Site moves are rarely a one-strategy-fits-all notion. Different types of changes to different parts of a website, or multiple websites for that matter, demand different plans in order to keep the search referrals flowing and deliver a consistently positive brand experience for the searcher.
How can you be certain that you are making the best recommendations to optimize search results for your next site move? Consider what questions need to be asked and answered before you predict the sky will fall if IT cannot implement one-to-one URL permanent (301) redirects.
All you need to know in order to produce a successful site move in the search engines is to understand what's changing, when, and most importantly why?
Size-Up the Site Move
Does your site move include transferring all current content to a new domain? Or do you intend to move away from a subdomain-based architecture in favor of directories, files, and sub-folders? Are you relocating content from divergent branded domains into a mother ship-like single-site structure? Is old content being retired and replaced with new content? Are you dealing with a platform upgrade or simply migrating from a non-secure server to a secure certificate environment?
Once you understand what is moving where, you can begin to consider which best practices to apply to your site move. For example, top-level domain moves with same-URL structures are relatively easy to complete with server side redirects. There are some nuances to coding the regular expressions depending on the platform that fuels the site, but it's easy enough to work with IT and map the URLs into simplified patters to complete the site move.
If well executed, disruptions to your search referred traffic will be nominal, especially if you are set to closely monitor webmaster tools during the transition. You wouldn’t want to tax a server by implementing one-to-one permanent redirects for this type of move. Doing so could slow delivery speeds dramatically and do far more harm, than good in the search engines.
Once the content is relocated at its new home, be sure to take care of all the feeds and XML sitemaps that need to be updated with the new Web address. This is where a checklist can come in handy to make certain all your digital marketing efforts are sending the same signals across local, mobile, and vertical search engines, too. If you are rebranding or renaming some products or services, it’s a good idea to up your paid search spend to make up for any gaps in organic performance during this time.
Big Opportunities for Small Changes
On the other end of the scale of site moves, retiring a few pages and replacing the old content with new media needs to take a different tract. Is the old content seasonal, like a Black Friday landing page of gifts for him or her? Or is the content simply stale and needs an update? Are regulatory concerns driving the content update? Each of these small changes could require different tactics to produce optional organic search results.
For example, you might want to implement a temporary redirect (302) for a Black Friday landing page, and suspend internal links that are in place to helped navigate users to the seasonal information during peak use. Doing so will maintain all the inbound link equity to the original URL, keep it live and crawlable, but still provide users with a positive search referral experience. When you reconnect the URL to internal site navigation and refresh the content during the next seasonal shift under the same URL year after year, you produce the best experience possible results for search engines and site visitors alike.
If you are just refreshing stale content with new language and imagery, but have to create new URLs due to constraints of your content management system (CMS), then one-to-one permanent redirects usually provide the best solution for keeping everyone happy during this type of site move.
Once again, it is best to complement this type of site move with updated sitemaps, site navigation, and feeds in order to produce optimal results in a short period of time. Special considerations will need to be made for language, location, or mobile nuances. If the content happens to be a landing page for paid search, you will also need to consider how your quality score might be affected, too.
Players and the Playbook
Even the smallest site move can have big ramifications for search referral traffic. The greatest challenge to producing a successful site move is to create a holistic game plan. Information technology, marketing, Web development, corporate communications, paid and natural search players are all specialists on the roster of an average digital team.
While organic search expertise will have a key role in developing the playbook, ultimately it is the execution of the game plan by technology players that determines the outcome of any type of site move. By complementing noteworthy content upgrades with public relations or social outreach, and inflating paid performance plans for the duration of the site move, we arrive at an optimal outcome for everyone on the digital team.
Drawing up a holistic game plan that teams up all of your digital specialists is the best way to produce a successful, integrated result for almost any site move. The playbook and the players might change with the scale of the move, but this type of integrated solution will always win in the end.