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Reduce Website Migration Trauma

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Web Migration Trauma

Imagine you are a seasoned heart / lung transplant surgeon. Doing ONE MORE transplant, despite the life-saving miracle it creates for the patient, is “routine”. Now imagine you need to do something similar to your website – migrate to a new server or platform. Similar in how traumatic such a move can be for your website’s heart and lungs.

You will migrate a site only a few times IN YOUR CAREER. And each of those moves is fraught with danger. “Migration” is when you change your website’s location or the platform serving it. Migration is INEVITABLE and can be TRAUMATIC.This Curagami post shares 5 tips we developed as a Marketing Director working for Atlantic BT, one of the largest web development agencies in the southeast (in Raleigh, NC).

One of the FEW places you can do as many website migrations as a seasoned surgeon is working for a web dev agency like ABT. When Atlantic BT picks up business sites often need to be MOVED to their servers, thus the need to transplant heart and lung before any other work can commence.

Five Website Migration Tips:

  • Up Your PPC Spend
  • Improve Your Site Maps & create SILO based maps (advanced)
  • 301 never 302 redirects & Watch Webmaster Tools like a hawk for 404s
  • Create highly social & shareable content like contests and games.
  • Know your 80:20 Rule and creating supporting content BEFORE the migration.

Website Migration Tip: Increase PPC Spend

You stand to lose 30% to 40% of your traffic due to dropped links, pages being in the wrong place or new “spider traps” created by your new platform. Spider traps are like Roach Motels – search spiders go IN, but they never come out. Spider traps happen for a million reasons. If you are introducing a responsive design and don’t know what you are doing your site may trap spiders in a roach motel.

You KNOW your site is experiencing a trap when you see a slow and steady decline in position. When your site isn’t showing up as much as your traffic is declining you may have a trap. Slow can become exponential as we’ve experienced. If you see a steady erosion after taking all 5 of steps shared here your code is trapping Google’s spider.

There are tools that will spider your site like Google. We’ve used Screaming Frog. There are other tools that will tell you there’s a problem and where you site is losing steam (SpyFu, Majestic SEO, Moz.com, RavenTools). If you see slow and steady decline despite taking the 5 steps outlined here your code needs checking.

Three months before your migration increase your PPC spend. Even if increasing your PPC reduces your ROAS (Return On Ad Spend), let your short term ROAS suffer to protect your long-term asset – the site you worked so hard to build. If you build traffic UP 30% and then lose 30% you are even.

Your email marketing can be another big protection ally. I didn’t put email marketing on the list. Your list is a crown jewel. Risk your list at your peril. If you are in an “all-in” HOUSE ON FIRE migration you may need to toss your email list into the fire to shore up your traffic and site heuristics (time on site, pages viewed, bounce rate). List fatigue (losing subscribers) can make such an emergency gesture costly in the long term.

ADVANCED Tip
Create contests with a voting stage. People who want to win share your website with their social networks driving traffic to your site. SPAM may run rampant in any contest. Use good anti-spam techniques up to and including captcha.

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Website Migration Tip: Site Maps

If your site map sucks fix it is BEFORE a migration. I’m a big believer in Bruce Clay’s Siloing content marketing ideas. if you are lucky enough to have fighter pilot SEOs and programmers who know how to create silo site maps your migration has a powerful helper. Submit your site maps DAILY during migration.

And make sure you submit to BING too. During a migration, you are TRAFFIC AGNOSTIC. This means you need TRAFFIC and don’t care all that much about its source. That doesn’t mean to JUNK UP your traffic, but including BING when you never have before is a great way to shore up your Google slide (if there is any).

Shoring up Google traffic slide,” is the name of the game.

Sitemaps can provide an alternative “crawl”. If you are trapping the spider you may not feel that pain UNTIL you lower your sitemap submission frequency. Watch your keys like a hawk on a wire waiting for dinner. ANY weakness needs a response.

Your goal should be to GAIN traffic after a migration.

Hard, but not impossible to create a traffic gain after a migration if you deploy steps outlined here. If you DON’T know how to create silo-based site maps I might or might not risk creating them during migration. Risk learning how to install silo site-maps. IF your front end engineers are as good as Chris Davis (Iron Yard professor) then blast away.

If your front end engineers aren’t “A” level talent I wouldn’t add fuel to your migration fire by creating poor silo maps.

ADVANCED
Create silo sitemaps for your post-migration website. Risk (of messing up) is high, but so is a potential reward and you are scrambling the deck anyway. NOT for the faint of heart or for slow moving teams who can’t make changes on the fly.

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Website Migration Tip: 301 never 302

302 “temporary” redirects were KILLED by SEO spammers back in the day. Programmers read tags and want to do what they say. 302 is a legitimate tag with a clear definition, but don’t use it.Programmers think of a migration as a “temporary” thing. NOPE, a migration is a PERMANENT thing.Aoid 302’s like the plague.

ADVANCED
If you want to take a risk during migration do what we did for Moon-Audio.com and change your URLs to be consistent with page title, naming and description meta. Risky but worth it if you know what you are doing. Moon is +40% after our move so that risk (along with about 5 others) are paying off (knocking on wood as I type).

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Website Migration Tip: Contests & Games

COMMUNITY is a magical thing. Community can protect you from migration blues, so ENGAGE customers, ask for help and appreciate those who advocate and share your site, mission and movement. Get your best supporters and new customers competing.

Here is the contest sequence we’ve used with success in the past:

  • Outline The Contest & Ask For Entries With A Deadline (6 weeks max).
  • Cull applicants to “semi-finalists” and create “horse races” between them.
  • Highest vote counts = become finalists.
  • Finalists are judged by a panel of “experts” (i.e. not you) and prizes awarded.

Don’t get flamed. Tell your community about anything that you, as the contest supervisor, have to do to create fairness and you INCREASE legitimacy and trust.

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Web Migration Tip: 80:20 Rule

20% (or less) of your pages control 80% of your rank, traffic, money and subscription. KNOW THOSE PAGES and 301 them VERY CAREFULLY. Pages with RANK (use PageRankChecker a free tool to check) need to be redirected to their new location.

While you can treat pages with 0 rank a tad more roughly I wouldn’t DELETE them.

ADVANCED
The proper way to change a page on your website, say for a product you don’t sell now, is to remove the product from its blood supply (site navigation), include a link to similar content somewhere else on your site and, after 3 – 6 months, remove the pages.

Removing pages BEFORE you “decay the rank” puts your Google Model in jeopardy. Cut ’em off, watch their rank decline and then kill ’em. Websites are ADDITIVE environments. NEVER remove a page with rank since doing so angers the Google Gods. And we’ve seen and experienced angry Google Gods and trust us you want to SKIP that experience if at all possible.

Great Partners

Didn’t include this website migration tip, but migration is so much easier when you have a seasoned migration team. Literally a MILLION things can go wrong, but we’ve seen these kinds of things break most often and most horribly:

  • Forms – forms crash during migration in disproportionately high numbers.
  • Social widgets – any widget may need a reset depending on how and what you migrate.
  • Shopping Carts – check this FIRST and place orders on all kinds of rarely ordered things.
  • Meta Data – If you have ranked be sure to USE existing page meta-data on your new pages too.
  • Style Sheets – if you are using CSS, and if you are not shame on you, your CSS can blow up during migration.
  • Internal Linking – spiders depend on your linking to know what you are about, but it can go haywire during migration (why sitemaps are so important).

We could go on, but you get the idea. Changing your Domain Name Servers (DNS) is a trauma. FIND seasoned migration experts to help. Our company, Curagami, helps with migration frequently. We aren’t taking on new agency clients right now, but we are always up to help with migration since it is something we can design and then hand over and advise. If that sounds like YOU do most of the work you got it (lol).

About the author

Martin Smith

Marty is a cancer survivor, 15 year Internet marketer after consumer products goods marketing & sales training with P&G, M&M/Mars & NutraSweet. He started 4 companies including Found Objects, Dada Box, Scenttrail Marketing & Curagami.

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