Blog

How to Recover Traffic If a Migration Goes Wrong

February 17, 2021
by
Tory Gray
Tory Gray

Have you noticed traffic loss after a recent website migration? You’re not alone. Regardless of the type of migration you performed, a few key factors could be contributing to the drop. Step one is identifying why you’ve lost traffic (is it from organic traffic, or another digital marketing channel? Is the tracking code still present on your site?), and then you’ll need to decide which changes you need to make to recover organic traffic after a redesign.

Before reading further: this article will cover what to do after a website migration if something is amiss. If you’re planning on migrating your website and are looking for guidance, make sure to read and assess the SEO strategies for different website migration types first. Or, if you’re in the thick of it and need tips for a successful migration process, here is a good summary of website health checkpoints to consider when migrating.

If you’ve followed best practices, carried out the website redesign process with an SEO, and are still noticing traffic loss after migrating to your new site - we’re here to help.

Determine Whether the Migration Caused Your Traffic Drop

Migrations can get tricky, which is exactly why you should first take a moment and identify the potential causes of the traffic decrease. When analyzing the drop in your traffic, make sure to check the following:

  1. Other factors that might influence traffic (other than the migration itself.) Check external factors like an algorithm update, a SERP change, or technical problems.
  2. The action list items implemented during the migration. The list should include the actions taken on the previous website, staging website, and the new one.

If you can rule out external factors that could cause the drop in traffic, then migration is the likely culprit. If you’re still not sure whether you’ve identified the cause correctly, take a look at how to investigate and determine the cause of website traffic loss. After you’re reasonably sure you know the problem has something to do with migration, the next step is to identify the most affected pages.

did-the-migration-cause-traffic-loss

Target Critical Website Sections

Whether the migration affected your whole website, a few pages that carry out similar patterns, or irrelevant pages, Google Analytics (GA) and Google Search Console (GSC - formerly Google Webmaster Tools) are the tools you need for identifying which of your pages need attention.

You can use both GA and GSC to determine which pages saw the most significant decline in traffic, conversions, and rankings, as well as the keywords resulting in the loss. Make sure to compare organic traffic when looking at GA, and remember that you can also get comparisons from your keyword tracking tool (if you’re using one).

After using these to compare site activity before and after migration, note critical traffic loss areas and create a list of pages you’ll focus on. Next, you’ll start to look for the specific action(s) that caused the traffic drop. This will allow you to execute the most relevant, comprehensive solutions for reversing the effects of the glitch.

Identify What Went Wrong During the Migration

Instead of going through a long list of “must-check” migration mistakes, run your crawl and look for these causes of traffic loss after common migrations.

Domain, URL, and Protocol Migration

If you migrate your domain, your whole website is 301 redirected to the new domain. It’s likely that you changed the URL structure, design, or content when migrating domains. This means there are a variety of ways something could have gone wrong during the migration. Remember: if it’s a new URL structure affecting specific sections of your website, then the pages involved will just be a portion of your website. Below are some examples of what could be an issue if you are suffering from traffic loss after migrating your domain or changing URLs:

  • Redirects: You should confirm that all redirects are 301 (permanent redirects) and won’t lead to a redirect loop or chain. Make sure the target page is indexable, correctly canonicalized, and relevant. Find and fix all 500 (server error) and 404 (not found) pages, though you should still have a custom 404 page design for UX and SEO.
  • Content: Some of your important pages might not have been added, to linked to within, new domain. Other times, page titles and meta descriptions were accidentally left off core site pages. If the traffic loss is mostly because these pages have been intentionally retired, then no worries. If it was an accident to remove those pages, or to remove an element of those pages, then fix that. However, if you strategically decided to merge a few pages and lost traffic for specific keywords, then you may question whether it was the right call. You can check this article on improving SEO content on existing pages for further info.
  • Source Code: Check the HTML of the new pages to determine whether they lost pertinent schema markup or metadata - and also that your new content & links are easily accessible/viewable. It’s crucial for search engines to crawl and understand your website efficiently, so make sure it continues to reflect the necessary mark-up.
  • Protocols: Just like migrating to another domain, protocol migration requires the whole website to be 301 redirected to the HTTPS version. If your URL structure is full of parameters, you could overlook indexed pages that aren’t in your sitemap. Keep in mind that you should search for possible indexed pages by using search operators like “site:olddomain.com” to find them, and then make sure they are redirected as well.
  • Canonicals: This is a potentially critical issue. Ensure that your pages are either self-canonicalized or canonicalized to where they should be (yes, that means not to the homepage).
  • Indexability: Whatever you do, PLEASE make sure that none of your top pages are non-indexable. Here is a must-read if you aren’t familiar with how to optimize your website for crawling and indexing to go smoothly.
  • XML Sitemap: Make sure to submit a new sitemap - including all new URLs - to GSC.

Platform (CMS) Migration

Your CMS is what your website is built on. You might have a custom site or an SPA (single page application,) or be utilizing WordPress (the best-known CMS), Shopify, or any number of other services.

The risks of platform migrations depend on each platform’s capabilities: the one you migrate from and the one you are migrating to. You should confirm that the platform you choose enables you to have SEO control over your website. Also, consider whether URL rewrites will be necessary, as they are frequently required to fit within each system’s structure and conventions. A few items that might hinder your traffic after platform migrations:

  • Platform Capabilities: Ideally, it should be fine if your platform is good enough to fulfill your business needs and cover the SEO capabilities necessary for online success.
  • Other Factors: The factors mentioned above for domain, URL, and protocol migrations above should be considered here as well.

Redesign Migration

Redesigning your website without any structural or URL changes is a relatively risk-free option for migrations. Changing and redesigning your website taking SEO and user experience into account is beneficial for your website, and there are only a few major concerns for web design migrations which are:

  • Content Accessibility: This is related to JavaScript (JS) and CSS issues. All you have to do is make sure the page’s copy and links are visible directly in the HTML (this is the best-case scenario. If it’s not accessible via View Source, that’s not inherently bad, but it’s also a much longer conversation in terms of what to “get right”!)
  • Page Speed: If somehow, after the migration, the ‘sources’ search engines use to crawl your pages increase, your page speed is likely to drop. Image optimization work you’ve invested in previously might also be (accidentally) negated. Make sure to follow best page speed practices when migrating - and test, test, test to ensure you aren’t worse off than before!

Server Migration

Server migrations are really only risky in terms of page load speed. Even though they are generally less dangerous in relation to migration issues, here are the basic considerations: 

  • Page Speed: Page load time is an SEO ranking factor, but perhaps more importantly, it’s a conversion issue – after all, what’s the point of any marketing channel if it isn’t selling your products or services?
  • Server Types: The rules that apply to redirects in each server offering can cause problems after a migration. Make sure to consult your possible service provider about the implications you could face.

Now that you’ve explored different kinds of migrations and the perils of each, it’s time to find and fix GSC errors on your new website.

Correct Website Migration Mistakes

We know how stressful it can be to see website traffic loss after you’ve put so much effort into improving your site. That’s why it’s better to address these issues head-on and determine the proper action needed.

fix-whats-broken

         

We’ve gone through the “why,” now let’s get our hands dirty and complete this migration correctly! Here are the actions that should be taken to rectify each given situation:

  • Old Pages STILL Indexed: It’s a common issue to see old URLs hanging out, and not transitioning to the new URLs. To resolve this, create a static XML sitemap that lists out all your old URLs, and submit it to GSC.
  • This way, Googlebot will find and follow the redirects from the old to the new URLs.
  • Make sure to remove this sitemap of old URLs once the “index flushing” process is complete - typically 1-2 months. Otherwise, you’ll have an artificially high error count of submitting bad URLs to Google - no bueno.
  • Redirect Issues: All links from the old domain should be redirected to the new domain, without redirect chains. And make sure they are permanent (301s, not 302s)!
  • Content Accessibility Issues: Submit your lost traffic pages to the URL Inspection tool in GSC and “Test Live URL” to ensure the content is accessible. Then, crawl your stage site (complete with changes) with JS and CSS disabled, and do it again manually in your browser - again with CSS & JS turned off. Check all major page template types to confirm that all content is accessible/readable on the page when it’s turned off. If/when content is missing, work with your development team to make it visible.
  • Source Code Mismatch: Again, run a crawl and make sure that there are no meta and mark-up missing on your new website that was available on the old one.
  • Slow Page Speed: Either use the page speed insights API or run a crawl via Screaming Frog with page speed insights enabled, and identify all pages affected. Then, you can implement page speed best practices, as provided here.
  • Outreach, Social Media, and Backlink Issues: Once you have dealt with the old URLs and internal links, it’s time to claim your external links. Make sure to get the external links you had and replace them with the new URLs so that your link earning efforts will be more fruitful.

    After walking through your migration process and identifying specific solutions, you should see increased traffic soon. If you still aren’t sure where to start or what’s causing your traffic loss, simply reach out to us. Also, make sure to implement a website quality assurance (QA) process into your operations not to break things once you fixed the issues.
Work With Us
We’ll help teach, mastermind, and carry out SEO roadmaps that check all the boxes.
CONNECT THE DOTS WITH US