How to redirect your old site to a new site without losing SEO rankings!

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When we upgrade or redesign our websites, we find that our rankings may suffer if we don’t implement the website migration and URL redirection correctly. That is most likely because when things change drastically the search engines say “this must be a different site” and they start ranking you as if you are a new site. Not fun when you’ve worked so hard in previous years to optimize your search engine rankings, and then see all your efforts go by the wayside with the new site. So there are some important guidelines to adhere to when redirecting your old site to a new site successfully without losing your SEO ranking.

  • If changing the domain you need to use Google Search Console to indicate this change to Google. Also make sure any businesses listings or citations change the website address as well for consistency.
  • Try to retain the existing URL structure of all old URLs with the new URLs whenever possible. This basically means keep your page URLs/permalinks the same. If you’re migrating from one platform to another and the old site URLs are setup with .html or .php extensions and the new site doesn’t use extensions, then you may want to consider implementing extensions – see this video Add any Extension (.html, .htm, .php) in WordPress Post and Pages Permalinks.
  • If you have to change the URLs (i.e. to be more keyword-friendly) from the old site to the new site, you will need to setup 301 (permanent) redirects so you won’t lose page ranking. In other words, do NOT redirect all your old pages to the new homepage – you need to redirect to the closest page it relates to. If you redirect all to the homepage then it creates a bad user experience and can increase your bounce rate and 404 error pages – not good according to Google! Also, keep in mind that you can only setup redirects to protect your ranking if using the same domain. You cannot do this if the old and new site use different domains in which case all ranking for the old domain will be lost and your new site’s ranking will start at zero again (all you can do is setup a general domain forwarding from one site to another).
    • You can setup redirects within the new site either on the server level with the webhost or through a WordPress plugin, or Yoast Pro.
    • To redirect your old domain to the new one, you must do at the registrar.
  • If getting rid of any pages with redesign, check Google Analytics and make sure the pages you are removing don’t currently drive a bunch of traffic to the site or have higher rankings under certain terms. Pairing down your content too much and getting rid of higher rankings pages can hurt your overall rankings.
  • Clean up internal links so that they link to the new URLs vs. having to go through a redirect loop.
  • Make sure you have 404 page that has a consistent title tag of “Page not found” or “Nothing found for…” so you can check for 404s in Google Analytics. Then, after the site is made live, you can check for 404s in one of two ways:
    • Within Google Analytics go to Behavior > Site Content > All Pages, click on Page Title text link next to “Primary Dimension:” and enter that beginning of your title tag in the search text box and hit search.
      Page not found analytics report
    • Within Google Search Console go to Coverage on left side, then click on the Excluded box (as pictured below) and scroll down to click on Excluded > Not Found.
      google search console 404 errors
  • Compare pre- and post-rollout traffic for top pages; if there are big drops, figure out why.
  • When you go live, use Google Search Console to Fetch the new site and submit an XML sitemap.

So basically the main takeaway from all this is change as little as possible, especially in terms of site structure, menus and content, atleast until rankings have settled down after the move. Then implement those changes gradually.

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