Website Migration: How to increase visitors by 250% (Case Study)

Have you struggled to fully recover from the penalties of the past?

I knew some guys that did.

In this post you’ll see how one of my clients turned page 3 hell into #1 rankings.

250% increase in organic traffic in a year.

This is more than penalty recovery, this is penalty domination!

It’s a big plunge for a business owner, and won’t be right for everyone…

but if the shoe fits, you’re going to make some big money.

Take a look at this…

website migration growth

That’s pretty darn juicy.

Time for some background.

The client came to me needing help. They were really suffering and wanted to turn their, once healthy ranking website, around. So I did what I always do first and take a trip to search console and ahrefs. (I can’t live without these in my life…!)

Can there be any easier way to find quick wins in SEO?

So, the alarms were going off straight away. It was clear these guys had tried hard.

So hard, they dabbled in the dark stuff.

“Have you ever done any link building?”

…long pause…

“Err, about that…”

Yep, they’d trashed their domain with filth. Some juicy filth, impressive work, really.

black-hat-traffic-spike

That’s a decent sized black hat spike…

 

That left us with 2 options:

1. Fix it.

Clean up all of their dirty links, by requesting removal, disavowing a ton and building some good links.

OR
2. Start fresh.

Move the site to a new domain – take all of the content, ditch all of the bad links.

 

We went with option 2.

 

One that many people don’t go for – whether clients are too emotionally connected to brands or not, i’m not sure, but it’s not a tactic I hear many people employing.

Do people still redirect domains because of bad links? Let me know if you’ve had success in the comments.

They’re a UK selling site, on a .com that’s gone up the pooper.

Migrating to the .co.uk made sense for the brand and their ranking potential.

Yes, this would be the perfect time to move to HTTPS, no they didn’t…
stats-web-migration-pre

Pre site move (21st Sept 2015 – 22nd Oct 2015 )

 

Within 3 months of move…

 

post-site-move

Post site move (21st Sept 2016 – 22nd Oct 2016  – YOY view for seasonal equality.)

 

That’s a 250% increase in organic traffic. 

Interestingly, sites that get HTTPS right, tend to recover within 3 months. Google may well treat all migrations equally. If you’re thinking of rebranding, or changing TLDs for what ever reason a switch to HTTPS at the same time really wouldn’t hurt. 

Take a look at some of those positions…

keyword-positions

I like number 1.

 

Not only did they receive a huge boost in rankings they had a conversion win too! The quality of the traffic coming to the domain was vastly improved, and much more transaction orientated.

Check this…

Pre site move transactions (same period as above)

 

Drum roll…

 

Why don’t I get paid in commission? (Same period as above)

That’s some success that I was pretty astonished by in honesty. I knew redirecting the domain was the right thing to do, but a recovery to this degree, well that’s ‘wildest dreams’ territory.

It’s one of those occasions where you have to be brave as a consultant/business owner. It can be an easy decision, what have you got to lose when you’re floundering on page 3? It can also be a hard one. Years of hard work can be ploughed into a domain, for you to come along and say, ‘let’s start again.’

But let this be proof that fortune favours the brave.

3 tips for a successful website migration:


Tip #1: Get a list of URLs before you move.

You’re redirecting your whole site, this is a good time to see if you can better optimise some of these URLs, it’s also important for ensuring the migration is successful.

Get yourself a tool that can scrape your site, especially if you have a large one. Screaming Frog is a great tool I use to ensure everything’s rosey. A HTTPS migration must. You’ll quickly get an overview of any issues with 404s, duplication and loads of other cool insights.

screaming-frog

Yes, now’s the time to clean up those bad boy 404s. Stop wasting valuable Googlebot juice on non-existent pages.

Don’t forget about Screaming Frog – you’ll want to check it again when you make the switch. You’ll know pretty quickly if your redirects aren’t working.

Side note: Google say it’s fine to move parts of your site in sections. I’m not sure why you’d want to do this. If it’s confusing for a user, you can bet it’ll be confusing for Googlebot.

Tip #2: Retain as many links as you can.

In this case study we were migrating because of bad links, but don’t let that stop you trawling through thousands. You don’t want to miss out on those good ones.

I don’t believe what Google says, 301’s definitely don’t pass full page rank value.

I’m a big fan of ahrefs, but as this is so important it’s worth grabbing as many backlink tools as you can and de-duping the data.

Open site explorer 

Search console internal links

Majestic

None of the crawlers claim to cover all bases, I use ahrefs because I feel it’s the best and biggest, but for tasks like migrations, and reconsideration requests i’d go with them all.

You want ALL THE LINKS! 

Tip #3: Take care when URL redirect mapping

Time to map all of the URLs to the new site.

Super easy if you’re keeping the same URL structure.

Bit harder if you’re cleaning up past mistakes. (Isn’t it always?!)

This can be done manually, a lot of work for big sites or automatically. It goes without saying that automating the process is more likely to cause errors if not handled with extreme care.

How much do you want that 250%? 

The end results should have all unique URLs redirecting with 301s to your new site. I made that sound easy right!

Do not use 302 temporary redirects, again Google say there’s no difference in page rank loss. I don’t believe them. Test it yourself, if you dare.

I’d exercise caution when deciding whether to cull pages. If you’re confident the content isn’t adding any value to your domain, it may well be worth redirecting to a page that does add value. Don’t just kill the page. If you’re migrating because of manual penalties, i’d consider retaining that content until the move is complete. Make you mind up about it when you have a healthy domain.

New site go live

It sounds obvious, but don’t forget about Search Console.

It’s your lifeline, and only communication channel between your site and Google.

Make sure you setup that new account well before time, have your sitemaps ready to submit, and fetch some pages once you are live.

Take note of your rankings, they’ll tell you’ve if you’ve been successful or not. I like AWR. Check it out.

Monitor indexation like a dog on heat.

A seamless ‘first timer’ migration is pretty rare.

I applaud you if you’ve done it.

Regardless, if you’re an SEO hero or not, you should monitor the whole process extremely carefully.

Hit up Screaming Frog again, on your old site, you should see a big old list of 301’s pointing to your new site. Woohoo!

Monitor everything closely over the next weeks/months. Errors can take some time to show depending on the size of your site.

Jump on anything that starts to show up in your crawl errors report. Increasing number of errors will effect you, whether these are important pages or not. Why waste Googlebot on dead ends?

Keep redirecting valuable old links you find, and there’s never a bad time to go and build some news ones.


If you’re completely new to migrations and want a detailed step by step process, i’ve listed some top resources below…

 

 

 

 

Finally, don’t forget to measure your success.

Can you beat my 250% increase in organic traffic in 12 months? Let me know in the comments…

Craig Gilhooly
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Craig Gilhooly

I really love what I do. All types of marketing have always fascinated me and i'm delighted I managed to blag my way into this industry. It's taught me some immense lessons and skills. Here's to hoping I can share some with you.
Craig Gilhooly
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