301 Redirect Planning As Part of a Website Migration

301 Redirect Planning As Part of a Website Migration

Redirect Planning During a Website Migration

When you're planning a site migration, one of the most important things to consider is your 301 redirect strategy. If you don't plan properly, you could lose traffic and damage your site's SEO. In this section, we'll discuss how to create a successful redirect plan that will keep your site's SEO ranking intact during and after the migration process.

301 Redirect Plan - Part 1: Identifying High Priority Pages

What is a redirect?

A redirect is a way to send both users and search engines to a different URL from the one they originally requested. There are many different types of redirects including 301, 302 and 307.

Why should I use 301 redirects?

A 301 redirect is also known as a “permanent” redirect - this type of redirect indicates that the page has been permanently moved from one location (URL)  to another. From an SEO perspective, the benefit of a 301 redirect is that they pass full link equity (authority) to the new URL.

Why do I need a redirect plan?

The purpose of a 301 redirect plan during a website migration is to:

A. Send users (and crawlers) who attempt to access content on your legacy site to the equivalent content on your new site

B. Ensure that any authority (built up through inbound links) is passed from URLs on your legacy site to the equivalent URL on your new site

What happens if I don’t have a redirect plan?

If you fail to plan and implement 301 redirects for key content on your legacy site during a site migration the risks include:

A. Your users will get served 404 pages when trying to access saved / bookmarked / linked to content on your domain

B. Search engines may rank your old broken pages even after go-live (and again users will get served 404 pages)

C. (Most importantly from an SEO perspective) You will suffer massive rankings and traffic drops across the board due to a loss of site authority / link profile

What is the first step of a 301 Redirect Plan?

The first step in creating your 301 Redirect Plan is the identification of the most valuable SEO pages on your existing site - this includes:

  1. Pages that contribute to the authority of your website, in other words pages with a lot of high quality inbound links
  2. Pages that contribute to your sites organic traffic, in other words your top organic landing pages 

Identifying high authority pages

All other things being equal (i.e. your site and your competitor site have similar content and similar technical performance), Google may turn to Authority when deciding which of two similar pages ranks higher.

Links send the right signals to search engines that your website is a trusted source.

With sufficient links from other trusted websites, your site will be seen as trustworthy as well and search engines will rank your content higher in search results for relevant queries. Link value obtained by one page is generally spread around your site to other pages via internal linking. 

Therefore it’s important to ensure that all this value that you have built up on your old site via inbound links is maintained when you migrate your site.

There are many different tools available online that will help you to identify pages with the highest authority / link value. One of the best of these tools is aHrefs. 

Here are the steps involved to identify your most valuable pages in terms of link profile:

(Note - you can sign up for a free version of aHrefs that allows you to carry out this process here).

1. Sign up for aHrefs Webmaster Tools here and verify your website.

2. Click on the “Backlinks” column on your dashboard

3. Navigate to the “Best by links” tab, then “Export” the list of your best pages by link profile.

4. Generally speaking any page with >1 referring domain should be added to your list of priority pages to be redirected in the “Redirect From” column of your redirect mapping document.

Identifying top organic landing pages

If your legacy website was pretty well optimized in terms of SEO, then it’s highly likely that you’ve been attracting organic traffic from Google and other search engines already. That means that some of your original websites pages have been indexed by Google and other search engines. 

Without redirecting these pages that are already indexed to their equivalents on the new website, Google may keep displaying them in the search results and sending users to 404 pages. Therefore it’s very important to identify pages that are commonly discovered by users via organic search and redirect them to relevant pages on your new website.

You have two options to identify top organic landing pages - Google Search Console and Google Analytics. Google Search Console focuses on Google organic search traffic only whilst Google Analytics, if configured correctly, will give you information on organic search traffic from all search engines.

Here are the steps involved to identify your top organic landing pages via Google Analytics:

  1. Log into Google Analytics and navigate to your websites property and reporting view
  2. Go to Acquisition > Channels > Organic
  3. Set the date range to the past 12 months
  4. Set the “Primary Dimension” to “Landing Page”
  5. Export top organic landing Google Sheets / Excel
  6. Any pages that have attracted significant organic traffic over the past 12 months should be added to your list of priority pages to be redirected in the “Redirect From” column of your redirect mapping document.

In the “Redirect From” column of your redirect mapping document you should now have a list of all top pages by link profile and by organic traffic.

After removing duplicates, you have now identified all of your high priority pages that will need to be redirected to equivalent pages on your new website.

301 Redirect Plan - Part 2: Redirect Mapping

Now you need to populate the “Redirect To” column in your redirect mapping document. To do this, open up a list of all planned URLs in your new website - there are a number of ways to generate this list if you don’t have it to hand e.g. crawling the site with Screaming Frog and exporting all HTML urls.

Looking at the lists side by side, you now need to manually identify the URLs on the new website that will have the most similar content to each of the URLs in your “Redirect From” column, then enter them in the “Redirect To” column.

Now you’ve got your 301 Redirect Mapping list completed, you should hand it over to your developers who will ensure that the redirects are implemented in the most efficient way possible - for example, rather than individual redirects, patterns may emerge that will allow your development team to implement a handful of redirect rules.

Check out the other blog posts in this series on SEO for a Website Migration:

  1. Technical SEO Checklist for a Website Migration
  2. Keyword Research and Existing Content Audit for a Website Migration
  3. 301 Redirect Planning and Redirect Mapping for a Website Migration
  4. Crawl Depth and Internal Linking Review (of your UAT site) for a Website Migration
  5. Staging Site Performance Review for a Website Migration
  6. SEO Go Live Checkup for a Website Migration
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