WordPress Migrations and SEO: Post-Migration Tasks and Testing
Moving a WordPress website is straightforward enough (if you know what you’re doing, that is – and if not, here’s how). But it’s important to be aware of the possible fall-out and impacts on your SEO.
This is part two of a two-part series on WordPress Migrations and SEO. In part one, we looked at how a website migration can affect organic traffic and what needs to be completed in preparation for it. In this post, I’ll show you in detail what needs to be done immediately after the migration and how to check if your search engine optimization has been affected.
If you have followed along with the first part of this guide, then you should have:
- Made sure the new site isn’t suffering from any of the same SEO issues the old site was
- Installed an SEO plugin for WordPress
- Setup Google Search Console, setup an analytics platform and been gathering data for as long as possible
- Created XML sitemaps
- Created redirect maps for URLs that are changing
Once the above steps are complete, from an SEO perspective you are ready to carry out your website migration.
Post-Migration SEO Tasks
As soon as your website has been migrated, you will want to carry out the following tasks:
In part one of this guide, you would have created a redirect map for all URLs that will be changing during the website migration. You will likely be implementing these either using the .htaccess file or using a WordPress plugin. Either way, as soon as the migration is complete you want to ensure that these redirects are pushed live.
You’ll want to check that your redirects are working as expected. Redirects should have a HTTP status code of 301, there shouldn’t be any redirect chains and the URL being redirected to should be the correct one from the redirect map. Also, monitor for any redirect loops. These are a serious issue and you should ensure that you fix these immediately, as not only will these affect SEO, but redirect loops will prevent visitors from being able to access the web page.
You can check your redirects in a number of ways. I will often either use Screaming Frog in ‘List’ mode. This is a website crawler, that was used in part one to identify all of the URLs on the old site that should be redirected. To check your redirects are implemented correctly using Screaming Frog:
- Open Screaming Frog
- Click Configuration
- Click Spider
- Click on the Advanced tab
- Tick the checkbox Always Follow Redirects
- Click OK
- Click on Mode and select List
- Copy your list of URLs that you are redirecting from your redirect map spreadsheet
- Click the Upload List button in Screaming Frog
- Click on Paste and this will automatically paste your URLs into Screaming Frog
- Click OK and Screaming Frog will immediately begin crawling the URLs you pasted
When Screaming Frog has finished its crawl, click on the Response Codes tab. Here you can view all of the URLs that were crawled, their response codes and where they redirected to. You can view these in Screaming Frog or you can export these and then view them in your preferred spreadsheet program.
You want to ensure that all HTTP statuses are 301 and that the Redirect URI is the one you have in your redirect map. If the status code returned is 302, you will want to check that the redirect you have set up is actually a 301-permanent redirect. If you have any 4XX or 5XX HTTP status codes, you will need to check that the URL you specified to redirect to is correct. If it is the right URL, you will want to check that the page on your site is live and that the URL is the same as the one you have used to redirect to.
Verify Search Console
Once the migration is complete you will want to check that your Google Search Console account is still verified. There are several ways that Google Search Console can be verified, and many of them could be broken by a website migration. You can read about the various types of verification methods here.
For example, a common way to verify Search Console is by adding a meta tag with a verification string to the document head. During a redesign and build of a website, this could easily be overlooked and included in the new site. You would need to verify on the new website that this meta tag is included in the document head, or make sure that there is a new method of verification and that this is confirmed in Google Search Console.
Search Console Change of Address
This is only necessary if you have changed your domain name, e.g. olddomain.com will be moved to newdomain.com. To submit a change of address, in Search Console click on the cog icon in the top right of the screen. Here you can select Change of Address. Following the on-screen steps to submit your change of address. Before doing this, please ensure you have added your new domain to the same Search Console account by clicking Add A Property on the main Search Console dashboard.
Submit XML Sitemaps
To ensure that Google can find your content, you should submit your sitemaps to Google. Within Search Console:
- Click Crawl in the left hand navigation
- Click Sitemaps
- Click the Add/Test Sitemap button
- Paste in the path to your XML sitemap/XML sitemap index file
- Click Submit
Once your XML sitemaps are submitted, Search Console will report whether any errors had been found. If so, I would recommend correcting these issues as soon as possible to ensure your content is being crawled effectively.
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Getting URLs Indexed Quickly
There is a way to get your pages indexed fast, often within minutes. You can run a ‘Fetch as Google’ via Search Console, which gets Google to crawl a URL immediately. You can then submit the results of this crawl to Google’s index. To do this:
- Click on Crawl
- Click on Fetch as Google
- Paste the URL path of the page you want indexed into the input box
- Click Fetch
- Once Google has completed fetching the page, click on Submit to index
- Choose whether you want only the fetched URL to be submitted to the index or whether you want the fetched URL indexed as well as the URLs in it links to, and then click Go
Note that you do not need to submit every URL individually. As long as Google can crawl all of the content you want indexed, it will show up in search results eventually. The ‘Fetch as Google’ function and then submission to the index, is useful for important pages that you want ranking in search results quickly.
You will want to carry out a crawl of your website as soon as possible to ensure that there are no pages returning errors. This is easy to do with a tool like Screaming Frog, using the same process that was used during the pre-migration crawl.
Once the crawl is complete, check for 4XX or 5XX status errors. You can investigate these further by viewing the additional information in Screaming Frog. Common causes for crawl errors are often incorrect internal links due mistakes such as typos in either a page’s slug or the HREF attribute of an internal link.
You can also continue to monitor Google Search Console for crawl errors, though this will usually take at least a few days for Google to begin reporting any crawl errors post-migration.
You can use the same tools you used pre-migration to test the performance of the website once the migration is complete. WP Checkup is a great tool for checking your web site’s performance, as well as a identifying a number of SEO and security issues.
Once you have the results of your test you will want to compare the load times, number of resources required, the total page load size and the recommended actions to optimize the page load. If there are serious issues, you will need to request your developer takes appropriate action if you are unable to make the changes yourself.
As an ongoing task, you will want to monitor your organic search performance. You can view the majority of the data you will need in Google Search Console. The key areas to focus on are:
- Click through rate (CTR)
If you spot a downward trend with any of these metrics post-migration, you should investigate. Clicks and impressions can be highly seasonal, so you should anticipate changes to these anyway. If you are unsure whether changes are due to seasonality, you should view previous years’ data to spot trends. You can also check Google Trends, which is a great tool for viewing search demand over time for specific keywords.
Positions are an important organic search metric to monitor, as they should not be affected by seasonality as much the other metrics. If there is a clear negative trend post-migration, it is highly likely that there is an issue with one or more organic search signals. Key areas to focus on are:
- Redirects are implemented correctly
- Pages that should be crawled are not being blocked by robots.txt files or meta robots tags
- Pages that should be indexed do not have a meta robots tag with ‘noindex’
- Title elements are as well optimized for your keywords as they were pre-migration
- On-site copy has a high keyword relevance, at least the same as the pre-migration website
- HTML elements are as well optimized as the pre-migration website, e.g. image elements, heading elements etc.
- Internal links are at least as well optimized as the pre-migration website, e.g. keyword rich anchor text, internal links within copy, important pages having the majority of internal links to them
Please remember that SEO is a much longer term solution than many other digital channels. You won’t know immediately whether the changes you make will have fixed the problems with your SEO. It will require consistent monitoring of your analytics and Search Console data to verify that.
Migrating a website can be a risky business for your SEO, but if you follow a clear plan to maintain organic traffic, you can avoid too many Google woes.
Carrying out the actions detailed here, for both pre-migration and post-migration phases, should help you to maintain your search engine rankings.