The 5 Most Common Website Migration Issues That Can Impact Your SEO Performance

Table of Contents

Table of Contents

Website migration has been one of the most formidable challenges for website owners, due to the technical intricacies involved, the significant resources required, and the need for seamless collaboration among various stakeholders.

Throughout my career in various SEO roles, I have had the opportunity to work on numerous website migration projects. These have ranged from small sites with fewer than 20 landing pages to large-scale enterprise eCommerce sites encompassing thousands of product and category pages.

Drawing on these experiences, I have compiled a list of the most common mistakes that I frequently encountered—errors that often lead to a significant decline in SEO performance, most notably a substantial loss of organic traffic. These mistakes usually happen when there is a lack of SEO experts’ involvement in the migration process, or due to the appointment of a low-quality SEO agency with limited knowledge of the complex technical issues. Familiarising yourself with these common errors will help you avoid them and learn how to address them effectively, ensuring a smooth and successful website migration.

The Common Mistakes during a Website Migration that Can Result in Traffic Loss:

1. Redirecting All Pages to the Homepage

One of the most prevalent missteps during website migration is the redirection of all pages to the homepage. This error usually stems from a limited understanding of SEO and migration processes, often seen in website owners or when they rely on a web design agency. The agency might have a digital marketing or account manager who professes knowledge of SEO but only grasps it superficially. Such individuals might believe that simply having redirects in place is adequate for a successful site migration. However, this is a misconception because proper, targeted redirects are crucial. Generic redirects, such as directing all traffic to the homepage, can actually do more harm than good.

The reason is that each product and collection page was designed to target specific keywords and cater to specific user interests. Redirecting users to the homepage, which is general in nature, means they no longer land on the most relevant content they were searching for. Moreover, the homepage cannot possibly rank effectively for all the keywords that individual product and service pages once did.

The above graphic illustrates how one of our clients used to have individual pages effectively targeting different cities and ranking well. However, they made the mistake of removing these pages and redirecting them all to the homepage during a migration. This change resulted in significant drops in rankings for local keywords and eliminated all search visibility for these previously high-volume terms.

Traffic significantly decreased after the migration happened in Jan 2023

Another client has changed their domain name due to rebranding, and during the migration process, 1628 out of 1737 URLs (~94%)  have been redirected to the homepage, despite having more relevant pages on the new domain. As a result, this client has seen a massive loss in search visibility, with the number of organic keywords dropping from 2800 (in October 2022 – prior to migration) to 140 keywords (in January 2023 – post migration).

Ranking keywords of the previous domain

Ranking keywords of the new domain

We identified this issue in April 2023 and recommended implementing new, more appropriate redirects. This intervention led to some recovery in their rankings, but the improvements were still significantly lower than pre-migration levels. This limited recovery was also hindered by other unresolved issues, including limited web development capacity and a branding manager’s decision to eliminate much of the existing content as part of a rebranding effort.

2. Converting All Articles to PDF Format

Many brand managers prefer using PDF format for articles because it allows greater control over content, ensuring consistent visual layouts and easier offline access. While these benefits are significant from a branding perspective, PDFs pose considerable challenges for SEO compared to HTML webpages:

  • Limited search engine indexing: search engines typically prioritise HTML content over PDF files because HTML content is easier to crawl, index, and rank. PDFs can be indexed, but the process is less straightforward and often doesn’t capture the full content as effectively as HTML.
  • Complex Text Extraction: Text within PDFs can sometimes be embedded as images or formatted in ways that make it difficult for search engine crawlers to extract and understand the content. This reduces the likelihood of the PDF content ranking well in search results.
  • Metadata and Structural Limitations: Unlike HTML pages, PDF files have limited capabilities in terms of structuring data (like using header tags) and embedding metadata (such as meta descriptions and keywords). These elements are crucial for SEO as they help search engines understand and rank content.
  • User Engagement Metrics: Search engines use user engagement metrics (like bounce rate, time on page, and click-through rate) as ranking factors. PDFs typically provide a poorer user experience compared to HTML pages because they often require additional steps to access (e.g., downloading) and aren’t as easily navigable.

Due to the above reasons, converting your web pages into PDF makes it more challenging for search engines to index and rank your content effectively, which can place your site at a competitive disadvantage.

For instance, the client mentioned previously, who redirected 94% of their URLs to the homepage, also removed all their onsite articles that previously ranked well and drove significant traffic, or converted these articles to PDFs. All of these contributed to a significant loss in their organic search visibility.

3. JavaScript Redirects

Redirects are a critical element in preserving rankings and authority after a website migration. While the absence of any redirects is the worst-case scenario, using JavaScript redirects isn’t far behind in terms of potential negative impact.

JavaScript redirects present unique challenges because search engines must execute JavaScript to recognise and follow these redirects. This can significantly delay the crawling and indexing process. Unlike server-side redirects, such as 301 redirects, which are instantly recognised by search engines, JavaScript redirects require the search engine’s crawler to process the JavaScript code, introducing potential delays in recognising the new page location.

Here are several risks associated with relying on JavaScript redirects:

  • Inefficient execution: If the search engine’s crawler doesn’t execute JavaScript (or if it executes it inefficiently), the redirect may not be followed at all. This can result in the original page being viewed by search engines as “broken pages” and not redirected. 
  • Loss of link equity: As a result, JavaScript redirects do not pass link equity (PageRank) as reliably as HTTP status code redirects (301, 302). This can lead to a loss of ranking power from the original URL to the redirected URL, impacting the site’s overall SEO performance. 
  • Increased error susceptibility: It’s worth noting that JavaScript redirects are more prone to errors and breaking, especially if the underlying JavaScript code changes or if there are compatibility issues with different browsers.

For example, the client who had their location-specific pages removed and redirected to the homepage also employed JavaScript redirects during their website migration. This decision compounded their challenges by further diminishing their site’s visibility and search rankings.

The recommended approach is always to use server-side 301 redirects. These types of redirects are immediately processed by browsers and search engines alike, ensuring that the link equity is preserved and that the redirects contribute positively to the site’s SEO. By sticking to server-side redirects, website owners can avoid many of the pitfalls associated with JavaScript redirects and ensure a smoother transition during migrations.

4. Broken Images

Broken images during a website migration, especially in platforms like WordPress, are a common mistake and can occur due to several factors.

The popular causes for broken images are:

  • URL Path Issues: During migration, if the domain name or directory path changes and the image URLs are not updated accordingly, the paths will point to locations that no longer exist. WordPress often stores URLs as absolute paths in the database, which means they include the entire path from the domain name onwards.
  • Incorrect File Transfers: If image files are not correctly transferred to the new server or are placed in the wrong directory, the URLs pointing to these images will result in 404 errors because the files cannot be found at the specified locations.
  • Permissions and Configuration Errors: Server or file permissions might prevent images from being accessed or displayed correctly. Configuration errors in the .htaccess file or other server configuration files can also lead to issues rendering images.
  • Database Serialisation Issues: WordPress uses serialised arrays to store certain data, including widget settings and theme options that may contain URLs. Improper handling of serialised data during the database migration can corrupt these entries, leading to broken image paths.
  • CDN Issues: If the website uses a Content Delivery Network (CDN) and it’s not properly configured post-migration, or if the CDN cache still points to old paths, images might not load correctly.

To avoid broken images after a website migration, consider the below actions:

    • Backup thoroughly: Ensure all media files and database entries are properly backed up before initiating the migration. This precaution provides a recovery option should something go wrong.
    • Conduct a technical audit: After migration, carry out a technical audit to identify any broken images. This step helps in pinpointing issues that need addressing to restore normal functionality.
    • Restore or replace Images: If broken images cannot be restored from backups, consider removing them and replacing them with new ones that are relevant and properly linked. This not only resolves the broken image issue but also ensures that the visual integrity of the site is maintained.

5. Neglecting Post-Migration SEO Monitoring

Effective post-migration SEO monitoring can address and rectify the issues I’ve outlined above in a timely manner. This process involves watching out for shifts in keyword rankings, organic traffic, and the indexing status as recorded in Google Search Console. Taking immediate action when discrepancies arise is crucial for preventing long-term damage to your site’s SEO health.

It’s important to remember that post-migration monitoring should not be seen as a one-off task. SEO landscapes and search engine algorithms are constantly evolving, and maintaining vigilance ensures that your site adapts effectively to these changes and continues to perform optimally. Regular audits and reviews are essential for identifying new issues and adapting to shifts in search engine practices and user expectations.

For instance, through our diligent pre-migration, during-migration, and post-migration auditing processes, we assisted Rebecca Vallance—one of Australia’s leading designer clothing brands—in successfully transitioning their website from BigCommerce to Shopify. This migration involved significant changes in URL structures and site navigation. Thanks to our comprehensive approach to SEO monitoring, Rebecca Vallance not only navigated the migration smoothly but also experienced an uplift in rankings and traffic post-migration. You can read more about this success story in our detailed case study: Rebecca Vallance’s Website Migration Success with SEO.

Tips from an SEO Specialist for a Successful Website Migration

Navigating a website migration successfully is crucial to prevent the loss of organic traffic, a common concern among businesses undergoing this transition. While hiring SEO expertise is ideal to ensure a seamless move, I understand that not all businesses can afford this. Sometimes, you might rely on a web development agency, which, despite claiming comprehensive digital marketing expertise, might not prioritise SEO effectively during the migration. If hiring a dedicated SEO expert isn’t feasible, I strongly encourage business owners to take proactive steps to understand and oversee the migration process. Educating yourself through resources like this article can greatly minimise the risks associated with website migration. Here are some actionable tips to help safeguard your site’s rankings and traffic:

  • Prepare a comprehensive checklist: Develop a detailed checklist that covers the pre-migration, during-migration, and post-migration phases. This will help ensure all critical aspects are addressed systematically.
  • Conduct continuous audits: Regularly check and audit the staging site, especially right before it goes live. This helps catch any potential SEO issues that can be addressed before they impact the live site.
  • Opt for off-peak migration: Schedule the migration during your business’s off-peak season to minimise the impact on user experience and sales.
  • Identify and prioritise key pages: Make a list of the most critical pages that drive organic traffic to your site. Ensure these pages receive extra attention during the migration to preserve their integrity and search visibility.

Website migrations can be daunting, particularly for larger sites or when changes involve significant modifications like domain shifts or CMS transitions. If your budget allows, engaging seasoned SEO professionals to manage the migration is advisable. At SOUP, one of Australia’s leading independent digital marketing agencies, our team brings extensive experience from working with a broad range of clients, from small businesses to large corporations. Our expertise ensures that you receive top-tier SEO guidance without the premium price tag, offering peace of mind that your migration is in expert hands.

ABOUT SOUP

SOUP is a leading independent digital marketing agency in Australia, with expertise in SEO, Google Ads, Social and Email Marketing.

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