this happens en masse, the risk grows.

According to research conducted by BrightEdge from 2014-2019, for some industries, organic search now contributes more than 50 percent of total website traffic, so we understand the need to minimise channel disruption as much as possible.

Here we outline four common SEO risks that can arise during website migration projects and how to mitigate them. Hint: They all start with briefing your SEO specialist early!

Average percentage of traffic generated by organic search, by vertical

Average percentage of traffic generated by organic search, by vertical (Source: BrightEdge)

1. Thin or no SEO-related technical scope

It can be easy to assume that the out-of-the-box (OOTB) SEO capability of one platform will be the same as the next – but they’re almost always different. 

If your new platform doesn’t have the ability for you to customise certain tags that you’re used to, for example, then your existing SEO strategy might not carry over to the new site. Further, if your performance to date has been held back by technical SEO limitations on your current site (mobile speed, anyone?), you could miss out on finally overcoming those issues if they’re not briefed into your new project from the start. 

Mitigation:

  • Take a platform-agnostic approach to SEO and brief your developers early with your expected capabilities, as rudimentary as some may seem. This way, your devs can sense-check the platform and inform you early if any customisation is required. Use this same list for QA down the track.
  • If some features can’t be accommodated for initial go-live, keep them in the roadmap for a future phase to ensure they aren’t lost. 

2. Consolidating or deleting pages that have SEO potential

Websites have a tendency to grow large, and clients often want to consolidate their sites to make them more manageable. The risk to SEO lies in deleting or consolidating pages that have SEO potential.

When you remove a dedicated page on a particular topic (with its own URL, title tag, meta description, H1 heading and body copy), search engines may not find your remaining content relevant enough to rank for related keywords. If a page was receiving traffic from organic search previously, it’s likely this traffic will be lost once the page is gone. 

Mitigation

  • Include SEO in your content audit during discovery. Review what landing pages and keywords are working well in organic search currently and champion their migration to the new site to help maintain traffic.
  • Conduct a keyword research project to identify additional content opportunities. Avoid focusing too heavily on consolidating your website and instead look for the opportunity to provide a better user experience. With this lens, you might enhance your content or add new pages based on topics, questions and needs identified when reviewing search demand.
  • If you do decide to dramatically consolidate your website, manage stakeholder expectations and communicate that there will be an expected hit to organic search traffic early.

3. Forgetting to migrate SEO tags

During ‘lift and shift’ projects, content from one platform is migrated to the next without any major revisions or changes to site structure, pages or content. The problem for SEO is that what’s migrated is often only what’s visible on the front-end (e.g. page headings, content, images and internal links); SEO tags sitting in the source code may be skipped.

This means the replatformed pages could be launched without optimised title tags and meta descriptions. In other words, we risk stripping keywords out of key page tags:

Title tag and meta description example

Additionally, any custom SEO settings your pages had might also be forgotten:

  • Canonical tags used to manage duplicate content
  • Meta robots tags designed to prevent search engines from indexing certain pages

Mitigation: In your migration plan, include a task to migrate existing SEO title tags and meta descriptions and page-level SEO settings. QA this activity once complete.

4. Incomplete or non-specific URL redirects

When you hear “SEO” and “migration”, you probably think “redirects”. Redirects are a critical activity in maintaining your SEO equity. 301 redirects inform search engines that your old pages are permanently gone and that they should remove those pages from their indexes and forward the SEO equity to new URLs.

The risk for SEO is two-fold. Sometimes:

  • All pages are redirected to a single page on the new site (e.g. the homepage), directing all of the SEO equity to one page instead of distributing it. This will make it much harder for child pages to maintain their performance in organic search and will almost certainly result in a traffic disruption. 
  • Only a subset of pages are redirected (usually the pages that were live on the old site in the months before launch). By not looking at older pages, you could be forgetting to redirect old pages that had SEO equity and backlinks and that now return a 404 error.

Mitigation:

  • To migrate maximum Domain Authority, we recommend creating a comprehensive page-to-page URL map that redirects not only current pages but older popular pages that were live in the last two years (or longer, if you have the time) - especially if those pages had backlinks from trustworthy websites.

If you remember one thing: Brief SEO early

It’s not uncommon for SEO to be pulled into migration projects at the last minute, when the site is nearly built and content changes are already signed off. By briefing your SEO specialist early – during discovery – you can not only overcome these four common risks, but you might uncover new insights and ideas you hadn’t considered that can help shape the project.

At Luminary, we weave SEO through the entire project lifecycle, from discovery and platform selection, through to UX, design, build and into continuous improvement. After all, you’ll have a beautiful, functional new website; we need to make sure people can find it!

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We have a whole team of experts who would love to talk to you about your next website replatform project.

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