Lee Odden

SEO Migration Plan – Failure to Plan is a Plan to Fail – SES London 2012

big ben

No SEO Migration Plan is much scarier than this pic of Big Ben.

One of the classic scenarios for the intersection of web design/development and search engine optimization is when companies decide to update their website’s design and content management system. Businesses that expect new revenue and continued visibility to various audiences through search need to manage their web site assets for more than just ease of back-end maintenance and customer user experience.

Hopefully the situation doesn’t come to light like this:

A website manager sends an email on Friday saying, “We’re launching a new website on Monday, can you take a look at it to make sure our site optimization is ok?”.

The SEO gets access to the new site and finds a “pretty” home page with 90% images and/or Flash, “cool web 2.0″ navigation using Ajax and as a result of a new content management system, a URL syntax that is completely different than before. The icing on the cake is that all title/meta descriptions are now hard coded and there are 40% fewer pages because the Marketing Director read in a business magazine that “less is more”. I forgot to mention: The social share buttons have been moved to the boiler plate because they “distract from the design”.

The SEO participant in this situation is likely thinking: “This is going to be a long weekend”.  While design changes for better user experience and CMS changes for more effective process and site maintenance are excellent things, making such changes without considering their impact on key marketing channels like search can be disastrous.

Updating a website is essential for companies to evolve in their respective industries, with customers and technology. Beyond the human audience, search engines and social applications represent important considerations as well. If not given the proper attention, the efforts invested in a better user experience or site management can result in a significant loss in online traffic and sales.

The answer to the potential loss of search traffic is no mystery. It’s called a SEO migration plan and is likely to be renamed a Social SEO migration plan as the importance of social media links and shares continue to grow. Consider these questions:

  • Have you ever moved your website to a new domain name?
  • Have you ever redesigned your website and maybe even implemented a new content management system?
  • Has your company ever acquired a new company or merged with several other companies and you had to absorb one or more websites?

Each of these situations can be disastrous or pretty smooth depending on your decision to use a SEO migration plan. Or not.

SEO Migration Flow International

Search represents a substantial portion of traffic that converts visitors into customers for websites that have been properly optimized, and even some that haven’t. Why put that investment at risk by not following best practices to mitigate negative effects? Why not make it easier for search engines (and users) to understand that you’ve made changes?

If you’ve recently changed your website, are in the thick of it now or plan on changing your website in a substantial way in the future, here are several key considerations from a content marketing and SEO perspective that will hopefully help you avoid shooting yourself in the foot.

Content Marketing is the thoughtful creation of content for specific audiences with a particular outcome in mind. It involves researching customer segments, understanding what their pain points and interests are across the buying cycle of awareness, interest, consideration, evaluation, purchase and advocacy. SEO savvy content marketers evolve that customer insight into topics and search keywords to fuel content creation and optimization for discovery through search engines.

When you change your website and especially your content, it’s important to maintain the flow of content and optimization across the buying cycle so you don’t “screw up” the good thing you have going. In fact, if you don’t have a good thing going, i.e. your content and SEO is more keyword centric than customer centric, now might be a good time to start.

SEO Migration Considerations

SEO Migration Plan Enterprise

The approach can really vary according to the situation. If a company is simply changing their domain name, it’s a pretty straightforward process. If several websites are being combined into an all new site design along with substantial changes to content and a new content management system with a new hosting company, things are a bit more complex. Whatever your situation, here are steps worth considering:

  • Understand and document what’s going to change
  • Compare the existing website content map to the new, proposed site structure
  • How will it affect in the organization? Outside agencies and consultants?
  • Take benchmark measurements of website search performance metrics: organic search traffic, inbound links, social shares, page views, bounce rate, conversions
  • Ensure content topics and keyword optimization of the new website continue the proper flow representing stages in the buying cycle
  • Crawl the site to map all content and media: pages, other documents, images, video, etc
  • Map old content to new content and plan redirects accordingly
  • Implement 301 redirects when necessary at domain, category or page level
  • If the new site does not contain comparable content, redirect to an upper level category
  • Ensure custom 404 redirects are in place to catch any broken links
  • Employ a full SEO audit and usability testing to determine continuity of search engine and user experience with the new site content/design
  • Ensure HTML and XML sitemaps are properly available to search engines
  • Identify top inbound link sources to the site. Which sources are most authoritative (SEO)? Which sources lead to the most conversions? Reach out to those link sources to see if they will link to the new version of the appropriate page
  • Identify top converting keywords and content – pay careful attention to the quality of SEO copywriting, internal and external links to these pages so that the new version matches the old version as closely as possible
  • After the new design implementation, execute redirects and submit site maps. Monitor ranking, search referrals, pages indexed and any crawling errors in Webmaster Tools
  • Watch 404 Not Found errors to identify any issues with redirects and URLs

Certainly there’s more but the list above represents an essential framework of SEO  and even a few content marketing considerations when companies make significant changes to their websites.

If you’re attending SES London this week, be sure to check out the “Site Redesign? Don’t Forget SEO Migration!” session at 3:30-4:30pm on Tuesday, 21 February. I’ll be presenting both SEO and Content Marketing considerations with a SEO Migration plan along with Russell O’Sullivan, the Digital Marketing Manager at Healthspan. Mike Grehan will be moderating, so there’s no doubt it will be a great session.

Of course, anyone who liveblogs the session will get a link from this post and promoted on our Twitter, FB and Google+ accounts. Liveblogging conferences is a win for all 🙂

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Lee Odden About Lee Odden

@LeeOdden is the CEO of TopRank Marketing and editor of Online Marketing Blog. Cited for his expertise by The Economist, Forbes and the Wall Street Journal, he's the author of the book Optimize and presents internationally on B2B marketing topics including content, search, social media and influencer marketing. When not at conferences, consulting, or working with his talented team, he's likely running, traveling or cooking up something new.


  1. Man, SEO is really difficult. I am a businessman and I keep on updating my website. Everybody wants to be on top and SEO is one of the keys to attain that goal.

  2. Great article , I am so glad that I have visited your site.I was looking  for this  information.

  3. Avatar Maria Baradell says

    Hi! I love your article. Can you please explain further what you mean with “Implement 301 redirects when necessary at domain, category or page level. If the new site does not contain comparable content, redirect to an upper level category”? I have a Website PR 3 and almost 5 thousand posts. We are re-branding, we are going to have fewer pages and start with 0 posts. We don’t want to move the old content to the new site, but want to redirect the old site to the new one, so we get all of the SEO juice. Can I just group old post into categories more meaningful to our new site and the redirect those categories to real pages in the new site? Thanks!

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