Moving a website is a complex business and not something to attempt without having a strategic, comprehensive plan in place. In light of this, and recognising that important steps can sometimes be missed, Google upgraded their guidelines for site moves in order to make them easier and to help site owners avoid costly errors.
Reasons for site moves
Site moves could happen for any number of reasons. Examples include:
- Total overhaul or rebuild / redevelopment of a website.
- The site owner might be changing hosting providers – in which case they may or may not be changing page URLs at the same time.
- Changes to URLs – for instance from HTTP to HTTPS to increase security, or changing a URL from .com to .net, or URL path changes.
Getting ready for a site move
Before commencing any site move or redevelopment it’s vital to know the site well. This means understanding which pages are drawing in traffic, how well your site ranks with search engines, which pages have back links and so on. It’s also vital to ensure that quality and SEO are built into the ‘new’ site right from the outset and not tagged on as an afterthought – although presumably if you are undergoing site redevelopment this is (hopefully) a given!
Problems that can occur
One of the main issues with site moves is risk of losing all that hard-earned search engine traffic. This is particularly an issue where there are URL changes. Google indexes pages based on very specific URLs, and even slight URL changes can result in ‘404 not found’ errors. This could also mean that back links to the site are broken, and the new site will not be properly indexed, that is unless page redirects – which indicate how the new pages relate to the old – are provided to search engines.
This is where Google ‘301 redirects’ need to be written into current pages. This tells Google that the pages have been permanently moved to a new address and that you want them to be indexed. However it’s vital not to simply point redirects to the Home Page but to the corresponding page in the moved site.
Conducting the move
Google has provided specific steps to follow for cases where URLs are being changed, and also for when they are not – such as when simply changing hosting providers. In cases where a site owner is changing both hosting providers and URLs, Google recommends performing both tasks separately to avoid the risk of missing important steps. It’s also a good idea to conduct the site move at a quiet time when traffic is low to avoid too much disruption.
Google’s steps for switching providers without URL alterations:
- Set up the new hosting infrastructure by uploading content to new servers.
- Commence the actual move to send traffic to the new infrastructure.
- Monitor your site traffic. If it has considerably dropped there may be a step you have missed along the way.
- Close the old hosting infrastructure – but only once satisfied with the new.
More details are provided through Google Webmaster Tools.
Steps for site moves with URL changes:
- Begin by preparing the new site and thoroughly testing it.
- Prepare URL mapping from the old URLs to their equivalent new formats.
- Commence the site move ensuring page redirects are in place.
- Monitor traffic on both old and new URLs.
You can drill down into more detail on these steps here.
If you are doing a site move, we recommended reading and following Google’s guidelines at the outset in order to avoid loss of rankings and highly valuable site traffic. Following the guidelines should also help to make the process simpler, more orderly and hopefully more easily achieved.